Tag Archives: Research

The Christmas Roast

Writing sci-fi involves a lot of research, most of which never appears in the finished story. I created the following schematic so I could see the layout of the Undercity apartments in my story, The Christmas Roast:

The diagram of the SL’ick tank below details how the SL’ick are harvested:

None of the details about the SL’ick tank appeared in the story, but I needed to know them in order to make Caitlyn’s feelings ‘real’.

The Christmas Roast is one of the sci-fi short stories found in my book, The Vintage Egg. I hope you enjoy the story and have a safe and happy Christmas. Cheers, Meeks.

The Christmas Roast, a short story

Christmas was supposed to be a time of happiness and good cheer, but fourteen year old Caitlyn Nguyen knew that Christmas was going to be horrible this year. That was why she was still awake at 3am on Christmas morning.

Caitlyn’s two younger brothers, Jeff and little Michael, had gone to sleep hours before, and she could hear them snoring softly in the bunks below. They were probably dreaming of the presents they would find under the tree when they got up in the morning.

It wasn’t a real tree of course. It was illegal to grow pines anymore because of the bushfires, but the fake Christmas tree was still very pretty, and Caitlyn had been happy to help decorate it until the moment her mother had started talking about the huge roast she was going to bake for Christmas lunch – real potatoes, real carrots, real pumpkin… and their very first, home-grown SL’ick.

The boys had jumped up and down in excitement, wanting to know if they could help get the SL’ick out of its tank. Neither of them had given a thought to the fact that taking the SL’ick out of its tank would kill it. All they had cared about was that there would be meat for Christmas lunch…

Carnivores! Caitlyn thought in disgust as she stared up at the ceiling just a couple of feet above her head. All they care about is food!

Before being assigned to their very own apartment in the undercity, Caitlyn had been much like her brothers. They had never gone hungry, her parents worked very hard to make sure that never happened, but still, meat was not something they could afford to eat.

There had been special occasions of course, birthdays and anniversaries and such, when they would all go out to have a hamburger as a treat, but the meat inside the bun had been mostly soy anyway, with just a bit of SL’eef for flavour, so Caitlyn had never really had to worry about where the meat came from. But eating a whole SL’ick was different, especially when it was a SL’ick she knew.

Like everyone else, Caitlyn had grown up knowing about Synthetic Life Animals. She knew they made precious compost because they were engineered from earthworms. She knew they had no bones, or eyes or anything, and she knew her family was incredibly lucky to be assigned an apartment with its own SLA tank. However none of that changed the sense of horror she felt at the thought of eating one. No matter what anyone said, she knew the SL’ick in their home tank were not just giant worms!

When the Nguyen family had first moved into their apartment, everyone had been given one special chore, even three year old Michael. As the eldest, Caitlyn was given the important task of feeding the five tiny synthetic life chickens her mother had bought. Three times a day she would have to scrape the leftovers from their meals into the SLA tank, and three times a day she would have to look down into the tank and see the brown, segmented things that moved around inside.

While the SL’ick were small she hardly even noticed them, however once they became bigger a curious thing began to happen. Instead of staying below the surface of the compost, the SL’ick began squirming up to the top, their toothless mouths opening and closing as if in anticipation of the food she was about to give them.

When Caitlyn told her parents about the SL’icks’ odd behaviour they laughed it off, saying it must have been a coincidence because SL’ick were too primitive for such ‘purposeful behaviour’.

Even the boys had laughed at Caitlyn’s fanciful story, so she had not brought the subject up again, but the strange behaviour of the creatures in the tank continued. She did notice, however, that the SL’ick only seemed to respond to her. Whenever anyone else opened the tank they would hide below the compost. It was almost as if they recognized her in some weird way.

And then two weeks ago the biggest one, the one that was going to end up as Christmas lunch, began bumping its mouth-end up against Caitlyn’s hand, almost as if it was saying hello or something. The first time it happened she had fled to the holoscreen, desperately searching for answers, but all the wiki clips said the same thing – SLA did not have heads as such because they didn’t really have any brains, so there was just an in-end and an out-end.

