Nebador Archives presents an epic young-adult science fiction adventure - Deep Learning 6

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

Chapter 1: Star Station Approach

When we assume time and space as we usually experience them (as science does), the universe is mind-bogglingly huge and unfriendly. If we take a hint from what little we know about spiritual matters, and consider that there just might be persons (as most people believe) who can transcend time and space, then we gain a glimmer of hope about getting comfortable in our vast universe. Finally, if we recall that some cultures have spiritual practices that allow dedicated individuals to make some progress toward transcending time and space, then we begin to see the universe in a new light. These practices have shown us that life, even awareness, can exist in situations where thought is not desirable (or perhaps even possible).

Boro was surprised that the ship was going "point one seven light-speed." Manessa's usual speed is "one-eighth the speed of light." What would that be in decimal form, in base eight?

The crew was out of food, hadn't eaten in a while, and Kibi served unsweetened peppermint tea, a stimulant. Where were their bodies getting energy?

We get a glimpse of how Mati liked to arrange the graphics and information on her display. What factors might cause a different pilot to display things differently?

The visual-identification process for the approach marker is basically the same as used by our aircraft, ships at sea, and riverboats. Flashes of various timing and pattern, and sometimes color, identify the marker distinctly from all other markers in the area.

What does the fact that the navigation marker was "not physically present" tell us about Nebador?

Why might atmospheric braking around a gas giant cause the crew to "lose their peppermint tea" if they could see the forward visual?

The crew had been slowly learning the real primary colors. The colors cyan and magenta are little-known to us because, for most of our history, pigments in those colors have been rare or completely unavailable. Also, cyan is hard for us to see, whereas we elevate orange to a secondary color (it's really a tertiary) because we can see it so well. Do you know the difference between purple and magenta?

During atmospheric braking, why is Mati slowly increasing the altitude? What would happen if she didn't?

If you suddenly had to talk to "people" of another species to take care of necessary business, which of these would make you the most uncomfortable: other mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, or glowing balls of light?

In your opinion, was the deceleration tractor away from the station by accident, or on purpose?

Ursines are bears. Our constellation Ursa Major means the Great Bear. "Ursine" rhymes with "equine" (horse) and "feline" (cat). Just make sure your aren't pronouncing "feline" as "felion" which many people do, and is wrong.

What do we learn about the ethics of being a station docking controller when he declares he will "stay on duty until you're safely in"?

When Kibi figured they would have "one three-hundredth of a second" to stop, what math problem had she just done in her head?

How hard would it be for YOU to trust someone in authority, to whom you were speaking for the first time, who was an adult, and who also happened to be a talking bear?

Chapter 2: Docking Tunnel

What difference in command style (and perhaps experience) do we see between Boro, who started by sitting in the command chair, and Kibi, who started by chatting with other crew members?

Speed limits are a natural part of any congested traffic area. Aircraft have to deal with them in the airspaces near airports, just as cars do in cities. Would Mati have been able to successfully follow the docking procedures without a good navigator at her side?

Many people have wondered what will become of our Pioneer and Voyager space probes that are slowly leaving the solar system for interstellar space. They are not expected to get far before their energy systems fail completely. This story includes one possible fate.

What would have happened if Mati had yelled and grabbed the sides of her chair, as Boro did, when the wreckage broke free from the other ship? What did she do instead? What does this tell you about pilots?

Ilika mentions that mammals and birds tend to be more social than reptiles. This appears to be true on Earth, and is usually assumed to be an effect of our longer childhoods. However, some of the most social creatures on our planet happen to be insects, who have very short childhoods.

In the hull sterilization process, "their hair stood on end," which shows the presence of "static electricity" or isolated, non-flowing ion charges. "The air smelled like thunderstorms" shows the presence of ozone, 3 atoms of oxygen, which usually only occurs during electrical discharges.

The phrase "finished with engines" goes back to our steamship days. It took hours, and dozens of skilled people, to bring the huge boilers from cold to ready, so they were never shut down until the captain was absolutely sure they would not be needed again for days. It was often the last command given when coming to port, after the ship was completely secure at dock.

Chapter 3: Quarantine

Why can't Manessa technically be in command?

Are there any hints in this chapter that Boro was hungry?

Ilika mentioned one of the differences between a "general society" and a "working civilization." We live in a general society. It has to find a place for everyone who is born, even if that means killing them or putting them in prison. A working civilization is more like a corporation: it doesn't have a place for everyone, and anyone it rejects simply goes back into the general society.

Why was everyone (but Sata) slowly sipping juice, at first, when they sat down to a meal? We know they were all very hungry.

