Where I talk to you about linguistics and anthropology, science fiction and fantasy, point of view, grammar geekiness, and all of the fascinating permutations thereof...
Lison Roew watched his trusted Corpon carry the most recognizable Eyan in the known universe through the crowd, swathed in what cloaking they found at the target’s home. He tried to reassure himself that even he would never guess her identity, and his eyes were far better than most. He’d never had a psychic raid that hadn’t gathered a charged audience. All it took was one person seeing the Corpa Unit arrive, and the swarm honed in to observe and condemn. It was an unfortunate effect of their linked affect- the spiked fear and curiosity of one witness quickly spread through their subterranean streets like a cry of ‘fire,’ repeated in the adrenal surge of every link in the chain. At least that’s how it felt when he was cut off from the collective alarm in the name of the discretion his work demanded. This case above all others.He waited to see she was secured in the vehicle with his team. The pack would stand as an impromptu watch until the Corpa drove away, but they would maintain a healthy distance. Their emotion couldn’t penetrate his car’s shielding. Even without her own prodigious defenses, the girl was safely beyond their perception. He needed to make the call privately now, before their long drive together. He stepped back into PrahNehn’s living quarters, relieved that the residual fear was barely perceptible in the main room. Of course, both women had to be accomplished dampers to rate Terran-level clearance and they were quick to shield after their initial shock. He glanced toward the bedroom uneasily. Their transgression had been shameless. No dampening there; they had acted with galling impunity. The psychic reek would persist for hours if not days, and the hairs on the back of his neck rose while his stomach clenched in reflex at the mere memory. He took a deep breath concentrating on his own mental boundaries to block it all out. He had an immediate task. Experience had shown him that delay never made bad news any less difficult to deliver. If the Presidium had any words of wisdom, Collective knows, he would love to hear them.It had gone terribly wrong, the most important case of his life. But how? He would pay his net worth to know the answer to that before being held to account, but all the credit in the world wouldn’t buy him an answer before this call. He still believed it was a well-formed plan, and the surveillance had been good. Too good, perhaps; his hand was now forced.He activated the ComBud in his ear with touch and voice. “Director Roew for Presidi Muhn.” He spoke clearly, with more confidence than he felt. Muhn’s only access to his feelings would be through his voice, after all. He would make the best impression he could. He wasn’t surprised when the Presidi answered himself. Having the foresight to put this call on the bypass list was no more than he expected. “It’s a little early to be hearing from you, Director Roew.” They had scheduled a conference call for him for his report in a little over an hour.“Yes, sir.” He spoke evenly. “I have to inform you of some complications we’ve encountered.”Lison waited, his heart pounding, for his opening to register with the Presidi. “What ‘complications’?” The tension in the clipped sentence made Lison grateful that he was no more subject to the Presidi’s feelings over the ComWaves than the Presidi was to his. He started to flush at the mere thought. They had every right to be angry and disappointed. They had placed a great trust in him, Muhn especially, and he had let them down. “We caught them in the act.” He said simply.Muhn’s mic amplified the sharp intake of his breath in Lison’s ear. “You were supposed to scare them, let them know we could catch them. This wasn’t supposed to be a real raid!”“I know, sir. We had no such intention.” Lison was careful to keep his tone explanatory rather than defensive. He would own his part in this. “It was late afternoon, and they’d only arrived at PrahNehn’s home a quarter hour earlier. I never thought . . .” He couldn’t finish the thought aloud. It was bad enough to have experienced the women’s oestrus in his mind. He wouldn’t say it to the Presidi, wouldn’t tarnish his image of their cultural idol any more than necessary. He would reconcile that alone. “Get out of there.” Muhn spoke with urgency.Lison hadn’t expected this. “Sir?”“I said: get out of there, before it’s too late.”“It’s already too late.” He stood alone in the empty house, with one car headed to detention and the other waiting for him to finish this call. He didn’t like it, but the women had left him no choice. The process had already begun- treatment, imprisonment, death- the sticks would lay where they fell. “You don’t know what you saw.” It was a directive, rather than an argument. A panicked directive that was too late and divorced from the realities of the situation. He knew all too well what he’d seen- the two women rutting like gelded animals- not to mention what he’d felt, before they knew he was there. There was little room for discretion. He could only hope PrahNehn’s claims would hold.“I know what I saw, and so do the five witnesses I had with me.” “You mean the Corpa?” Muhn laughed. “They’re not psychic, they can swear to whatever we tell them to.”Lison felt the chill of ice in his veins. Muhn couldn’t be suggesting they use the Corpa’s ability to lie to hide the truth. “Surely you don’t mean for me to do the same?” He spoke quietly. He couldn’t swear to a falsehood, none of them could, and the Presidi was every bit aware of that as Lison. He was speaking from fear, Lison reasoned, a child’s reflexive denial. He didn’t mean it.