Nonetheless every time the big SL’ick bumped her hand it was always with the mouth-end, the end that would be its head if it had a brain. Could it be that these SL’ick were made differently to normal SLAs? But why would the company that made them suddenly give them a brain?

It didn’t make sense, unless the company hadn’t meant to make them this way. Maybe Buffa and the others were part of a batch that went wrong. Glitches did happen. Usually they were caught before people bought them, but there was that Eterna face cream recently. It made hundreds of women’s faces turn blue…

Fearing the ridicule of her friends and family, Caitlyn told no-one of her latest suspicions, but in the privacy of her own mind she began thinking of the big SL’ick as Buffa. It was a silly name from a little kids holo, but somehow the name seemed to fit; just like the fat cat in the story, Buffa really was very smart. Before each feed it would bump up against her hand as if telling her to hurry up, but afterward it would slide gently beneath her fingers, back and forth, for all the world as if it was saying thank you.

Buffa is smart, Caitlyn thought as her throat tightened up, and the first tear slid down her cheek. More tears followed, leaving cold, wet trails down her face before pooling in her ears. Rolling onto her stomach she buried her face in the pillow, but the tears kept coming. Soon the sound would wake the boys, and then they would wake her parents and-

Sliding to the side of the bunk, Caitlyn grabbed the guard rail with both hands, and swung her feet onto the rungs of the ladder that connected the three bunks. Once on the floor she tip-toed from the small cubicle, and swiped the panel that closed off their bedroom from the round hallway.

Like all of the apartments in the honeycomb of the undercity, the Nguyen’s 20 foot square of living space had a circular, multifunction ‘hall’ in the middle that provided access to the two bedrooms, the kitchen and the communal living space. However when all the openings in the hall were closed, the circular space automatically turned into a bathroom.  The toilet and basin would rise up from the floor while the shower-dryer would drop down from the ceiling. The bathroom was also the only space in the apartment that was sound-proofed.

As the door leading to her parents’ room was already closed, Caitlyn only had to close off the living, and kitchen spaces to gain the privacy she needed. In moments she was alone in the bathroom, but she made no attempt to use any of the fixtures. Instead she just sat on the toilet and cried.

She had already made up her mind that she could not, would not eat any of the SL’ick her mother served up for lunch, no matter how much trouble she got into. However, as she sat there with snot running from her nose, and her shoulders bouncing up and down with hiccups, she suddenly realised that refusing to eat was not going to be enough. Buffa knew her and trusted her. She couldn’t just stand by and let him die. She just couldn’t.

When the hiccups finally stopped, Caitlyn took a deep breath, washed her face and hands, and opened up the doors. Creeping back into the room she shared with her brothers, she grabbed her clothes and school bag, and crept out again. She knew exactly what she had to do, but guilt still made her shiver as she crept into the tiny, compact kitchen. SL’ick were expensive.

Placing her shoes and the bag on the floor with exaggerated care, Caitlyn stared at the door to her parents room as she pulled on her coveralls, and slipped into her shoes.

The only light in the kitchen came from the night light that always burned in the hall, but the apartment was so tiny even that dim light was enough to see by. If one of her parents got up to go to the bathroom, and saw her standing in the kitchen fully dressed, they would know something was up.

Nervous sweat made Caitlyn’s hands feel wet, and she wiped them on her coveralls before she reached out and opened the SL’ick tank.

During the day, the soft hiss of the servos was impossible to hear against the background noise of five people moving around inside a very small space, but now even that slight sound seemed unnaturally loud.

Caitlyn held her breath as her eyes flicked to the door of her parents’ room. She expected to see her father standing there, cricket bat in hand, ready to repel intruders, but the door stayed closed.

