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Weekly Update 3/23/23

2023.03.24 16:44 CryptographerOk2258 Weekly Update 3/23/23

Pastel Community Update (March 23, 2023)
The next generation NFT focused blockchain. Certifiable authenticity. Permanent storage. Negligible fees. Build, secure, and scale your Web3 ecosystem with Pastel.
The Pastel Team has been extremely busy with a number of major development updates, partnership rollouts, and product releases. Check back here each week for new developments
Check Pastel channels for:
Weekly community snapshots shared across our various channels.
🐾Quarterly updates released via our newsletter.
☎️Weekly community town halls / AMAs directly with the Pastel team. Come prepared with your questions, comments, and feedback!
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Key Updates:
🚨Partnership with Astar Network🚨
Pastel Network is excited to announce that it will be working with @AstarNetwork, a layer1 parachain in the Polkadot ecosystem. Astar provides the infrastructure for building dApps with EVM and WASM smart contracts offering developers true interoperability with cross-consensus messaging (XCM) and a cross-virtual machine (XVM). Astar and Pastel will collaborate with the goal of providing Pastel’s Web3 tooling solutions — Sense and Cascade — to its NFT ecosystem. This collaboration signifies the continued successes of both Pastel and Astar, and is a massive step forward for the overall NFT ecosystem. It is a testament to the growing need for NFT reliability, security and verifiability, solved via Pastel’s advanced infrastructure.
Learn more on Medium
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It is our great pleasure to announce that SmartMint will now have a Twitter presence. The SmartMint twitter account has officially launched.
Check out our collaboration with @Agoric and @kryhia_io as SmartMint was used to mint their work.
We are always looking for artists to collaborate with, please inquire on any social media platforms
🚨Addition of Status Page🚨
We're continuously #building to ensure that our users have the most powerful Web3/NFT infrastructure at their disposal
We recently released a Status Page so you can monitor the performance of our infrastructure & services in real time. Check it out here!
🚨Wrapped PSL🚨
Wrapped PSL or wPSL exists to transfer tokens across platforms. We have noticed the buzz about wPSL (wrapped PSL), so we’ve created a video about it! 🔗wPSL holders can store on wallets such as MetaMask 💹You can also trade on Ethereum DEXs
wPSL is available on Uniswap. Watch our video and learn more here
🚨Pastel Testnet Faucet Release🚨
Our Testnet Faucet is now live. The launch of this independent network enables users to obtain LSP (Pastel Testnet Tokens) to experiment with and develop in the Pastel Testnet environment. This gives users the ability to experiment with Pastel features without having to spend valuable PSL on the mainnet.
Learn more about Pastel's Testnet Faucet
🚨Becoming a Supernode Operator🚨
Become a Supernode operator today & gain increased credibility in the validator community & earn exclusive rewards from the foundation, such as PSL or NFT airdrops, in addition to receiving Block & Transactional Rewards.
🚨Cascade Protocol🚨
Cascade has numerous concrete advantages over competing systems such as IPFS & Arweave, particularly when it comes to censorship resistance, data permanence & data accessibility.
Check out our technical paper on Cascade, Pastel's storage layer. Cascade is an extremely powerful & robust storage system for true data permanence that is both completely decentralized & highly scalable. Learn more here
🚨Sense Protocol🚨
Sense is a Near-Duplicate NFT detection protocol powered by the Pastel Network. Assess the relative rareness of a given NFT against near-duplicate metadata on networks like Ethereum, Solana, etc to prevent prevalent scams or theft. Try it yourself here and watch it work here
🚨Monet 1.2 Mainnet Release 🚨
The Pastel team has been working hard on this upgrade that will be live soon. Here are some features that will be included in the upgrade. Learn more about Monet 1.2 Mainnet release. Users will have the opportunity to experiment with Monet before the release using testnet.
-Storage challenges in Cascade guarantee ongoing data permanence & decentralization on the network across active & compliant Supernodes. -Activation of Supernode Health and State Challenges: Similar to Proof of Storage, Health & State Challenges will guarantee the ongoing active and enabled state of each Supernode client on the network.
-Stabilization of Sense Protocol: Improvements to Chrome Driver usage, updates to Webtools 1.3, and implementation of additional tickets. -Release of the OpenAPI Gateway: Production-ready Gateway will be deployed via the Mainnet with support for a number of new endpoints, asynchronous execution, Ansible support for independent deployment, and a graphical user interface for interaction.
🚨2023 Roadmap and Review of 2022🚨
Pastel released its 2023 roadmap, including a review of 2022. Pastel Network 2022 in review and roadmap for 2023 shows great progress made in the previous year and much promise for the year ahead.
Upcoming year
Upcoming Mainnet Releases
🚨News and Developments🚨
-Pastel in the news
📀CoinTelegraph looks into industry leaders’ tips (inlcuding Pastel’s own Anthony Georgiades) for regulatora
🐱Catcoin discusses the Astar partnerhship
⚓Pastel Networks co-founder, Anthony Georgiades talks about what regulators can do in this Cointelegraph article
💡 Check out this Medium article on how Sense is revolutionizing NFT provenance written by Ima-Abasi Pius Joseph
🌡️ Pastel Networks co-founder, Anthony Georgiades talks about his optimism for the market in this CoinDesk article
👀 CoinDesk features co-founder, Anthony Georgiades, and what Coinbase's transition means for crypto
🌵Bitcoin Insider discusses how Pastel protects and stores artists’ NFTs
💚Check out how Pastel Network protects and stores artist’s NFTs in this Bitcoin Insider article.
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⭐CoinDesk Twitter provides you with daily crypto updates
🌼CoinDesk delves into the battle of crypto vs traditional finance
🌀ABC calls cryptocurrency a “bystander” in SVB collapse
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🌺CoinTelegraph shares how to bridge the gap to web3
-Pastel Archive
🚧We released a Builder’s Guide for ecosystem partners integrating w/ Pastel. Come build with us here.
🌯wPSL or wrapped is explained in this video and
🚧Pastel is completely open-source. Check out what we are working on here.
💫If you could not attend our Twitter Space with u/wondermundo on 2/17, hear it here
🌀Testnet tutorial video
🏆Learn more about Sense and Cascade
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📹Check out this youtube demonstration showing what happened when we compared OpenSea’s new duplicate detection system to Sense Sense Comp Analysis
-Pastel news and essays
♠️NFT real estate explained
⭐Astar Partnership intro
🖌️Monet 1.2 preview
🐋NFTs and climate change
🚀Value of NFTs explained
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2023.03.24 13:23 AhangerHOBO Top 10 places to visit in Kashmir 2023 Ahanger HOBO

Top 10 places to visit in Kashmir 2023 Ahanger HOBO
Ahanger HOBO offers the best Travel Packages & Services throughout the Kashmir Valley, India.
Hotel Taxi Adventure \"Ahanger HOBO\"

1: Gurez Valley Kashmir:

Gurez Valley by Ahanger HOBO
Gurez Valley is one of the least explored regions of Kashmir and the one that can truly be called an offbeat destination. It is a place of high scenic beauty that does not really get the attention that it truly deserves. and the natural beauty of the mountains that you see here is very different from what you will see elsewhere.
Gurez, also spelled Gurais, is a valley located at a distance of about 154 kilometers from Srinagar. Due to its proximity to the border, tourist movement in the region was not allowed until a few years ago.
But now, Indian nationals can travel to Gurez Valley as long as they are carrying valid government-issued identity proof (Aadhar card). Foreign nationals are required to obtain a permit from either Srinagar or Bandipora.
The valley is surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It has diverse fauna and wildlife including the Himalayan brown bear and the snow leopard.
The Kishanganga River flows through the valley before merging into the Jhelum River near Muzaffarabad. Razdan Pass is the only high-altitude pass between Srinagar and Gurez. Due to heavy snowfall in winter, the road remains blocked for about six months a year. Gurez Valley can be reached by road between April to Sept.
The valley is divided into two districts, Dawar and Tilel. Dawar is also the central township in Gurez and this is where all the guest houses and homestays are available also there are no luxury accommodations yet located.

2: Keran Valley Kashmir:

Karen Valley by Ahanger HOBO
Keran is a village in Kupwara District. Keran valley got divided into two parts leaving thousands of souls separated from each other. The pain humans face due to the division of the valley can be well understood by their people. Keran is a beautiful border area with the Kishenganga River flowing through it which acts as a line of control between Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir. The other side of the Kishanganga River is called Neelum Valley and the village located on the opposite side is also called Keran,
The ancient Sharada Peeth temple, as well as the adjacent ruins of Sharada University, are situated in the same Neelam Valley just a few miles from Keran. At Sharda village where Sharda temple and University are situated in the river, Kishanganga joins Madhumati and Sargun streams. It was among the most prominent temple universities in the Indian subcontinent. Kashmiri Pandit brethren have been demanding the opening of the Sharda Peeth corridor for many years now.
Keran is home to many beauties like streams, springs, rivers, mountains, dense forests including walnut trees, and to a variety of Wildlife. On the way to Keran at Firkiyan top the 360-degree view of the surroundings is mesmerizing and enchanting beauty brings goosebumps. One can witness the lush green forests, Meadows, Streams, and also the architecture of wooden houses. The wooden architecture and style of construction of the house are still standing tall all across the Keran. These precious wooden houses need to be preserved and protected and need to be promoted as heritage sites.
The landslide decision of the Government of India to bring border areas like Keran, Gurez, Tangdhar, Machil, and Bangus on the tourism map has brought happiness to the faces of the People of Kashmir. These are the new tourist destinations that will facilitate peace and development in these border areas.
Any non-resident traveler, wishing to visit the border areas of Keran, Karnah, and Machil has to obtain permission from District Magistrate Kupwara which is very easy as the interested person need not personally visit any Office but have to get it through online mode. A non-resident traveler can access the portal at and register himself/herself. In Kupwara or Kralpora Market, a traveler can hire a vehicle of his choice for Keran or can go in his own car also as conditions of the road from Kralpora to Kupwara is good except few kilometers which are not metallic but motorable. Along with a few government-owned rest houses, there are homestay facilities available for tourists. Camping tents are also available along with all basic facilities.
Since the spot has recently been introduced as a tourist destination, a lot is being done to promote tourism in the area by the government particularly the Indian army is always seen giving a helping hand to the local population to lead Keran towards peace and prosperity.

3: Pahalgam Kashmir (The Village of Shepherds):

Pahalgam Kashmir by Ahanger HOBO
One of the most famous and beautiful destinations in all of Kashmir Valley is Pahalgam “the Village of the Shepherds”. It is located 96km (about 3 hours’ drive) from Srinagar.
Originally a sleepy wee village of Shepphards (more rumors abound that Jesus passed some time here amongst his flock!) Pahalgam has exquisite scenery of majestic pines, and blossoming high-altitude meadows looking up to snowy peaks and down into beautiful blue rivers. It is possible to enjoy a day trip to this location to get out of noisy Srinagar but the beauty of Pahalgam does not lie around the small bazaar, hotels, and parks of Pahalgam town but in the mountains past Aru.
Pahalgam Town
The journey from Srinagar itself gives- you a taste of what lies ahead. Noisy congested streets give way to poplars and rice fields, where flashes of color from the pink or green of a woman’s head scarf to the golden grain reflect the sunlight.
You know Pahalgam is approaching when you spy the rushing and refreshing Lidder River starting to turn and gurgle. When you hit Pahalgam town, there is quite a noisy bazaar reminiscent of Dal gate selling the usual Kashmiri handicrafts and shawls. If only stay for the day there is a number of parks where you can relax and enjoy a picnic.

4: Gulmarg Kashmir “The Meadow of Flowers”:

Gulmarg Kashmir by Ahanger HOBO
It may be possible to take a tourist map of Kashmir and replace it with a picture of Gulmarg. Gulmarg is the Kashmir valley’s most famous and primary tourist destination, especially in the winter when the temperature is low and the snow is soft and powdery. Gulmarg is the location for all the adventure activities from skiing, heli-skiing, and snowboarding, to high-altitude golf, trekking, and riding the world-famous gondola.
Gulmarg is an open meadow surrounded by lovely thick pine forests and in the spring the grassy slopes are covered with wildflowers, bluebells, daisies, forget-me-nots, and butter cups. Gulmarg lies under the majestic Mount Apharwat (4511m) in the northeast of the Pir-Panjal range about 55 km from Srinagar. The beautiful valley of Gulmarg is about 3km in length (meaning you can easily walk to most places), crescent-shaped, and just less than 1km wide. The drive to Gulmarg itself is beautiful, passing through avenues of poplar trees and rice fields until you begin your steep ascent through majestic pines. Gulmarg can be enjoyed on a day trip with a picnic and a ride in the gondola. Or come here to relax and ski, and with the opening of the second phase of the gondola in 2005, it is now a world-class destination for skiers of all abilities. Others come to hike from Gulmarg to other lush locations in the Kashmir valley such as the famous and most beautiful meadow of Tosamaidan. When both stages of the gondola are operational you can journey up to the Apharwat station for amazing views and photo opportunities of the valley and the Kishtwar and Himalayan ranges.
The French firm Poma designed the gondola and at 12992ft is considered the highest in the world. The beauty of all the white snow piling up around the trees and hills is a beautiful sight and should not be missed if you are in Kashmir in the winter.

5: Verinag Kashmir:

Verinag Kashmir by Ahanger HOBO
Lying at the north-western foot of the Banihal pass is Verinag, the largest spring in Kashmir (78kms from Srinagar), which is said to never dry up or overflow. It lies in a beautiful and peaceful garden with an octagonal pool in the middle, which Emperor Jehangir had converted from a circle to fit with the Mughal style. It is said he would rest here for weeks after crossing the Pir Panjal from Punjab. And it is indeed a place to relax and enjoy, the most perfect picnic spot in the Kashmir Valley. The pool which emits a clear sparkling stream is said to be Nila Nag the son of Kashyap Reshi, who was made King of the Kashmiri Nagas (nag snake worshippers). There are beautiful carvings of stones in Persian on the walls surrounding the spring telling how this great source of underwater spring is contained. There are guest houses here and also a tourist bungalow in which you can pass a relaxing night, before returning to Srinagar or continuing back over the Pir Panjal to Jammu. There is a Shaivite shrine located just outside the complex that draws pilgrims every year who come for a ritual dip on the first day of the year according to the Hindu lunar calendar. Verinag is also said to be the source of the Jhelum River, the blood that flows through Kashmir’s body. To reach Verinag, first, you must take shared sumo from the Dalgate petrol pump to Anantnag (Islamabad) from the jeep stand here take another car to Verinag.

