Tuesday Link Rundown

Today, we explore actual advances in the field of science.

 

I’m a little late to the party, but this is still fascinating. Nasa has discovered 7 exoplanets orbiting a dwarf star. They’re calling the system TRAPPIST-1. I don’t support Neil deGrasse Tyson’s proposal to name them after the 7 dwarfs. Imagine: planet Grumpy.

 

NASA’s Explanation

 

Here’s something else I’ve seen popping up here and there- a new theorized quasiparticle.

Eurekalert

 

And this is pretty cool- a new primate has been discovered.

 

Primate Teeth

Link Rundown: Positive Change

Saving the world doesn’t always involve inspiring acts of bravery; the project needs funding, as well.

If you are interested in giving, and would like your dollars to do as much good as possible, here are some resources that may help.

GiveWell

Centre for Effective Altruism

Animal Charity Evaluators

Cool Earth

Also, here are some links for those who want to give a little extra to help some worthy institutions.

PBS

NPR

NEA

National Parks

Monday Link Rundown: Attention Citizen Scientists

If you are a layperson, there are still opportunities for you to contribute to scientific progress. Below are some links to interesting research projects where amateur scientists can contribute.

 

The 4*P Coma Morphology Campaign is asking for amateur and professional images of comet 45P/HMP and comet 41P/TGK.

 

4*P Coma Morphology Campaign

 

You can do comet hunting with the SOHO mission- instructions are found here.

 

Guide to SOHO Comet Hunting

 

Also for amateur astronomers, the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA). By timing and observing lunar and asteroid occultations, scientists hope to discover double stars and understand the lunar terrain better, among other benefits.

Citizen Science Alliance

IOTA

 

This project also caught my eye, as the last time I went down to a local park for some stargazing, I was assaulted with a cacophony of frogs.

 

FrogWatch USA
These are just a few projects, but there are many more available here.

 

 

Alice through the Prism- Part III

 

Alice Through the Prism

Part III- Sightings

 

Alice looked up at the cloudless sky, which was unnaturally empty. Where there should be stars, there was only a vague, silvery glow. It felt as though the football stadium, in its bright bubble of light, was suspended in an empty universe.

Then a steady drumbeat started, rumbling in Alice’s stomach and stirring up her heartbeat, and she was back on earth, in the world of team spirit and football.

The drums beat faster and faster, and a fanfare joined in. The cheer squad, pom-poms waving, ran onto the field. A small, short haired girl in a cheerleading uniform followed close behind, turning handsprings.

Alice stood up, intending to pull Lucy off of the field, but Lucy jumped out of her last handspring, waved at the crowd, and then fell into formation with the other cheerleaders. As Alice watched the cheerleaders perform their first routine, it was plain that they’d all practiced it together.

Alice sighed. Sure, Lucy was crazy, but she had deserved to be on the cheer squad. Alice vaguely wondered if Kaitlyn had been forced to put Lucy on the squad- after all, Lucy’s talent had made it fairly obvious that Kaitlyn was playing favorites when choosing the new squad mates, but Kaitlyn looked fairly happy. In fact, Alice could have sworn she saw Kaitlyn wink at Lucy, and Lucy wink back.

Alice wandered to the edge of the field, where she took a few pictures of the cheer squad and a few more of the football players as they tore through the paper banner. Then she headed for a bare spot on the bleachers to get a good view of the whole field.

Just then, the cheering in the stadium gave way to boos.

The opposing team’s marching band was filing into the stadium. The two drum majors in front were carrying a large, blue and gold cage between them. They were flanked by flag girls, who both carried large banners that read:

All Hail the Wombat

Alice tried to frame the scene for a picture, but just then the bleachers shook, and when Alice steadied her hands, the band’s formation had broken up.

“Sorry I’m late,” said Brendan, who had apparently been the culprit. The bleachers shook again as he sat next to Alice. “Did I miss anything?”

“Now much. We’re booing the Wombats’ mascot, now.”

“Do they have a real wombat in that cage?”