Breathing out in relief, Caitlyn turned back to the SL’ick tank, desperate to grab Buffa, and leave before her imaginings turned into reality. However when she looked into the tank she could not see the big SL’ick anywhere. The little ones were all coming to the surface, but there was no sign of Buffa.

Cold hands seemed to clutch at her heart. Had her mother killed Buffa already? Was that what her parents had been doing after the rest of them had gone to bed?

Sorrow, relief and guilt battled it out in Caitlyn’s mind as she stared at the small SL’ick waiting hopefully for an unscheduled feed. I’ll never see Buffa again. I won’t get into trouble. I should have rescued Buffa sooner.

After all the crying Caitlyn had done in the bathroom, she should have been all out of tears, but there they were, blurring her vision all over again.

“I’m so sorry Buffa,” she whispered as she gently patted the surface of the compost. “I did try. Really I did.”

Caitlyn was shaking the compost off her fingers when something wet, and slightly slimy, rose up and nudged the palm of her hand. It was the big SL’ick and it was still very much alive!

Thrusting both hands into the compost, Caitlyn scooped up the big SL’ick, and placed it gently in the bottom of her bag before quickly covering it with some of the moist compost from the tank.

SL’ick could survive in the air for a short time, but she knew Buffa would never survive the trip to the surface without compost.

She was just about to close the tank when two of the medium sized SL’ick slithered up, still looking for food. They were only about half the size of Buffa, but as she watched their little mouths open and close in entreaty, Caitlyn knew she couldn’t leave them behind either. Even though they were small, her mother was a very determined woman, and she had set her heart on having roast SL’ick for Christmas.

Sorry Mum, Caitlyn thought as she grabbed a SL’ick in either hand. They too went into the bag with a blanket of compost. Catching the two smallest ones was a little harder as they were only as big as her index finger, and quite fast, but she kept combing her hands through the compost until she had them both.

After covering all the SL’ick with a few more handfuls of compost, Caitlyn quickly sealed the bag, and hoisted it onto her shoulder. Five SL’ick and a load of compost turned out to be a lot heavier than she expected, but desperation and a strange, wild excitement gave her the strength to tip-toe away.

A few moments later the front door irised shut with a soft snick as Caitlyn and her SL’ick made their escape.

* * *

As soon as Caitlyn stepped out into the corridor running past her home, the guilty elation fled. She had never been out this late before, and the corridor looked spooky, and somehow alien with only the dim blue of the floor panels to light the way. They led off in either direction like the footprints of a ghost.

Maybe this had not been such a good idea after all. Passive sensors guarded every corridor of the undercity, but Caitlyn knew they wouldn’t be much help if some psycho jumped out of the shadows. Security would come, but not in time to save her.

That was a lesson the whole undercity had learned two years ago when a nightshift worker had been found, raped and strangled. Security had caught the psycho responsible, but that had not been much consolation to the victim, or her family.

Maybe I should just put the SL’ick back, Caitlyn thought as her hand groped blindly for the access panel next to the door. Surely if she made enough of a fuss her mother would change her mind about the roast…

Yeah, right. And maybe we’ll have snow for Christmas too.

Ever since Caitlyn had put the SL’ick in her bag, they had been quiet and still, but now she could feel them squirming around against her back. There really wasn’t enough compost in her bag to keep them alive for long. She would have to decide one way or the other very soon.

It’s not that far to the recycling plant…

Caitlyn’s parents both worked at the recycling plant, so she knew the way. All she had to do was walk to the first main intersection, and ride the strip until she hit the Hub. From there it would only be a short ride up to the recycling plant on the surface.

C’mon, c’mon you can do this!

The SL’ick seemed to agree as they intensified their squirming. Or perhaps they were just getting more uncomfortable.

What if they died before she could get them up to the recycling plant?

Snot-on-a-stick!

That was one of Michael’s favourite sayings, and the thought of her four year-old brother steadied Caitlyn’s nerves. Both boys would think this was a great adventure. How could she wimp out now?

