Nebador Archives presents an epic young-adult science fiction adventure - Deep Learning 3

J. Z. Colby's NEBADOR takes place in the wide universe around us ...
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Book Three Deep Learning Notes

Chapter 1: A World Apart

Alpine lakes, near or above timberline, are unique, simple ecosystems that are starkly beautiful. Often surrounded by bare mountain peaks, they are usually so quiet that a tiny rock-fall on a mountainside can be clearly heard. The little red berries are currants, and are about the only thing edible to humans, and then only in summertime.

The treatment of other people or animals under someone's control tells a great deal about the person's values. One of the priests' horses was getting sick after the hard ride up to the first mountain pass. It might have recovered if cared for immediately. Instead, the priest in charge planned another hard ride across the mountains to the next town. The Reaper, of course, galloped close behind.

Healing and learning from difficult life experiences is best done by getting away from them for a while. We call it a "holiday" or "vacation." The alpine lake was completely separate from all the challenges the student had faced in the lowlands: slavery, guards, steam vents, high tide, wolves, and (as far as they knew) priests.

Boro was most comfortable dealing with physical reality. Some people who have this type of personality are limited to physical reality they can see and touch. Boro's sharper mind allowed him to extend that interest to the unseen levels of sub-atomic matter and energy, and so he excelled at chemistry, even though weak at math.

After getting to know water, steam, and ice, the students were familiar with the three states of matter that normally occur on the surface of a planet like ours. Water is the only common substance on our planet that we find in all three states. Rock will (at some very high temperature) melt, even boil away. Air will (at some very low temperature) become liquid, then solid. Luckily, those temperatures are rare or non-existent on our world. In what situation does one of those extreme temperatures occur on Earth?

Chapter 2: Mountain Paths

Why did Ilika ask Rini to scout the mountain paths when four other people had already volunteered?

Kibi realized that the way they "should" go might be a different direction than the settlement. This is a kind of thinking process that not all people can understand. It involves belief/faith that the universe has purposes that are different than, and sometimes in conflict with, our human will. Some people have this kind of belief/faith, but hold their own will to always be more important. In Kibi's question, what can we tell about her feelings on the subject?

Do you think that Ilika chose the northeast trail because of the direction of the trail on the map, as Neti observed, or for some other reason?

What emotion did Toli and Neti have in common in this chapter?

The map Sata drew used the old "mixed perspective" technique that renders different things from different points of view. The trails, lakes, and streams are as they would look from above, as no other point of view would be useful. The mountains are drawn as they would look from the side, as no other point of view was within human experience. Ilika's map of the kingdom used this same perspective technique. It is still commonly used today.

What was Misa attempting to say to her fellow travelers by walking a mile or so in bare feet?

When Boro passed out "scraps of stale bread," he was using a value system that many of us have not experienced. We are used to thinking of "food" as "things that taste good." What was the definition of "food" in that situation?

Most altimeters today take into account only air pressure, and can be adjusted for sea-level pressure, if known. Some can compensate for temperature, and the effect of humidity is slight. A pilot usually uses the closest and most recently-known sea-level pressure to adjust the instrument. Lacking even that, standard sea-level pressure is 29.92" Hg (inches of mercury) or 1013.25 millibars at 15°C (59°F). The air pressure at any point, when all possible factors have been taken into account, is called "density altitude."

Anemia (low iron) almost directly causes hypoxia (low oxygen) because an atom of iron in each red blood cell is essential to its ability to carry oxygen throughout the body. Neti's hypoxia, therefore, had two causes: the thin air at high altitude reduced the amount of oxygen available, and her anemia reduced the ability of her blood to carry oxygen.

How many warning signs can you see in this chapter that something was wrong with Neti?

When Ilika talked about the need to report any health problem on a ship, what warning did he give especially to the boys?

Why was Tera unconcerned about the lack of frogs, turtles, edible roots, and other kinds of food?

Why was Ilika taking every opportunity to observe his students as they ran out of food?

Chapter 3: Blind Faith on an Empty Stomach

In our world, the Cistercian and Trappist monastic traditions include vows of silence. It is a method of making even daily routines more meditative and mindful, as we often use speech to distract ourselves from uncomfortable aspects of our lives.

Boro's warning about eating slowly is difficult for most of us to understand. When the stomach has been empty for a while, it will often reject the first food put in it, especially if that food is heavy. It has the best chance of accepting fruit, as most fruit is acidic, and so is the stomach.

What would make Toli's blood pressure high? Hint: it was not a factor in the external environment.

Most monasteries have guest houses so that visitors can be kept separate from the residents, and not disturb, or be disturbed by, the routine of the monastery. In a silent order, it also allows the visitor to talk. Can you see, in this case, another purpose for the guest house? Hint: one of the women of the monastery sat in the guest house, out of the way, with eyes closed, all day long.

Chapter 4: Logic and Inner Sight

What clues might make us think the woman with hauntingly green eyes was from the monastery? What clues might make us think she was not?

The diagrams Ilika drew to explain logical operations on sets are usually called Venn diagrams, after John Venn, an English logician. If the circles overlap to create all possible intersections, as they did in the two examples, then the number of logical regions created is 2 to power of the number of circles. Two circles creates 4 logical regions, 3 creates 8 regions, 4 creates 16 regions, etc.

In this chapter, we can see a sorting process among the students because the idea of meditation often brings up fear in people. During meditation, the usual distraction of life are eliminated, so the memories, fears, hopes, and fantasies that we all have come bubbling up, screaming for attention. An experienced meditator can deal with them. The beginner can be overwhelmed at first. Meditation, like any adventure, if best done with a friend, and in small chunks, especially at first. When learning to camp, we don't start with month-long backpacks. Similarly, a new meditator will find 5 minutes challenging.

A dry, windless cold is easy to bear because our bodies, with the help of clothes, create a layer of warm air close to the skin. Rain or wind breaks this layer and allows the cold to get to our skin. Cold, even just cool weather, with rain falling or wind blowing, can be more dangerous, and require better clothes (raincoat, windbreaker), than much colder still, dry weather.

The Universal Instantiation is logically valid, but not often useful, as Mati discovered. There are universally true statements by definition. "All birds have feathers" works because we define a bird as a creature with feathers, so it is not possible to have a bird without them. But without using the "by definition" trick, most things in our universe have exceptions.

"Everything in the real world is relative, therefore cold in the real world is relative." What do you think of Sata's statement? Does it help if we define "real world" as "physical world"?

What emotions did Toli and Buna most likely feel when a young priestess took Toli by the hand and invited him to meditate with her?

What about Neti's personality made her try meditating when she was the only one not doing it?

Ilika and Rini, together on the mountainside, were able to share an intuition, the sense that something wonderful was about to happen. Which of the other students would have been able to share in that conversation?

As Ilika's students discovered, the Universal Generalization is much more in tune with the relative nature of most physical reality, and so much trickier to use. It is basically a statement of the scientific method. To quote from the story: "If we have very strong reason to believe that any randomly-selected item has the quality, AND no reason to believe otherwise, AND no counter-example, then we can make a tentative universal generalization."