How is Nebador, where "most people here are far more intelligent than we are," different than most places "out there" we have imagined in both science fiction and religion?

Why wouldn't Nebador welcome people without enough self-control to only eat what they needed?

Chapter 4: Healers

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, when many people began traveling across the oceans but dangerous diseases were still common, people often had to wait in quarantine for days, sometimes weeks, to see if they showed the symptoms of any diseases, before being released to move about freely at their destinations. In the late 20th century, that inconvenience was largely forgotten as antibiotics conquered most diseases. Today, our antibiotics are ceasing to be effective against some deadly diseases, and the need for quarantines for travelers may return.

Many people have trouble allowing a medical doctor to treat them who isn't their gender, race, or nationality. How would you feel about a surgeon who isn't even your species, and not even another mammal?

The intestinal parasite Boro had was probably from class Cestoda, usually called a "tapeworm."

Chapter 5: Different Paths

Why would their packs and Mati's crutch have to be sterilized?

If you speak Spanish, you can probably roll your R's, as in "Drrrim-na." If you don't, you will probably have trouble with the name, just as Sata did.

If you are tempted to wonder how non-human animals could be speaking to the human crew, remember that even on Earth, there are birds who can speak our languages. Also, the language of Nebador is probably designed to be easy for everyone to learn, using only those phonemes (simple sounds) that all the intended speakers can make. On Earth, there is one language (Hawaiian) that, for unknown reasons, evolved with only 13 phonemes, when most of our languages use 40 or more. It is extremely easy to pronounce. But proper names, like "Drrrim-na," probably came from the person's native language, and so could be hard for some Nebador people to say.

Chapter 6: Sata's Tour

We have the technology to make structures that "seem made of stone, molded into steps and decorative shapes." Can you name it? It was invented in Rome about 2000 years ago, lost doing the Dark Ages and Middle Ages, and re-discovered more recently. The Pantheon in Rome is probably the best example.

Sata noticed an absence of people "trying to sell us something, or steal from us, or tell us what to do." Drrrim-na added "messing with others, getting in their faces." Can you think of other common human behaviors that wouldn't fit in well in an advanced civilization composed of many different species?

The "seed cakes" Sata and Drrrim-na ate in the avian restaurant might sound strange, unless you remember that all of our "grains" are seeds (usually grass seeds), and so any kind of bread (muffins, cookies, pizza, etc.) could be described as "seed cakes."

What human tendencies, in our general society, make it difficult or impossible for a pair of "customers" to help out during a "rush" at a "restaurant"?

Based on stories, there may have been a time in Earth's past when birds existed who could carry human passengers. We may learn more about this in the future from fossil records.

What do the two "rules" of riding on fanator-back tell us about Nebador?

Chapter 7: Going Fishing

Glorm gave a clear example of how "juggling" is a necessary skill for a docking controller. How would "dancing" help?

If you were in Boro's shoes, how would you be affected knowing there were "planets where monkey mammals are eaten for lunch"?

A "fluke" is a horizontal tail, which only marine mammals (dolphins, whales, seals, walruses, etc.) have. The "fins" of fish (including sharks) are vertical.

Advanced civilizations are often imagined to be sedate, pacifistic, and vegetarian, in other words, a place that only a Buddhist over 50 could enjoy. In the descriptions of Nebador, the author has attempted to avoid that (in his opinion) mistake. One reason is that most of the highly-intelligent creatures on Earth, who presumably have the best chance of becoming sapient, are carnivorous. But the ones intelligent and mature enough to become citizens of Nebador would, of course, refrain from eating each other and similar creatures. But luckily "none of the sapient species were fish," so they were fair game!

Two carnivorous hunters, sitting together eating their catch, is an intensely civilizing experience because both could, just as easily, attempt to eat the other. Add to it the sharing of a knife (a weapon) without ever using it on each other, and you have the beginnings of a deep bond of trust. No meaningful relationship between two civilized creatures is possible without risk.

Chapter 8: Mission Assignment Room

As Kibi observed, social rituals of greeting would have to be different based on the anatomy of the people involved. Smiling requires lips and teeth. Shaking hands requires ... you guessed it. Hugging needs arms or wings. Bowing, a gesture of respect and submission, is one of the few things that could be done by just about any animal (at least, those with a head).

A common ritual of trust-building is offering a vulnerable part of the body within reach of the teeth or claws of the other person. Dogs and cats are doing this when they roll on their backs and show their bellies. Kibi did this with her hand near the dolphin's teeth.

There was a time, not very long ago, when people did NOT know the difference between a star and an asteroid. In fact, "asteroid" means "star-like."