“I think so- it looks real from here.”

“I wish the district would outlaw live mascots. It’s cruel.”

“Why don’t you ask the district to outlaw them? Use your clout as student council president.”

Brendan snorted. “We both know how much power I really have. By the way, who is the new cheerleader- the one who just did the double backflip. That’s not Lucy, is it?”

“That’s Lucy- I’d recognize that backflip anywhere. I guess she made the team, after all.”

Brendan bit his lip, bus said nothing.

“I know she’s a little strange,” Alice said, “but-”

“She’s not just strange- she’s a drug dealer.”

“A drug dealer? Lucy?”

The cheer squad was forming a pyramid, with Lucy at the very top. Lucy pulled her foot up behind her to touch the back of her head, and then she was tossed up into the air and caught again.

“Lucy doesn’t seem the type. She’s ambitious- maybe a little too ambitious.”

“That’s why she does it. She calls the drugs ‘performance enhancers.” She and her friends are trying to get the whole school hooked on them. The lunch she gave you was laced with the stuff.”

“How do you know this?” Alice asked.

“I know because she told me.”

Alice fell silent, fiddling with her camera settings to avoid an awkward silence. Alice wasn’t sure she should take this claim any more seriously than Lucy’s claim that she was a cyborg, and yet, why would Lucy incriminate herself? Even if she really had tried to drug Alice, why would she confess?

 

#

 

“We’re getting trounced out there.”

Alice, having taken enough depressing shots of the first two quarters of the game, let her camera dangle from the strap around her neck and stood.

“I’m going to get some water- you want anything?”

“No, I’m fine,” Brendan said. “The halftime show is starting- look.”

Brendan pointed to the field, where Kaitlyn was dragging the quarterback off of the field, waving the team playbook in the other hand.

Alice laughed, “well, have fun. Let me know if she kills him.”

When Alice turned to head toward the concessions, however, she heard a familiar voice call her name.

“Alice! Wait up. I have some more evidence for you.”

“Hi Lucy,” Alice said, slowing down so that Lucy could catch up to her. “Congrats on making the squad.”

“Thanks,” Lucy said. “Listen- I’ve been thinking, and I guess you’re going to need more than a thumb trick to convince you that I’m a cyborg. I’ve decided to give you a whole lot of easily-digestible bits of evidence until you’re convinced.”

“Ok,” Alice said. “As long as you don’t do anything weird.”

Lucy paused. “Um- Alice, that’s the whole point of this. You need weird evidence for a weird phenomenon. Besides, weird is what I’m all about.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed. Just keep your shirt on this time.”

Lucy laughed. “Ok- ok. Now for my evidence- do you see that vending machine, over there?”

Lucy pointed to a soda machine that stood a little ways from the concession stand.

“That soda machine is in a really inconvenient place- I think it should be moved.”

Lucy walked over to the soda machine, wrapped her arms around it, and lifted it off the ground. She walked a few feet over to the left, as far as the cord would allow her to go, and dropped it back down with a loud thud.

“Hey!” a tiny, white-haired man leaned out of the concession window and shook his fist at Lucy. “Don’t bang on the machine. If it took your money, call the number on the side.”

Lucy stuck her tongue out at the man, and turned back to Alice.

“So- what do you think?”

Alice walked over to the machine and attempted to pick it up. She couldn’t find an angle to get a good grip on it to pick it up, and even her attempts to push it over to its original spot were fruitless.

“That’s a pretty good trick,” Alice finally conceded.

“Trick? It’s not a trick. I have super-strength. My skeletal structure is reinforced with a super-rare metal alloy, and my joints are all hydraulic.”

Alice raised her eyebrows. “If you have super-strength, then why would you need to take performance enhancers?”

Alice didn’t know what answer she expected to this question, which may have been the reason she asked. If Lucy had been anyone else, she would have expected a denial, and perhaps an accusation that Brendan was lying. Alice thought that Lucy might simply laugh it off.