What was symbolized by a furry creature curling up in Neti's lap to sleep as she meditated?

Chapter 5: Lights

What judgment, in your opinion, did the high priestess make about her guests before inviting them to the ritual?

The sisters of the monastery, by undertaking a complex ritual, were experiencing the joys and challenges of cooperative group effort. What similar experiences have you had? Some possible examples: acting or working backstage in a play, singing in a choir, playing a team sport, being a load-carrying member of a group campout.

By planning and executing the ritual without any talking, the members of the monastery forced themselves to achieve a very high level of initiative, cooperation, and selfless service. How would you do in such a situation?

The seven small rituals enacted around the circle, two of which were described in the story, spoke directly to the characters' hearts because they used universal symbols that transcend language. A brandished sword means conflict and danger to any person, anywhere on Earth, at any point in history. Flower petals, essential to the reproduction of many plants, are about as soft, delicate, and beautiful as anything can be. What are some possibilities for the other five rituals, and what universal symbols might they use?

What do you think was happening with the five women and one girl who wore simple white robes and no jewelry, started by lying face-down on the ground, then kneeled, and finally walked around the circle?

What might be symbolized by having the youngest members of the monastery light the main fire-bowl?

Have you ever experienced a powerful natural event, such as an aurora, a severe storm, a crashing waterfall, a tornado, an earthquake, or anything similar? What did it make you feel? Are you better or worse for having the experience?

Chapter 6: Particle Physics and Existential Rules

Rini was able to understand and respond to Mati's unspoken desire to check on Tera. Which of the other students would have been able to do the same?

The travel foods the monastery provided show the most important types of food preservation without high technology. Bread goes stale quickly, but crackers keep much longer. Milk cannot be preserved directly, but fully-cured cheese is fairly stable, and can be dried. Dried fruit (as well as vegetables and meats) will last a long time. In addition to being "medieval travel foods," these same items can be used for camping. Many modern food preservation methods (canning, freeze-drying, etc.) require complex technology that is most often done in a factory.

Many of our emotions, experiences, and attitudes show on our faces, in our eyes, and in our posture. The high priestess was not using any mystical power when she looked into the travelers' hearts and souls, but just the powers of observation we can all develop with attention and life experience.

Incandescence is the process of something glowing because of being heated. The color varies from red, to yellow, to white, and finally to blue, depending on how hot it is, measured as "color temperature." A candle gives a "yellow" light of about 1850°K (1577°C, 2870°F), and our sun is much whiter at about 6000°K (5726°C, 10340°F). Florescence is the process of exciting atoms to glow, usually with an electrical field, without necessarily heating them.

By hinting that he is not alone in figuring out what to teach his students, when, and how, what emotions or mental changes might Ilika be causing in his students? Why would Kibi think of the green light that led her out of the fire at Lumber Town?

Do you think Sata had really grown out of her tendency to label things "evil," or were the pretty lights in the sky just much easier to accept than the stinky hot springs?

The Existential Generalization, like Boro said, is about as simple as it comes, as long as we remember that "some" can mean as few as one. The symbols used in these illustrations are those in common use today by logicians.

The Existential Instantiation that Sata figured out is the trickiest one of all, as Ilika explained. Kibi's example, concerning mushrooms, shows how logic relates to making important, sometimes life-or-death, decisions. Logic comes naturally for people who think clearly. It is much harder for people who put a high value on emotional or cultural concerns.

Why would knowledge of eating the wrong mushrooms come from former friends?

Chapter 7: Hardtack and Hard Choices

The town of Nug is most similar to a frontier mining town of the 19th or early 20th century, perhaps Skidoo, California, a ghost town that vanished long ago. The circumstances that made buildings flimsy, prices high, and tempers short can exist in any historical context. As the author writes these words in July 2010, unemployment is rising, unemployment insurance payments are ending, and the same conditions may soon be common any time an opportunity arises, no matter where it is.

Have you even been hungry enough to beg for food from strangers, and then eat a crab apple, seeds and all?

A wench was usually a combination of tavern helper and prostitute, and the profession has been legal and common at most times and places. With little or no medical care available, it was not a profession with a long life-expectancy.

As we can see in the shops of the town, frontier merchants provided their own law enforcement. Everyone was assumed to be a thief (and many were) until the bill was paid.

When a merchant has a monopoly on a needed product, he can set the price as high, and the quality as low, as his customers will tolerate. Hardtack, therefore, cost a silver piece (impossible in a large town or city because of competition), and was usually stale, as Kali explained. The extreme case Ilika described, of needing a wheel barrow full of gold, would not happen in reality because the store would first be burned down by angry customers, and the merchant killed or run out of town.

What motivated Toli to agree to carry one of the crocks? What materials do we use today to contain messy foods, like honey, that are much lighter?

Kali stood at one of those "moments of truth" in life when she had to make an important decision, the consequences either way were huge, and she didn't have much time to decide. Most modern people don't experience these moments until 18 or 20 years of age. Kali was 12. Misa was 7.

Many people join monastic orders, during hard economic times, at least partly because they will get something to eat every day, and stay out of slavery. This was obviously Kali's main motivation. Many of those people will remain simple monks, working the gardens or other industries of the monastery in exchange for their basic needs. A few will understand the higher purposes of the religious community, and rise in the ranks.

Advising and helping a 12-year-old to "run away from home" would be a crime in most places today. What do you think of the group's advice to Kali in that situation?

What did the group do to cause the local people to take an interest in them?

Why do you think Ilika didn't take Kali all the way to the monastery so she wouldn't lose the coins, or have them stolen?

Why wouldn't Kali know that the letter Ilika wrote mentioned the great silver piece?

Chapter 8: The Way Down

In the last two centuries, we have gotten used to building roads where we want them, moving as much earth and rock as necessary using explosives and oil-powered machines. Railroads require this, and rubber wheels appreciate it. Before then, road building followed the lay of the land. The only exceptions were minor obstacles that a few men with shovels could remove, and that was only done on wagon roads, not mountain trails.

Miko's mistake was allowing himself to "play" in a situation that was too dangerous. Play and self-expression are wonderful things, but require a fair amount of safety. One of the main differences between a true "child" and a "young adult" is that the child cannot usually make the distinction between safe and dangerous situations. Miko let himself be a "child" at the wrong moment.

Neti's belief that Miko was asleep, and would be okay when he awoke, is the first step in the grieving process, denial. When a thought or perception is too painful to accept, the human mind blocks it out and rejects it. This is probably necessary to avoid insanity.

It is interesting to note which of the students were able to partially ignore their own reactions to Miko's death in order to support Neti, help Mati, and find a campsite. Which student was completely unable to help with anything?

In this scene, we see Ilika's first religious statements concerning Miko's future. How convinced did Ilika sound that his beliefs were correct?

The practice of protecting a dead body from wild animals has long been a human custom, whenever it was possible. Some other mammals and birds do the same. This allows us some time to adjust to the new situation and grieve slowly, even though it does nothing to "save" the person.

Chapter 9: A Final Farewell

What events in your life have made you want to be silent or quiet for a day?

Why were the two priests coming down the mountain on foot, instead of riding horses?