Ilika and Kibi discussed how Nebador facilities are about the only completely safe places in the universe. (We'll skip, for now, why this is the case.) What rules, personnel, and institutions would NOT be necessary because of that?

Most people believe that the universe is populated by, and run by, non-material (or "spiritual") beings. However, most of these same people would not claim to recognize the scene in the Mission Assignment Room because we like to think our gods and angels look like us. In other words, we like "anthropomorphic" spiritual beings (not to be confused with "anthropogenic," or man-made). When they don't look like us, we usually refer to them as "false gods," "demons," "devils," or some other negative term. Ironically in most cases, these negative terms, while expressing our dislike, also accept the reality of the non-anthropomorphic spiritual beings.

Chapter 9: Heat

To what extent do you think the situation was Toran Takil's "fault" (error, mistake), and to what extent Kibi's "fault"?

What is the difference between "fault" and "responsibility"?

When the cat licked Kibi on the neck, what meaning did that probably have to him? (You may wish to take a moment to think about normal cat behavior.) What meaning did it appear to have to Kibi?

Did the situation in this chapter have a good purpose and outcome, or would it have been better avoided?

In general, in your opinion, is it better to avoid temptations, or to experience and overcome them?

The author has often been asked why he used the term "Psychic Development" instead of "Psychological Development." The reasons are many, all pointing in the same direction. "Psychological" has to do with the STUDY of the psyche (soul or mind). It implies a detached, academic approach to an intellectual understanding of something held at arm's length. "Psychic," on the other hand, while still essentially about the soul/mind, encompasses all the mental functions, including those that science has not been able to understand, sometimes not even acknowledge. It also implies a very direct, personal, hands-on process that someone studying "psychology" would not get. The Psychic Development program in Nebador would be most analogous to the training found in an elite monastic community, such as the legendary Shaolin Temple in Henan, China.

Chapter 10: The Surgeon

Our lifespan, in a primitive, natural environment (such as "caveman" days) was about 25 years, but that was mostly due to predator attacks and accidents, not "old age." With agriculture for a greater food supply, villages and cities for greater safety, and basic medical care, we doubled that to about 50 years. In the 20th century, with plentiful energy and modern medicine, we have added another 25 to bring our lifespan to about 75 years.

We know that one major factor in aging is the radiation we receive from the sun and other sources. An advanced civilization, whose members rarely went "outside," might be able to add many years to their lifespan just by this one change. Other things they might do, both medically and spiritually, would be pure speculation.

Frogs' legs taste about the same as chicken, and are a common food in just about every culture on Earth, except a few that are so rich they can be picky about what they eat.

How was Mati's choice of dipping sauce symbolic of her changing attitude toward the surgeon?

Mati was looking for a way to accept the surgery, but wanted to retain some control, so she set a condition. By accepting the condition, and even going a step further and REQUIRING it, K'stimla created a situation Mati could hardly reject, since it had been her idea.

Chapter 11: Conference

Most people are uncomfortable with another being (of any kind) having complete access to our thoughts and feelings. That is because (the author believes) our life experiences have taught us that persons in power cannot be trusted to always treat us with kindness, logic, wisdom, and respect. Political leaders are, often enough, corrupt. Police, often enough, abuse their power. Judges are, often enough, biased. Those persons in power are all, of course, fellow mortal human beings.

A very few people, who have had direct experience with spiritual beings, and in this story the Nebador citizens like Ilika, can cultivate two different responses to "persons in power": one for most mortals, and another for those beings (mortal or spiritual) who have proven they will always exercise kindness, logic, wisdom, and respect.

Chapter 12: First Mission

Nebador has a more specific definition of "civilization" than we do: willingly self-correcting ... any problem or imbalance that arises is fixed ... not ignored, not hidden, and not passed off to a future generation. In your opinion, does our "civilization" quality for Nebador's definition? If not, will it quality at some point in the future?

What happens to people on our world who want or need a lower level of social complexity than that which is currently common? What happens to people who want to live "wild and free"?

How do you think Sata, Boro, and Kibi felt when they learned their planet wasn't a civilization, and there were NO human civilizations in the universe? How would you feel if you learned that was the case in reality?

Why would the approach flight plan require them to stay high in the sky until right over the research station? Hint: it was in an isolated valley deep in the most rugged mountains.

Why was Kibi feeling so passionate? Hint: before the mission, she had just come from her first visit to the Psychic Development program.

Chapter 13: Decision

Mati's dream showed her journey from the simplistic (but erroneous) belief that species (race, nationality, etc.) matters, to the more mature realization that the inner qualities of each person are what matters.