Instead, Lucy spoke matter-of-factly. “I distribute the performance enhancers, but I don’t really need to take them, myself.”

“So Brendan was right? You’re a drug-dealer.”

“Oh no- I’m not a drug dealer. I would never take money for the stuff. I’m just performing a public service.”

Before Alice could reply, a cheer rose from the stadium- the game was starting once more.

“Ooops! I’m late for the second half,” Lucy said. “By the way, stick around after the game. Something awesome is going to happen.”

Lucy waved at Alice, and ran back to the field, kicking her feet up behind her.

 

#

 

The second half of the game passed much quicker than the first. The home team had rallied, and Alice was kept busy taking picture after picture of amazing plays, between which she took notes.

In the end, the home team won. The cheerleaders chanted a victory cheer, and the crowd went wild.

“G-R-E-A-T, that’s what spirit means to me, V-I-C-T-O-R-Y, the only limit is the sky!”

Just then the stadium lights all went out, and the cheering turned into nervous laughter. The cheer squad and the marching band went silent.

After a few moments of darkness, the sky began to glow silver. It grew brighter and brighter, dazzling Alice’s eyes until she had to look away. A strange music, soft and pure like a heavenly choir, swelled around her, seeming to come from all directions. Then there was a loud *whoosh* and the sound of music faded away. The silver light dimmed, and Alice looked up again in time to see a globe of silver light soar over her head and disappear over the horizon.

The stadium lights switched back on, and the crowd exploded into chaos.

“Hey-” shouted a band member over the noise. “Where’s the wombat?”

Alice picked up her camera and zoomed into the wombat’s cage. Sure enough, the wombat was gone.

Alice Through the Prism- Part I

Alice Through the Prism

By Bridgett Kay

Featuring the Voice “Talents” of Reiella42

 

Part I

The Loser Files

Listen to the Broadcast

It was a warm Monday morning in early fall, and Alice was considerably more cheerful than her fellow students.

After all, Alice reasoned, why shouldn’t she be happy? She was a senior student with a very light course load. She had a couple of academic subjects in the afternoon, but she spent her mornings in the classroom used by the senior Journalism class, who also ran the school paper. She had two free periods after class to linger behind and work on her projects.

Her projects were always simple. This morning, for example, there was a yellow post-it stuck to her desk that read:

Cheerleading Tryouts, Girls’ Gym, 4:30.

Alice sighed in satisfaction. The journalism teacher and unofficial editor of the school paper, Mr Bertram, never needed to give detailed instructions. She would go to the tryout, interview the cheer captain and a couple of wide-eyed hopefuls, take some impressive action shots, and turn in a flawless assignment. Writing, after all, followed a very simple formula, and digging too deeply into any subject only ever resulted in a mess.

“Hey Alice!” Mr Bertram called as Alice left the classroom at lunch. “I’m looking forward to another great article.”

 

#

 

“A lot of students are trying out this year, but we can only take twelve…”

Alice tried to concentrate on the interview, but she was distracted by all of the noise of the pre-tryout practice around her, and it seemed like the cheer captain, Kaitlyn, was just as distracted.

“There seem to be a lot of talented prospects-”

“Prospects?”

“Prospects- people trying out for the team.  Are there any particular qualities you’re looking for?”

“Yeah- I already told all my friends I’d let them on the team.”

“Ugh- Kaitlyn,” Alice turned off the audio recording on her phone. “You can’t just say that. Say that you’re looking for people who will work well with the other team members, or something like that.”

“Ok, yeah- that. Thanks.”

Alice shrugged, and thanked Kailtyn for her interview. Then she turned to watch the practice.

The gym had been divided into two halves by a line or orange cones. On one side of the cones, a crowd of students stood in neat rows facing a senior cheerleader, who was teaching them a cheer routine. Alice was able to take some pictures of the whole group as they practiced, a close-up of the senior cheerleader, and a very nice action shot of a hopeful with the school mascot painted on her cheek as she executed a high kick. Soon, though, the students began to notice Alice, and they lost the ability to practice without looking into the camera.