Curo's feet hurt. He stared at the stone road that climbed in front of him, worn smooth by generations of aching feet, and took another step. "Why does Highpass have to be so high?" Curo panted. If they were going to force him to travel all the way across their accursed empire, the Choque could at least have the decency to place their capitol at a more reasonable elevation. Guaman rode just ahead of Curo on a black pharu. The talons on the bird's bright yellow feet ticked as they tapped the stone. "Look alive master Curo! We are just about through the worst of it!" "You would be less cheerful if you had to climb this mountain on your own feet instead of riding on that bird." Curo's father had insisted on sending one of his household guards along on the trip and Guaman had been the first to volunteer. He was a pleasant enough traveling companion, but at the moment Curo wished he wasn't quite so cheerful. "I would offer to let you ride, but you remember what happened last time," Guaman said. Curo had never been a good rider, and a week ago when they were crossing the Flatlands, the pharu had thrown Curo into an irrigation ditch and would have speared him with its beak if Guaman had not reined it in. Now, at the sound of Curo's voice the bird twisted its head around on its long neck and regarded Curo with predatory yellow eyes. They continued along the path, Guaman on his mount and Curo on his sore feet, leading the pack-llamas. They had been on the road from Stormhaven for almost three weeks, and the llamas showed no sign of fatigue. If anything they seemed happy to be in the mountains. Curo was not. He didn't want to go to Highpass in the first place, but father had given in to the Choque without any resistance. Of course, had Stormhaven resisted, it would have been crushed, but it seemed wrong to give in without so much as a skirmish. The very same Choque runners who delivered the emperor's acceptance of Stormhaven's allegiance had commanded that Curo set out at once to Highpass to "learn to govern as a Choque." More like learn to worship rocks and bonfires and other silly things like a good little subject. He was so caught up in dark thoughts that he almost ran into Guaman's pharu standing in the middle of the path in front of him. Guaman had stopped at the crest of the ridge they had been climbing.The path ahead plunged down the ridge and then switchbacked up the slope on the far side to a gap in the mountains. The valley was a cascade of green terraces, and he could see peasants working the stair-stepped fields. Above the terraces, the formidable walls and towers of High Pass glowed gold in the late afternoon light. Even from this distance, Curo could tell that this was the work of the First Empire, whose crafts had been lost centuries ago. The stones seemed a part of the mountain, and just as strong. No enemy would ever break those walls. High above the rest of the city, framed against the sky by the granite peaks on either side, the Emperor's tower stood. For a moment, Curo forgot about his aching feet."Quite a view isn't it?"Curo looked up at Guaman, who was shielding his eyes and looking west, away from the city."Yes, it's lovely, but --- Oh…" As he spoke, Curo had also turned to face west. Laid out below them were the rolling foothills of the Apo mountains, threaded by rivers of snowmelt from the peaks that glimmered in the sun like veins of gold. Beyond the hills, the dusty road wound its way to the Crossroads and beyond into the Flatlands until it was lost in the golden haze. And all that is just a fraction of the empire. Curo could scarcely see a third of the distance that they had traveled since leaving Stormhaven, and every step of the way had been on Choque soil. It was hard not to respect such power. "I hear the view is even better from the Emperor's tower, but of course I'm not allowed there," Guaman said. "You will be though! You'll have to tell me about it!" Guaman flashed his a toothy smile, then spurred his pharu and rode ahead down the path to Highpass.