"Evil requires sapience. If a creature isn't self-aware, it might be dangerous, but can't be evil." This idea stems from the definition of "evil," first explored in Book One: a wrong knowingly committed. Even in our human legal system (far from perfect), wrongs committed without awareness are much lesser crimes, or not crimes at all.

K'stimla explains that "Every sapient race is capable of selfish, terrible evil, using and abusing others, even their own kind." We do not know for sure yet, as we only know very much about one sapient race (ourselves), but the tendency to do great evil probably comes with sapience. We also, of course, do not know if any, some, most, or all sapient races eventually "grow up." The author hopes so.

The one thing we DO know is that individuals sometimes choose to "grow up" even when their species, in general, practices evil routinely. In this story, the Nebador Services are composed of a few of these individuals. K'stimla expresses this when she says, "Being in the Nebador Services has NOTHING to do with the people we come from, and EVERYTHING to do with who we are, as individuals."

Chapter 14: Stocking the Manessa Kwi

You probably know enough about Nebador now to guess why the pallet of supplies didn't arrive until Kibi got out of her class. If you were in that situation, would it be comforting, or would it be frightening, to know that events surrounding you were being manipulated for some purpose that you might not even understand?

Chapter 15: Evening on Satamia Star Station

The usual human method of being in charge of a large organization is to attempt to mold it, using political, economic, or brute-force power, into the form we want it to take. Beings of greater wisdom would, the author believes, be more accepting of the natures of those who worked for them. The need for play seems to be greater the closer a creature is to sapience. The original artwork on the cover is a glimpse of the evening party on Satamia Star Station.

The dipping sauce for the frogs' legs is symbolic once again (see chapter 10). At this point in Mati's journey, what does it represent?

Rini's and Mati's different opinions on the gender of the glowing purple being could have been a point of friction in their relationship. What did they do with the issue instead?

Why was Mati happy that Rini refused to go to the party?

A sheet of dried seaweed, a layer of sticky rice, then strips of veggies and fish -- what are they making?

If you had two people telling you about an educational program, one who had complete it and one who had dropped out, would it affect your decision that only one of them was your "kind"?

How was Kibi's "load of guilt" about Toran Takil changed when she learned that nearly every female, and some males, responded to him the same way?

Although it's a taboo subject in many cultures, sexual relationships across species have always existed, both with humans, and among many non-human animals. These relationships are non-fertile, by definition, because "species" are defined as those creatures who are similar enough to engage in successful reproduction together. The wolf and the dog, for example, can reproduce together. The cat and the dog cannot. Some creatures blur the species-line, such as the horse and the donkey, who can mate and give birth to a healthy animal, the mule, that is not, itself, capable of reproduction.

All humans currently alive on Earth are the same species, Homo sapiens, and are capable of reproduction together. Also, we know from the fossil records that human varieties who have died out as a distinct group, such as Neanderthal Man, were also the same species, did at least occasionally mate with other human varieties, and their traits are now part of our genetic heritage.

Why did it help Kibi to relax when she saw Rini and Mati in the medical center?

How did Glorm, the docking controller, help Boro learn to dance?

In your experience, is a teacher better or worse when they can "see right through you"? Are other qualities about the teacher important in how you might experience this?

Many of our musical and literary themes would probably not be moving to people of another species. What quality did the themes of Sorrano's song have that allowed them to touch everyone in the room?

Our arms are probably the most expressive parts of our bodies when dancing, and so much effort goes into learning to use them in most dance traditions. Anyone who has taken ballet lessons has spent long hours practicing "port du bras."

What two factors caused Memsala to release Kibi when she did?

Chapter 16: The Link

Few of us today have had the experience of placing our lives in other people's hands, or having others place their lives in our hands. It is not something people chose to do, just for fun. It can have a huge impact on how much we trust other people in the future, both in general, and that type of person specifically (healers, in Mati's case).

Surgeons today dream about machines that can regulate breathing, heartbeat, and muscle tension during surgery, but those things are under the control of the patient's mind, so we can only attempt to influence them with drugs.

Why do you think the purple being would not let Rini focus his attention on Mati's bad knee after surgery began?

"Traumatic" experiences (such as slavery) are capable of doing permanent damage to the human mind, even twisting it into insanity. It is also possible for people to go through the same traumatic experiences without any damage at all. Most people fall somewhere in between these extremes, deeply affected, but able to recover enough to go on with life. We can do little but guess at the differences between people that cause this wide range of reactions. Some possibilities:
- Having the will-power to survive and recover.
- Going through the experience with another.
- Having a trusted support-person during the recovery time.
- Being old enough to have already developed strong self-confidence.
- Having a personality temperament that is not highly-dependent on others for validation.