Hitching the heavy bag a little higher, Caitlyn took a deep breath and started walking up the corridor. The floor panels brightened at her approach, and dimmed again as she walked on. The added light should have been welcome, but being in her own cone of light just made her feel more exposed. She longed to run, to get this all over with, but the bag seemed to get heavier with every step, and a slow trudge was all she could manage.

It seemed to take forever just to reach the first side corridor, and when she got there, Caitlyn had to put the bag down, and catch her breath. She did not rest for long though; the sound of her own breathing seemed terribly loud in the silence. Picking up the bag again, she trudged on.

The main corridor was much wider than the narrow residential one she had come from, and the lighting was brighter, but the emptiness stretching ahead and behind scared her in a way she could not define. During the day, this corridor teemed with people and bots, all hurrying to someplace else. Now it was as if she was the only person alive in the whole of the undercity.

If Caitlyn had been less tired she might have given in to her fears then, and trudged home again, but with the moving strip just a few feet away it seemed easier to keep going.

Hefting the bag onto her shoulder once more, she turned the corner, and stepped across the west bound strip at an angle so she would not be carried too far in the wrong direction. Once on the east-bound strip she lowered the bag to the moving pavement, and stared at her feet, refusing to look at all the empty corridors trundling past. Yet not seeing was somehow even worse than seeing, and her head quickly snapped up again. The back of her neck crawled, as if hundreds of tiny insects were marching up and down in feathery little boots.

Adding to Caitlyn’s fears was the lack of movement from her bag. The SL’ick had stopped moving, and she was terrified they would all die for nothing.

Please, please…

By the time Caitlyn finally saw the Hub in the distance, its massive ramp corkscrewing its way through the centre of the undercity, her coveralls were sticky with fear sweat. The only thing that kept her from crying like a little kid was the sight of one of the freight elevators standing open, its interior bright with light. Sanctuary beckoned, and she shuffled inside like a lost soul coming home.

“Destination please.”

“S-surface,” Caitlyn whispered as the massive doors slid shut.

With no other passengers getting on or off, the ride up from the nineteenth level of the Hub took only seconds. All too soon, the great doors slid open once more, and the AI’s impersonal voice was wishing her a Merry Christmas.

Caitlyn had never felt less merry in her life. The plexiglass dome that protected the entrance to the undercity was awash with stars, but their light was too fragile, and too distant, to relieve the immensity of the blackness pressing in from the Outside. Even the strip lighting that led the way to the brightly lit portal of the recycling plant seemed ineffectual. Each cone of bright light just made the shadows beyond its reach even darker.

Anything could be hiding in those shadows, absolutely anything.

Almost there… Almost there…

Making herself walk that last quarter of a mile to the recycling plant was the hardest thing Caitlyn had ever had to do. Every time she left the light and stepped into shadow, it felt like walking into the maw of a ravenous beast.

By the time she reached the portal she had reached a level of fear beyond terror. Mouth open in a silent scream, eyes wide and dry, she walked like an automaton with just one program functioning – get inside.

Five paces from the portal, the sensors detected the presence of a human, and the massive, metal petals of the portal irised open.

Caitlyn kept walking, hardly aware of her surroundings. Only when the rich smell of humus assaulted her nose did she stop, and look around like someone waking from a terrible dream. To her left were the sealed vats where human wastes were processed by a series of engineered bacteria. In the middle were the administrative areas, and behind them were the compost farms that turned all food waste into rich, soil-nourishing humus.

But the young girl with the tear-stained face had eyes for just one thing – the neat rows of hover-trains lined up against the right hand wall. That was where she had to go. And then her job would be done.

Too tired to carry the bag any longer, Caitlyn dragged the SL’ick behind her on the brightly polished floor as she staggered to the nearest hover-train. The huge container was resting on the ground, waiting for the teleoperators to arrive in the morning. She knew it would be full of precious soil for the farms.

With the last of her strength, Caitlyn opened the floor level door and climbed the narrow plasteel steps of the service hatch. When she reached the top, she opened her bag and wrestled it to the top of the guard rail.