I'd finished a job and was in Raklebad seeing to a few things before setting out for Fairport, the largest town on Falibana, indeed the largest town in the Falibar Islands, when Morrow commed. Could I step in and have a word? He sounded not quite himself, though the wrist com was notoriously tinny. Still, my curiosity was aroused, and mild concern. I liked Morrow in an offhand sort of way. A genial red faced and pudgy personage, just a bit self-Important, who doted on his wife and daughter, especially his daughter. That was the Tom Morrow I knew. I'd seldom seen the hardnosed, steely-eyed governor of the Nova Britannia Corn Exchange, in whose hands so often rested the plenty or dearth of worlds. He wasn't hardnosed with me, maybe because he recognized that I was very good at what I did which, when you came right down to it, wasn't so different from what he did. I was a trader. My livelihood depended on driving hard but fair bargains, dealing equitably, procuring and sometimes transporting goods for my clients. The likes of him needed the likes of me. And, he was sensible enough to know it and to respect my skills, even if he considered my person just a touch scruffy.But, this call in was unusual as well as annoying from a personal point of view. Working for Morrow was certainly good for my pocketbook as well as for my reputation. Still, I had something of a routine with him, a routine which, with the Roban City job done, should have given me several weeks at home in Fairport with Jocelyn. A vision of her sweet face, raven black curls blowing in the wind, cheeks pink with excitement and night-dark eyes lit with love rose before me. Regretfully yet firmly I dismissed it. Must shift from going home mode back to business mode, at least for a couple of hours. I hoped whatever Morrow wanted was something I could dispatch quickly or else postpone. He occasionally got a bee in his bonnet about starting projects earlier than was necessary, especially when gifts for his daughter Emma were concerned. I took the maglev to the posh neighborhood where the Morrows lived. It was Blossoming (Summer), so the Governor worked reduced hours at the Exchange and would see me at home. During the ride, I had time to reflect that Emma's birthday was coming up next month, and that this was probably the reason for today's call in. He wanted to make sure I got a head start on whatever plans he had for her present. I smiled to myself. Experience told me, if that was it, I could easily postpone getting started for at least three weeks.The Morrows' house and grounds were a bit big and more than a bit showy for my taste. I went round to the service entrance, not because I knew my place (all men are equal in the love of the Holy Trinity, and I had a healthy, egalitarian sense of my own worth), but because I found its simplicity more attractive than the overdone, almost gaudy front entrance. In the back regions of the house I ran into a busy housemaid and, a few moments later, a bored footman. The Morrows' employment of servants didn't trouble me. The Senators and other officials of the World Government are said to be public servants, after all. And, there's no more disgrace in domestic service than in public service. I chatted briefly with Walter, the footman, who accompanied me to Morrow's study and announced me."Shepherd, my dear fellow," the grain merchant said, rising behind his unnecessarily large desk as I entered, "Good of you to come. I heard you were back in Raklebad and thought we should have a chat." He leant forward slightly across the desk's gleaming expanse to shake hands. "Have a seat, have a seat." I eyed the plush, overstuffed armchairs angled in front of the desk askance. But, I was long resigned to Moro's upholstery. So, stifling a sigh, I sat down."To what do I owe the honor, Morrow?" I asked with a jauntiness I didn't quite feel. He looked indefinably unwell, just as he had sounded indefinably not himself over the com. But it wasn't my place to inquire after my employer's health.He sat back. "It's Emma's birthday gift," he said, just as I'd expected. Good. Then my three weeks at home were secure, and maybe even a fourth depending on what exactly the old boy had in mind.What he had in mind was a horse. "I want to give her a Namoranian, and you're just the man to select it."I inclined my head at the compliment to my judgment. Emma was a fine horsewoman despite her severe disabilities; and, selecting a horse for her would be both an exacting and a pleasurable task. But, it would take a week or less, not over a month. So I said, with just the right mix of nonchalance and decisiveness, "Very good. It's always a pleasure to select a mount for an excellent rider. I'll be at Splangliborn by the twenty-second and should have…""The Twenty-second," Morrow exclaimed, his round, fat face growing red. "But, that's not for three weeks!"I shrugged, masking my amusement with polite blandness. "If you can't wait, of course…" I made as if to rise, leaving unspoken the suggestion that