One of the biggest problems we have, as human beings, when trying to understand the universe, is the difficult task of separating reality from things that come completely from our minds. The things from our minds we sometimes call "superstitions." In this chapter, Ilika challenged Sata to understand the reality of Miko's death, instead of hiding behind a superstition, her tendency to blame things on nature, calling them "evil." Sata's tendency to externalize evil is very common; most of us do it. She started wrestling with it, you may remember, at the hot springs in Book Two. Here, by accepting her teacher's challenge, she learned some things about nature, and helped Neti let go of some of the resentment she felt at Miko for getting himself killed.

The natural process Sata came to understand is called "lubrication." When small particles separate two larger objects, the small particles roll and reduce friction between the larger objects. Mountain climbers must be aware of this danger, as they need maximum friction between their boots and the rocks to avoid slipping.

The last phase of the grieving process is acceptance. The odor coming from the dead body forced Neti to reach a tentative acceptance, even though a final acceptance will take much longer, and for some people, never comes.

Ilika told them that the funeral ceremony was not for Miko, as his spirit was no longer there, but instead was for them, his friends who had to go on living. How does this fit with your beliefs?

What mental image is created for you of Ilika's current home (not his childhood home) when he says that everyone there knows about spiritual matters?

What value might there be for Neti to help dig the grave?

Why did it feel good to Neti to decide who spoke, and when, at the funeral ceremony?

Chapter 10: Moving On

Ilika's statement that there is life after death is consistent with most religions today. What do you think?

Ilika's statement that Tera the donkey has a soul is consistent with most older Pagan religions and most Asian religions today, but inconsistent with western religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. What do you think?

Ilika's definition of the "soul" is similar to that given by most religions today, but that definition is not completely accepted by most cultures. What funeral practices reveal that many people think (or at least wish) that we can take our bodies or our possessions with us when we die?

Ilika explained that empty or fearful lives result in small, weak souls. What, in your opinion, can a person do to make their lives NOT empty and NOT fearful?

Sata remembered the Nebador Transport Service saying Ilika shared with her in Book Two: "Personal power is the ability to stand on your own two feet, with a smile on your face, in the middle of a universe that contains a million ways to crush you." In your opinion, has Sata gained some personal power since learning that saying?

Slaves usually have a rich spiritual culture because death is so common, as Kibi explained. The slave period in America, from its discovery by Europeans to the civil war in 1862, created a genre of music, literally called "soul," that spread out to influence almost all future music through "jazz," "country," and "rock'n'roll."

Religions today are torn on the issue of whether "ghosts" come back to haunt, or otherwise interact with, living people. Ilika is of the opinion that this doesn't happen. What do you think?

If Ilika is correct that the universe is a huge "college" in which education continues after we die, then some people might think the best use of our mortal (flesh and blood) lives would be to study hard, and others might say we should just play and enjoy life. What do you think?

What aspects of life "beyond the duties of hearth and home" was Mati starting to glimpse?

What do we learn about Ilika when the little aurora appeared over Miko's grave?

Chapter 11: The High Desert

As Neti visited the boulders, the rocks where Miko died, and his grave, in what two directions was she being pulled? Which direction won?

The fact that they were in the wilderness limited the grieving time available. What would happen if they tried to stay much longer?

On the western (ocean) side of the mountains, short-needled conifers, such as fir and spruce, were probably most common, but on the eastern side where the group is now, this changes rapidly to trees that can tolerate the dry climate, such as long-needled pines and oaks. They are in a narrow transition zone between the alpine mountains and the sagebrush-covered high desert. Streams tumble down from the mountains above, but they provide water only right along their courses. The rest of the land is very dry.

Any natural process that happens on a scale outside of "everyday" human experience is very hard for most people to understand, even believe. "I'll believe it if I can see it," expresses this value well. Most geological changes, such as tectonic plate movements, happen too slowly for people to see. Light and other energy move too quickly, and so are not experienced as moving, even if perceived. Bacteria, viruses, and other "germs" are too small to see, without instruments, so are hard to remember to guard against. Galaxies move and change, sometimes even collide, but are so huge that we are barely able to know about them.

In a poor culture, the only possible ways of "retiring" in old age are by using personal savings, or by living with younger family members. The old shepherd appeared to have neither. He would continue to earn what he could from his little flock of sheep for as long as he could, but with his dog also very old, it would probably not be much longer before his sheep got lost or were picked off by wolves, one by one. At that time, the man and his dog would probably wander to some favorite place to pass their remaining day eating whatever wild foods they could find. The great silver piece Neti gave him might make that transition a little easier.

Ilika and his students, by sharing news with the family heading into the mountains, may have saved them from the fate of Kali's family. Frontier "opportunities" usually occur in harsh environments, with rough living situations, and often include fierce competition for resources.

The map of the eastern half of the kingdom, just like the map of the western half in Book Two, does not include any of the lines or notes Ilika added. Can you find the group's current location?

Why would Kibi assert, and Ilika accept, that they celebrate Toli's birthday party, when Mati and Boro were also possibilities (because none of the three knew when their birthdays were)? Hint: it is late summer, and Kibi knows the group will be splitting up soon.

By the muddy stream, the group used a two-stage water treatment process. Boro knew that if he dug a hole near the stream, the earth would filter out most of the mud. Ilika then sterilized the water by boiling.

Chapter 12: Cattle Town

The fire at Lumber Town in Book Two proved useful to Ilika's enemies. People feel much more in control of a disaster when they can blame it one someone. Nature cannot be arrested, and God cannot be punished, but a person can be. It probably took very little work, on the part of the priests, to start the rumor the Ilika and his students were sorcerers who set the fire. The pre-existing rumor of sorcerers traveling north from Port Town helped, of course. The soldiers believed the accusation, or just played along, because law enforcement agencies have a better image, and appear to be doing their jobs, if they have a suspect. The guilt of the suspect is of secondary importance, and sometimes of no importance at all (a "scapegoat"). The desire for revenge is a strong human need after a loss, and if people can't take their anger out on the "suspect," they might turn on the soldiers, the priests, or each other.

When considering the food poisoning epidemic, remember that people in a medieval culture know nothing of "germs." Combine that with the strong human tendency to need to "see it to believe it." The result is an attitude of "that's just the way it is," or status quo, and so few people would try to do anything about the problem.

All of the parts of re-frig-erat-ion are Latin or Greek words. In order, they are: again-cold-make-place. When we say the word with English pronunciation rules, some of the breaks between the original words get slurred into something like: re-fri-gera-tion.

Why did the group want to find a spring-fed stream with no signs of cattle?

Even though people try very hard not to believe something unless they can see it, it is impossible to live without being almost constantly affected by unseen forces and life forms. The idea of "spirits" was invented long ago, "good spirits" if they helped us (like sunshine on our crops), "mischief spirits" if they made life interesting without great harm (like the "fairies" who hide the tools we put in the wrong place), and "evil spirits" who cause pain and suffering (like bacteria and viruses). This is not to suggest that there are not also real spiritual beings, as the author is a theist, but only to point out that we often confuse natural forces and unseen life forms with imagined beings of good or ill-will.