As the bag fell, compost and five brown shapes fell onto the pile of humus. The drop was not that long, but none of the five SL’ick moved.

Caitlyn knew she should be feeling something, but there was a strange emptiness in the middle of her chest where her heart should be. Only the need for secrecy still drove her, although why it should matter now was lost in the fuzzy concept of ‘tomorrow’. Turning from the railing, she trudged down the steps, and closed the access door to the hover-train behind her.

She had to hide. 

Looking out across the expanse of faux marble, Caitlyn’s eyes brightened a little when she saw the curved reception desk facing the portal. There.

Beneath that desk was a safe, dark place. She had played there many times as a small girl. No one but her mother would know to look for her there.

Moments after crawling under the desk, Caitlyn was asleep.

* * *

Caitlyn was eventually found by the skeleton crew who came in to keep the recycling plant ticking over during the holidays.

She spent the rest of Christmas day in hospital, under observation. Despite being questioned by Security, hospital staff, and her own family, she refused to say what she was doing at the recycling plant.

The only person who did not question Caitlyn was her mother. She did not need to. As soon as she had found the SL’ick gone that morning she had known something was very wrong. Finding Caitlyn missing as well had confirmed her worst fears.

She had known Caitlyn would be upset by the idea of eating the SL’ick, but she had hardened her heart, telling herself the child would outgrow her squeamishness. Now she just prayed her daughter had not paid too high a price for her soft heart.

Mother and daughter were finally reunited in the hospital where they spent some time alone together.

When Caitlyn was allowed to leave the hospital, she looked less stricken than she had when she first arrived, but it would be another six months before the haunted look finally left her eyes.

The family were eating dinner, and watching the nightly news, when an odd little story appeared on the holo. Apparently a group of young men had gone Outside during a drunken binge, and one of them swore he had seen a giant earthworm burrow into the ground just a few feet from where he was taking a leak.

The newscaster made a snide reference to pink elephants before going on to discuss the latest findings published by the Global Climate Change Authority.

Caitlyn and her mother just looked at each other…and smiled.


Amazing Mr Fox

I’m hosting an un-christmas tomorrow so busy cleaning and cooking, but all work and no play is boring, right? So I did a quick jigsaw puzzle of a fox. Note the eyes:

Slit pupils

Those slit pupils sent me off on a search of the internet where I discovered that fox vision allows them to hunt at dawn and dusk…much like cats. But foxes are related to dogs and wolves. What gives?

The similarities between foxes and cats doesn’t end there. You can find a host of fascinating facts in the article below:

https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/59739/14-fascinating-facts-about-foxes

One of those facts is illustrated in the following video:

Amazing Mr Fox!

Okay, well play time is over, got floors to mop… -sigh-… Enjoy your weekend. I’ll have food pics tomorrow 🙂

Cheers

Meeks


Seeing in Infrared

I’ve been doing some research on different types of vision, and apparently what we humans see is the visible wavelength of light – i.e. the colours you see in a rainbow. But many animals, and especially insects, see things we can’t. For example, the humble goldfish can see in both infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths.

Without getting too technical, think of wavelengths as a line of spaghetti of different lengths, from shortest to longest. The shortest bits are in the ultraviolet wavelength. The longest bits are in the infrared wavelength, and there in the middle are the colours we humans can see. Blue is longer than ultraviolet and red is shorter than infrared.

For the purposes of my research, infrared was what I was looking for, but what is it, and what does it look like?

We can’t see infrared, not with the naked eye, but we can feel it because infrared is basically the wavelength of ‘heat’. In visual terms, the colder something is, the darker it appears. The hotter something is, the brighter it looks.

Confused? Good, so was I. As a visual creature, I needed to be able to visualise something that is essentially, invisible. Luckily, we have developed special cameras that can:

  • detect infrared wavelengths, and
  • translate them into colours on the visible spectrum – i.e. into colours we can see.