6: Sonmarg "The Meadow of Gold":

Sonmarg Kashmir by Ahanger HOBO
Sonamarg the Meadow of Gold and is located 84 km from Srinagar. Sonamarg can either be reached by road or by trekking from Pahalgam. By road, Sonamarg is the last stop with tea houses, accommodations, and restaurants before you cross the Zoji-La and enter Ladakh. Sonamarg is Kashmir's most famous meadow, named for the time when, under the afternoon sunlight, the meadow turns to gold. The slopes and meadows are layered with mountain flowers, and the surrounding forests are thick with firs, sycamore, and birch, creating that sumptuous mountain aroma! Today the main bazaar of Sonamarg, like Pahalgam, has become crowded by opportunism. So please venture beyond the main road and let yourself dive into the magical mountain surroundings. If just visiting for the day there are a few activities you can explore. Pony rides and picnics are most popular with the locals. You can also try trout fishing for INR50 per fish. The best thing to do on a day trip is to walk to Thajiwas, 1/1.5 hours walk from the main bazaar, you can also take a taxi halfway and then a horse. Thajiwas is a small and lovely side valley and is located at the foot of the Sonamarg glacier. It is an amazing location, for at least five glaciers come cascading down the mountains to meet at this point! If you would like to stay the night and enjoy the mountain peaks and glaciers, there is a tourist hut and also an awesome camping ground. Another longer, walk, would be to Baltal, which is a base camp for the Amarnath Yatra. It is located 15km north of Sonamarg and is a small lovely valley at the base of Zoji La, you can make the walk but it is also possible to drive. You can camp here next to the bank of the river. If you are lucky, you will spot Gujjars and their herd being dwarfed by the snow-covered peaks, also by groves of fir and poplar trees. The Sonamarg meadow used to be a popular grazing ground for the Gujjar cattle herders, unfortunately, use and development have rendered it unsuitable for grazing their livestock anymore. Note that Sonamarg is another great starting point for exciting mountain treks. You can reach Sonamarg by SRTC Bus leaving at 8:30 am every morning during the tourist season. The 'deluxe 19-seater is INR351 and the 'high-tech' 36-seater is INR271. There are no real budget hotels in Sonamarg during the summer season, everything is priced at INR 4000 and above. If you have a tent a good option is to camp at the Thajiwas glacier camping ground.

7: Tulip Garden Srinagar Kashmir:

Tulip Garden by Ahanger HOBO
Kashmir Tulip Garden is called "Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip garden", Erlier Model Floriculture Center Kashmir, and it is a tulip garden located in Srinagar, Kashmir, India. It is the largest tulip garden in the Asia continent and has spread over an area of about 74 acres of land. It is situated under the foot side of the Zabarwan range of mountains, built on a sloping ground in a terraced fashion consisting of seven terraces if you manage to go up, then you would be able to see the Dal Lake view. It was opened in the year 2007 to boost floriculture tourism in the Kashmir Valley. earlier it was called Siraj Bagh. Around more than a million million tulip bulbs get cultivated every year, all in different colors, like (Pink, Violet, White, Yellow, Red, and many more) Besides tulips, there are many varieties of flowers, including hyacinths, daffodils, and ranunculus which were brought from Holland. The tulip garden is home to around 68 varieties of tulips.
Tulip festival
The tulip festival is celebrated in the month of April every year, This year 2023 it has been opened before its time (on 19 Mar)
The Tulip festival is an annual Spring festival to increase tourism by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir.

8: Doodhpathri Kashmir:

Doodhpathri Kashmir by Ahanger HOBO
Doodhpathri is known as the Valley of Milk. Doodhpathri is a tourist destination and a hill station in Kashmir. It is located in Khansahib area of budgam of Jammu and Kashmir. Situated at an altitude of 2,730 meters (8,960 ft) from sea level, it is located at a distance of 50 km from Srinagar.
The road to Doodhpathri from Srinagar is quite pleasant. Your journey to be quite beautiful with stunning landscapes on the way. The natural beauty of the place is absolutely mesmerizing. The lush green meadows have such a velvety appearance that you will feel like walking barefoot on the green grass. The place is surrounded by tall conifers. The snow-capped mountain range looms in the background at one side. The air is cool and simply breathtaking. This is a place where time seems to have stopped!
There was once a famous Kashmiri saint Sheikh Noor din Noorani who had come to this place to pray. He wanted to pray and was looking for water in the meadows. He used his stick to prick the ground in search of water. And instead of water, milk comes gushing out. Sheikh Noorani, however, did not want to use the milk to wash his hands and feet. He thought that the milk was to be used for drinking purposes only. So by divine provenance, the milk again changed back to water! And the meadows got its name “Doodhpathri.
This place also has an interesting tale behind it. However, the name Doodhpathri perhaps came from the gushing river that flows in the valley. The fast-flowing water when strikes against the stones give a milky appearance. This could have been the reason why this place is known as Doodhpathri. After all, the name literally translates into the “Valley of Milk” Doodh means milk and Pathri means valley. The tourists visiting Kashmir usually travel to Pahalgam, Gulmarg, and Sonmarg on their first visit. Not many tourists visit here. The majority of the people visiting there are mostly Kashmiri locals going there for picnics. However, you can include this place in your itinerary if you want to explore a bit of offbeat Kashmir.

9: Naranag Kashmir:

Naranag Kashmir by Ahanger HOBO
This village can be the base camp for trekking to Gangbal Lake or to summit Mt Harmoukh. Visiting this village and its surroundings in itself is beautiful and it is possible to either camp here for the night or stay the night with the local villagers. It is also a base for the treks to Gadsar, Vishansar, and Krishansar lakes, although these require more time around 5 to 7 days of walking. The drive to Naranag from Srinagar (2.5 hours) is gorgeous and as you ascend through the valleys and see the flashes of tin roofs, baby mosques, signs of simple village life, and verdant green, you will be glad you took the opportunity! If you drive through the afternoon as the sun is on its descent, the whole world turns a warm bronzy gold, which is just champagne for a photographer or videographer.
Naranag is a popular tourist destination for its proximity and ease from Srinagar, its luscious surroundings, and the mysterious ruins of a large Hindu temple.

10: Old City Srinagar:

Old City Kashmir by Ahanger HOBO
The Old City of Srinagar must be visited before you can even get a glimpse into what traditional Kashmiri life must have been like. The old town is situated around the river Jhelum and can be divided into sections along with its famous bridges. Before the Islamic rulers came, there were no bridges in the old city, small boats were moored at either side to provide cross-river water transportation. The people of the old city are inquisitive and kind, you will be stared upon, approached, and usually invited in for chai, “chai chakha/chai pyoo”. The sights of the old city are many and varied.
There are two ways to discover the old city, by land or by sea, if you have enough time, it is suggested you experience both! You can take a Shikara or motorboat from Dal Lake, Nageen Lake, or the Bund behind Lal Chowk. Prices will be negotiable, anywhere from INR800 up, entirely depending on the season, the distance, time, and the temperament of the Shikara wallah. Shikara wallahs can also provide lunch, tea, snacks, and other items if you so desire. Seeing the old city by the water, you can really get a feeling of the geography, as well as the former glory of Srinagar. The first thing you will notice is that the Kashmiris are people of the water as much as they are people of the mountains. Their lives were and still are shaped by the bends of the river, the Jhelum particularly has been a place of agriculture, trade, worship, life, and death. You will get to see how the old city of Srinagar has been situated around the river Jhelum, with bridges spanning the river at intervals and connecting the two sides, and how many of the old temples and shrines are located right on the banks. You will see glimpses of former magnificent houses of wood and mud and official buildings constructed by the Mughal rulers bordering the river and begin to understand how much of the body of Srinagar was run by the blood of the Jhelum. There are a few ways to reach the old city on foot. You can enter from the Dal Lake by walking straight through Khayam (take the Dal Gate bridge and walk away from the bazaar and the Boulevard) and just keep walking (you can also take the bus from the Dal Gate bridge heading away from the Bazaar). You can take a rickshaw from Dal and get dropped at Habba Kadal (approx INR50) and move from there. A third and most interesting walk is to start from near the Mahkdom Sahib Shrine and wander down the streets just under, where there lives a collection of folks who have made their homes in this place.
The best way to approach navigation of the old city is either to follow the river as much as you can and Crisscross the bridges at your fancy or turn into the city and enter into the alleyways and simply get lost. Inside you will discover the trades, products, food, and architecture of old.
Ahanger HOBO is a travel company located and based in Kashmir, India. Ahanger HOBO has thousands of happy clients and it is growing at a great pace every year.
Ahanger HOBO is the reputed and best travel agency in Kashmir, India. which offers Hotel, Taxi & Adventure, here is the list of adventure activities: Trekking Hiking Cliffhanging Mountain Biking Paragliding Surfing Caving Zip Line Camping Hot Air Ballooning.
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2023.03.24 11:14 Vegetable_Wear8016 Writer Wednesdays Follow Up

Hi Ladies, I am a freelance writer and I had put up a post a few weeks ago regarding sharing our writing with others in this community anonymously of course. I received so many positive responses on that post but I have no idea how to go about this so what do you guys suggest? And to start off with I am sharing my story which I hope will bring joy for a few moments.
Coconut Trees
In a small town in southern India, in the coastal state of Kerala, where the banana fritters were delicious and the heat was scorching, Prema was living her quiet life as a high school teacher. The small town had a school of around 500 students out of which Prema taught Chemistry to 100 of them.
She was 45, a wife to a much older man, a mother to a 20-year-old son and a daughter-in-law who took care of her husband's old mother. She was a quiet but strict teacher who rarely gave her students any grace marks or extensions for classwork.
Life was the same every day. She woke up early, made breakfast and lunch, cleaned the house, gave her mother-in-law her medicines and ensured the old lady was occupied watching the soap operas on television and then went to school. She returned home, cooked dinner, checked on her mother-in-law and graded papers or prepared exam question papers. Her son was away in the big city pursuing his degree so she had some breathing room from her motherly duties. Her husband was a Government official who came back home by 6 p.m. and spent the rest of his day watching the news or meeting his childhood friends at one of their houses.
"Can you check when this movie is releasing? I want to watch it in the theatre" her mother-in-law asked her during dinner. "You can barely go for walks and you want to go to the theatre" Prema responded. "You just have to take me by rickshaw to the theatre and then I can make it happen, I will not watch this movie on TV, it's not going to happen" "Well you can take yourself then because I'm not taking you," Prema told her. "You are not that busy, I see you on your phone all the time once you're back from school," her mother-in-law said with conviction. "I keep an eye on my students' social media accounts, their parents have let them go wild" Prema responded. "You are up to no good," her mother-in-law said ending the conversation with a smirk.
She had grown tired of being a caretaker over the years. The rigid routine she had to follow to keep up with motherhood, teaching, marriage and being a caretaker to an older woman with deteriorating health had made her develop this disciplinarian personality. If she became laid back it was reflected in her teaching and her mother-in-law falling sick.
Despite the monotonous life she led, Prema had a secret. A secret she liked to keep to herself. A secret that could cause her neighbours to start spinning the wheels of gossip.
She was part of a gardening group on Facebook where she met Joy. He was a middle-aged man from the North East. He stayed in Shillong, he was a tour guide and an avid gardener. He was also a father to 2 daughters. His wife and he had separated several years ago. This was her secret, her closest companion was a stranger online.
Prema's son introduced her to the gardening group when she struggled with growing certain vegetables in their backyard. They would grow to a certain level and then stop. It started with group conversations and then became private messages between Joy and her. He was why her avocados were bearing fruit and her spinach was blossoming.
It had been 2 years of talking online every day after their duties were done to their families. It was her favourite time of the day. They would discuss what they did at work, the status of their gardens and life in general. Joy would send her beautiful images of the Eastern valleys, waterfalls and treks he would go on as a tour guide and Prema would share serene images of Kerala's backwaters and beaches.
She dressed in her brightest saree and went to the temple near the river and video called Joy when she sat near the water so that they could enjoy talking with a view. They commented on the local fishermen, the changes they made to their cooking off late and how they wanted to get away from their responsibilities for a short while.
Why was it wrong for her to want a companion to share her thoughts with? She chose to share her life with her husband who she had a duty toward but did they have anything in common other than talking about their son? Their last conversation was about the electricity bill.
Prema's marriage was neither extraordinary nor terrible, it was just normal. Her husband liked to give his opinion on anything and everything, he was a loud, outspoken person. He was also very specific about his meals. He was a good father to their son and he felt he was a good husband as well. They just didn't have a relationship outside of their son, his mother's issues and fish curry.
So why did Prema and Joy never meet in person? Prema had no excuse to give her family as to why she would want to go to Shillong. Their idea of taking a vacation was going to Munnar which was just a few hours away or visiting some temples in Tamil Nadu and that was it. She had no family in the North East to visit nor any friends to use as a reason to visit. Joy had the same reasoning from his side.
They decided to remain online companions, their conversations and interaction over text and calls were just about enough. Sometimes in life, you choose to make things uncomplicated and they had chosen this path.
Did they ever get caught? They knew how to keep it discreet from their families. They had a few close calls with the suspicious child or spouse wondering who they talk to so often but it didn't result in them being revealed. They remained each other's invisible companions in crime.
Until one day, the calls and messages stopped. And Prema had nobody to talk to. She wanted to tell someone about her student stealing some lab equipment that she had caught and reprimanded. She wanted to talk about the pumpkins that were now growing wild in her garden. She wanted to talk about how much she disliked the latest Mohanlal movie but there was no Joy. He was her only friend/lover whatever you wanted to call it.
She tried to use her limited stalking skills to find out what had happened to him but she could never find out. There was nothing much you could do with a number that was now listed as invalid.
The days were busy but lonely and she always wondered if she had said something to cause this to happen. Or if Joy was physically harmed or even worse, dead! Many times she wished she could ask someone for help or talk to someone about Joy but she couldn't trust anyone with such a big secret. So she suffered in silence nursing the loneliness and hurt that followed.
"Your belly is looking bigger than last month," Prema told her husband. "Bigger?! It looks the same. You are noticing my belly more than necessary" he responded. "Well, if something that big is in front of my face I can't help but notice it," she said, making a face at him.
"I thought you bought me a red saree for Meenu’s wedding, this is such a drab colour!" her mother-in-law was yelling "You don't need to wear red, you're 80, not 50, it's not an old person's colour" Prema responded sarcastically. "You can't tell me what colour to wear! I want a red saree, I am telling my son about this" her mother-in-law said in rage. "You can try, you're not getting one since I already paid for this one," Prema said ending the argument.
It was cruel to take it out on her husband and her mother-in-law but she couldn't control it. She was angry and she had to direct it somewhere. They seemed to think it was her natural behaviour anyway.
The years flew by and Prema learned with much difficulty to let go. Her mother-in-law had passed and her son was working in an IT firm in Pune. She was close to her retirement from school and her husband had already retired.
They took comfort in each other's company, now that they were all they had left. They learnt to talk about things other than their son and fish curry. They even played a game of chess every week and took trips together to visit their son. He occasionally helped her out with her vegetable garden until he killed the chillies and she asked him to stop helping.
One year her son wanted to give them a trip to any place of their choice for their wedding anniversary as a gift. "We're too old to be going on trips," his father told him. "Everyone's parents are going on trips outside India and I am asking you to just go to Kashmir". "Kashmir is too far and too cold, I am not going to cold places" his father informed him. "I would like to go to the North East, I heard it's beautiful and it's not a cold place" Prema suggested. "Fine, you get good tea in Assam so I am okay," her husband told the both of them.
Their journey started in the beautiful Kaziranga national park in Assam and then moved on to the root bridges of Meghalaya. It was their last day, it was in Shillong, and the city was crowded and had long traffic jams. "We came to get away and this place is no getaway!" her husband complained. It was when her husband was taking his long afternoon nap that Prema decided to get away.
She took a taxi to the Upper Nongrim Hills, the address she had saved many years ago. Joy had always spoken about how his house overlooked the hills and that he enjoyed waking up to the view every morning.
She found a small pale yellow house on the highest floor of an old building. It had the nameplate 'Sangma' written on it. She was afraid to ring the doorbell and hear the bad news if Joy was dead or hurt. But, she had to know, it was now or never. An older woman opened the door "Can I meet Joy Sangma?" she asked her. She was half expecting her to say that this was the wrong address but the woman nodded. Prema introduced herself as being part of one of Joy's tours in the past and now that she was visiting again and wanted to hire him for another tour. She deduced that the older woman was his wife based on how she suspiciously asked Prema several questions. She was asked to wait outside.
She anxiously looked at her watch, her husband would wake up in an hour. She looked up and there he was. Joy didn't look like he had aged at all. He had some grey hair at his temples and a few wrinkles but otherwise he looked much younger than his current age. He even still wore the same style of clothes as his photos from years ago. A pastel-coloured shirt with jeans and a neck scarf.
They stood looking at each other for an uncomfortable and awkward few seconds. "You always looked nice in yellow," he told her. More silence followed. "Are you here because you're angry?" Joy asked her. "No, I'm here for closure" she responded. "That will take some time," he told her in a quiet sad voice. "She caught you didn't she? Your wife" she asked him "We were separated but it was better for our children that we get back together. I did not lie about the separation " he answered with a sigh.
"Can I ask why you never told me the reason and ended it?" Prema asked him, ignoring his previous statement. "Because I was ashamed that my secret was caught and everyone in my family found out, I didn't know how to tell you, I didn’t know how you would react and it was best to end it without saying anything further”.
Instead of a long explanation and an even more extended conversation, Prema decided to leave. Her taxi was waiting for her, she had 30 minutes left before her husband woke up. "Goodbye Joy, I regret pining for you over the years. Sadly, I always imagined this moment so differently in my head", she said. "I never once forgot about you, I thought about you every day over the years...I just didn't want to continue" he told her, his voice filled with guilt as she was walking away.
The next day, Prema was on the flight on her way home, and her husband was snoring in the seat next to hers. It was a night flight and the lights were off, all the passengers were in deep slumber. She allowed herself to finally break down.
The tears slowly rolled down her eyes, she sobbed quietly as she remembered the events from the previous day. All the hurt and anger she had been carrying over the years at herself and Joy was released. She let herself cry until her body stopped feeling heavy with emotion.
It was done, the truth had set her free. Nobody knew what had happened and nobody needed to know, it was her secret and it would remain that way. She was going home a changed woman.
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2023.03.23 15:07 bexrigs Shadow Figure that Saved My Mum's Life