Toxins are poisonous bio-chemicals that are created in good food when it spoils from the action of microbes. Heating, or otherwise sterilizing, the food after it has spoiled will kill the microbes, but the toxins usually remain.

Although water, by itself, cannot "spoil," it can contain microbes and toxins from another source, such as a dead animal in a stream or well, or animal waste washing into the water. Therefore, Ilika asked them not to drink water while at Cattle Town.

The reason for choosing meatless pastries at the marketplace is obvious. Why did Ilika limit them to fully-cured cheeses?

Of course, no human society has ever developed without knowledge of heat-sterilizing, drying, salting, and pickling (except perhaps in the tropics where food is available year-round). Whatever food-handling methods were in use in Cattle Town, they seemed to be adequate for most of the year. Only in late summer, with the arrival of the highest temperatures, did the food-poisoning epidemic arise. The people knew, from years of experience, that most people survived it every year, so they were not motivated to use the extra-ordinary methods that would have been necessary. For example, if fresh meat could be moved from slaughter barn to marketplace successfully most of the year, why take the trouble to cure it for such a short time?

Chapter 13: Changing the World

Were Mati and Rini introverted, quiet, or shy? The three are different, and easily confused. Introverted means that they most enjoyed the thoughts and feeling inside themselves. A quiet person is usually introverted, but may be just very perceptive, preferring to take in lots of information before making any decision about it. Shyness is the fear of expressing oneself in a social situation. Rini was very introverted and perceptive, but not shy. Mati was less introverted and perceptive, but very shy because of her life of powerlessness. She began fighting her shyness in Book One when she realized Ilika's group was a safe place. In Book Two, learning to ride Tera, facing the wolf, and leaving the goatherd, all helped her to overcome more of her fear of expressing herself.

What did Mati realize after talking about the upcoming crew selection, and then counting something with her fingers?

Toli and Buna heard two of the saying often used to avoid change and justify the status quo: "If it was good enough for my mother, it's good enough for me!" and "If I can't see it, it doesn't exist!" Can you think of a situation in which one or both of these sayings expresses wisdom? Can you think of a situation in which one or both of these sayings will get you killed?

Ilika seems to be of the opinion that it doesn't work for a society to outlaw risk and tell its people how to live. What do you think of this idea?

Judging by the situation on Earth in 2010, societies seem to move toward outlawing risk when they gain a high standard of living. If our standard of living continues to rise, do you think this tendency will continue? If our standard of living falls, what do you think will happen to our attitude about personal risk?

Have you ever been in the situation of only being able to "plant seeds" toward something that needed to happen, but not able to see if they sprouted? How did that feel?

In the success story that Boro and Sata told, it is important to note that the person ASKED to be taught. Trying to teach people who have not chosen to learn is always frustrating, and usually futile. That's why compulsory public education has such poor results.

What would Boro and Rini have accomplished with their four inch and three inch knives if the people coming toward the camp had been dangerous?

The story that Kibi and Neti told the guards, to be successful, would have to follow the rules of theatrical improvisation: whatever anyone says, from that moment on, is considered to be absolutely true, and all statements and actions after that must be consistent with it. For example, once Kibi said their farm was far to the north, Neti couldn't change that to south without the guards realizing it was all a story.

How might Ilika have approached the guardhouse differently if he had known, or guessed, that a sketch of himself, as a wanted criminal, had been posted?

Chapter 14: Ilika's Big Mistake

The rescue of Ilika began long before anyone did anything. First they had to get clear in their minds how they felt about him. If he had been a master of slaves, or a cruel teacher, what might the group have done?

What qualities did Ilika have that made his students choose to rescue him?

In less critical group tasks, students often take roles that they most need to practice. When the stakes are high, that luxury is not practical. What roles did Boro assign, and in each case, why?

What personal weaknesses did Toli overcome during the rescue?

How old were you when you could have handled the task given to 7-year-old Misa?

If you were in Kibi's shoes, would you have stayed in camp?

Chapter 15: A Time of Healing

When Ilika began to gain consciousness, the direction he went, "up," is a metaphor. What things do we associate with "up" and "down"? Are they all opposites?

Ilika's actions when he "dug," "swam," and "felt himself floating or flying" are also metaphors. What feeling does each one give?

The "black sand," "liquid," and "blackness ... even thinner" are similes, because the story admits that what Ilika experienced was "like" those things. They are paired with the previous metaphors to help portray the feeling.

To you, how long is "an eternity" and "an eon"?

When Rini cradled Ilika head in his hands, he was performing an important life-saving task when someone is experiencing seizures or other violent movements they can't control. At such times, they are in danger of hurting themselves, and their head (most important) and sometimes arms and legs must be restrained.

Ilika was in the difficult situation of being the only one with much medical knowledge, even though he was the one who needed care. This shows how important it is in any group or family for as many people as possible to know how to care for a sick or injured person.

What important nutrients was Ilika trying to get when he requested eggs, sour berries, and powdered bones?

Ilika explained that his unseen helpers did not rescue him because his students were there to do it. What do you think of this theological concept?

Chapter 16: The Plan

Although there is much we don't yet understand about human nature, one of the things most students of human nature agree on is that power usually leads to corruption, the evil use of that power. By stating that he and others from his civilization refuse to use power for self-aggrandizement "anywhere ... ever," Ilika is clearly placing himself (and Nebador) outside of human culture.

Ilika describes the Transport Service as needing to move among different people without interfering, and protect their charges with least possible force. What professions in our culture have the most similar ethics?

Could you work in a profession that was sometimes allowed to help people, and sometimes was not because it would be interfering too much?

Of the problems that Ilika lists that can befall a country (slavery, famine, economic collapse, military rule, ecological imbalance, natural disaster, and resource depletion), which have happened to your country? Which do you think might happen to your country in the future?

Tobacco smoking was an upper-class activity throughout all of human history, because of its cost, until the 20th century. What other activities can you think of that were too expensive for most people until just the last century?

Wanting to save a loved-one from hardship, as Buna suggested, seems to be instinctive. Most parents try to give their children the easiest life they can afford. However, we know from long experience that easy lives create soft and spoiled people. Since the slavery that Kibi experienced is not currently an option, what other "character-building" experiences are available for young people in our culture?

In our culture, in what ways have people lost the ability to take care of themselves, in your opinion? Which of these lost abilities have been take over by government? Which by our highly-specialized economic system?

Sata's father told her that if she didn't learn to work, she'd "be nothing." What definition of the word "work" would make that a true statement for you? What definition would make it untrue?

Have you ever done anything stupid for love? If so, you have lots of company.

When Buna declared that boys weren't right for her, which person from her past was inspiring her? Can you spot the words Buna used that were a direct quote from that person?

What, in your opinion, was Neti thinking or feeling that made her decide to sleep near Toli and hold his hand?

Chapter 17: The Long Road Home

What qualities did Toli have that would cause a socially well-adjusted person like Neti to not like him in most cases?

When the students expressed their opinions about Toli to Ilika, in what ways was that similar to collective bargaining in a labor union?