he employ another agent. We both knew he wouldn't do that.His face grew redder and his pudgy hands twisted together in an uncharacteristically nervous gesture. He knew I wasn't turning the job down, just resetting the timeline to my own needs. His regard for my skills was such that it wouldn't occur to him to take offence or to consider that I was overstepping some boundary by imposing my own timeline. I'd readjusted jobs in this way before, and not only with Morrow. He simply assumed that I had some good reason, a reason not necessarily having anything to do with himself or the job, for being unable to undertake it immediately. At least, all this would be true under normal circumstances. Something definitely was wrong, though. Maybe I'd do a little discrete snooping before leaving the premises."Now, Shepherd, you're the best man I know," he said placatingly, " the - the best man.""The best judge of horseflesh, possibly," I agreed with a touch of becoming modesty. "So, I mean, my dear fellow," he spluttered on, "if you say you can't leave for three weeks, well, of course I'll wait. I'll just have too, won't I?" I looked at him with real concern. Discrete inquiries were definitely in order. I'd known Morrow for some fifteen years, had worked for him at least semi-regularly for over ten. But, never had I seen him so nervous, worried even, over a routine commission. Unwilling to reveal my own plans and yet wanting to calm him I said, careful to keep my tone indifferent, "I have a little job in the Falibars, man, that's all." I permitted myself a slight, reassuring smile. "It won't interfere with my selecting a Namoranian for Miss Emma, or with my delivering it in time for her birthday. It just means that I can't start for Splangliborn at once."Morrow's face cleared like clouds lifting to reveal an untroubled sky. "Ah," he sighed, relief and satisfaction in the long syllable. "Well then, if that's all it is, that's all right." He rose and extended his hand.Rising as well, I gripped it. "Do you have a bottle of brandy in your desk, Morrow?"He started slightly and gave me a quizzical look. "Yes. Why?""I think you'd better have a nip. You look as if you could use it." Then, I turned and walked out.
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Please don't be mad at me. I know that I was supposed to revise the story section I had. And I am doing that, honest. But what I've managed to finish instead is a prequel scene, to give my protagonist a reason to do the foolish thing she does. And to do a bit of worldbuilding.PS Can't seem to get the italics right.I shouldn’t do it. What if my parents catch me?Well, what if they do? Talioth stopped bouncing off the walls of her bedroom and slowly drifted to a halt. She turned the wicked little thought over in her mind, studying it from all angles, and she liked what she saw.She had been caught sneaking out to spend the Darktime in forbidden places many times before, oh yes. So many times, in fact, that she was sure her mother couldn’t possibly think up any more cruel punishments. But who could punish her this time?At Sundeath, her parent’s would no longer hold sway over her life, so they couldn’t punish her even if they did catch her. And by the time the Sun was born again, she would be an adult, under the protection and authority of none save her chosen guild.At Sunbirth, she would have to choose. But no guild could punish her for something that happened before her choice was made.Her parents would never have encouraged her to meditate upon the virtues and vices of the various guilds if they had known which way her thoughts would drift.Until Sunbirth, then, I need take no responsibility for my actions. That was all the encouragement she needed. There was only one guild that she would willingly join, but the Watchers would never grow themselves a guildhall in a backwater like this. And if her home could not support real Watchers, then they certainly couldn’t support someone pretending to be a Watcher.That left her with a choice that was no choice at all. She felt her blood bubbling at the injustice of it all.At Sundeath, she would be free from her parents. At Sunbirth, she would be bound to a guild, forever. In the time in between, she was free to choose, without any other to gainsay her.That the time of choosing, the Darktime, was given over to the Eater Of All Life seemed somehow appropriate.Talioth uttered something halfway between a prayer and a curse, asking that the Eater might find someone else to eat. No sense tempting fate by failing to show the proper respect to the Goddess of the Abyss. The Children of the Eater were most active in the Darktime, after all. Ending with the promise to sacrifice her next meal to the Eater, she flicked her tail, and began to swim towards the distant spires of Nirael Reef.This Darktime would be the last chance she would ever have to gaze upon the tiny Nightsuns, as they gave life to their unimaginably distant worlds. Her last chance to pretend that she was truly a Watcher.