When Rini wrapped himself around the vulnerable place in Mati's mind and declared "Now there are two of us," how was that similar to Ilika's offer to Buna in the water room near the end of Book One? How was it different?

Chapter 17: Sharing

If the "accident" with Sata and the dolphin is embodied in the saying "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade," what, in Sata's situation, was the "sugar"?

Trekila Spimalo's specialty, fresh-water ecology, is sorely lacking in our human knowledge. For thousands of years, we have been changing the courses of streams and rivers, draining or creating lakes, and filling estuaries (shallow wet-lands). Even though we sometimes gain a little short-term profit from these projects, the results have never been good in the long run, and in many cases result in the complete "death" of the ecosystem. In the USA, for half a century after World War II, we poured vast amounts of money and energy into "straightening" rivers. We now know we were doing the worst possible thing, and have started to spend more money and energy to undo some of that damage.

Boro's and Sata's fishing technique was a good example of how much easier it is to gather food as a team, instead of as a lone individual. This fact led to the creation of tribes and larger communities. It is the same thing the wolf experienced in Book Two.

But, as Boro learned, living and working in a community (even of just two people) often requires pride to be set aside in favor of the benefits of sharing. The creature who cannot master his or her pride must remain alone.

Chapter 18: Memsala

"To learn humility, we must be humiliated, over and over again. There's no shortcut." This is almost a direct quote from Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Normally, we tend to think "humility" is good, but "humiliation" is bad. Mother Teresa reminded us that you can't achieve the goal without going through the learning process. She began her religious life at age twelve.

Pilots learn to "scan" the airspace around them, their instruments, and the condition of their aircraft, constantly looking for anything that needs their attention. The earlier they notice, the more time they have to fix it. Most of you will not become pilots, but you will become drivers, which is the same thing. You will have the choice of learning to scan, with eyes, ears, nose, and mind, or becoming the kind of driver the rest of us hope will hurry along to your next accident, far away from us!

Checklists are nice when you have lots of time, and pilots use them for pre-flight inspections and start-up procedures. But once you are flying (or driving), checklists get in the way, and you just have to memorize and internalize the many thing you must watch for to arrive safely at your destination.

Chapter 19: Dreams

You can have fun, if you'd like, analyzing Mati's dream. What does it reveal about her deep-seated (probably completely unconscious) feelings toward Ilika, Kibi, Boro, and Sata?

Chapter 20: The Scrub Brush

If you were in Kibi's shoes, would you have been able to do what your teacher asked by getting down on your knees and scrubbing the floor? What qualities in your teacher would increase the chances of you doing it? What would decrease the chances? What other relationships in your life would help you make the decision?

If you had a telepathic link with someone, the ways in which communication would be easier are pretty obvious. In what ways would communication be more difficult?

What are the sources of Kibi's initial fears about what would happen while she scrubbed the floor?

What qualities does a meditative state of mind have (that would allow Kibi to see Kerloran) that her state of mind did NOT have when she first started scrubbing?

Why, in your opinion, did Kerloran help scrub the floor?

What did Kibi learn by scrubbing the floor of Satamia Star Station's main hall?

Chapter 21: Juggling Lessons

For many people, "food and all the other necessities of life" (in other words, a living wage) is enough to receive in exchange for their work. Some people need a "larger purpose." What do you need to feel good about your work?

In your opinion, does the society in which you live have a larger purpose? At this point in your understanding of Nebador, do you think it has a larger purpose?

How is the requirement to "always keep learning and growing" different from the requirements for adult functioning in your society?

In general, humans on Earth learn and grow rapidly from birth to about 20, with raw intelligence peaking at about 15 (not to be confused with the accumulation of information and wisdom that continues much longer). Because of this 0-20 learning phase, it has been discovered that an examination of the culture when a person is 10 years old tells a great deal about the person, as that is the exact mid-point of the primary "absorbing" phase of human life.

Since no one reacted negatively to Kibi scrubbing the floor, nor Boro tossing a ball up and down, what does this tell us about how often people in Nebador get these little "assignments"?

"Simian" is the collective name for monkeys and apes. It does not include humans, but that is mostly because we like to think of ourselves as separate from monkeys and apes, and not so much because we are different.

What did Boro learn about juggling during his first day of juggling practice? At what point in the day did he "catch the ball" most perfectly, in your opinion?

Chapter 22: On Her Own Two Feet

When we have been dependent on something (or someone) for a very long time, it almost becomes a part of us. Letting go of it, or even contemplating the possibility of no longer needing it, can be frightening. Kibi felt the same thing in Book One when she removed her slave's rags for the last time.