Growing up, my mum had always taught me that it was okay to believe that something else could be out there. Ghosts, demons, aliens: we believe in them all. And from a young age, she told me tons of her true personal experiences with the supernatural and real-life awful people.
But there's this one story that still gets to me, because it involves both.
My mum was born in the U.K., but from age 7-14, she was raised in Austrailia. At age 7 or 8, her dad took my mum and her two brothers (my uncles) for a holiday in a cabin, owned by one of her dad's friends, in the middle of the outback. I think it's important to mention it was the Australian outback so you can get a real idea for how truly isolated this place was. No one around for miles and miles. There was a lake on the property and sparingly few trees with a bridge that curved over the water. They were booked to stay there for a couple of weeks. At the end of this story, you'll see why they didn't make it past 10 days.
The first few days of the holiday went by and nothing too out of the ordinary happened, but my mum could tell that there was something immediately off about this man that owned the cabin (let's call him the owner). The owner apparently tended to hang around the kids (i.e. my mum and her brothers) a lot and was constantly asking them questions that seemed to get more and more personal and innappropriate as time went on. Though it made my mother uncomfortable, she was raised to be polite so she usually answered his questions with a smile. After all, she was only 7 or 8 so she barely knew any better. Bearing in mind, this was whilst her dad wasn't around. He would be on the property somewhere as he was a good father that would never leave his kids unattended, but as this owner was his friend, he didn't mind leaving his kids with him in another room as they knew each other. Also it's worth mentioning that this story is from the 60's, my mum was born in 1957; parenting was much different back then.
As the days went by, this owner started to get a bit too close for comfort in my mum's eyes. While he liked her brothers just as well, he seemed to take a particular liking to my mother. Again, she is almost 8 years old and he was a fully grown man. His comments towards her turned more and more creepy, bordering paedophilic. Naturally, my mum started to fear the owner. She had wanted to say something to her father but worried he would just thinking she's being silly. But one fateful night, her fears became a reality. When her dad was in the bathroom getting ready for bed and her brothers were already tucked in, the owner took my mum aside in the dimly lit hallway, grasping her arm, and said the following to her:
"Meet me on the lake bridge at midnight tonight. And if you tell anyone where you're going, especially your daddy, your brothers won't make it to see the sunrise."
Mum told me that was the first time she had ever been frozen fom fear. Not knowing what to do or say, she simply nodded, tears in her eyes, and ran off to her bedroom that she shared with her brothers.
The hour of midnight drew closer and closer and mum hadn't been able to get a wink of sleep. The moonlight was the only source of light shining in through the windows in front the beds. She didn't tell me much about how the room looked, only that there was this big clock hanging on the wall, tick-tocking by that she could not stop staring at. She was terrified, thinking of all the possible outcomes. What would happen if she didn't go? Or the scarier, what would happen if she did?
It was then that mum's eyes transfixed on something she had only ever read about in stories but never in real life. A shadowy figure stood directly at the end of the bed.
For a brief fleeting moment, she thought it to be the owner, but realised quickly that it couldn't have been, because she could see the window behind it through the figure. Mum said it was unclear to tell whether this shadow figure resembled a man or woman. Just that it was simply there and she was very scared.
It was a few minutes dangerously close to midnight and the shadowy figure started to come closer to the bed. Mum brought her duvet up to just underneath her eyes in terror, silenced in shock that it never even occured to her to shout out for her sleeping brothers in the same room. She just sat there shivering.
A minute to midnight and a whispered voice rent the still air, a voice that she could only assume was coming from the shadow. It said:
"Don't go."
Suddenly, midnight struck and the figure turned into a floating mass of smokey shadow and began circling faster and faster around her bed. It was saying the same thing over and over again:
"Don't go, don't go, it's not safe, don't go!"
As it continued to race around her bed in an endless loop, mum pulled the cover over her head like any of us used to do when we were scared as a child, and stayed there until it eventually stopped. She didn't move all night and never left to go and meet the owner.
The rising sun inevitably shone through the window and gave my mum the courage to unveil herself from the duvet. She had not slept the entire night. But she knew she wasn't crazy. With the comfort that the morning had finally arrived and that she could hear her brothers quietly snoring, she shot out of bed and ran to her father's bedroom to wake him.
She told him everything. From the way the owner had been talking to her and her brothers, to the owner asking her to meet him late at night, to the shadowy figure that stopped her from leaving the room. She didn't care that she sounded silly, all she knew is that she was scared and that she needed her dad. Her dad (my grandfather) did not need any more convincing than that. He believed her entirely, that is simply the type of man he was. He had no shadow of a doubt (pun intended) that she was telling the truth. He quietly took her back to her bedroom where her brothers were now awake. Mentioning nothing of the shadowy figure, her dad asked her brothers about the owner's behaviour and they confirmed everything my mum had said.
That morning, the dad didn't leave their side as he helped them pack up their belongings and dashed out of there, without even saying goodbye. Once home, my mum's dad called the police to tell them what had happened (excluding the supernatural part of course) and that they insisted they check the guy out for the safety of his family. An arrest was made immediately. The police already knew who this was.
It turned out that the owner of that cabin, the guy who had pretended to be friends with my mum's dad, was a convicted paedofile, rapsist and murderer that had been on the run for years. His name and photo was in the newspaper the following week. The police told my grandfather that my mum was very smart for choosing not to go and meet the owner on that bridge.
As my mum grew older, she told me she thought more and more about that holiday. And how if the shadowy figure hadn't have turned up in her room that night and scared her to stay in her bed, that she may not have ever left the Australian outback alive.
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2023.03.23 00:32 SocietyCentral Culture Shock. Chapter III: Memory Trail

So... yeah. This chapter took way longer to write than I had intended it to. Mostly because life got in the way and partly because trees are apparently the hardest thing to write about in the english language (or at least they are to my poor non-native mind).
Add in the fact that some large chunks of the text had to be rewritten a couple of times before I felt even slightly comfortable with posting it (because what even is a 'pacing') and you get the picture. Worse yet, life still hasn't gotten out of the way, so future chapters might also take longer.
With all of that out of the way, here's the new chapter, where a human and a teddy bear go see some tall wooden bois.