Alice stepped away from the dance group and moved past the cones to the other half of the gym, where another crowd of students stood around a long gymnastics mat. A small girl with short brown hair was doing handsprings at an incredible speed, gaining more and more momentum until she reached the end of the mat and did a double layout- *buzz* – followed by  front flip- *buzz.*

The crowd clapped.

“Hey, do you know who that is?” Alice asked a boy who stood at the edge of the crowd.

“No, but I think she’s a Junior, or maybe a Senior. Wait- I know who that is. That’s Lucy

Perez. She blew up the chemistry lab last year.”

“Thank you,” Alice said, and before the boy could repeat any more *unpleasant* rumors, she went to the other side of the mat and crouched down with her camera.

Alice adjusted her shutter speed and set to work, timing her shots just before Lucy reached the height of each jump. The lighting was great, and it would have been the perfect photoshoot, if not for the incessant buzzing noise.

*buzz* *buzz*

Every time Lucy readied a flip, the buzzing occurred without fail. In fact, it was like clockwork, just before Alice pressed the button on her camera. Alice checked her camera, but it seemed to be working properly. She looked round at the crowd, expecting to see some prankster or rival trying to distract Lucy, but everyone in the crowd was applauding.

Alice put her camera down, pinched the bridge of her nose, and sighed.

“The closer I look at the world, the weirder it gets.”

“I know- isn’t it great?”

Alice looked back up, and saw Lucy standing a few feet away, pressing a water bottle to her sweat-free face.

“By the way, you have my permission to use any photos you’ve taken of me in any way you see fit. If you want me to sign a model release, just let me know.”

“You don’t have to sign anything, since you’re a student- but thanks for the permission. Is your name Lucy?”

“Yes, and you’re Alice, from The Prism– our school paper.”

“That’s right. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

“Not at all. In fact, let me give you my standard press bio- I’ll wait for you to start recording, if you want. I’m Lucy Perez, 17 years old, and I’ve been studying gymnastics for two years.”

“Just two years?”  Alice blinked in surprise. “You look like you’ve been doing it all your life.”

“I’m here today-” Lucy continued as though she hadn’t heard Alice, “not merely to try out for the cheerleading squad, but also to inspire my fellow students.”

Lucy turned to face the crowd.

“All of you have the potential to succeed,” she shouted, raising her arms in a gymnastics pose. “Humanity has no limits!”

The crowd applauded once more.

Who is this girl, thought Alice, a cult leader?

Lucy bowed and turned away from the small crowd, in time to face Kaitlyn, who was stalking toward her with a frown.

“You’re trying out with the next group,” Kaitlyn said.

“Ok, thanks.” Lucy turned to throw a kiss at the crowd, winked at Alice, and walked away.

 

#

 

“Before you go, Alice, I need to talk to you about your article.”

Alice looked up from her laptop to smile expectantly up at Mr. Bertram. She had just put the finishing touches on her article for The Prism, and submitted it to her teacher with her usual satisfaction.

“Thank you, Mr. Bertram,” Alice said. “I was so happy with the lead photo. I’ve never taken a photo that good, before.”

Alice had managed to capture Lucy at the height of a layout, her legs and arms stretched out as though she were flying, and with her hair fanned out, giving the picture a sense of motion.

“It’s a spectacular shot. You need to remove it.”

“Thanks. I- what?”

“I think you ought to lead with the squad photo, instead. The new members might think it unfair to lead with a photo of a girl who didn’t make the squad.”

“Yes, but the article is about the tryouts, and Lucy did try out,” Alice said. “Besides, as crazy as Lucy is, she deserved to make the squad. Lucy was good, and Kaitlyn pretty much admitted to me that the tryouts were rigged.”

“That may be, but we don’t get to decide who should have made the team. That decision has already been made.”

“But-”

Mr. Bertram sighed. “Listen, Alice; Lucy is a troublemaker; I know you’ve heard rumors about the chemistry lab incident.  Let’s not give her the attention that she craves.”