Generally speaking, infrared cameras translate cold images into dark colours such as dark blue or dark purple. As areas of an image warm up, the heat is translated into brighter colours – from red to orange to yellow to white.

In the screenshot below, the infrared camera shows a cold frying pan on a stove top [the yellow labels are mine]:

To get an idea of what the camera sees as the pan heats up, please have a look at this short video on the National Geographic website:

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/media/infrared-vision/#seeing-infrared

It’s only a very short video [1.18 minutes] and well worth the look [if you have a phobia about mosquitoes, avert your eyes for the first twenty seconds or so]. Isn’t that amazing?

More on why I’m doing this research at a later date. 😀

cheers

Meeks

 


Jewellery from Meteorites

I’ve known that some meteorites contain iron for a long time – the starrock of Vokhtah is metal made from ‘found’ meteorites. But I was just guessing when I imagined that the gems worn by the Council of Seven [including the Blue], also came from meteorites. I’ve just learned that I was right, about some of them at least. God, I love research!

Have a look at this:

This is a peridot cut from the Jepara meteorite. A green gem for The Green. 🙂

“Very rarely, meteorites will contain facetable mineral material large enough to actually cut a gemstone, since the heat and impact of the fall can easily destroy most gemmy material or shatter it into tiny fragments. For example, the olivine material in stony and stony-iron meteorites can sometimes yield beautiful peridots.”

https://www.gemsociety.org/article/meteorite-jewelry-introduction/

Green is more rare than yellow, which works perfectly for me as there are three Councillors in the Yellow faction but only one Green. I haven’t found anything about a blue gem but a little fantasy is okay, right?

While I’m prepared to do a bit of hand-waving [fudging the science] over the colour of the gems, my tolerance does have its limits, so it was wonderful to learn that these gems can ‘fall out’ of the metal matrix due to the presence of water in the environment – i.e. the water makes the iron corrode away leaving the gems behind:

“This Brenham piece was found in a damp, muddy part of the strewnfield and much of the iron-nickel has terrestrialized, while the olivine crystals remain intact. Corroded specimens such as this are unofficially called meteorodes.” [Under the picture of the meteorite].

https://geology.com/meteorites/stony-iron-meteorites.shtml

This is important as the iVokh Smiths have barely made it into Iron Age technology; they needed some way of extracting the gems from the starrock. Plus, it so happens that Vokhtah goes through a season of torrential rain every year [Kohoh].

-pats self on the back-

And to prove that meteorites were used to make jewellery right here on Earth, here’s a picture of a bead found in an Egyptian tomb. It dates back about 5,000 years:

That bead may not look like much, but it is most definitely made from a meteorite. You can find the whole article at the following link:

https://www.livescience.com/36981-ancient-egyptian-jewelry-made-from-meteorite.html

If anyone is interested in extraterrestrial metals and jewels, the link to geology.com will take you to a brilliant article that gives a very detailed, in-depth explanation of these beautiful visitors to Earth.

But wait, there’s more. 😀 I wasn’t actually researching gems today, I was researching the metal in meteorites to see if I could find some property of meteorites to ‘identify’ a Healer’s chain that is becoming pivotal to the story of Kaati [Vokhtah book 2].

Iron and Stony-iron meteorites contain both iron and nickel. Earth does have some iron-nickel but it’s rare. Meteorites have it in abundance [one way of identifying them]. For my purposes, the following is of great interest:

“Iron-nickel (terrestrial or extraterrestrial) develops a coating of rust if washed or if kept in a humid area. If a specimen must be washed with water, it should be thoroughly dried.”

https://www.minerals.net/meteorites-iron-nickel.aspx

I knew that terrestrial iron would rust if not protected, but its nice to know that I was right about starrock as well :

“Left alone in the empty bathing cavern, the Voice sighed as it picked up the discarded cloth and dried the large starrock medallion that hung from its neck.  Starrock did not like water. It hoped the na-Seneschal would remember that, but suspected the young iVokh would not. There were still a great many things the na-Seneschal did not know about being a Voice. Foremost among them was knowing when to bend and when to stand firm.”