Memory transcription subject: Thraia, Physician of the Zurulian Expeditionary Relief Force
Date [standardized human time]: May 29, 2137
“So you really aren’t gonna tell me where we’re going?”
“Nope. A surprise’s a surprise.”
I let out a loud groan in frustration, though it was doubtful Robert would have heard it from where he was. “You’re insufferable sometimes, you know that?”
“I’ve been told many a time, yes.”
I just shook my head. There really was no arguing with him at this point. If I hadn’t gotten an answer out of him in the two hours we’d spent sitting on a train on our way here, or the hour-long car ride after that, there was no hope he’d say anything until we made it to wherever he was taking me.
I took a moment to let my sight drift upward. The thin canopy formed by the trees that grew alongside the path shredded the light of Earth’s Sun into thousands of tiny beams, forming a spotted pattern over the sea of crunchy dead leaves below.
Robert walked several paces ahead of me, looking back every couple minutes to make sure he wasn’t leaving me behind. His gaze was otherwise fixed in a forward position, not paying much mind to the world around him.
I guessed it was logical. He was probably more than used to the natural beauty of his world. Me, on the other hand… I could never get enough of it.
Back in Los Angeles, it was all ruin and destruction as far as the eye could see. To this day, months after the fact, work was still ongoing in clearing paths through the seas of rubble, and every now and then, they’d find some more remains, ready to be crossed off a missing persons list tens of thousands long.
While working with the relief teams during the initial aftermath of the attacks, I’d hardly had the time to do much sightseeing. It was only after a couple of months had passed and the amount of survivors found and treated each day had diminished to a trickle, that the higher-ups decided to switch up the strategy.
The original plan had been for us to leave Earth once human authorities were able to get a handle on the situation. Instead, after the reveal of the Federation’s vile manipulation of the Galaxy, Fleet high command saw an opportunity to score a propaganda victory back home: our forces would be slowly pulled out of Earth, rather than all at once, under the justification of ‘helping to uplift humanity’s medical knowledge’. With this, the government could show our people, and the Galaxy at large, that long-term cooperation with the predators was both possible and safe, which could go a long way to further discredit federal indoctrination.
Things had become more bearable after that. My team and I were reassigned to a major hospital in San Francisco, where we spent the next few months helping improve the… primitive healing methods used by the humans. The lighter workload meant we could actually afford some free time, which I’d personally chosen to spend traveling throughout the city and its surroundings.
Though some of my colleagues disagreed, I found Earth to be one of the most beautiful worlds I’d had the pleasure to visit. Maybe there was some truth to the Human doctrine of ‘ecological preservation’, after all, they must’ve been doing something right to keep their planet so lush and lively.
“Here we are!”
I was snapped back from my thoughts by the booming sound of Robert’s voice, having almost walked past whatever he’d stopped to look at. I turned my head to see him standing by the start of a trail leading further into the woods. A wooden Sign by the side read the words: ‘Tall Trees Trailhead. Redwood National Park’.
“W-wait, we’re going deeper into the forest?” I squeaked out. “Wouldn’t that be dangerous?”
He just waved my worries off. “It’s a tourist trail, and a well maintained one at that. We shouldn’t find anything too worrying out there.” He turned to face me and I saw a smirk start to form across his face. “Plus, you have a big scary predator here to protect you. There’s nothing out there brave enough to mess with me!”
I simply narrowed my eyes. “Oh really? I guess that ‘spider’ you found on your locker the other day must’ve been an exception to the rule then?”
His eyebrows formed into a frown but the smile never fully left his face. “Hey! It just caught me off guard; I thought I’d made that clear already.”
“Right, right…, that’s why Adrian described your reaction as ‘a freakout for the history books’” Even as his cheeks began to take on the slightest red tinge, he still kept his smile up.
I couldn’t possibly be the only one who found some human phobias hilarious in how ridiculously ironic they could be. Here was one of the only two predatory races in charted space, a species capable of fending off the Dominion and the Federation Remnants at once, biologically specialized in one of the scariest forms of hunting known to the galaxy… and a large portion of them were absolutely terrified of some tiny arthropods smaller than their fingernails. I honestly wondered how they’d even managed to set foot on Sillis.
“Anyway, if you’re done ridiculing me…” Robert said, feigning an offended tone. “… We should probably get a move on. The trail isn’t too long but we still wanna be able to get back here before sunset.” He adjusted the straps on his backpack, turning to face the green wilds in front of him.
“Why did we come all the way here anyway? Aren’t there plenty of hiking trails closer to the city?”
“Oh you’ll see… what’s at the end of this path is something you wouldn’t be able to see anywhere else. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.”
Wow he really isn’t gonna talk until we make it there, is he?
“Ugh… Fine!” I finally said in clear defeat. “But for the record, if we do end up getting hunted by something out there, I’m killing you before it eats me!”
He let out a hearty laugh before beginning to walk ahead. I followed him, this time closer behind.
The trail descended along the side of what I assumed was some sort of valley, snaking between the trees and boulders dotted about its path. It was hard to assess the geography of the area through the dense vegetation, and the few dim rays of sunlight that made it past the ever-thickening canopy did little to help with my disorientation. I knew humans had descended from arboreal herbivores before becoming predators, so the fact that Robert always seemed to know where he was going and looked perfectly comfortable with his surroundings wasn’t much of a surprise. Still it was an unnerving thought that I was entirely dependent on him for navigation in this place. If he lost his way, we were both screwed.
Despite my nagging fears though, I had to admit that I was starting to like hiking. There was something so very soothing about traversing these pristinely wild environments, free of the constant hustle and bustle of the cities. As much as I still had my reservations about mankind’s refusal to cull their world free of non-sapient predators, at times like these it was almost like some unhinged part of my brain took over and ignored the dangers lurking in these forests in favor of enjoying the quiet serenity they offered.
We eventually reached a wooden bridge that cut through a small ravine on the side of the hill. The slight elevation over the forest floor allowed for a much clearer sight of the sea of trees that covered the valley below. Robert stopped in his tracks, resting his arms on the railing as he took in the scenery.
“Like the view?” He asked, eyes fixed in the landscape below.
I’d had to get up on my hindlegs to be able to see it, which wasn’t particularly comfortable, but even then, I couldn’t argue with the obvious.
“It’s gorgeous.” I stated.
“Yeah… it really is… We’re lucky to see it too. Humanity came close to losing a lot of these places at one point.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“Well it’s a long story, but it goes a little something like this…” He leaned back from the railing and started down the trail again as he explained, with me in toe. “During our industrial age, we began to use coal, and later other fossil fuels, to power our machinery. This allowed us to develop technologically and grow a whole lot in population, but the problem was that we never stopped using them, even as alternatives were developed, mostly because it was profitable.”
Listening to him talk, I could sense some lingering frustration in his voice. “So, come the start of the twenty-first century, we begin to realize that we may have made a huge mistake. All that fuel burning has been emitting tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, and the buildup is starting to have an effect on global temperatures, but do we do anything? No, of course not, we kick the can down the road and hope for the best.” He scoffed. Clearly, he didn’t look kindly on that decision.
“Eventually, things started to get really bad. My grandpa used to tell me stories about those days when I was little. In some cities, air quality was so low that you needed to go out with a mask if you didn’t want to get sick. A lot of food items became very expensive as crops began to fail. Hundreds of animal and plant species would go extinct every year.”
There was something deeply upsetting about imagining Earth in such a sorry state. I knew I should have no allegiance to a planet I’d only been staying at for half a year, but the idea of these green wilds slowly wilting away brought a deep sadness to my heart.
“But… things got better, didn’t they?”
“Yeah, though not before getting a whole lot worse.” He let out a sigh before continuing. “The famines and the heat didn’t affect the whole world equally. Some countries got it way worse than others, and the people there started to flee by the millions. This put too much strain on the system and things broke down fast. It started as just a couple border skirmishes, then it grew to a few isolated wars…and in a matter of months, the major world powers were lobbing stuff at each other from orbit.”
A short, bitter chuckle escaped his mouth. “I suppose it was a blessing in disguise though. With their armies decimated, those same world powers couldn’t prevent the UN from getting involved and forcing them all to the negotiating table. After that, a bunch reforms were passed across the planet to try and course correct, all while the UN was going postal on a lot of the corporations who’d been profiting off the problem. The Hague was busy for years after that.”
While I couldn’t understand what was being implied by that last remark, enough was clear from context that I could get a decent picture.
The idea of runaway industrialism wasn’t one I was fully unfamiliar with. Humans weren’t the first to have almost rendered their homeworld unlivable. Plenty had made that mistake before, and that had been the stated reason for the Federation’s ‘uplift on sight’ policy when it came to primitive sapients. That said, I’d never heard of species going down that road out of greed rather than ignorance. A very specific and cowardly part of my mind told me to chalk it up to ‘expected predatory behavior’, but after this long, I was more than used to ignoring it.
Robert continued his tale, explaining that the next few decades had seen a massive effort to revitalize the Earth’s ecosystems and even bring some species back from extinction using genetic engineering. By the time he’d been born, the planet was far along the healing process.
Thinking about it, perhaps this was where the idea of preserving predatory life had popped up for them. Maybe they did it out of some lingering sense of guilt?
Our conversation died down as we came up on a bend on the path. There we were met with a couple of humans, dressed up in hiking gear, going up as we went down. They didn’t have much of a reaction to Robert, simply doing a half-wave with their hands in acknowledgement, but when they saw me walking behind him, I noticed both of them jumped for a second, eyes going wide before settling down. One of them even took a hand to his chest before continuing to walk past us with accelerated pace.
Now, I knew by now that my kind and a few others in the galaxy seemed to trigger some sort of ‘cute’ response in humans. That, combined with the fact that space travel and alien life were still extremely novel concepts to them, had led to some… interesting situations back in the city. This, however, wasn’t any of that. This had been fear.
I looked at Robert for answers and saw him holding a hand to his mouth, trying desperately to hold in his laugh until the other hikers were out of earshot and practically falling over cackling once they’d walked far enough away.
“Oh my fucking god! It happened! It actually happened! I can’t even…” He managed to breathe out through the manic fit. My confusion only mounted.
What happened? What was that all about?”
He just kept laughing. Apparently me missing the joke made it even funnier somehow.
“They… they thought you were a bear!” He finally managed to get out through the convulsions.
I paused at that, rummaging through my memory for my limited knowledge on Earth’s fauna to try and figure out if I even knew what a ‘bear’ was. I’d definitely heard the word before, but couldn’t recall the animal it was meant to represent.
Robert must have finally taken pity on my puzzled mind, because he began to take a hold of his breathing and gave me the answer I was looking for. “Bears… They’re large predatory mammals here on Earth. A lot of people say Zurulians look a lot like their cubs.”
That one left me completely dumbfounded. “Wha-, are you telling me they thought I was a predator? I’m half your size, what was I ever going to do?!”
“They weren’t scared of you. If you see a bear cub, chances are the mother isn’t too far way, so they were terrified that mama bear might just pop out from the brush beside you.”
Once again, I was left wondering how humans could be so contradictory. Horrifying predators with boundless empathy… Brave beyond measure and yet instinctually afraid of the strangest things. It wasn’t even a question why Chauson and the rest of the Institute had developed such an interest in them.
Robert’s words did rouse a different question from me though. “Wait, if they were scared because they thought I was one of those ‘bear’ things… does that mean there are actual ones in this forest?”
I really didn’t like how long it took for him to answer. “I mean… I doubt it. California has some black bear populations but they avoid humans for the most part.”
Great. I thought. That does a whole lot of nothing for me.
We got back to walking after that. The previous tranquility the woods had brought me was somewhat tainted by my newfound fear of coming face to face with one of my predatory lookalikes.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to sit on that worry for long, for as we came around another bend, I found myself facing a truly awe-inspiring sight.
The trail we’d been following ended on a tranquil thicket at the bottom of the valley. The sound of moving water could be heard coming from somewhere, though the thick foliage around us wouldn’t let me pinpoint the source. Wooden benches were spread out around the area, seemingly old enough to have been overgrown in many cases.
In the moment though, none of that truly registered in my head, as I stared in silent amazement at the gargantuan trees that dotted the grove. Their trunks were as thick as a car, and completely dwarfed the much smaller trees we’d been passing by as we’d descended from the uplands. Their size however, became even more obvious when you looked upward. The things were about as tall as some of the skyscrapers back in the city, to the point that it was hard to see their tops among the endless web of branches that stemmed from them.
I had never, not once, in my entire life seen something that came even close to these behemoths. Megaflora did exist elsewhere in the Galaxy, but I’d personally never come across something this impressive in any world I’d ever visited. The whole scene left me speechless.
“Cool, huh?” Robert quipped, probably amused by whatever face I must’ve been making.
“Cool? You see something like this and call it ‘cool’? This is breathtaking!” I exclaimed.
He gave a short chuckle. “You’re right it is. Do you understand now why I wanted to keep it a surprise? I know you well enough to know you would have immediately ran to the internet and gotten spoiled if I’d told you beforehand.”
I honestly couldn’t argue with that. “I guess… but you didn’t have to be so ominous about it on the way!”
The human simply threw his shoulders up with a smirk. “Hey, no one said I couldn’t have some fun keeping you on your toes.” He then motioned towards the nearest of the gigantic trees. “They’re called redwoods, by the way, or sequoias if you wanna be technical about it, and they’re not just big, but really damn old too. Pretty much all of these have been here for centuries. Some, even millennia.”
“That…”I paused to look at the wooden titans once more. “…doesn’t even sound possible.”
“Well, it certainly is. Oldest known one in the world is about 2300 years old, I think.”
Just the thought of these things having stood here, towering over the landscape, for longer than my species had known about the stars, for longer than the entire Federation had even existed… it was both humbling and frightening in equal parts. Such a concept felt eldritch in a way, like my mind couldn’t even hope to understand what these ancient organisms must have bore witness to.
The two of us began making our way through one of the many paths that meandered around the redwoods. The sounds of insects and birds had been a constant since we’d started our trek, but here, they seemed to grow louder, more numerous. A sudden series of shrieks brought my attention upward and to my left, and I focused just in time to catch a blue tinted shadow take flight from a nook in the trunk of one of gigantic trees before disappearing among the branches above.
It almost felt like we were trespassing on some sort of natural paradise, hidden away from the world, with these living pillars acting as its guardians, looming over us as we walked.
I was so mesmerized by these thoughts that I almost missed Robert signaling to me from the side of the path. Once he’d caught my attention, he pointed at the underbrush beside him before speaking “Follow me, I know a spot through here that’s gonna blow your mind.”
Before I even had time to question him, he’d already turned around and began disappearing into the brush. Fear started trickling back into my mind at the thought of following him away from the path into the jaws of what was apparently nature’s predatory mockery of my own race, but despite how idyllic the grove had seemed just moments ago, the idea of staying behind by myself scared me far more.
Swallowing my growing panic, I quickly followed behind the human, trying my best to cut my way through the foliage. I realized that the sound of rushing water I’d taken notice of before seemed to be getting closer the further we delved into the forest.
After breaching through one last layer of greenery, I came up on a small clearing centered around a sloped boulder that protruded from the ground. Robert had just finished climbing atop it, and he motioned for me to sit beside him before turning to look further on. It took some effort to get to where he was, but when I made it to the top, I finally saw the view he’d been so keen on showing me.
In front of me was the source of the burbling sounds I’d been hearing. A wide but shallow creek twisted around the bottom of the valley, flanked on both sides by pebble beaches that reached almost to the foot of the very boulder we sat on. On the opposite bank, I could see the vegetation grew thicker and taller as it crept up the side of the valley, smaller trees occluding the bases of the enormous redwoods, their tops piercing the heavens like needles. Here, the sounds of the forest were almost muted by the quiet but constant noise of the water, completing an aura of peace that most relaxation centers in the galaxy would kill to emulate.
I heard a chuckle to my left. “Seems like I was right. This old view is just as stunning as I remember.”
I was so astonished by the panorama in front of me that I almost failed to pick up on what he was saying. “How… did you discover this spot anyway?”
For a second, and only a second, I saw a flash of different emotions pass through his eyes. It was subtle and he recovered quickly, but it had unmistakably been there. “Oh, it’s just an old… family secret. My dad used to take me here when I was a kid, that’s all.”
The brusqueness of the answer confirmed what I’d already suspected. Humans were far more emotional than anyone had initially given them credit for, and it showed even when they didn't mean it to. Having dealt with the survivors of the attacks, I became quite familiar with the many types of responses they had to psychological trauma, so I knew what it looked like when one of them was trying to shield themselves from digging up old wounds.
“I’m sorry for asking. I shouldn’t have pried.”
The Human’s eyes darted over to me and he winced , though it didn’t seem so much like pain as it did shame. He turned his head forwards again, staring at some fixed point in the distance, and stayed completely silent for the better part of a minute before he began speaking again.
“Thraia, do you remember the day we met?”
The question was so earnest and melancholic in tone that it was hard to believe it came from the same person that had been laughing his ass off about two jumpy hikers not that long ago.
“I…I do. It was the day after the battle. Our team had been sent to… I think it was Anaheim, to look for survivors trapped underneath the rubble. We were still setting up camp when you showed up and told us you’d been assigned to the same area. I remember you were so haggard that at first we all thought you were just a civilian in shock.”
I thought back to that moment. It’d been pretty strange that none of us had been informed that we’d be receiving a straggler on the team.
He sighed. “What I said earlier wasn’t entirely true.” His eyes turned downward, before he closed them altogether. “This place was a ‘family secret’, and my father did bring me here, but not just me. My brother always came along.”
Robert had always liked sharing stories about his family during breaks back at the hospital. His father had been a ‘park ranger’, and it seemed like every other day he’d recall yet another old anecdote about his old man’s many adventures in the Terran wilds. His mother, on the other hand, had been a teacher of some kind, and he claimed that he’d inherited her knack for storytelling. Anyone who listened to him for long enough would end up having enough information to picture his whole genealogical tree, so it was concerning that I’d never once heard of him having a sibling.
I didn’t have time to decide whether to ask about it before he continued explaining. “We always came to the park every summer while we were growing up. Dad was friends with the rangers here so they’d always tell him about any cool spots they knew of, even outside of the trails. This one was always our favorite.”
He swallowed. It was clear talking about this was taking a lot out of him. “Dad… passed… at around the same time my brother and I went our separate ways. I studied medicine and found my job back at San Francisco while he went down to LA to study marine biology. Still, no matter how busy we were with our own lives, we’d always find the time to come up here at least once a year, and if nothing else just… talk.”
He smiled, though the sadness in his eyes didn’t leave. “I remember… when first contact happened he went absolutely bonkers. I hadn’t been paying too much attention to the Odyssey mission, and that evening I hadn’t bothered checking on the news, so imagine my confusion when I get a call from him in the middle of the night and he just goes off about how they found aliens and they look like sheep! I was half sure he must’ve been high on something, but sure enough, next morning I found out he was right and that I owed him an apology for hanging up on him mid sentence.” He let out a heartfelt laugh.
“The Last time we met face to face was right here, back in August. He was so enthralled about the all the ‘possibilities’ alien life offered that he wouldn’t shut up about it.” The human closed his eyes and shook his head slowly. ”How does one even manage to get turned down for the Venlil Exchange Program for being ‘too enthusiastic’…”
Robert took a second to breathe after that, as if psyching himself up for what came next. I wasn’t naïve enough to think this story had a happy ending.
“When the UN started sending out alerts about the Krakotl fleet, I got put on ‘emergency preparation’ duty at the hospital, just to make sure we were ready if anywhere in the Bay Area got hit. I called him… probably a hundred times, trying to get him to leave for the countryside, but he wouldn’t listen. Said he didn’t want to help block the highways or take up a seat in the evacuation shuttles. When the Feds broke through the line at the Kuiper belt, he called me, saying he was heading for some bunker a friend of his knew of in Lakewood.”
The name almost made me recoil. Though I didn’t remember all of the names of the dozens of neighborhoods that made up Los Angeles, Lakewood was one of a few that I would never be able to forget, not after having to break the hearts of every grieving human asking if their loved ones there has made it. No one had survived in Lakewood, not that close to Ground Zero.
Robert continued on after sucking in another breath. “The Impact must’ve done something to the fault line, because we felt it all the way in the city. I knew immediately that things had gone terribly wrong and something in me just… broke. I left my post, got on my car, and drove south for hours, going the opposite way everyone else was. For that entire time, I just kept cursing the day we’d ever gotten involved with the aliens. Federation, Arxur, Venlil… they were all the same in my mind, just monsters that had wanted us dead from the second they saw us through no fault of our own. I just…” His breathing hitched, and he took a moment to recover. “I just wanted the hurt to stop, and focusing on hate was the best way I had to do it.”
It felt so wrong to hear something like that coming from the mouth of someone who I’d worked side by side with. Hearing him put us all on the level of the grays felt almost like a betrayal of our friendship and yet… I couldn’t blame him. This was a story I’d heard already from thousands of different strangers. Lost homes, families and friends. Hate, depression, utter hopelessness.
What did we do wrong?
That question had popped up nearly every time and I could never once give it a straight answer.
It’d always been strangers before. Now, it wasn’t, and it took all of my willpower not to break down.
“I-I’m S-sorry.”
Just a curt apology would never be enough to heal a wound so deep, I knew that. Predators or not, Humanity had never deserved the way they’d been treated. Robert was right, his kind would’ve been better off if they’d never met us. They had a right to hate us, and nothing I could say or do would ever change-
“Don’t be.”
The human’s voice was tired but firm, and he turned to look at me head on, binocular eyes so focused they almost seemed to peer into my very soul.
“Don’t ever be sorry for something that isn’t your fault.”
“No buts.” His gaze softened, and I could see a gentle smile begin to form on his face. “It’s true that I felt that way then. I was angry, too angry and too grief-stricken to keep my own mind in check, but I didn’t stay that way for long.” He gestured towards me with an open hand. “And it was thanks to people like you.”
“People like me?” I was perplexed. What did he mean by that?
He answered my question with one of his own. “Do you know what I found when I finally got to the city? Hundreds of those same aliens I was decrying, helping us. I saw Venlil listening out for survivors under the debris, Zurulians coordinating with human doctors to administer first aid and even Arxur helping clear pieces of rubble and carrying off the injured to safety.”
His eyes briefly darted around as if they were looking through me. “I saw this one group: a Venlil, two humans and an Arxur… They were working on trying to lift a collapsed chunk of roof. Apparently the Venlil had heard a child’s cries from under it… When they finally got it done they found two kids underneath, but only one of them had been crying…” He closed his eyes shut, pressing his eyelids closed before relaxing. “I’d seen images of Venlil panicking before, courtesy of the Exchange Program. I’d seen them cry of fear… but I’d never seen one weep in grief.”
The two of us locked eyes again as he opened the back up. “I tried so hard to keep myself angry but I couldn’t. Not after that. I wandered off further into the ruins before I eventually collapsed and just… sobbed myself into unconsciousness.”
That about connected the all the remaining dots for me, and I interjected to confirm my suspicions. “That’s when you found us, right? The morning after?”
He nodded. “When I saw you, I realized I had an opportunity to help, to actually do my job rather than just wallowing in my own misery, and I took it without a second thought. I may have lied about why I was there, but frankly, I didn’t feel like coming clean would do any good.”
I could hardly fault him for that. We would never have allowed him to get involved if we’d known he was so personally devastated, and that would have left us without an extra pair of hands we’d greatly needed during those first few days.
My attention drifted back to the stream in front of us and the wilds beyond. The forest remained static, unfazed by our problems.
“Is that why you brought me here? To ‘come clean’?”
“Actually… no, though it does feel cathartic to be able to finally talk about this after all this time.” He motioned towards the view. “I brought you here because I wanted you to have a good image to keep from Earth. We’ve both seen too much death and ruin, but I at least had the past to fall back to while all you’ve seen since you arrived here is misery and pain. I don’t know for how long the Zurulian government will keep this experiment going but, whenever you do leave for the stars again, I wanted you to have a good mental picture of Earth to take with you, and I couldn’t really think of a better place to take you for that.”
On that front, I could confidently say he had succeeded. This wasn’t a day I’d soon forget for many reasons, probably more than he had intended. Still there was something about the idea of leaving this world that didn’t sit well with me. Having worked side by side with the humans, I’d come to feel at home here. This planet and its people, for all of their eccentricities and paradoxical natures, had made me feel welcome at every turn, even when I didn’t fully feel like I deserved it. The mere thought of seeing this pale blue dot shrink away from the viewport of some shuttle made me feel a sort of heartache I couldn’t quite explain.
But then, an idea popped into my mind. It was a simple idea, obvious even, and yet the warmth it made me feel in my chest was undeniable. That same old cowardly part of my mind begged me to weigh in the pros and cons before committing to something so insane, but my words were much faster than those thoughts could ever be.
“Who says I have to leave?”