“Ok, Mr. Bertram. You win.”

“I knew you’d understand. Thanks for your hard work, Alice.”

Alice nodded, and Mr. Bertram returned to his office.

Alice’s pride stung, but she knew that Mr. Bertram was right. From the display she’d witnessed at the tryout, his assessment of Lucy’s character seemed accurate. Alice dutifully replaced the photo of Lucy with the new team photo, and updated the caption. Alice sent the revised article to Mr. Bertram, and then clicked on the photos she’d taken of Lucy and dragged them to a folder titled The Loser Files. There, it joined other rejected articles and photos- a set of photos of “crop circles” that had appeared in the grass on the soccer field one morning, eyewitness interviews to the chemistry lab incident, and an editorial about a smear campaign conducted by a former student council candidate. She kept them all to inspire herself to do better next time.

The lunch bell rang, but Alice wasn’t hungry. She decided to check her e-mail before heading to her next class.

 

Alice,

Thank you again for your interviews, and for the photos you took of me at the at the cheerleading tryouts. I’m sure they were amazing.

I’m writing you to let you know that I am, in fact, a cyborg.

Lucy

 

On second thought, Alice could stomach a sandwich. She closed her laptop and shoved it in her bag.

Posted on Web Fiction Guide

The Coven: Part IV

 

The carriage ride to the manor was a blur, and I fell asleep before we made it to the front gate. I awoke in a strange bed in stately room, which had molded ceilings, papered walls, and intricately carved furnishings. The hangings and the bedspread were pink and blue brocade, and the corners of the room were decorated with gold-leaf angels.

I sat up a little, and saw, sitting at the end of the bed, a maid dressed in a starched white uniform. As I sat up, she stood and came to the bed, carrying a silver tea-tray.

“Good morning, my lady. I am Chastity, and I have been assigned to be your personal maid. “

“Thank you,” I said blearily, accepting a cup of hot, black tea. “What time is it?”

“It’s thirty minutes past one, my lady. I have laid out your clothes. It is a very hot day, so I thought a white muslin gown- the one with the blue trim- would be comfortable.”

“Thank you, that’s fine. Tell me, is Lord Frey awake?”

“Lord Frey did not go to sleep. He has some business to attend to, and has been in his office all morning.”

I took another sip of tea, feeling just a touch of guilt for keeping Hope awake all night when he’d had business the next day.

“Lord Frey has instructed me to give you a tour of the manor, once you are dressed. You are welcome to go into any room in the manor, except for the Library and the cellars. Lord Frey does not want you to enter either of these places by mistake.”

“I’m not allowed in the library?” I burst forth, now wide awake.

Chastity raised her eyebrows, and I could feel my face grow hot.

“Well- I mean- not to question…”

“You may ask any question,” Chastity said. “Lord Frey knows that you love books, so he has arranged a private study for you filled with books from his collection. If the books he has given you are not sufficient, you can give me a list of the books you need.”

I was unable to speak for a moment, but finally managed to reply, “he is very kind.”

Chastity continued to stare at me, her eyebrows still raised, and I felt very small. It was kind of Hope to arrange a private study for me, and to give me so many gifts, but at the same time, I felt a message in his forbidding me to enter the Library.

I was a welcome guest in his house, but I was not its mistress.

 

#

 

Chastity and I spent most of the afternoon going over the house, lingering in halls full of portraits for far too long.

My father’s house had been venerable. Each crumbling wall had been covered by a rich tapestry, and the stone floors covered with plush rugs, which left it feeling cushioned and close. Here, however, the halls were light and airy, with white crown molding and walls papered in light blue. The floors were gleaming marble, and the furnishings clean and new, with fresh tea roses on every table.

Chastity led me down the widest hallway just to the double doors at the end.

“This is the library- remember it. You cannot open the door, but if Lord Frey is inside and you need him, pull this cord.” She gestured to a tasseled cord by the door.

Just as we turned to leave, however, the doors opened, and a young girl wearing a white cap and apron emerged, pushing a cart that appeared far too heavy for her, which was full of books.