[Vokhtah, book 1]

Getting back to the Healer’s chain, however, I think I may have found what I’m looking for in a type of meteorite called ataxite. It has an exceptionally high nickel content which gives the metal a strange, almost white colour:

 

“Today, modern blacksmiths are still following the tradition: a blacksmith from historical re-enactment group ASBL Lucilinburhuc created a sword incorporating a chunk of ataxitea type of meteorite with an unusually high proportion of nickel, at least 18 percent.”

https://www.cnet.com/pictures/swords-from-the-stars-weapons-forged-from-meteoric-iron/

The red emphasis is mine. If you’re interested in the process, this is the video made of the creation of the sword:

The truly interesting thing is that the meteorite wasn’t melted. It was heated and then hammered to gradually remove the impurities. This is called forging and is a technique that my iVokh Smiths could have mastered quite easily!

The following is a screenshot taken from the very end of the video. It shows the amazing colour [almost white] and the patterning left behind after the ‘etching’ process [an acid bath to bring out the folds]:

The video includes other techniques that the iVokh probably wouldn’t have had access to, but then they weren’t making a sword, just the links for a simple chain. An unusual chain that fits my plot perfectly.

I have the degree of possibility I need. 😀

cheers

Meeks

 

 


Did you know that…?

Okay, I’m sure you’re all sick of my love affair with odd bits of information so…I promise, this will be the last [for now]. 😀

Allow me to introduce you to the Harpy Eagle of Central America:

See that Harpy Eagle chick? See its talons? If you watch that amazing video you will learn that the feet of a fully grown Harpy Eagle are more powerful than the jaws of a Rottweiler. You will also learn that the back talon is used to stab the eagle’s prey:

https://www.reshareworthy.com/harpy-eagle/

Guess who’s going to have killing talons like the Harpy Eagle? Mwahahaha!

cheers

Meeks


Eagles…and their feet

Although I was happy with the iVokh having ostrich ‘legs’, I wanted them to have more powerful looking feet. Today, I found those feet attached to the body of giant eagles capable of carrying fully grown mountain goats. If you don’t believe me, have a look at these pics:

I took those screenshots from the Youtube video below:

The narrative of the video was that a snow leopard was hunting the goat. The leopard missed, and the eagle flew in to capture the goat instead.

My interest centred around the ability of the eagle to capture, hold and fly away with a creature much bigger than itself [not counting wingspan]. Something similar played out in Vokhtah when the Six [the Vokh ruler of the eyrie], lifts and kills a huge to’pakh.

At the time I wrote that scene, I was working from imagination only. But to make the iVokh and Vokh truly come alive, I had to prove to myself that such a feat was actually possible. Today I did just that. It is possible, and my respect for eagles has soared [excuse the pun].

Now I’m off to add some eagle feet to my concept drawing.

cheers

Meeks


And then there were…ostriches?

Yes, I’ve been researching ostriches today, but only for their legs. In particular, I wanted to find out why their knees bend backwards.

Well, it turns out that ostrich knees don’t bend backward at all; the thing that looks like a knee is actually an ankle. But who am I to criticize a bird that’s capable of running between 60 and 70 km per hour!

If you’re interested in this amazing bird, you can find a really good article about it right here. For me, though, the point about ostrich legs is that they make the bird look as if it’s standing upright, more or less. This makes the leg structure perfect for the Vokh as I want them to walk upright as well.

I’ve only just started to work on the Vokh legs so you’ll have to use your imagination rather a lot. First I traced around a pair of ostrich legs:

[Note: I found the Corel Draw B-Spline drawing tool really handy for tracing the outline.]