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2023.03.22 21:27 backyard_glaciers GTSR to open May 5 to bikers and hikers

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2023.03.21 16:08 FlyWithSeedyL Release Notes - Sim Update 12 [] Available Now


If you are playing on PC, outdated packages in your community folder may have an unexpected impact on the title’s performance and behavior.
If you suffer from stability issues or long loading times, move your community package(s) to another folder before relaunching the title.
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2023.03.21 13:23 plainenglish2 “Mr. Queen” (historical and cultural backgrounders for international viewers, with references to other K-dramas)

“Mr. Queen” (historical and cultural backgrounders for international viewers, with references to other K-dramas)
Index: Introduction; K-dramas are meant first (or primarily) for Korean viewers and only second for international viewers; A. The historical figures who were fictionalized in this drama; the rivalry between the Andong Kim and Poonyang Jo clans and “sedo politics” (royal in-law politics); lawsuit filed by descendants of a historical figure against “The Princess’s Man”; connections of “Mr. Queen” to “Moonlight Drawn By Clouds” aka “Love in the Moonlight” and to “Kingdom” Season 2, Ep. 4; B. Eps. 8 and 10: Persecution of Catholics during the Joseon Dynasty; the only K-drama I’ve seen that depicted the Catholic persecution in Joseon Korea is “Yi San, Wind in the Palace” (2007); C. Ep. 8: Korean seesaw (“neolttwigi”); D. Ep. 12: Surit-nal (Dano Festival); ceremonial robes and head gear of Joseon kings; E. Ep. 14: Ice as a valuable commodity during the Joseon Dynasty; F. Ep. 14: Donghak (religion, movement, peasant revolution); G. Ep. 16: Difference between “Jo” and “Jong” in the posthumous (temple) names of the Joseon kings; the Joseon kings’ royal portraits and dramas such as “Painter of the Wind” and “Saimdang”; H. Ep. 16: Secret Royal Investigators during the Joseon Dynasty; secret royal inpectors as depicted in “100 Days My Prince” and “Under The Queen's Umbrella”; I. Miscellaneous notes: Ep. 11: the fight with fans as weapons; “jangot” or head covering for noblewomen during the Joseon Dynasty ; the beautiful bridge across the pond in Ep. 1 and other episodes


K-dramas are meant first (or primarily) for Korean viewers and only second for international viewers. Just like in other dramas, the historical, cultural, and political references in “Mr. Queen” are well known to the Korean viewers. On the other hand, we, the international viewers, must dig deep into Wikipedia and other sources (or post questions in forums like this) so that we can understand what’s going on.

For example, some people who have seen “Mr. Queen” said that they couldn’t stand the court politics or the infighting between the different factions because the drama didn’t provide any context. Well, the court politics and the infighting between the different factions happened between the Andong Kim and Poonyang Jo clans, which are well known to Korean viewers and thus, no context was necessary.

When “Saimdang” was first broadcast in 2017, I joined the on-air discussions of the drama in the Soompi Forums. In that forum, whenever I had questions about the drama, I had two go-to persons: for questions about Korean language, culture, and history, I asked “gerrytan8063”; whenever I had questions about Chinese characters used in the drama, I asked “liddi.” I haven’t joined the Soompi discussions after I found reddit, and so I don’t know if “gerrytan8063” and “liddi” are still active there.

Where can we turn to when we, as international viewers, have questions about Korean language, culture, and history as they relate to K-dramas? There’s Quora, of course; “bodashiri” in Tumblr has a form in his website where he/she says, “Ask me anything.” Also, since 2012, the “Annals of the Joseon Dynasty” is being translated in English, with the project supposed to be finished in 2034. Certain portions of the English translation are available online, as you can read in “Globalization of Korean history” from the official Korean government history website.

Oh, maybe we can also use ChatGPT in learning about the historical, cultural, and language issues that we come across in K-dramas.

The very first K-drama that I watched in full was the 2014 blockbuster “My Love From The Star” starring Jun Ji-hyun and Kim Soo-hyun. In this drama, I first heard the term “Joseon Dynasty” and learned how the dynasty heavily influenced what Korea is today.

Before “My Love From The Star” however, I had seen one or two brief scenes from the 2003 blockbuster drama “A Jewel in the Palace” (aka “Dae Jang Geum”) starring Lee Young-ae. Sometime in 2005 or 2006, “A Jewel in the Palace” began sweeping the Philippines. Every night at around 6 o’clock, the streets would become empty, with people shouting to each other as they rush to their homes, “Jang Geum na!” (in English, “It’s Jang Geum time!”). Since that time, “A Jewel in the Palace” has been broadcast in the Philippines five times; that’s how popular it is among Filipinos.

I watched “A Jewel in the Palace” in its entirety only in 2015. Since then, I’ve seen each episode around four or five times already; whenever I feel depressed, I rewatch Ep. 6 where Jang Geum was exiled to the herb garden outside the palace. Needless to say, Lee Young-ae is the love of my life. Next to Lee Young-ae, I love Han Hyo-joo (“Dong Yi”), Han Hye-jin (“Jumong”), Han Ga-in (“The Moon That Embraces The Sun”), Moon Chae-won (“The Princess’s Man”), Park Shin Hye (“The Royal Tailor”), Shin Se-kyung (“Six Flying Dragons”), Park Ha-sun (Queen In-hyun in “Dong Yi”), Nana (“Into The Ring”), and Go Ara (“The Joseon Magician”), in that order.

A. The historical figures who were fictionalized in this drama; lawsuit filed by descendants of a historical figure against “The Princess’s Man” (Soompi); the rivalry between the Andong Kim and Poonyang Jo clans and “sedo politics” (royal in-law politics)

The main characters in “Mr. Queen” are So-yong (Queen Cheorin), played by Shin Hye-sun, and King Cheoljong, played by Kim Jung-hyun. Some of the secondary characters are Queen Sunwon (Grand Queen Dowager) of the Andong Kim clan and Queen Shinjeong (Queen Dowager) of the Poongyang Jo clan.

“Mr. Queen” is fictional, with the following genres: historical, comedy, time travel, and body swap. But its characters and background events are inspired by historical figures and events. For example, the lead character (King Cheoljong) and his background facts — growing up destitute on Ganghwa Island, puppet of the Andong Kim clan, relatives persecuted as Catholics, etc. — are all based on history. Also, the conflict between the Andong Kim clan and Poonyang Jo clan is historical.

King Cheoljong in “Mr. Queen” is a highly fictionalized character that’s different from the historical King Cheoljong. The drama portrays him to be secretly plotting to establish himself as a strong ruler against two warring political factions — the Andong Kim clan (led by Grand Dowager Queen Sunwon) and the Pungyang Jo clan (led by Dowager Queen Sinjeong).

A-1. Historical figures who were fictionalized in “Mr. Queen”:

(1) King Cheoljong

The 25th king of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea (25 July 1831 – 16 January 1864), he was a second cousin to the heirless Heonjong of Joseon, as well as a great-great grandson of Yeongjo of Joseon. He was chosen to become King by Senior Dowager Queen Sunwon (King Sunjo’s widow) and the powerful Andong Kim clan because he was illiterate and thus easy to manipulate.
Cheoljong ascended to the throne in 1849 at the age of 19 after King Heonjong died without an heir. As a distant relative of both the recently deceased king as well as a descendant of King Yeongjo, Cheoljong was selected for adoption by the Senior Dowager Queen Sunwon (King Sunjo’s widow) at the time and to allow him to ascend to the throne. The future Cheoljong was found on Ganghwa Island where his family had been in exile since the Catholic Persecution of 1801.
When the envoys (dispatched in order to seek for the future king) arrived on Ganghwa Island, they found the exiled remnants of the royal clan barely surviving in wretched poverty, and in the midst of that degradation, 19-year old Yi Won-beom was proclaimed King. Though from the start of the Joseon Dynasty Korean kings had given top priority to the education of their sons, Cheoljong could not even read a single word on the notice delivering congratulations to him on his elevation to the royal throne.
As part of the Andong Kim’s manipulation of Cheoljong, in 1851, the clan married Cheoljong to Kim Mun-geun’s daughter, known posthumously as Queen Cheor’in.
Cheoljong died at the age of 32 in 16 January 1864 (by suspected foul play by the Andong Kim clan, the same clan which made him king), without any surviving male heirs. Once again, it became necessary to search far back in the Yi lineage to find a candidate for the throne.