Most of the moisture in the air (that causes rain) comes from the ocean. When moisture-laden clouds move over the land, they lose most of their water in the first mountains they encounter. This causes a "rain-shadow" farther inland, so that area receives little or no rain. As the group journeyed south of the mountains, enough rain clouds got through from the ocean to create a lush grassland.

The high cliff overlooking the desert was an "escarpment" formed when the land on one side of a geological fault line (in this case, the western side) was lifted high above the other side. This escarpment, although it didn't look like a mountain because of the gentle slope on one side, contributed to the rain-shadow effect that created the desert to the east.

The desert they looked into was not a "valley" because it was not carved by water. It was simply a "depression" that would be a lake if enough water was present.

For the third time, Ilika's students got practice at examining a landscape far below them, something they had never done before the journey began. It is a very different point of view than we usually have, almost an altered state of consciousness, and explains why "view points" along roads are so fascinating.

Chapter 18: The End of Many Stories

It is natural for any community to have an awareness of who belongs, and who doesn't. The smaller and more remote the community, the easier it is to tell. Any stranger must go through the process of explaining their purpose to the community, and then waiting for judgment to be passed. What qualities, attitudes, or actions did Ilika and his students manifest that caused the village of Bek to accept them?

None of the people of the village had ever seen the ocean because it was fifty miles away. Such a trip was long, dangerous, and expensive for peasants who might earn only a few copper pieces in a year. Most people would live their entire lives without ever going more than ten or twenty miles from their birthplaces. They would have a home and work in one village, occasionally visit a few neighboring villages, and perhaps have business in Cattle Town or the capital city once a year. Mates were usually found in the home village, or perhaps one village away. Thieves, and the threat of slavery for any mistake, added to the dangers of travel.

What would Mati have to leave behind, to be selected for the crew, that made her so sad?

Storytelling is a kind of myth-making. Myths are narratives that contain facts, history, memories, values, and lessons that people need, in order to make sense of the universe and pass on their culture. Myths contain much "truth," but not everything in them needs to be literally true. The stories told by Ilika and his students became myths as they were told and retold, with minor details dropping out and important points emphasized. They helped them to process painful memories and prepare for an uncertain future.

Complex values, sometimes of a "spiritual" nature, are often conveyed through myths that are not literally true. The story The Tortoise and the Hare, by Aesop, is an excellent example. It contains no literal truth, but teaches that a task can be completed even if a person is slow, by being determined and faithful. Can you think of another myth that teaches something valuable without using literal truth?

Chapter 19: Choices

If someone asked you to keep a great gold piece for six months without spending it (about $50,000 in buying-power in the USA in 2010), would you be able?

If Neti had become pregnant with Miko before he died, what would her situation be now?

Which of the students might be tempted to impress others with their knowledge if they stayed in that kingdom?

What emotions would you feel if you knew that all your language and arithmetic skills were about to become useless?

In what sense are wild mushrooms "treasure" in this chapter?

By refusing to be separated from Mati, what power did Kibi possess that she was using?

What did we learn about Toli when he tried to be accepted even though Neti said she was staying?

Mati and Rini were the same age, but Mati appeared to be more ready for commitment. This is typical, and is one reason girls often date older boys.

Which fact do you think touched Rini the most, that Mati refused to be separated from him, or that she would be able to walk?

Chapter 20: Parting Ways

Neti is coming our of her depression and entering the final phase of grieving: acceptance and moving on. At the same time, she is making a major leap forward in her understanding of the world. Our animal roots cause us to prefer mates who are brave and assertive, like Miko. In a primitive, natural environment, they might make the best mates. But in a human culture, even a medieval one, where an on-going partnership is essential, other qualities become more important. What qualities did Toli have that might make him a better mate for Neti than Miko would have been? In what ways would Miko, had he lived, been better?

In your opinion, how is Misa doing with her own grieving process?

Was Ilika fair with the four he did not select? Would you have given more or less to any of them?

What do you think Toli actually deserved (in term of both money and relationship)? In your opinion, how long will it take him to realize how lucky he is?

What did we learn about Buna when she announced she was going to be a shepherdess, even though she was quite rich?

What was Neti actually letting go of when she gave Miko's money pouch to Misa?

Partings like the one that took place in this chapter are among the most powerful and memorable experiences in a human lifetime. What other deeply-memorable experiences did these ten people share? What deeply-memorable experiences have you had?

Chapter 21: The Ship

What might have happened if Ilika had told all his students all about his ship before the selection?

What details did Kibi see that made her think the ship was a dragon?

What details that Kibi saw told us that it was not a dragon?

Chapter 22: Manessa Kwi

During the first few minutes of seeing the ship, what factors allowed the students to get over their fear?

By washing the ship, what relationship were they entering into with it?

How does it affect our view of the world that we have no respectful pronoun for something that is not male or female?

Most of our designs for ships and cars include shapes that mimic parts of animal bodies, especially eyes, mouths, and muscles. Manessa's natural shape is a perfect sphere. What does this tell us about her origin or design?

Since the ship can change shape on the outside without crushing the crew, what does this tell us about its level of technology?

Ilika implied that "several thousand years" lay between a medieval culture and space travel. Our medieval period was only a thousand years ago. In your opinion, will we have space travel soon, or do we have some problems we must solve first?

How might Sata's parents react if they knew Sata was leaving their world and going to the stars?

Do you think it would be ethical for an advanced civilization to invite young people to leave their world, as happened in this story? Would it be ethical for the advanced civilization to force young people to leave their world?

What ethics does our civilization apply when taking the young of other Earth species (for food, pets, zoo animals, etc.)?

Why doesn't Ilika let Boro use the airlock from the outside to get to the lower deck?

After the discussion between Ilika and Kibi in their cabin, what do we know about romantic relationships between Transport Service crew members in Nebador?

Chapter 23: What Would I Do?

The six crew positions on Ilika's ship are based on maritime and aviation tradition. On a small ship, it is common for one person to have multiple tasks, as does Kibi. Both the steward and the navigator needed language skills, but Kibi's maturity and Sata's math skills were deciding factors. Rini was chosen for the watch because his math and logic skills were more conceptual and intuitive than Sata's. Mati and Boro both got jobs that required kinesthetic skills, "body intelligence," but Boro's leaning toward mechanics (broadly defined, as we saw in his chemistry knowledge) made him better suited for engineering.

Mati's moment of low self-esteem shows how hard it is to think when feeling deeply. Others could see they still needed a pilot, but in her emotional state, that fact eluded her.

Which job would you want to learn first? Which would be your least favorite?

Chapter 24: Preparing for Trouble

If you were a medieval priest who came upon a perfect golden sphere about eight yards (seven meters) across somewhere in the wilderness, and the hole in the side vanished when you approached, what would you think, and what would you tell the leaders of your religious order when you got home?

Devices to identify and track people have always been controversial because of the tendency of governments to abuse power. What device have people recently begun using that allows them to be tracked almost everywhere they go?

Some people seem to need a specific, physical "home" to be happy, a chunk of land they can get to know. Others do not, and make temporary "homes" wherever they go in their work or travels. Could you be happy living out of a suitcase and hotel room, car, or ship, or do you need a piece of land to call home?