Next, I found a picture of some black opera gloves, you know, the kind that go half way up to the shoulder. To my great joy, the elbows were shown as slightly bent. I traced around them too, but this time, I used the tracing to cut out the glove I wanted:

Yes, it’s the same glove flipped horizontally. 🙂

Fitting the glove texture into the ostrich legs is going to take some tricky re-engineering, especially as I need to add ‘proper’ raptor feet complete with killing claws, but that’s for another day. I’m thrilled to have solved the problem of the legs so easily.

As always, thanks for joining me on these odd detours into research and graphics. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

 


The Eye of the Spine

I have a bad cold and my brain feels like cotton wool, so rather than doing productive work, I’ve been doing jigsaws on screen. This is what I just found:

It’s a lake in the caldera of an extinct, or at least, inactive volcano. If you were to flip that image vertically and then rotate it a little, you’d end up with something like this:

Now, let’s just draw a rough outline of the lake and fill it in…

And finally, compare it to the eye of a cat…

…and…hey presto! You have the Eye of the Spine!

Many years ago, when I was working out the geography of Vokhtah, I came up with this rather crude map:

The blue blob at the top of the map [just above the label for ‘The Spine’] was my idea of how the ‘Eye of the Spine’ might look. I never imagined I’d ever find a real picture that actually looked like the eye of a Vokh! -dance-

As a quick explanation, the map is drawn from the perspective of a Vokh, one of the flying alien species in the story of Vokhtah. The eyes of both Vokh and iVokh have vertical pupils similar to those of a cat. Unlike cats, however, their nictating membrane [semi-transparent, inner eyelid] opens and closes vertically rather than horizontally.

Thus, from a certain angle, a Vokh flying high above that lake would see the shape of an ‘eye’, its own eye. Hence the name given to the lake.

I’m going to count this amazing find as ‘research’ rather than play. 😀

cheers

Meeks

 


More research – sky diving!

I’m terrified of heights so just watching this made me queasy, but…Kaati has to fall backwards from a height and somehow flip right way up so it can fly instead of splatter. Yeah…

I tried springboard diving, gymnastics diving, even looked at some jetman videos but this one gave me exactly what I needed. Watch!

Okay, that was very quick so let me break it down for you. He starts with his back to the fall and does a swan dive away from the plane, but not straight back. He’s leading with his left arm and twisting his body to the left as soon as he’s airborne [keep your eye on that watch on his left wrist]:

Can you see how he turns on his vertical axis until he’s belly down towards the ground? Now he can do acrobatics or open his parachute because he’s facing the right way. Same with Kaati; even iVokh can’t flight ‘inverted’. 🙂

You’re probably wondering why such a small point should matter…but you see it’s these small points that make sci-fi or even fantasy feel real. Plus I am anal. Thank god for DuckduckduckGo and youtube. 😀

Have a great Sunday!

Meeks


Kaati & the Bulb Tree

The subconscious is a wonderful thing. I needed a tall, alien-looking tree that could survive the season of hunger on Vokhtah…and I found it!

May I introduce a baobab tree you may not have seen before:

You can find more pictures of this amazing tree here:

http://www.dingtwist.com/amazing-trees/

The reason this particular picture excites me so much is that in the story, Kaati can’t find shelter in a cave. Instead, it heads towards a waterhole and lands in the middle of a ‘Bulb Tree’ [clearly my subconscious remembered the ‘bulbous’ shape of the baobab]

As with the real baobab, Bulb trees shed their leaves in summer and survive extremely harsh conditions thanks to the water stored in their bulbous trunks. There’s that lovely word again. As in the picture, it’s the very end of Tohoh on Vokhtah [the Dry or the season of hunger], and the river is reduced to one or two waterholes, but the tall, smooth-trunked bulb trees provide a safe haven from the to’pakh because the great beasts can’t reach the canopy, even with their long, spiked tongues.

It’s absolutely perfect, and I’m thrilled. Even though a great deal of Vokhtah is fantasy, I love being able to base much of the world building on reality.

Hope your Friday is as good as mine. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

 

 


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