The only surviving [cropped] image of King Cheoljong
(2) Queen Cheorin: wife of King Cheoljong, also known as Queen Dowager Myeongsun (27 April 1837 – 12 June 1878).

Queen Cheorin belonged to the Andong Kim clan.

(3) Grand Dowager Queen: Queen Sunwon (8 June 1789 – 21 September 1857), also known as Queen Dowager Myeonggyeong, was the spouse of Sunjo of Joseon. She served as regent of Korea from 1834–1841 and from 1849–1852.

(4) Queen Dowager: Queen Shinjeong, also known as Queen Dowager Hyoyu, (21 January 1809 - 4 June 1890) was the only wife of Crown Prince Hyomyeong of Joseon and mother of King Heonjong of Joseon.

Queen Shinjeong belonged to the Poonyang Jo clan.

A-2. “Mr. Queen” was criticized for distorting history. Among the things that was criticized is the drama’s portrayal of the Queen Dowager (Queen Shinjeong in history) as being heavily involved in shamanism.

From “Descendants of Sin Sook-joo sue The Princess’ Man” (Soompi): “According to the Seoul District Court, 108 descendants of old Sin claimed a damage suit of KRW 3 billion [2.2 million US dollars] against the broadcasting company and the writer for negatively distorting the image of their ancestor Sin Sook-joo from the Chosun era.”

This lawsuit was filed in 2011; I couldn’t find any information about what happened to this lawsuit.

A-3: Andong Kim clan, Poongyang Jo clan, and “sedo politics” (royal in-law politics)

From New World Encyclopedia:

At the beginning of the 19th century, the Andong Kim clan, who had provided the Joseon state with several queens, had seized power almost everywhere in Korea. The social stagnation that resulted was a breeding ground for unrest. Corruption and embezzlement from the treasury and its inevitable exploitation were taken to extreme levels, and reached staggering proportions. One rebellion after another was accompanied by natural disasters.
The only aim of the Andong Kim clan was the preservation of their influence. Their fierce campaign to dominate the royal house had led to a situation in which almost all of the representatives of the royal family fled from Seoul. When the royal family produced intelligent and appropriate candidates for the accession, they were either accused of treason and executed or sent into exile, so when Heonjong died, leaving no son, no acceptable candidate could be found to succeed to the throne.

From “Exactly how much power did the Andong Kim Clan have in the Joseon court? How did they attain such power?” (Quora, by Michael L. Best) :

“How did the Andong Kim clan attain power? By intermarrying with the royal family, enthroning young and easy to control men as king, purging political rivals, and, very likely, killing off any king when they begin to threaten their power.”
“After Queen Jeongsun stepped down [in 1805 as regent of King Sunjo], Queen Sunwon’s father, Kim Jo-soon, began to make his move. Kim Jo-soon, who at that time was already of high rank within the royal court, began to purge all his political rivals to help secure the position of his family and political faction. At the same time corruption in the civil service examination increased, likely in the form of bribes to the Kim clan.”

The term “sedo politics” (royal in-law politics) describes the period 1800 to 1863 when national politics in Joseon was exclusively led by a few powerful royal in-law families, most notably the Andong Kim and Poongyang Jo clans.

From“Collusive Oligopolistic Politics: Sedo and the Political Structure of Early-Nineteenth-Century Choson Korea” by Tae Yeon Eom (2012 thesis, University of British Columbia):

In contemporary Korean historiography, the reign periods of King Sunjo (r. 1800-1834), King Hŏnjong (r.1834-1849), and King Ch’ŏlchong (r. 1849-1863) are generally called “The Era of Sedo Politics” in Chosŏn Korea (1392-1910). In contemporary Korean historiography, the political theme of sedo predominated after the death of King Chŏngjo (r. 1776-1800), when national politics was exclusively led by a few powerful royal in-law families, most notably the Andong Kim and P’ungyang Cho clans, for sixty-three years. Obviously, those two major clans enjoyed extensive political authority and high social status in the nineteenth century.


(1) Queen Shinjeong was portrayed by Chae Soo-bin in the 2016 hit “Moonlight Drawn By Clouds” aka “Love in The Moonlight." Queen Shinjeong’s husband Crown Prince Hyomyeong (King Munjo) was portrayed by Park Bo-gum.

(2) In Season 2 , Ep. 4 of “Kingdom,” Crown Prince Lee Chang visited in Ganghwa Island his distant relative Prince Noseong, an impoverished member of the royal family. The drama portrays Prince Noseong as a lowly fisherman but who’s a well-read man. This character was probably based on King Cheoljong (1831-1864), the last puppet king of the Andong Kim clan. Unlike the drama, however, in history, King Cheoljong was illiterate, which made it easy for him to be controlled by the Andong Kim clan.

“Kingdom” Season 2, Ep. 4
B. Eps. 8 and 10: References to the persecution of Catholics during the Joseon Dynasty

B-1. In Ep. 8, at around the 43:00 mark, Bong-hwan (Queen Cheorin) remembers what he learned in history classes about King Cheoljeong; among other things, he remembers that King Cheoljong’s “grandmother and aunt got killed by getting baptized.”

In Ep. 10, at around the 46:57 mark, the Royal Chef tells Queen Cheorin (Bong-hwan) that he lives alone because all of his family were killed in 1839. Queen Cheorin (Bong-hwan) then recalls that he was referring to the “Gihae Persecution.”

B-2. Some of the well-known persecution of Catholics during the Joseon Dynasty were the Sinyu Persecution of 1801, the Gihae Persecution of 1839, the Byeongo Persecution of 1846, and the Byeongin Persecution of 1866.

Relevant discussions:

From “A Brief History of the Catholic Church in Korea” (WSJ) : “The Sinyu Persecution - In 1801, more than 300 people were killed as the ruling Joseon Dynasty, under newly ascended King Sunjo, staged a clampdown on the Catholic Church in Korea, ostensibly because the religion clashed with ideals of Neo-Confucianism and threatened the social hierarchical system. Yi Seung-hun was among those executed.”

From “Korean Catholicism marked by volatile history“ (Korean JoongAng Daily) : “Catholic believers suffered numerous rounds of persecution - the Sinhae Persecution (1791), the Sinyu Persecution (1801) and the Byeongin Persecution (1866) to name just a few - with about 10,000 missionaries and believers killed over a century.”

B-3. The only K-drama I’ve watched that depicted the persecution of Catholics during the Joseon Dynasty is “Yi San, A Wind in the Palace.” In Eps. 60-61, the brother of FL Sung Song-yeon and his fellow Catholics were blamed and arrested for an assassination attempt against King Jeongjo.

C. Ep. 8: Korean seesaw (“neolttwigi”)

In the early part of Ep. 8, Queen Cheorin and her attendant play on a “neolttwigi” (Korean seesaw).

2nd photo from National Geographic by W. Robert Moore, circa 1931
From Folkency: “Neolttwigi (lit. jumping on a board) refers to seesawing, a traditional entertainment practiced mainly by women during the Lunar New Year season. A large rectangular board is supported in its middle by a round hay bundle and two players take turns pushing hard on their end of the board with their feet in order to make the other end spring up.”

It is thought that Yangban women developed “neolttwigi” to see over the walls that surrounded their homes, as women in traditional Korea were rarely allowed out of their living compounds, except at night. (Wikipedia, citing Rodney P. Carlisle, Encyclopedia of Play in Today’s Society, Volume 1)

D. Ep. 12: Surit-nal (Dano Festival); ceremonial robes and head gear of Joseon kings

In Ep. 12, King Cheoljong presides over the Royal Banquet during the celebration of the Surit-nal (Dano Festival). His ceremonial robe is called “gujangbok,” while the head gear is called “myeonryugwan” (The Talking Cupboard) .
The robe and head gear were worn by the King and the Crown Prince during special events; with the head gear, the more the number of strings, the higher the rank. The jade object that he’s holding is called the “hol” (or “okgyu” depending on the type of jade used to make it.

E. Ep. 14: Ice was a valuable commodity during the Joseon Dynasty.

In Ep. 14, the Grand Queen Dowager tells Queen Cheorin (Bong-hwan) that ice is a valuable commodity in Joseon.

From “Summer on ice: How ice became an essential part of summer life in Korea” (Korea Herald):

During the Joseon era (1392-1910), ice was a national asset under the control of the king, and accordingly, a luxury for noblemen.
Harvested from rivers and ponds in the winter, ice blocks were stored at facilities called “binggo.” They were used for ancestral rituals, for medical purposes and to keep food cool. Seoul districts Seobinggo and Dongbinggo have their origins in the history of ice storage.

From “Keeping food cool, the ancient way” (Korea JoongAng Daily) : “Since the year 505, or the 6th year of King Jijung’s reign, until the arrival of freon and electricity centuries later, Koreans used stone bunkers to store blocks of ice throughout the year. These seokbinggo, literally “stone ice storage,” were located around the country. Local governments sometimes delivered ice to palaces, but mostly used ice as a means to prevent special local products from spoiling on the way to a palace.”

From “Feeling the heat: The luxury of ice” in Joseon (Korea Times) by Robert Neff:

The Korean government maintained two large ice storage facilities at Seobinggo and Dongbingo, where huge slabs of river ice (nearly two meters long and about 12.5 centimeters thick) were covered with straw and preserved throughout the year. Court officials and others who possessed “bingpae” ― an ice ration card ― were regularly able to obtain a certain amount of this valuable commodity (based on their rank) for their own use.
The common people, however, had to either purchase ice on the black market or from ice merchants. The black market ice ― obtained illegally from one of the government ice storage facilities ― was probably considered to be safer but much more difficult to obtain and so most people had to rely on local ice vendors.


(1) “The Grand Heist” is a 2012 South Korean historical comedy film about a gang of 11 thieves who try to steal ice blocks from the royal storage, Seobingo, during the last years of the Joseon era.

(2) In Ep. 9 of “A Jewel in the Palace,” crisis hits as Lady Han falls sick and Jang Geum, with Keum Young, is left to prepare the food for the king and his entourage in the royal hunt. When the Head Eunuch tells Jang Geum and Keum Young that the king wants cold noodles, he asks them if they brought ice with them. (When I first saw this scene back in 2015, I thought, “What’s the big deal with ice?”)

(3) In Ep. 2 of “The Tale of Nokdu,” Yul Mu prepares for Dong Joo a dessert for breakfast. The gisaengs around him become awestruck after the package that his bodyguard brought turns out to be a small block of ice.

What Yul Mu prepared for Dong Joo is similar to “patbingsu” (“bingsu).” Bingsu was introduced to Korea during the Japanese colonial period, but according to “Snowy delights and variations on bingsu” (Korea Herald) , shaved ice treats existed even during the Joseon Dynasty.
This is a bit off-topic, but notice two things after Yul Mu’s bodyguard finishes chopping the ice into smaller pieces:

(a) Before sheathing his sword into the scabbard, the bodyguard makes a downward slash with his sword and with a quick wrist flick; he did this to get rid of the water that may create rust in his sword. A swordsman also does this after slashing an enemy; blood may also cause the sword to become rusty.
(b) The bodyguard sheaths his sword into the scabbard with the bladed side up. Why? Two reasons. One, if the bladed edge is sheathed with the bladed edge down, gravity will pull the blade down into the scabbard, causing the blade to become dull. Two, it seems that when a sword is sheathed with the blade up, it’s easier to unsheathe the sword and quickly attack an enemy.

(4) In Ep. 7 of Mr. Sunshine, Ae-shin and her servant Haman enjoy “patbingsu” (“bingsu”) in the French bakery.

F. Ep. 14: Donghak (religion, movement, peasant revolution)

In Ep. 14, the ministers threaten King Cheoljeong that if he does not order the execution of Dam Hyang (the little girl who saved Queen Cheorin from being poisoned), they will consider him as a supporter of the “Donghak” religion and its followers.

From Wikipedia:

Donghak (lit. “Eastern Learning”) was an academic movement in Korean Neo-Confucianism founded in 1860 by Choe Je-u. The Donghak movement arose as a reaction to seohak (“Western learning”), and called for a return to the “Way of Heaven.” While Donghak originated as a reform movement and revival of Confucian teachings, it gradually evolved into a religion known today as “Cheondoism” in Korea under the third patriarch.
Choe was alarmed by the intrusion of Christianity (Catholicism), and the Anglo-French occupation of Beijing. He believed that the best way to counter foreign influence in Korea was to introduce democracy, establish human rights and create a paradise on Earth independent of foreign interference.
In 1892 the small groups of the Donghak movement were united into a single Peasant Guerrilla Army or Donghak Peasants’ Army. The peasants worked in the fields during the day, but during the night, they armed themselves and raided government offices and killed rich landlords, traders, and foreigners. They confiscated their victims’ properties for redistribution.
Choe Je-u was executed as a criminal by the government. The movement was continued by Choe Si-Hyeong (1829–1898), who systematized its doctrine. He too was executed.

Related resources: “Gov’t to commemorate Donghak Peasant Revolution for 1st time” ; “Korea celebrates 125th anniversary of Donghak Peasant Revolution in 1894 (2020)”

G. Ep. 16: Difference between “Jo” and “Jong” in the posthumous (temple) names of the Joseon kings; the Joseon kings’ royal portraits and dramas such as “Painter of the Wind” and “Saimdang”

G-1. In Ep. 16, during the Royal Portrait painting session, Queen Cheorin wonders about the difference between between “Jo” and “Jong” in the posthumous (temple) names of the Joseon kings. The subtitles say that “jo” is added to the name of a king who’s honored for doing something great; on the other hand, “jong” is added to the name of a king who’s honored for his virtue. Well, this is just one of two reasons for the difference.

The website “dramasROK” in its in-depth article cites Korean historian Sul Min Suk who gives two reasons for the difference:

(1) Relationship of the king to his predecessor:

“If the successor was the king’s son – or next in line to the throne – then that king was given a posthumous title ending in JONG.
“BUT if the king was not next in line to the throne and started a new line within the Yi dynasty then his posthumous name was JO.”