“Mercy!” Chastity said. “What are you doing?”

“I beg your pardon,” the girl said, bobbing a curtsey, “but the master told me to take these to the new mistress’s study.”

“All of these are for me?” I said, stepping forward to see the books.

“Oh- my Lady!” the maid said with a deeper curtsey.

The door opened again, and Hope emerged. He looked at me, smiled, and bowed deeply.

“Good Afternoon, Lady Frey. I hope you are well rested.”

“I am, thank you,” I said.

“Chastity, you may go back to your usual duties. I will escort Lady Frey, and her books, to her study.”

“But, my Lord, I haven’t-“

“That’s alright, Chastity.  The steward is waiting for you in the kitchens- he’d like to have a word with you.”

“Very well,” Chastity said, and left.

Hope offered his arm, and the three of us went back down the hallway, the cart’s wheels squeaking on the marble floor behind us as we went.

The study was near the drawing room, and was comfortably furnished with a desk, table, and shelves that were already beginning to fill with books. On the far wall there was a window that opened to the rose gardens.

“It’s lovely,” I said. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it. I confess that I set this up for you to keep you from being cross about the library.”

“Why…” I began to say, and then stopped.

Hope stood silently for a moment, and his usual charming smile faded slightly. Then he turned to the maid and said, “Mercy, I will shelve the books. You may leave us.”

“Thank you, my Lord,” she said with a curtsey, and I belatedly realized that when Chastity had shouted “Mercy” it hadn’t been an expletive, but rather, the girl’s name.

When we were alone, Hope turned back to me, his smile gone. He even frowned slightly as he leaned against the cart and pulled out a selection of books.

“Astronomy, trigonometry, alchemy, philosophy- I even brought you some of the liturgy. I was going to burn the liturgy, you see, after my father died, but I didn’t. I’m glad someone in this house can use them, now.”

“Burn them!” I gasped.

“I told you in the cabin, Grace, that I am a heretic. I’ve grown dissatisfied with the universal order you admire so much. The stars shine in the heavens, while we crawl like worms on the Earth below. Some live in splendor,” he gestured to the intricate furnishings around him, “while others suffer immeasurably.

“I’ve done things that may cause trouble, later,” Hope continued. “So the less you know about it, the less it can touch you. You’ve come to my house at the worst possible time, but I will protect you. I promise.”

Hope pushed his heavy, dark hair away from his eyes and smiled again. “I will either gain the power to protect you, or I will set you free, Grace. Until then, keep to this part of the house, and don’t ask too many questions.”

I sighed, then, with unexpected relief. Strangely, in confirming my worst fears with his confession, he’d set me at ease. Perhaps, I thought, an honest villain was safer than a masked one.

There was a knock on the door.

“Enter,” Hope said graciously.

The door opened, and Chastity stepped through.

“I beg your pardon, my Lord, but we have visitors.”

 

#

Chastity opened the doors to a magnificent drawing-room, hung with velvet and gold, with an oval ceiling tiled with gold medallions. In the center of the room, seated on a red-cushioned couch, was a short-haired officer wearing black gloves. By his side, with her short legs swinging over the edge of the couch, sat a brown-eyed little girl.

 

The Coven, Part V

Under the Cherry Skies

This a short story I’ve written as a companion piece to my novel, Gemini Song. It takes place after the events of that book, and before the possible sequel.