The ethics of the Transport Service, to use minimal interference but never sacrifice themselves, is rare in our world. The closest parallel might be scientists studying another culture. Can you think of any other professions with similar ethics?

The requirement to use a weapon on a friend, and have it used on you, is only possible, of course, with non-harmful weapons. This idea is part of most martial arts training, paint guns, etc. Any weapon you would not want used on yourself falls into a different category, with different ethics and rules of engagement. In what circumstances might Ilika's bracelet fall into this last category?

What makes us able to watch a movie, while sitting quietly in our seats, that vividly shows deadly dangers close enough to kill or injure us if they were real?

How would you feel if you lived your entire life thinking that humans were the only intelligent creatures, than suddenly saw a true story of a young female ursine (bear) who could think circles around you? Which of the three qualities (young, female, ursine) seems most at odds with her high intelligence?

There are many stories of people being prepared by dreams for some major, difficult task that later comes along. Often it is to escape a dangerous situation and go to another land, or some non-earthly place such as Fairyland. At other times it is to engage in some spiritual task that requires great sacrifice. Such dreams are not the usual kind (which seem to be psychological healing processes), are very hard to study, and so many people deny they exist.

Why would Ilika have chosen crew members who were "mostly free of fear"?

How did you do at pronouncing Ss'klex'na Rrr'tak-fi? Apostrophes replace expected vowels, and so are very tight connections with no pause. Dashes are a slight pause between chunks of meaning (like in a hyphenated word). You will probably have the best luck with an unvoiced, rolled Spanish R. Neither the throaty French R nor the growled English R work very well in this name. Remember that a double S is always an S sound, not a Z sound.

What were some of the crew members feeling, that caused frowns, when they learned that their own kind were few in the Nebador Services? How would that make you feel?

Chapter 25: Steward

Ilika declared that his crew members have "... responsibilities and powers ..." What happens when a person has responsibility, but no power (such as a slave)? What happens when a person has power, but no responsibility (such as a dictator)?

Mati's job as pilot was largely a kinesthetic skill, which requires the body to get used to complex actions, just like an athlete or dancer. Even though our minds may learn a concept quickly, our bodies often take much longer. Mati's hours of "video game" piloting simulations were necessary, just as hours of practice are necessary to drive a car well, even after learning all the necessary concepts. By the way, young people learning to drive for the first time always seem to do better when they realize it's a form of piloting.

What might happen to a car if the driver gave no thought to geological stability? What might happen if a driver was completely unaware of wildlife? What danger might await a car carelessly parked in a busy parking lot? How about in a dark alley in a slum?

In aircraft piloting, we have a concept called "cockpit management." It begins by securing all objects so they won't bounce, fly around, break, or spill. Next, the pilot-in-command must consider all the things he or she might need to reach during the flight, such as charts, paper, pencil, light, tissue for a runny nose, and sick sack (they used to be called barf bags).

Why might a Transport Service ship need different temperatures of air, different amounts of humidity, and different levels and colors of light?

Kibi bridged the language gap with her console because of "little pictures," or icons. Iconography was a major development in computer technology that made them available to many more people. Figuring out the meaning of written words is much slower and more difficult than simply recognizing a picture.

It was easier for Boro, Rini, and Sata to enter the city than it had been for Ilika because they knew what the guards wanted. Often, satisfying a person in power is as much a matter of form as of content. The three natives of the kingdom knew the small bribe was necessary, and that an answer to the guard's question was required, but they also knew that what they said was not very important. Ilika, not knowing this, had put much more effort into his response.

What logic was Sata using when she told her family that Boro "worked with the sails"?

How would you explain to Doko why his daughter seemed so different?

How long have people been able to cook without fire and smoke? About how long, before that, did they have only fire and smoke?

What is the purpose of having low levels of difficulty in a video game that anyone can master? What is the purpose of high levels that are beyond human skill?

What would happen if Ilika's crew members were unable to ignore most "normal" injustices in the capital city? Was there any danger in giving copper pieces to a few hungry children? What are some "normal" injustices in your culture that you ignore in order to avoid danger?

In addition to avoiding dangers, can you think of any other good reasons to ignore "normal" injustices?

The solvent filters showed the first example of the ship's color iconography for device status: yellow = working, green = ready, blue = shut down. The other colors will soon be seen. Which color, so far, has the same meaning that we use in our culture?

Lack of oxygen on a space ship or submarine would eventually be a problem, but the crew would die much sooner because of the presence of too much carbon dioxide (CO2). The most important job of a sealed ship's air processing system is to remove the carbon dioxide and excess moisture. If the system can separate the carbon and oxygen, such as by photosynthesis, and return the oxygen (O2) to the air, then little extra oxygen would need to be carried. The remaining 80% of the atmosphere, nitrogen (N2), is not involved in our metabolism (or photosynthesis), and usually remains very stable.

The color icon for a device that is running a test is blue-green. We actually have a name for that color, cyan, and it is a very unique color in the spectrum, but for some reason it doesn't register well with the human eye and/or mind, so the name is not well known.

What might happen on a ship like this if the watch, navigator, pilot, and engineer all did their jobs to perfection, but the steward was gone and no one noticed until they were far from port?

The pad of paper, even though it was simple, became a status symbol in this medieval city because it was completely new. Can you think of anything in your culture that is (or was) a status symbol just because of it's newness?

Chapter 26: Engineer

Boro's engines used the same color icons for device status as Kibi's systems. Are there advantages to the colors having the same meanings wherever they are used? In our competitive culture, we sometimes do this, but often we do not in order to protect trade secrets or confuse the competition. What price do we pay when we use inconsistent icons?

The ship's "atmospheric thrusters" might be similar to our turbo-thrust jet engines, the type used on airplanes. (Helicopters use turbo-shaft jet engines, in which the thrust is not primarily used.) They would not be expanding-gas engines ("rocket" engines) because those work in space, and so are not just "atmospheric" engines.

What machines do we use that could be described as "matter-energy converters"?

The ship's anti-mass drive is based on the theory that moving electrical and magnetic fields at 90 degrees to each other create Lorentz forces that radiate a form of energy that counteracts gravity and inertia. The engine is called "anti-mass" instead of "anti-gravity" because it works in deep space where there is no external gravity, but the other effects of mass (physical substance), such as inertia, still cause problems.

In a typical engine in our culture (for example, a car engine), is everything of danger contained completely within the engine, allowing us to touch it anywhere, even when operating? What parts of a car engine do not have this quality, and what dangers do they present?

Boro is a "tactile learner," as he is most comfortable getting familiar with something he can touch and feel with his hands. What kinds of jobs are easiest for tactile learners? What jobs are easier for visual learners? Auditory learners?

Ilika described the engines as "happy" when they were running well. How is this different from our usual attitude toward machines?

Both Rini and Kibi are using their intuition to spot subtle clues around them in the city. What would happen to this little team if Rini and Kibi started competing instead of cooperating, or if Sata (less intuitive) didn't listen to the others?