(2) “The ending JO was given to the founder of the dynasty – Taejo – for great achievements establishing a new dynasty. And then his descendants were supposed to be named JONG. So in a way, the title JO could be considered superior to JONG. And from now on this was the case. JO was seen as a more elite title to JONG. It started with King Seonjo…”

Relevant discussions: Why was King Sejong named "Sejong" instead of "Sejo"? and “Rulers of the Joseon Dynasty and KDrama Interpretations”

G-2. The Joseon kings’ royal portraits and dramas such as “Painter of the Wind” and “Saimdang”

Only seven portraits of five Joseon kings remain today as the others were destroyed during the Korean War (1950-1953). These surviving portraits are those of King Sejong, King Yeongjo, King Jeongjo, King Cheoljong, King Gojong, and King Sunjong. You can view these portraits at the Royal Portrait Museum in Jeonju, Korea.
For a more detailed depiction of how the Joseon kings’ royal portraits were drawn according to strict standards, you can watch “Painter of the Wind” (2008; Eps. 10-11) and “Saimdang” (2017; Ep. 22).

H. Ep. 16: Secret Royal Investigators during the Joseon Dynasty; secret royal investigators as depicted in “100 Days My Prince” and “Under The Queen's Umbrella”

H-1. In Ep. 16, King Cheoljong sends his trusted man Hong as a secret royal investigator to the most corrupt place in south Joseon. In his confrontation with a nobleman in a gisaeng house, Hong displays his “mapae.”
From “Amhaeng-eosa - secret royal inspector in Joseon Kingdom”:

“They were undercover officials directly appointed by the king and were sent to local provinces to punish corrupt officials and comfort the sufferings of people while traveling incognito. The amhaeng-eosa system was one of the most excellent inspection systems in the world, the likes of which is very unique and hard to find in other countries.”
The “mapae” was the badge of the secret royal inspectors, and the number of horses carved on it indicated the number of horses that they could requisition from the royal stables (“saboksi”) in pursuit of their assignment. The secret royal inspectors also used the “mapae” to summon soldiers.

The book “Corea, The Hermit Kingdom” (1888) by William Elliott Griffis states several interesting things about the secret royal inspectors. They were called “The Messengers on the Dark Path,” and to prevent them from abusing their powers, they were secretly monitored by a “yashi” or “Night Messenger.” Griffis states:

“An E-sa, or commissioner, who is to be sent to a distant province to ascertain the popular feeling, or to report the conduct of certain officers, is also called ‘The Messenger on the Dark Path.’ He receives sealed orders from the king, which he must not open till beyond the city walls. Then, without even going to his own house, he must set out for his destination, the government providing his expenses. He bears the seal of his commission, a silver plate having the figure of a horse engraved on it. In some cases he has the power of life and death in his hands.
“Yet, even the Messenger of the Dark Path is not free from espionage, for after him forthwith follows his ‘double’ the yashi or Night Messenger, who reports on the conduct of the royal inspector and also on the affairs of each province through which he passes. The whereabouts of these emissaries are rarely discoverable by the people, as they travel in strict disguise, and unknown.
“This system corresponds almost exactly to that of the ometsuke (eye-appliers), for many centuries in use in Japan, but abolished by the Mikado’s government at the revolution of 1868. It was by means of these E-sa or spies that many of the Corean Christians of rank were marked for destruction. The system, though abominable in free countries, is yet an excellent medium between the throne and the subject, and serves as a wholesome check on official rapine and cruelty.”

H-2. Secret royal inspectors as depicted in "100 Days My Prince" and "Under the Queen’s Umbrella":

In Ep. 7 of “100 Days My Prince,” a royal secret inspector (“Amhaengeosa”) saves Yul and Hong-shim from the corrupt magistrate and Master Park. Hong-shim previously recognized that the man sleeping in her father’s room was a royal secret inspector because he was holding a “yuchuk” (a brazen ruler that inspectors used for several purposes, including making sure that the measurement system for taxation was correctly followed).
In Eps. 8-10 of “Under The Queen's Umbrella, as part of the contest, the Grand Princes and the princes disguise themselves as “secret royal inspectors” (“amhaeng-eosa”) in pursuit of the assignments given by King Lee Ho. In some scenes, you can see the inspectors’ seal (badge) and tool: the “mapae” and the “yuchuk.”

I. Miscellaneous notes: Ep. 11: the fight with fans as weapons; “jangot” or head covering for noblewomen during the Joseon Dynasty ; the beautiful bridge across the pond in Ep. 1 and other episodes

I-1. Ep. 11: During the festival, King Cheoljoeong and Kim Byeong-in fight using fans as requested by the Grand Queen Dowager. While they’re using ordinary fans, there’s actually a martial art system using a fan as a weapon.
From Wikipedia: Tessenjutsu (Japanese; lit. “iron fan technique”) is the martial art of the Japanese war fan (tessen). It is based on the use of the solid iron fan or the folding iron fan, which usually had eight or ten wood or iron ribs. The use of the war fan in combat is mentioned in early Japanese legends.

In Ep. 11 of “Saimdang,”Lee Gyeom fights off Min Chi-hyung’s men using his fan.

Related resources: War Fan Tessen Techniques and Why Samurai Carried and Fought with Fans Made of Metal

I-2. “Jangot” (alternative spelling ”changot”): similar to the outer jacket of a hanbok but with a collar and a ribbon for tying both sides; according to the principles of the Joseon Dynasty’s Confucianism, women were ordered not to show their face to men, so they would cover their faces in many ways while going out. (Wikipedia)
From “Veiling of Korean Women: The Neo-Confucian Influence in Comparison to the Veiling of Muslim Women” by Hye Ok Park (Claremont Graduate University, Department of History) :

Different types of veils
“There were several different types of veils, Sseugae, worn by Korean upper-class women: Nuhwool, a black sheer silk framed veil to cover from head to waist (Figure 3), Jangot, a head and face-covering in the shape of overcoat, usually made of green pure silk with purple collar and chest straps to be tied at the chin (Figure 4), and Sseugae chima or shorter Jangot, worn by the lower-ranking upper-class women (Figure 5).
“Lower-class common women were not subjected, or allowed, to wear any headdresses except for the purpose of protection from weather, hot or cold, in which case they wore a simple square piece of cloth, called cheoneui, folded in half diagonally and tied in the back of the head. It was common that they did not wear anything to cover their heads or faces when they went out on their own or accompanying a noble woman as seen in Figure 1 above.”

I-3. The beautiful bridge and pond shown below are used as the location for several scenes in “Mr. Queen”, starting with Ep. 1. This bridge is located in the Gungnamji Pond (Historic Site No. 135) in Seodong Park; it is Korea’s first artificial pond and was created by King Mu from the Baekje Dynasty. The bridge and pond have been used in other dramas such as “The Flower in Prison,” “The Joseon Gunman,” and “The Tale of Nokdu.”

(1) In digging up the historical and cultural backgrounders of the K-dramas that I watch, I rely on English language resources on the Internet. I don’t speak or read Korean, and so I can’t search through Naver. Those of you who read Korean or are more knowledgeable about Korean culture and history should correct whatever errors or omissions there may be in this discussion.

(2) Other discussions that I have posted on the historical and cultural backgrounders of K-historical dramas:

“Hotel Del Luna” (some cultural backgrounders for international viewers)
“The Princess’s Man” (award-winning 2011 drama starring Moon Chae-won and Park Si-hoo)
“The Flower in Prison” (blockbuster 2016 drama starring Jin Se-yeon and Go-soo; 34 of its 51 episodes reached more than 20% viewership)
“Jejoongwon” (2010 historical-medical drama starring Han Hye-jin, Yeon Jung-hoon, and Park Yong-woo; Dramabeans ranked this drama as number one in its review of 2010 dramas)
“Chinilpa” (mini history lesson from "Chicago Typewriter")
Historical paintings depicted in "Saimdang, Light’s Diary"
Historical backgrounders for “The Red Sleeve” (2021) and “Yi San” (2007) with parallels and differences between these dramas

(3) This discussion is rather long and may be a bit boring for those of you who don't like history. If you got tired reading this discussion, you can energize yourself by listening to Band-Maid’s performances during their 2022 USA tour. Band-Maid is an all-female Japanese band that mixes genres such as rock (hard, progressive, punk), metal, pop, jazz, and blues. Listen for example to “Freedom" (anthem; watch out for the drum solo); “Daydreaming" (power ballad; watch out for the lead guitar solo); “Wonderland” (rock-jazz-blues).
submitted by plainenglish2 to KDRAMA [link] [comments]

2023.03.20 00:51 Still_Performance_39 NOP Fanfic: An Introduction to Terran Zoology – Chapter 2