If you were in Rini's shoes, would you have had the patience to wait for Mati to work up the courage to walk out the door?

In what sense did Mati begin her pilot training by riding Tera in Books Two and Three?

How did Sata grow feathers? Where did Boro get a juggling ball a meter across? What can we tell, at the end of the chapter, about how Mati feels about Rini?

Chapter 23: Meeting

If you were in the Nebador Services, based at Satamia Star Station, what would you want to do with your free time?

How did Boro suddenly know so much about setting priorities during emergencies?

What experience has Mati had that made her "heart go out to" the homeless desert reptiles?

Why would Mati flash Rini a momentary frown after he promised to make sure she took shorter walks in the future?

Chapter 24: Dance Troop

A highly-social reptile might be very rare, as the reptilian brain, as we know it, does not include the cerebrum, the outer-most layer of the mammalian brain, where (it appears) most social functions originate.

Where have we heard before the phrase "complete awareness of your environment, and complete attention to your responsibilities"?

How many places do you have that feel like "home"? They don't have to be residences in the literal sense. Tree houses, secret places in the woods, cozy campsites, special cabins or hotels, the guest bedroom at grandma's house ... all these and many others can feel like "home."

Why do you think there would be children in a "working civilization"? (Most businesses and corporations do not allow them.) Since the members of the Nebador Services are carefully selected, what would happen to star station children when they grew up?

While Sata watched the homeless reptiles through the one-way window, she saw commerce, romance, and politics. Can you spot each of these?

Chapter 25: Observation Tunnel

After major surgery, every patient gets a list of things they can't do for a while, sometimes a long while. Some activities may never again be possible, as damaged muscles and connective tissues that have healed are never as strong or flexible as the original, undamaged ones. Mati's long recovery time before jumping comes from the author's own experience: it was jumping (les changements) that stopped him from ballet dancing after an accident (while skating).

In our world, with rare exceptions, pets, zoo animals, refugees, hospital patients, and other dependent persons, get little or no privacy, and are often not allowed to have the relationships that would occur in a natural environment. What justifications might there be for this? To what extent might this be unjustified?

What experiences in Mati's life probably caused her to want to "give them a chance"?

What do we know about Sata's personality that caused her to help Mati, but then feel guilty about it?

Why do you think the small blue light didn't close the door, or get someone who could?

Chapter 26: The Guard

If you and your community were transported into a simulated environment in which everything, at a glance, looked right, what signs might you notice that you were no longer on Earth? What signs might you miss? Some possibilities:
- The orbiting of our moon causes ocean tides.
- Water circles a drain clockwise in the southern hemisphere, counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere.
- Many plants and animals, in their life cycles, respond to the seasons of the year, and without those seasonal cues, their life cycles are disrupted.
- In most places, the prevailing winds are primarily caused by the rotation of the Earth. In the middle latitudes where the author lives (around 45° north latitude), the prevailing wind is from the west, for example.

There are many honorary orders, offices, and institutions in our world that once had purpose, and have been continued out of respect for tradition, but whose members no longer receive any meaningful training, nor have any serious responsibilities. For example, there is an official "Poet Laureate" in the USA. Have you listened to his or her poems recently? Have they been on TV, or recited at school?

If you and your friends found a "rip in the fabric of the universe," would you explore it for fun? Would you explore it if the world was in a dangerous situation (war, energy crisis, economic depression) and needed help? If you were the leader of the expedition, what would you advise your friends to look for, or avoid?

Why do you think the small blue lights didn't do anything to stop the escaping retiles?

Chapter 27: Refugees

Some, but not all, of our possible ancestors were tree-dwellers. Others lived in the forest, but primarily on the forest floor or in low branches. Still others roamed the grasslands where few large trees grew, but even a stout bush could be a life-saver when a meat-eating predator came by. Even those of us who are least comfortable in trees, and struggle to pull ourselves onto the first branches, can make some use of our primate ancestry, whereas to hoofed animals like deer and goats, trees are completely useless.

Why would a human have a greater tendency to consider numbers (as in "majority rules"), when evaluating a situation, than a spider?

What obvious information did Rini choose to NOT take into account when he protected the frightened reptile from the pursuing birds?

What could have happened if Boro had tried to hold the reptile at arm's length, instead of in a "bear hug"?

Why were Mati and Sata called to the medical center?

What do we learn about Melorania's nature when she doesn't "bother" to take on a material form when talking to Ilika and Kibi?

What kind of civilization would ask children to help with a dangerous situation that got one of them killed? Before you answer with a late-20th/early-21st century American/European value, it may be useful to stop and remember that in our human world, for most of our history, in most places, children were afforded no special protection, and the loss of a few here and there was of no concern to anyone but their parents.