A topographic map is one way of showing three dimensional land forms on a flat paper or display screen, and is most often used when accurate information is necessary. Much can be learned by purchasing the topographic map that includes your home. At the NEBADOR web site, on the "Where to Get It" page for Book Three, is a link to the government office that sells USA topographic maps by mail or download. The 7.5 and 15 minute (of latitude and longitude) maps are most useful.

The priests attempted a law-enforcement method called "profiling." Persons charged with protecting a culture from "the bad guys" are always under pressure to catch them before they do bad things. This prompts them to try to guess what "the bad guys" look like. It is easy to look for forked tongues and furry tails, but much harder to identify true criminals. What qualities do law enforcement officers look for today to try to spot "the bad guys"? Your answers will probably be different depending on where you live and what year it is.

Why would Boro be happy about going into the city again and carrying the heaviest pack?

Having felt the effects of the abuse of power (when he was a slave), Boro could have two different reactions. One is to want to do better, and try hard to avoid abusing power himself. What would the other possible reaction be?

Chapter 27: Watch

The ability of two friends to share a time of silence and contemplation tells us much about their personalities and maturity. Rini's ability to sit quietly, without reaction, when Kibi came up behind, tells us even more. What are some qualities in a friend you have, or would like to have, with whom you could share this level of trust?

Data and information are two different things, although information can sometimes be extracted from data. Data (the plural of datum) is just numbers, usually from an instrument of some kind. It usually contains much that is useless, and is in a useless form. Information is able to "inform" us about something useful. Going from data to information is tricky, however, because it requires us (or our machines) to make choices. If those choices are wrong (or our machines programmed incorrectly), then the result may look like information, but will really be just garbage, or worse, lies.

Science today does not recognize "other levels of reality" because they are not measurable by our instruments. Those instruments aren't (and can't be) designed to measure anything but physical matter as we know it. This is, by the way, an example of circular reasoning. Hints and vague descriptions of other, non-physical, levels of reality only come to us through religious writings and mystical experiences.

The word "demon" has had a hard life. It originally meant any minor spiritual being, and did not imply good or evil. But part of the process of any change of leadership is to redefine terms to fit the purposes of the new leaders. As Christianity replaced older religions during the Dark Ages from about 400 to 900 A.D., "demons" had to be redefined as completely evil to fit with the new religious teachings. From this process, we get the word "demonize."

With Rini supplying topographic information that will allow Mati to pilot the ship, what kind of professional relationship is developing between them? How would this be changed if the ship supplied the information automatically?

In addition to the reasons Rini mentioned, our topographic maps have to be revised every few years because of our planet's shifting magnetic poles, and human activity.

If the purpose of the Manessa Kwi and its crew was NOT to further anyone's "dog eat dog" power politics or other manifestations of human fear, what might it be?

Chapter 28: Navigator

Working with charts is an essential part of flight training. Even if you don't plan to become a pilot or navigator, much can be learned by purchasing the aviation chart that includes your home and seeing what is important to pilots. At the NEBADOR web site, on the "Where to Get It" page for Book Three, are links to companies that sell aviation charts by mail. For the USA, look for "VFR Sectional Charts," and avoid "TAC" (airport) and "WAC" (low-resolution) charts.

Another of the ship's color icons is briefly seen when Mati "dies" while doing a simulation. What Mati sees as "purple" is actually magenta, half-way between red and blue, one of the subtractive primary colors (the others are yellow and cyan). What do you think this color means on Nebador ships?

What do you think of the idea that people, or their religious organizations, are in charge of "the realm of the gods"? Do you think that some religious leaders actually believe this? Can you think of any events in history that show this attitude?

Real pilots work under the same ethics Ilika imposed upon Mati. If sleepy, hungry, sick, emotional, or anything else distracting (including under the influence of drugs), the pilot seat is not available. The author does not fly in June and July because of itchy, sneezy hay fever. Also, pilots can set tighter "personal limitations" for themselves. For example, if an airplane is rated for a 12 knot cross-wind landing, but a pilot is inexperienced with cross-wind landings, he or she will (hopefully) seek a different runway when the wind reaches 8 or 10 knots.

Birds have the right-of-way in today's aviation because our aircraft will often not survive a collision with a large bird. Since the Manessa Kwi appears to be much stronger than our aircraft, why might Ilika have the same right-of-way rule?

The human ego (self-image) can be very protective of itself. For perhaps the first time, Ilika had to come close to stepping on Kibi's ego. With the help of friends, she got through it. Most importantly, Rini helped her to avoid reading anything into Ilika's questions that weren't actually there. How would you have handled a similar set of questions about decisions you just made?

Intuitive people have the strength of access to more information than non-intuitives, but the weakness that that information is often vague and incomplete. How are you at making decisions when you have vague or incomplete information, but are forced by circumstances to make a decision anyway?

Chapter 29: Pilot

The pilot has flight command to avoid bothering the ship's commander with minor details, and to shorten the decision-making path during emergencies. This shows the difference between a professional working team, which must deal with reality in an efficient manner, and a bureaucracy, which is designed to conserve power and status. On a professional team, decisions are made as close to the people who must carry them out as possible. In a bureaucracy, the longest possible decision path usually results in the most power and status.

The Inverse Square Law states that, for any radiation from a "point" source, that radiation "spreads out" so its intensity varies inversely with the square of the distance. For example, an object one meter from a light bulb will receive a certain amount of light. An object two meters away will receive 1/4 as much, and three meters away, 1/9 as much. What fraction of the one-meter light will an object four meters away receive? Ten meters?

Although science has not yet discovered exactly what gravity is, it acts like a form of radiation. Therefore, the closer to the planet a ship is, the more gravity it will receive, and the more work its engines will have to do to counteract that gravity.

Inertia: the tendency of matter to maintain its current relationship to the gravity centers of the universe. On or near a planet, the most powerful gravity center is the planet itself. Therefore, we usually experience inertia as the tendency of matter in motion to remain in motion, and matter at rest to remain at rest. Any change in motion (acceleration, deceleration, or change of direction) requires work (applied energy).

Mosa experienced a moment that is difficult for most parents, the realization that even though her daughter was present, she had already "left home." In our modern world of laws and rules, we have codified the age at which this may or should happen, and it varies from 9 to 21, depending on the culture, with 18 being most common. In a medieval or older culture, the precise age was not so much a concern, but rather the ability of the youth to survive in the world, and to find work, training, a marriage partner, etc.

Even though Mosa felt protective of her daughter, she was wise enough to notice when Sata needed some validation for the path she had chosen. A less mature, more self-centered parent might use her daughter's mixed feelings to sabotage the opportunity her daughter had arranged.

Chapter 30: Holy Cause

The high priest used a variety of techniques to justify his plans and secure the loyalty of his followers. A full understanding of them would require a study of rhetoric and politics. Can you spot any that especially bother you?

When deciding what to do, Kibi listened to her friends, then made good decisions that took into account their ideas and her instincts. How might this scene have gone differently if she hadn't worked through her wounded ego from the evening before?

The boys got sticks, the girls got cans of oil. What does this tell us about the values of those religious orders?

What experience had Sata already had that allowed her to see that much of the activity around her, in the priests and people of the city, was based on fear?