Credit to u/SpacePaladin15 for the NOP world.
Hope everyone who read it enjoyed the last chapter, I certainly had fun introducing more of Rysel along with Tolim and Milam.
I know I promised that this chapter would have the beginning of the course but I got carried away with focusing on the characters again. The next chapter will definitely have animals in it and it will be out as soon as possible. That said, I hope you enjoy.
[First] [Previous] [Next]
Memory transcription subject: Rysel, Venlil Environmental Researcher
Date [standardised human time]: 21st August 2136
For the second time in less than a full claw I was woken by the obnoxious noise of a machine. Granted Milam’s Krakotl song alarm was gentler than the stations docking systems, but it still grated on my ears, forcing me awake with high pitched cawing. Weren’t Krakotl famed for their song? Maybe this one had a sore throat when recording.
Chuckling internally at the idea my thoughts drifted to the Krakotl themselves. I wasn’t too fond of them… well that’s not fair, I’d only met one but he’d left a bad impression. Couldn’t remember his name but he was the newest chief of the local exterminator’s office back home. Like a wool twist you just couldn’t straighten out, the memory of his appearance in town was lodged in that part of your brain that only activates when you’re trying to relax or sleep. The one that makes you recount all the cringy and awkward moments you’ve experienced in life.
Our local branch was extremely public orientated, making themselves known to everyone as friendly and capable help ready to leap into action at a moment’s notice, even for non-exterminator things like litter pick up or weeding local allotments for the public, nice bunch really. So it stood to reason that when a new chief was chosen from off world, the town got together to make them feel welcome. At first he seemed totally professional, your typical career exterminator… then the speech started.
It began normal enough, hello I’m blah blah blah, I’m from wherever and here to do whatever, but then it got weird. Turned out our new chief from Nishtal had a bit of a hero complex. He went on and on about how the Krakotl had, in his words, spread out their wings to protect the huddled masses from the terror that is the predator menace, lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce! He lamented the burden of the Venlil, being one of the weaker races but promised he would do everything in his power, even lay his very life on the line to keep us safe, that’s why he’d journey so far from home after all.
Now, while no one disputed the threat of predators it was tiresome to hear someone once again regurgitate the line that we were little weaklings who couldn’t do anything ourselves. Sure, we weren’t the strongest or most stalwart of species but for stars sake, this was our own planet and we’d done fine dealing with predators without the Federation before they arrived and done fine since! This feeling was clearly shared by the majority of the crowd due to the tepid response he received at the conclusion of his “heroic” proclamation. Several younger Venlil were enamoured with him from the moment he started speaking however. I think some joined up with the exterminators right then and there.
Stars just thinking about how awkward the whole thing was could cause me to bloom right here if I wasn’t careful. Oh well, I hadn’t run into him again since his appointment. Plus that was just one Krakotl, I shouldn’t let prejudice grip me because one pompous exterminator gave a bad speech. I mean, what were the chances that all the Krakotl were like him? Self-important moral supremacists that believed everything coming out of their beaks regardless of the reality before them or everyone else!? Ridiculous.
Now fully awake I shuffled out of bed and made my way to the washroom which thankfully came equipped with a mirror. Splashing some water on my face I began to tidy myself up, straightening out rouge tufts of wool and rubbing the sleep from my eyes. I didn’t much care about being presentable to the human, but if this programme was open to all types of environmental scientist then I might be able to make connections that could lead to a better job once the exchange is over. Satisfied with my swift grooming, I fetched my pad and bag from my bedside. Milam was in the middle of waking as I approached.
“Hey Rysel, sleep well?” she asked, stretching as she rose from slumber, somehow unaffected by the bed wool that had afflicted me.
“Very well thank you.” I replied, “And you, did you get a good rest?”
“I did thank you.” She responded cheerily as she fetched her pad to silence her alarm. “Now where is that network hub, ah there it is.”
Milam approached a control panel built into the wall next to the door. Tapping her pad to it produced two pinging sounds in quick succession. One to notify that it was now connected to the local network and another to inform that a data packet had been received. As she stepped away to review the message I connected my own pad to the network, receiving confirmation of success and a message of my own.
The message was brief, “Welcome Rysel, please report to lecture room A-5 for the Introduction to Terran Zoology programme, conducted by Dr Bernard MacEwan, Professor of Zoology at Edinburgh University.” That must be the predators name, and that must be where it’s from on Earth? Interesting that they would have universities being predators, but then again, they’re probably nothing compared to even the humblest institutions of learning across the Federation.
As the message ended a map of the station popped up, arrows highlighting my path to the assigned lecture theatre. It wasn’t too far, only a short walk.
“I have a room number and directions to it for my programme. What about you Milam?” I asked.
“Yes, I’ve got one too, B-3. It’s close so I don’t have to hike across the station thankfully” She replied, a waver creeping into her voice. “Where’s yours Rysel?”
“A-5, nearby too. Looks like our rooms are on the opposite sides of this split in the corridors.” Pointing to the map on my pad. “How are you feeling? You sound nervous.”
“Aren’t you!?” retorted Milam, a sudden frustrated force lacing her tone. “I mean, we’re about to be in the same room as predators and no matter how friendly Governor Tarva says they are or how much the empathy tests prove they can be kind they’re still predators who devour flesh!” Her voice was starting to shake, tail wrapping around her for comfort, her eyes directed to the ground. “You don’t even seem slightly nervous about it!”
“Trust me I am.” I swiftly assured, “The moment I got confirmation I was accepted to this programme I wanted to cancel on the spot, my brain screaming at me for how stupid I was being, willingly placing myself in the same place as a predator.”
Milam looked up from the floor to me, the anxiety still present as she asked, “What made you stay?”
Oh Speh, “Err well… like I said before, professional curiosity.” I responded, though I feared not as convincingly as my recounting of my reaction to accepting the invitation.
A moment of silence passed before Milam let out a chuckle, confusing me but breaking the nervous tension. “You know, if we’re going to be sharing a room for who knows how long, you’re going to have to be honest at some point and tell me the full story of what brought you here.”
I winced inwardly at the thought of explaining myself. Using the same reasoning almost word for word with nothing else to back it up? No wonder she caught on so quickly. Still, Milam didn’t seem like she was going to pry further right now and her words suggested she was fine with me bringing it up myself if I felt comfortable. I appreciated that at the very least.
“Sure, I’ll make a note to do that later.” I said awkwardly, no point denying hidden motivations now anyway. “So, feeling up to heading to our programmes? We might be late if we don’t head off now.”
“Yes, I’m feeling better, thank you Rysel.” Milam replied, tail and ears flicking to emphasise a more relaxed state. “And you’re right we’re cutting it close enough as it is, come on.” She instructed as she opened the door and whisked herself from the room before I could blink. Wasn’t she just on the verge of having a panic attack? I laughed quietly to myself as I followed her into the hallway. Considering that her families wellbeing was her motivation for being here I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me how willing she was to power through her fears. It’s a purer motivation than I have at any rate. Oh well.
I quickly caught up to Milam as she power walked through the halls following her pads directions to her assigned lecture room. A short while later we came to a fork in our routes, wishing each other good luck as we split. While animals and their place in ecosystems was my primary topic of interest and work, I was curious what Milam was going to learn about Earths flora in her programme. We’ll have to swap notes during our free time.
Arriving at room A-5 I could see several Venlil hovering at the open door. Peering past them I realised that the room was already filling up with programme volunteers, the ones standing outside hadn’t seemed to work up the nerve to take a seat yet. I squeezed past them, entering a typical lecture hall. Rows of chairs and desks were placed in semi-circular arrangement with seating elevated on a slope the farther back you went, allowing those in the back to easily see over the heads of those in front. All of this faced a microphone equipped podium and a truly massive monitor that the lecturer could use when teaching or giving talks. Aside from that the only other thing of note was the door on the opposite wall to the one I’d used, a red light shining above its frame. I presumed that our guest would soon arrive through it.
Predictably the seats had filled from the back first, with only a few still available in the middle and none of the first couple of rows populated at all. I knew that the government struggled to find volunteers, but I would’ve thought they’d be able to fill a lecture hall with less than fifty seats, it’s not even at half capacity yet. Like Milam it’s probably best to keep my invitation to myself for now. Maybe someone else was in a similar situation but it didn’t behove me to risk bearing anyone’s ire that I was being paid more for the same risk that everyone else was undertaking.
Spying a free seat in the middle section I made my way between my fellow classmates, taking a seat between a Venlil on my right who was taking deep breaths to calm her obvious apprehension and another on my left who was focused on the door with the red light, no doubt waiting for our predator doctor to show themselves. His wool was shaved close, almost like an exterminator cut… wait, where do I recognise him from…
I was snapped out of my thoughts by a tone playing through the rooms in built speakers. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it certainly wasn’t what came next. A smooth, deep voice began to gently flow into the hall, silencing all previous murmuring.
“Good day everyone, or should I say good paw? I am Dr Bernard MacEwan and I will be joining you shortly. You may have noticed the red light above one of the doors in the lecture hall. When I am about to enter, the light will turn off and I will come through about 15 seconds later, I felt giving you a bit of warning would be warranted.
Now, I know that you will likely have misgivings about me being a human, but we are not the Arxur, or some non-sapient predator driven only by base instinct. Humans are as sapient as you, with all the emotional range and logic driven thought that comes with such an existence and we want nothing more than friendship with the galaxy’s inhabitants. It is my wish that through this exchange of information we can bridge the gap of understanding between our two civilisations and I can help prove our friendly intent, if not by word alone then by sharing the wealth of knowledge our society has cultivated throughout our history.
This will not be easy, for any of us, but as humans have learned through millennia of living with only ourselves, our differences, while perhaps seemingly irreconcilable at first, need not divide us. In fact, by taking the difficult road to create understanding, tolerance and eventually acceptance, we can elevate ourselves to create a better world together than we could ever manage alone. I believe in this initiative and the promise it aspires to. I hope you do too.”
Silence permeated the hall as the message concluded. I was shocked at what I’d just heard. Not by fear but genuine curiosity as aspects of the message took me completely by surprise. The humans voice had been much lower than any Venlil but it had been so soft, so calm. It alerted us to how they would enter the room, giving us time to prepare ourselves for its entrance. Why would a predator do that and risk giving prey a chance to strike at it first? And then the speech, the reassurance made to us to recognise it as a true sapient, that it wasn’t as cruel, vicious or mindless as the Arxur or another animal. That all they wanted was friends, understanding and acceptance, promising to give all they had to achieve this goal. And finally, the notion of working together to build something greater than anyone could alone. It was touching, inspiring, it was… a human.
Almost as quickly as it had come on, the lilting feelings the speech brought on vanished, replaced with a quiet dread as I remembered the source. True they had empathy and hadn’t done anything to warrant full disdain yet but they were still predators and I needed to remember that. This whole programme was about scientific fact and I needed to be focused when listening to and eventually challenging this “doctor” on their likely lacking understanding of nature. Money may have motivated me here but I was a professional with years of experience and I was going to make that clear during my time here.
A gasp directed my attention back to my surroundings. The light had gone out. The pressure of the stations atmosphere was calibrated to match Venlil Prime but in those few moments it felt like the waters of Aafa’s oceans were squeezing me from all sides.
The door slid open and, in the frame, stood the bipedal form of a human. It stood about a head taller than your average Venlil, it’s spindly arms and legs extending from a surprisingly frail looking torso. The face was enclosed within a reflective visor, obscuring any forward facing facial features. I thanked the stars the human was wearing it. Bad enough it has those awful eyes but I’d rather not be looking at them, or rather have them bearing down on me. The visor only extended so far back across the face, leaving the sides relatively visible. What little skin was within view was pale and, wrinkled? The hair I could see was cut short, coloured grey with flecks of white mixed in, the same kind of colour a Venlil’s wool starts to turn when they get… older.
Could it be? Did the humans send one of their elders to us? The wrinkled skin and greying hair both pointed to that. I mean it makes sense to us that the older a member of society the more experience they may have but I would’ve thought predators would discard those who couldn’t hunt anymore? This is great! At least I don’t have to worry as much about it being too dangerous…
I stopped mid thought as I noticed that the human clutched a long metal pole almost half my height in its right hand. It brought a weapon!? Stars why was it allowed to bring that onto the station much less the lecture!? Does anyone know that it has it!? It’s moving, it’s… limping?
As the human made its way to the podium, it moved the pole in tandem with its right leg and then, as it’s left one came forward, it used the pole to support its weight as it walked. Oh, oh I see, it’s just a mobility aid, phew panic over. Wait, why does it need an aid? No, no, no, no it can’t be.
While those around me seemed to have calmed significantly on realising that the human was both elderly and in need of aid to move around, I remembered what Tolim had said about the injured human. The injured human who just got up and walked off after having their leg crushed by a crate. Please, please don’t let that human be this human.
“Once again, good paw to you all. I am Dr Bernard MacEwan and I very much look forward to getting to know all of you during our time together.” The human introduced themselves once again in their gentle tone. “Now I’m sure you’re all raring to go but I would like to take a moment to let you know how this will be conducted. For today’s session we will begin with a quick question and answer. Ask me anything you can think of and I’ll do my best to answer. The second part of todays session will involve you all reviewing images of Earth’s wildlife. Now don’t worry, these have all been curated in line with your governments guidelines and steps have been taken to ensure as little distress as possible when viewing some of the more predatory animals, or at least what you would recognise as predatory. Finally, we will close with another question and answer session, ideally more geared towards the second part of the lecture but if there is a question you weren’t able to ask in the first session then by all means ask away.”
While my mind was still heavily focused on the chance of this being the same injured predator one thing caught my attention. What we would recognise as predatory? What does it mean by that? This is worse than I thought if the humans don’t even understand that forward facing eyes, meat eating and sharp teeth were some of the key aspects if not the only aspects when determining predatory inclinations.
The human continued, “Ok, with that out of the way, does anyone have a question?”
There was an understandable silence. Most of us probably couldn’t bring up the nerve to ask a question, knowing the predator would home in on whoever piped up. We might not be able to see the eyes behind the mask, but we knew they were there.
“Um, yes I have a question.” A voice sounded behind me. I turned slightly to see the brave Venlil who had decided to speak up shivering in their seat.
“Of course, please ask away.” The human responded cheerily. Surprisingly though they didn’t turn their head to face the source. Instead, they turned their face away, bringing an ear forward instead.
“Thank you,” replied the Venlil, a surprised tone clear in their voice. Evidently the strange behaviour didn’t escape their notice either despite their fear. “I was just wondering why you said good paw in your greeting?”
“Oh, I thought that was what your days were called?”, the human replied quizzically.
“That’s correct, but paw is used more as a measure of time, like a claw, whereas a day is still a day.” Informed the Venlil, their voice steadier than their body language displayed. Perhaps the strangeness of having to explain something as simple as time keeping vernacular to a predator was throwing them through several conflicting emotions. It was certainly confusing me. This was our guide to the life on Earth? A bit disappointing so far.
“Ah I see, my how embarrassing. Thank you for letting me know.” Despite their response, the human didn’t seem embarrassed. Rather, they were barking? My translator quickly identified the strange sounds as laughter denoting amusement, but why would something like this amuse the human?
As if reading my mind, they spoke again, “See everyone, this is what I mean. Two different cultures teaching each other their differences for greater understanding. Isn’t it marvellous?”
Marvellous, really? If that was all the “knowledge” it took to amaze the human then wait until it got a load of what all of us had in store for it regarding ecosystems.
“Anyone else? Come now don’t be shy ask away?” The human encouraged, completely unfazed at being educated on such a simple concept in its own lecture. Fine, I’d had one ready since I saw it limp in. I needed to confirm if this was the one Tolim mentioned.
“Are you injured?” I asked, trying my best to sound stern through my nerves.
“What? Oh you mean this?”, the human motioned with the pole to their left leg. “Thank you for the concern but I am quite alright. There was an accident a few hours ago where a crate fell on my leg but I didn’t even feel it.” They informed, with another light bark of laughter.
At this, a couple worried and fearful expressions appeared across the audience, my own among them. They didn’t feel their own leg get crushed!? What are these things!?
Seeming to realise the anxiety their answer had caused the human quickly continued, “Please don’t fret, apologises I should’ve provided more context. My left leg is prosthetic.” To demonstrate this fact the human took the pole and knocked the end of it against their leg, causing a light clanging sound of metal hitting metal to ring out.
“I’ve had it for a long time and its rather low tech so no replicated nerve receptors either. That’s why I said it didn’t hurt when it was crushed. Apologises again, I should’ve realised how a human saying they felt nothing from what would normally be a serious injury could come across. I was able to conduct minor repairs but I’ll get it sorted good and proper in short order.”
I let go of a breath I didn’t realise I had been holding at the end of their explanation, my nerves levelling out at a much more manageable level. Ok, that’s good news. They’re still a predator but they’re not injured, just elderly with a prosthetic leg… nope, nope I’m not going to ask how that happened, lets move on.
“Thank you for your concern, very kind of you.” Said the human, a warm tone in their voice.
I hadn’t meant it as concern for them but if that’s how the human took it, I wasn’t going to correct them. I nodded lightly and flicked my ears in acknowledgment, though they were still looking away from the audience, angling their ear towards me instead so I had no clue if they’d seen it.
Other members of the audience seemed to find courage to ask questions after myself and the other volunteer had taken the initial stress away with ours. The questions mostly focused on the human themselves, through which we learned that he was a he, that he was seventy four human years old, like I suspected from the message to my pad he was indeed from a place called Edinburgh, a city in one of human nations called Scotland, and he had been in his current field of study for almost forty years.
There were other questions of course but they mostly surrounded the more fear inducing aspects of humanity, does he eat meat, will he eat meat while here, how will he deal with his hunting instincts, that kind of thing. To his credit he appeared to answer these questions honestly yet sensitively. Yes, he eats meat back home but never from a living animal, only ever from lab grown cell cultures. No, he would not be eating meat or any animal product during his stay. And he won’t be dealing with instincts because they don’t exist.
I scoffed internally at that last one. Surely he didn’t expect us to believe he didn’t have some hunting instinct even in his advanced age? Still, I wasn’t about to challenge him before we got properly started. Besides, as much as I was hesitant to admit it he seemed rather friendly from what little interaction we’d had so far and I didn’t want to change that this early.
As the questions drew to a close the human spoke up enthusiastically, “Alright everyone, I’m glad we were able to have such a frank and open question and answer session to start us off but now, let’s get to why you’re all really here. To experience the native life of Earth and how it may differ to what you are used to.”
He moved to the podium, picking up a pad that rested upon it and began tapping away briskly. A round of pings notified everyone of a data package being sent to their pads.
“Now, don’t open those just yet.” Said the human, “Each of you have received a gallery of photographs of the diverse life that inhabits Earth. You have been sent these individually so that you can go through them at your own pace, but don’t worry if you can’t get through them all. On each photograph you will find one animal along with three options to categorise them into, predator, prey or unknown. Now you might be wondering why we added that third option and the simple reason is you’ve never seen anything on Earth before so an animal may be too alien to categorise in relation to your own sciences. Additionally, we know forward facing eyes can cause distress so in all photos, regardless of an animal being predatory or not, we have blotted out the eyes with very distinct pink dots. This will identify where they eyes are on an animal but hopefully help with any stress looking at them may cause.”
Once again, I was surprised by the efforts the humans were going to make us comfortable interacting with their world, though I took some offence at the idea that an unknown category would be required. I think I know how to determine predator and prey thank you very much. I might not have forty years on the job but certainly enough to know the difference.
“Well then, I will take a seat and you may all get started at your discretion. You may of course discuss the photos if you feel the need and please let me know if there is anything you need help with.” The human stated, settling down on a chair by his podium.
Here it was, the moment of truth. The first peek into the non-sapient life of the human home world. Despite the feelings of trepidation I felt, there was something more, something I didn’t expect. Excitement, excitement at what could be within this file and the thought that among all the Venlil in the galaxy, among the entire Federation, I was one of the first to look upon the life of a brand new world. My paw trembled over my pad as I pressed open on the data packet, wondering if the first thing I saw would be a prey creature or a cursed predator.
As the file loaded my excitement built, my tail swishing rapidly and then, it appeared… an aquatic blob with tentacles, no eyes, no mouth, nothing... What the Speh is this!?
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