I shouldn’t be doing this, she thought. What if my parents catch me?Well, what if they do? Talioth slowly drifted to a halt. She turned the wicked little thought over in her mind, studying it from all angles, and she liked what she saw.She had been caught sneaking out to spend the Darktime in forbidden places many times before. So many times, in fact, that she was sure her mother couldn’t possibly think of any more cruel punishments. But who could punish her this time?At Sundeath, her parent’s would no longer hold sway over her life, so they couldn’t punish her even if they did catch her. And by the time the Sun was born again, she would be an adult, under the protection and authority of none save her chosen guild. And no guild could punish her for something that happened before her choice was made.Until Sunbirth, then, I need take no responsibility for my actions. That was all the encouragement she needed. She turned her body upwards once more, and continued to rise until she was higher than even the tallest spires of Nirael. Finally, with her home lost far below her, she reached the End Of The World. There she held her breath, and strained against her survival instincts as she pushed her head through the End Of The World and into the Lesser Void.The anemone strands of her gills hung limply across her head and shoulders, deprived of life and breath by a place totally unsuited to her kind of life. She could not breathe the thin ghost of long-dead water that shrieked past her head. Her hearts raced with excitement and terror. No longer buoyed by the water, she felt her weight, like the tentacles of the Eater Of All Life dragging her back down, forever down, into Her lightless Abyss. She plunged her head back into the life-giving waters, and took a breath so deep that her whole body shook. As her hearts slowly returned to their natural rhythms, she examined the ribbons of spineweed that kept predators out of Nirael Reef. Satisfied that the formidable barrier was still intact, Talioth nonetheless uttered something halfway between a prayer and a curse, asking that the Eater might find someone else to eat. No sense tempting fate by failing to show the proper respect to the Goddess of the Abyss. The predators, the Children of the Eater, would be most active in the approaching Darktime, after all. Ending with the promise to sacrifice her next meal to the Eater, she held her breath once more, and pushed her head and shoulders back into the Lesser Void. She repeated the pattern, over and over, until she had seen the Sun bleed to death on a distant part of the End Of The World, as the Eater Of All Life claimed Him as Her own once more.The only thing that broke her pattern was the fish.It slipped between the ribbons of the spineweed, and came face to face with Talioth as she caught her breath after gazing into the Void. The fish was fast, but she was faster, impaling it on the hooked talons that tipped her webbed fingers. Her prize was about the length of her arm, a plump and tender weedlurker that would make an excellent meal. She drew the fish towards her mouth. She was about to bite its head off when she paused, remembering her earlier prayer-curse. This fish was not hers, but the Eater’s due.And weedlurker was Talioth’s favourite, too! Just her luck.With a jerk, the weedlurker wrenched itself free. A flash of silver scales, and it was gone, with only a faint trail of blood to show that it had ever been.Talioth had failed. She hadn’t sacrificed the fish to the Eater, as she had sworn to do.But wait. She hadn’t promised that fish. She had simply promised her next meal. As long as she sacrificed a decent meal before she ate again, she had nothing to worry about. Surely.An arcati proverb said that words could be as slippery as fish, in some mouths. Talioth prayed that the Eater would be satisfied with her slippery words for a little while longer. Till Sunbirth, at least.For this Darktime would be the last chance Talioth would ever have to gaze upon the tiny Suns of the Greater Void, as they gave life to their unimaginably distant worlds. Her last chance to pretend that she was truly a Watcher.
K,I really like what you've done with these revisions. I feel much better oriented here, and I'm starting to feel Lison's personality come through. One thing that you might want to explore going forward is whether Lison feels any sympathy for the person he's just arrested. If his sympathy, or his plans for emancipating his people from the Dalkans, are going to influence his decisions further on into the story, you would do well to establish that possibility with some hint of feeling in this sequence. I still am not quite clear on why this case is so important to him, and why his career rests on it, but I wouldn't suggest that you add a lot of explanation for that. If you can do it with just a few words, then by all means do. The rest is just polishing.It's been a pleasure to have you in the workshop, and I hope you feel this has been a worthwhile process for you.Thanks! And have a great holiday.Juliette
Ryan,I really like what you've done with your passage. I feel more depth not only from your world, but also from your protagonist. The additions make him seem more mature and knowledgeable, which helps me to believe that he'll be able to handle adventures that come his way (provided they don't involve pharu-riding!:-) )I like that your physical views of scenery have taken on extra meaning. At the moment, both of them seem to be doing similar things, i.e. suggesting the power and majesty (and history) of the Choque. Given that Curo is about to find out that the Choque government is not as stable as it seems, you might want to see if you can contrast these two views somehow, maybe by having Curo wonder as he looks out on the lowlands whether it's difficult for them to maintain such power over such distance, and whether anyone out there is willing to put up more of a fight than his father.Good luck with your story. It's been a pleasure having you in the workshop, and I hope you found it helpful.Thanks, and have a great holiday!Juliette