The psychology of human groups is different from that of individuals. A lone priest would never dream of chopping down a farmer's fruit trees, or tearing up his fences. But in the "fever" of a group project, the rules change, and suddenly the goals of the group, as shaped by its leaders, can override many of the moral and ethical rules we usually live by.

If you were in Kibi's shoes, and had a mission bracelet like she did, would you have been able to resist the temptation to "make everything right"?

People are social animals, descended from a long line of social animals. This creates a new layer of reality that sometimes works to our advantage (as when we team up for some task that none of us, alone, could do), and sometimes works against us. Assuming the ship really was dangerous, how safe do you think the priests would be by huddling in groups?

If, as Rini speculated, the events they witnessed were some kind of show, who was the audience?

As the fire began to burn under the ship, what did the high priest and Kibi have in common? What did Kibi soon do that made her very different from the high priest?

Chapter 31: Flight Preparations

We only know the temperature of the surface of stars by their color. Our sun has a surface temperature of about 6000°K (5726°C, 10340°F). Brown Dwarfs are less than 3000°K, Red Giants about 3600°K, and at the other extreme, Blue Giants approach 50000°K.

The iron buckets that came out of a medieval blacksmith's shop would rust very quickly outdoors, unless painted or heavily greased. What do we make containers out of today that will not return to the soil so easily? Even though you probably thought of some long-lasting materials, does that mean those containers will remain usable that long?

While preparing for their first flight, all of the new crew members experienced a "steep learning curve," a stressful phase when everything is new, all tasks require intense mental effort, and fear of failure lurks nearby. Luckily, it doesn't last long, and we soon automate (reduce to a series of memorized steps) or internalize (perform without conscious thought) most of the process.

It is very easy for social creatures like us to make the assumption that if everything is in proper social form, it must be right. That assumption only works in social situations. Piloting, and most other aspects of ship operations, deal strictly with physical realities, which are not affected by our hopes, dreams, desires, dislikes, and fears. What assumptions might you have trouble avoiding if they are presented in, and surrounded by, all the proper social forms?

Chapter 32: First Flight

Some memories seem to be stored throughout the body, or at least throughout the nervous system. Most people have forgotten a telephone number, only to discover they can tap it into the keypad perfectly once holding a telephone. Mati had done enough simulations that the feel of the flight control in her hands allowed her to get over her momentary trembling.

Most people today see pictures taken from above the ground all their lives, so the view from an aircraft is not too shocking. A medieval youth's only experience with such a scene would be from the mountains, where they rarely went.

The near-invisibility of the ship as it hovered over the capital city is similar to the situation with UFOs. Even when sightings are verified by multiple independent witnesses and airport radar, the number of people who see them is tiny, even in a large city.

How would the mood in the capital city that morning be different if the priests had successfully destroyed the "monster" by the little lake the night before?

In a very real sense, when Mati gave her first flight command, she stepped from childhood into professional adult life. What does this tell us about Ilika's values as the captain?

Why would arrival on the bottom of the ocean be "conquering another demon" for Sata?

Revisiting a place that meant a lot at an earlier time has great psychological value. What differences existed between the group that first visited the hot springs and steam vent, half a year before, and the group now?

Chapter 33: An Old Friend

VFR or Visual Flight Reference piloting uses only what can be seen with the eyes. It is generally limited to daytime and good weather, but some night VFR flying is possible over lighted highways. Also, some forms of bad weather allow VFR flying, such as rain, and some do not, such as fog.

Mati learned that the possible life-paths she was leaving behind (slavery and goatherd's wife) were "normal," and deep-space response ship pilots very rare. If you ever find yourself wishing you were "normal," you might want to pause and remember that the most normal, average person in the world today is a rice farmer in China who probably can't read or write.

Today, in many countries, child labor laws would forbid a six-year-old to work in a bakery. In the medieval culture of the story, do you think Kit was better off before or after joining the baker and his family?

What was the mysterious golden fruit in the wooden box? Why would none of them have ever seen it before?

Chapter 34: The Last Stop

Since a map or chart is a view from above, and we usually look ahead, there is about a 90° difference in viewing angles. Mati instinctively matched up the mountain peaks she could see ahead of her with those on her chart. You can practice this same skill from any viewpoint or hilltop if you have a map of the countryside you are seeing. It is often much harder than you might think.

Most aircraft instrument landings are similar to the arrival of the ship at the monastery. First, "outer markers" are identified with instruments. Next, "inner markers" tell the crew they are very close. Radio navigation aids are usually involved, but weren't available in the story. Once the aircraft is close enough to visually see the "runway" in most weather (usually 400-800 feet above ground level), the pilot will make the decision to land or not. In the story, the ship could land by instruments alone if necessary, but most of our aircraft cannot. A "zero-zero" landing (cloud ceiling zero, visibility zero) is only possible with very modern instruments and radio navigation aids.

The record of the ship's visit to the monastery was from the point of view of medieval nuns. How is it similar to the speeches given earlier by the high priest? How is it different? What, in your opinion, could cause different groups of people to react so differently to the same ship?

Why would Ilika ask them to do their jobs while "feeling deeply"?

Most sources of biological pollution (disease germs that can harm us) are from people and domestic animals. Most sources of chemical pollution are human activities, especially in cities. An alpine lake in the wilderness, far from and above (in the hydrological cycle) most people and domestic animals, is probably the purest drinking water on the planet.

By asking his new crew members to verify again that they wanted to be on his crew, what risk was Ilika taking? What risk would he be taking if he did NOT ask them?

Who was at Mati's side when she emerged from the ship?

Book by Book

the narrow streets of a medieval walled city
Book One:
The Test
Spring 2010




Letter to Readers

Dramatic Audiobook

Audiobook Chapter 1 (6MB)



Deep Learning

Where to Get It

Screenplay 1

a lonely beach along a wild seashore
Book Two:
Summer 2010


Letter to Readers

Dramatic Audiobook

Audiobook Chapter 13 (8MB)



Deep Learning

Where to Get It

Screenplay 1

the colorful aurora above majestic mountains
Book Three:
Fall 2010


Letter to Readers

Dramatic Audiobook

Audiobook Chapter 5 (13MB)



Deep Learning

Where to Get It

Screenplay 1

stranded on a frigid ice continent
Book Four:
Flight Training
Spring 2011


Letter to Readers



Deep Learning

Where to Get It

fascinating planets with strange life forms
Book Five:
Back to the Stars
Fall 2011


Letter to Readers



Deep Learning

Where to Get It

a shining jewel floating in the blackness of space
Book Six:
Star Station
Summer 2012


Letter to Readers



Deep Learning

Where to Get It

unseen guests at an event of universe importance
Book Seven:
The Local Universe
Summer 2013


Letter to Readers



Where to Get It

stillness and silence where movement and sound should be
Book Eight:
Summer 2014


Letter to Readers



Where to Get It

Heather's meeting circle at a top-secret military facility
Book Nine:
A Cry for Help
Summer 2015


Letter to Readers



Where to Get It

a strange eco-system deep underground
Book Ten:
Stories from Sonmatia
Summer 2016


Letter to Readers


Where to Get It

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