You can read Gemini Song here:

http://www.amazon.com/Gemini-Song-Bridgett-Kay-ebook/dp/B00GK5XVDM

It was a beautiful day on the planet Tara, as usual.
The sky was the perfect shade of cerulean, offset with the occasional puffy, white cloud. Apeilon, Tara’s star, shone brightly overhead, illuminating the avenue, which was lined with café tables and trees with purple blossoms.
Leah sat at a table at the end of the avenue, under a tree with heavy, low handing branches. She stared up through the branches through her pink framed sunglasses and frowned. Every once in a while, she would sigh loudly and, in response, the time would display on her glasses frames before flashing away once more.
Of course, she couldn’t blame her companions for being late. Life had been weird ever since their arrival on Tara. She’d lived in at least three different apartments so far, as space was shifted to allow for the sudden influx of refugees from the now destroyed Earth. The refugees, too, had been lulled into sloth by the pleasant atmosphere on their new world. Earth had been a paved-over, grey skied dump; there was nothing to do on Earth but work. But here on Tara there were fields, forests, streams, and endless sunny days. Many new arrivals were taking weeks off to go hiking and camping- to hell with filing reports and overseeing infrastructure building.
Thankfully, Prometheus- the great computer that ruled civilization- had been able to use the limited apartment space to incentivize workers, and the world seemed to be settling down into a routine, once more. Still, long lunch breaks were now the norm, and there weren’t many times during the day when, like now, the street cafés were almost empty.
Leah considered herself lucky. She was a member of the artist caste, meaning she had a fairly non-essential job. She could take as much time as she liked during the day, and Prometheus had still given her a nice-sized apartment all to herself. There was no one around to hassle her.
“Hey, Leah. Don’t you dare be late for rehearsal again, or I’ll hang you from the rafters.”
Well, no one but Grant.
“Hi Grant. I have plenty of time before rehearsal. You are the one who was late for tea.” She smiled sweetly at the tall, skinny man who had sat down at the table beside her.
“Oh no- late for tea. How will our dance company ever recover from such a mishap? I can see the critical reviews now. ‘Eminent Artistic Director Late for Tea.’”
“Eminent?”
“Just wait- once we debut The Music of the Spheres we’ll all be famous. It will be hailed as the greatest ballet of all time.”
“As long as I’m on time for rehearsal.”
Grant nodded. “Exactly.”
He leaned over the table and pressed a glass panel on top with his thumb, and a holographic menu in pink and lilac popped up in front of his eyes.
“I’ll have black tea, plain-“ he waved the menu away, and his order popped up automatically, seemingly from inside the table.
“We aren’t waiting for Cherry?”
As if in response to Leah’s question, a tiny, curly- haired redhead pounded up to their table, and then bent over, gasping and out of breath.
“You’re out of shape, Cherry,” Grant said. “You should take classes with the company students every day until opening night.”
“I’m already,” Cherry gasped and bent over again, panting, until she caught her breath again. “I’m already taking the advanced student class after company class. That’s why I’m late. But guys, you won’t believe what happened.”
“Does this have anything to do with the company?”
“No-“ Leah answered before Cherry could. “She’s been reading the gossip on usernet, again. She’ll believe anything they post-“
“But it’s true, this time! They have leaked videos and everything. Listen,” Cherry sat down and took a communicator from her pocket. “I’ve been reading-“
“What do you want to drink?” Leah interrupted, removing her glasses and pressing her thumb on the table. “I’m getting a boba tea, and maybe a croissant-“
“You’re on a diet,” Grant said.
“Ok, no croissant.”
“I’ll just have green tea,” Cherry said. “But listen, guys, you know that Prometheus’s orders have been getting weird ever since the Tiamat incident-“
“Do you even know what the “Tiamat incident” was?” Leah asked.
“No one knows what the Tiamat incident was!” Cherry said, shaking her ginger curls excitedly. “The whole thing is a huge secret.  First there’s a giant ether storm in space that almost destroys the computer who runs our whole society, and then a new computer called Tiamat appears from nowhere? Mysterious.”
“And some random weirdo on usernet has figured it out?” Grant said, arching his brows.
“No, but the gossip is getting really good. You know that there were peace talks recently with the colonies on the galactic rim, right?”