Catreona,It's nice to see this from you. It looks like you've learned a lot about your world and your characters, and I hope you feel this knowledge can carry forward into other interactions in your story, such as the one we didn't get to work with this time. As you go forward, you may want to try to take some of the additional information you've put in the text, and background it to the main story rather than giving it its own paragraphs - to use implication to give us Shepherd's background, for example, instead of explanation. One of the reasons I was reluctant to work with the other piece was that working with open bigotry scenes is tricky. I have some experience with this, since my Varin world has a lot of caste-based discrimination. Gauging the right level of insulting behavior, and not having it come across as too cartoonish, or as serving the author's purposes more than the story's, can be difficult. However, I hope that the experience of thinking through a character's background, and using that information to tune the strength of his reactions to things, can help in that context as well.I've really enjoyed working with you, and I've been impressed by your engagement and effort. I hope you've found the workshop met your expectations.Thanks for participating, and have a great holiday.Juliette
David,I can see you've done a whole lot of work! Wow. I particularly like what you've done in the second piece you gave me below. I don't just get a feeling of alienness, but I now feel much more oriented to the way the arcati live. I like the spires, and I like the surface of the water. I also like that I know what Talioth's motivations are in doing what she's doing. On the whole, this piece is far easier to read than your original (and I bet you can tell!). There are some levels of nuance still to explore here. I still have difficulty with the idea of the Eater of All Life being in the bottom of the sea, and yet being seen as the one who eats the sun every evening. Maybe for someone who lives an unquestioned arcati life, this might be enough, but for Talioth, who has put her head above water, I'm not so sure. The question of where the sun goes might be one of the things driving her to become a Watcher, for example.I can see you're starting to look at their society a bit more, as you've introduced a proverb. This is a good direction to go. As you go there, try to keep in mind the internal point of view that you're using - Talioth would probably just use the proverb, for example, rather than pointing out that it's a proverb.Good luck with the story. I've enjoyed having you in the workshop and I hope it has met your expectations.Thanks, and have a wonderful holiday!Juliette
Thanks, Juliette.There is more explanation or perhaps explication here than strictly necessary. I thought, though, it would be better to present the excerpt this way, especially since working everything out in the way you suggest may, er, take a while. *grin*I've enjoyed the workshop very much. Yes, I have learned a good deal about my world and articulated more that I didn't realize I knew. I'll definitely apply the personalized questions to jocelyn and Emma, and possibly to second and third teer characters as well. Your questions have also started me thinking about other aspects of world building, such as ecology.
Juliette,I think it is much easier to read. The workshop has been a great help. Thank you.Rather than mention that it is a proverb, perhaps I'll have Talioth note that it's something her mother often says. That might make it more consistent with Talioth's POV.I'll work on the Eater.
And Merry Christmas to all! :)
David, I was thinking along those lines. My vibes must have reached you. LOLRyan, are the pharu physically flightless or are they trained to walk rather than fly when ridden? Why would a retainer, a guardsman, ride while a prince of the blood royal walked?Nothing much else to add... very impressed with everyone's work.
Thanks for the comments Catreona. The pharu are flightless, modeled after the Moa or "elephant bird" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moa)Good point about Curo walking... I almost had him ride too, but then the conflict between him and Guaman is gone from the scene. I'll have to think about this, because your right that he should be riding if he's a noble...I promise my comments on everyone's work are coming, but I've been home for all of 24 hours and am about to hop on a train to travel back to Michigan for the holidays, so haven't had time yet.
Ryan~Now that I think of it, not necessarily. That is, while the prince would ordinarily ride, that, uh, unfortunate incident back along the road might have made him decide that walking was better, for a while anyway. It might depend on the disposition of farus in general and this one in particular. Also, might Curo be the kind of person to say, in effect, "Nuts to this! Who needs the stupid, uncooperative faru when I can walk!" He'd soon come to regret this foolish decision, but by that time his pride would be engaged, and he couldn't remount without losing face before his retainer.*shrug* Just an idea. Maybe it doesn't fit your protagonist, but maybe it's something to think about. Might give a little more glimpse into Curo's character and history...Safe travels, and Merry Christmas!