Chapter 28: In Trouble

What sort of creature would "float in the air" while listening to Mati's stories? What creatures on Earth can "slither up walls"?

When called before Melorania and Kerloran, what did Sata communicate to Mati by offering her hand?

Some people think the universe is a giant machine, and all future events can be predicted. Others say the universe contains random, unpredictable events. When Kerloran admitted that "some things remain hidden, at least for a while, even from us," which view of the universe is he implying?

When humans judge a "criminal," we usually dispense punishment, sometimes with a little rehabilitation or education thrown in. What are Melorania and Kerloran doing instead?

How do each of Kerloran's statements fit into your values, the laws of your society, or the teachings of your religion?
- First of all, your friend Sata is responsible for herself, and you cannot take that away from her.
- Second, mortals do not get to decide what they deserve or don't deserve. You do not have that perspective, and you would not want that responsibility, believe me.
- Third, death is not the tragedy you have come to assume. Nothing real and enduring was lost. In fact, much was gained, and much more may still be gained.

The idea of learning by taking the form of another creature has appeared in stories all through history, with some of the most well-known coming from the Arthurian tales of Merlin the magician.

When Rini and Boro offered to go with Mati and Sata, what effects might it have on their relationships?

Chapter 29: Briefing

What aspects of the situation would cause there to be no volunteers for what Mati and Sata had to do?

Where had Mati heard the term "Great Transformation"?

What is your opinion of Silmula Sorafax as a leader?

When living as another creature, what could make a person not want to end the mission and return to their previous form?

Chapter 30: The Great Transformation

Mati, Sata, Rini, and Boro experienced many emotions, some quite conflicting, as they prepared for the Great Transformation. What emotions would you feel if you were in their place?

What is the greatest "transformation" that causes most people to cower in fear?

The "technology" to achieve a Great Transformation, or anything similar, does not exist in our human world. We often like to fantasize that such technology will someday exist, and many science fiction stories have been written with that theme. However, the belief that we can do anything appears to be a fixture of human nature, while the actual ability to do anything, is not. One example is getting useful power from nuclear fusion. We once set our sights on this goal, half a century ago, and it is still completely out of reach. Advanced students may want to think about the "odor" given off by human dreams of god-like powers. Most notably today, this "odor" can be smelled when people predict unlimited economic growth in the future, even as our environment and resource base crumbles around us.

One-way communication is always difficult. Mati, Sata, Rini, and Boro, in their new reptilian forms, could still communicate will gestures and touches, and perhaps express some emotions with tone of voice. An even more difficult situation is when a person is in a coma, can hear but not respond in any way, and those who care must think of what to say, sometimes for weeks or months on end.

Chapter 31: Newcomers

Humans, when considering mating, are influenced by the natural cycles of our bodies, but also have a large degree of free choice. Many animals have little or no free choice in the matter, and their natural cycles are irresistible. Why would mating make it difficult for Mati, Sata, Rini, and Boro to decide to go back to their previous lives?

Chapter 32: Getting Comfortable in New Shoes

In what kinds of situations are "territorial instincts" useful, maybe even necessary? In what situations are they NOT useful, maybe even dangerous?

Why was the new cavern "almost perfect" in its arrangement? Where did the water go after flowing through the two pools? Why did the new cavern seem so close to the old one? Why did the reptiles have poor memories of the day their old cavern collapsed and they found the new one?

Our minds can have a great effect on our ability to eat certain foods. Young children, and other very immature persons, can literally starve to death if preferred foods are not available. One sign of maturity is the ability to eat for nutrition, when necessary, instead of pleasure. Could you eat Brussels sprouts, every meal, every day, if you had nothing else? Slugs and snails? Raw eggs?

Chapter 33: Temptations

Sexual temptations are a serious test for anyone. They are often the root cause of abuses of power by government and religious officials. Some religions have tried to deal with the temptation by completely forbidding sexuality, with mixed results.

What forces or actions made it harder for Boro and Sata to avoid mating? What forces or actions made it easier?

What qualities can we observe in the relationship between Silmula Sorafax and Toran Takil?

Chapter 34: Grubs and Bones

Boro, by breaking tradition and helping with the grub collecting, is showing a level of intelligence and adaptability that the reptiles don't seem to normally possess. The struggle between "tradition" and "change" has always been present in our human societies, with tradition dominant at some times and places, change at others. Tradition seems to dominate in older, larger, more complex societies. Change seems to work best when no one is watching and judging, as in a sparsely-populated "frontier" setting. Which do you prefer? Which, in your opinion, is more dominant right now in your location?