“Yeah, I know that. Big waste of time, though, right? It’s not like there was a war or anything. I think Prometheus just wants to keep our ambassadors from getting bored,” Leah said.
“Ok, so after the peace talks were over, Prometheus gives High Priestess Z0, and her assistant, Sister Z12, an order to go to Zairi 3 and wait for further orders.”
“Zairi 3, the resort planet?” Grant said.
“Yeah, to this really awesome resort called the Grande Poseidon.”
“Oh- I know the place. My mom went there with my ex-stepdad when they were trying to save their marriage. They got divorced anyway- she met stepdad #3 at the resort bar.”
“Anyway, so the High Priestess and her assistant go there, and a couple of weeks go by- no orders. So the High Priestess contacts Prometheus and says, ‘what’s the deal?’ Prometheus replies, ‘oh, you have high levels of stress hormones. You should take a yoga class.’”
“Wow, who cares?” Grant said. “Usernet can’t make up any interesting gossip?”
“This isn’t made up. Anyway, so she takes the yoga class, and still no orders from Prometheus. So she contacts him again and this time he said, ‘Oh hey, both you and sister Z12 have really high levels of stress hormones. You should get a couples massage , to relax.”
Leah snorted, and put her hand up just in time to keep from spewing tea all over the table. Grant just shook his head and took another sip of tea.
“That’s so cruel! Everyone knows that Z12 is totally gaga for the High Priestess, even though she’s totally clueless. “ Leah scooted her chair closer to Cherry and took her communicator, peering closely at the screen. “And the priestesses are supposed to be celibate.“
“And now I’ve lost Leah to the madness.” Grant sighed.
“Yeah, the High Priestess was completely clueless, and she tried to get Z12 to go with her to get the massage. Z12 just started crying and had a complete breakdown in the hotel.”
“It’s really awful to spread these kinds of rumors,” Grant said. “That poor woman-“
“But there’s an article in the actual news- apparently Z12 has announced that she’s really leaving the priesthood. Not only that, but Prometheus has officially announced that they’re getting rid of the celibacy rule in the priesthood. Last week, Z12- well, Katherine, she’s going by her real name now- was spotted in the same hotel again with the High Priestess.”
“And?” Grant said.
“I’m glad they got rid of the celibacy rule. It was stupid. There a lot of talented people who can’t be in the priesthood because of it,” Leah said.
“But isn’t this weird? People on usernet are saying that it’s the first of a lot of changes that Tiamat is going to make.”
“Prometheus gave the order,” Leah pointed out.
“Sure, yeah, but this all must be Tiamat’s influence. A lot of weird orders have gone out since Tiamat appeared.”
“There have been some weird things going on,” Grant conceded. “A lot of unpopular companies have been getting top venues for plays, operas and ballets. No one had ever heard of Starkid productions, and all of a sudden they have the hottest play in this quadrant.”
“Now you’re being silly, Grant,” Leah said. Prometheus has always given nonsensical orders- at least, orders that seem nonsensical. But everything always works out for the best. We’re just picking out strange orders out of a whole bunch of normal ones to fit our story of a weird new computer coming in and taking over our civilization.”
“Not weird, just different,” Cherry took her communicator back and smiled and mysterious smile. “Trust me, new, wonderful things are going to happen soon. They’re already happening.”
Leah stared at Cherry for a moment, almost in awe at the certainty in her voice, and then she shook her head and put her glasses on, again. “Sure thing, Cherry.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it,” Grant said. “Come on, Leah. Let’s get to rehersal.”
“I’ll be along in a minute,” Cherry said. “I want to finish my tea.”
“Ok- see you at the auditorium,” Leah said with a wave. She linked arms with Grant, and the two walked between the blossoming trees on the sunny avenue.
Cherry smiled as they left, and then her communicator vibrated. She pressed the screen, and held the communicator to her ear.
“Hello- Prometheus! Yes, what are your orders? Of course. I’ve already shared the story on usernet. I’ll be sure to get Grant on board as soon as possible. I agree, he’s perfect to share Tiamat’s message. Yes, Prometheus. I await further orders.”
Cherry put the communicator into her handbag, and then stood, putting her teacup into the nearest trash receptacle. Then she put on her own sunglasses, and strode up the street, a spring in her step.
It was another beautiful day on the planet Tara.