In you opinion, did Boro abandon his promises and responsibilities to Sata?

Chapter 35: Failure

After seeing the outcome of Boro leaving Sata alone, what is your opinion of what he did the night before?

Why did Sata reveal their true nature?

What public events in our culture cause as much interest as the Great Transformation caused in Nebador?

When Silmula Sorafax met with Kerloran, what submissive behaviors did she show? Which of those are unique to felines?

What was Kerloran telling Silmula Sorafax about "following the rules"?

Chapter 36: Shunned

Shunning is a time-honored method of expressing social displeasure. In its simplest form, all those who are "in" pretend the one who is "out" doesn't exist. The goal is usually to make the shunned person change their ways and re-join the group. In a more extreme situation, the goal is to make the shunned person so uncomfortable they leave. In a modern society where violence is illegal, it is often the only method a group can use to get rid of an undesirable person, so the practice has a long history in most religions. In a more primitive environment where dangers lurk just outside the boundaries of the community, shunning can be a death sentence unless the shunned person is very self-reliant. The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel contains an excellent example.

Being "half-grown" seems to be a point in life that allows more insight and flexibility of thought than at any other time. The author receives his most honest feedback from people in the 8-12 age range. Enough of them (especially girls) are out of "childhood," but are not yet fully enmeshed in the loyalties and concerns of adulthood.

When Rini noticed that there were fewer large males at dinner than usual, what was he fearing?

Chapter 37: Escape

The word "freak" is one of many words we use to mean "unacceptably different." It has no fixed meaning, because we are all different in one way or another. Differences that are okay today might be seen as freakish tomorrow, and today's "freaks" can become tomorrow's "interesting characters," just depending on the swings of social opinion, usually driven by our media and leaders. This seems to be a constant part of human nature, but is less so during good times, more so during wars, famines, and other bad times.

Just so you know, in your own heart, without telling anyone else: would you have been in the group who "protected their culture from the freaks," or in the group who risked their lives for a chance to learn about stars?

After the fight, why would most of the adults go off to eat cactus fruit or brew shmur?

Chapter 38: The Mission

What leadership qualities do we see in Mati when Boro finally finds a cave?

What qualities do dreams have that made it hard for Mati, Sata, Rini, and Boro to realize they were seeing the solution to the mission every night?

Even without the dreams, what can be seen by any observer that suggests the lizards probably weren't desert reptiles?

Chapter 39: Success

Some religions have imagined future worlds in which "birds hugged reptiles, ursines embraced equines, cats rolled and laughed with monkeys," and other utopian images. Their mistake, in the author's opinion, is that they imagine this happening on Earth, with the people and animals that currently exist on Earth. The Nebador stories do not propose that this is possible. (Indeed, it is a common theme in most religions, including Christianity, that the "path" to "Heaven" is "narrow" and so, by implication, hard to find and difficult to follow.)

Advanced students: What "new knowledge and wisdom" do you think Silmula Sorafax was contemplating as she pondered the completion of the Great Transformation?

Chapter 40: The Hard Part

After the female lizard apologized for her people killing Boro, Mati admitted that the same thing would have happened where she was born. How do you think the people of 21st century Earth would have handled the same situation?

How hard would it be for you and your friends to accept an explanation like Rini gave, considering that you had witnessed almost none of it? How hard do you think it would be for most adults?

Now that you know how the Great Transformation had to end, for each of them to be able to return to their former lives, can you see how difficult (perhaps impossible) it would have been to make that decision if they had mated while in reptile form?

Chapter 41: Debriefing

"Rules are necessary for intelligent people, but as we approach wisdom, we learn they must often be broken." If this makes sense to you, then you are most likely on the path to learning wisdom.

"People who break rules without awareness are just simple mortals stumbling through life. We love them, but they cannot work in the Nebador Services." Advanced students: Does this shed light on how the situation in the first note for chapter 39 might be possible?

Young people (for whom these stories are primarily written) have a unique contribution during times of great change: they can think more flexibly than adults, take greater risks, and form new relationships more easily. At certain point in our history, changes come so hard and fast that adults can be overwhelmed. At these times, young adults and older children can make the difference between survival and extinction. There are signs that one of those points in history might be approaching.

"Every one of those rules was written with blood" was a saying of my favorite FAA pilot examiner. He meant that for every rule in the 2-inch thick Federal Aviation Regulations book, there's a wrecked airplane, and one or more graves, somewhere.

If your resume isn't quite as long as Mati's yet, have no fear. If you learn all you can from everything you do, opportunities for experience will present themselves. At times (like with "crippled slave") you will not like the opportunities, but those that cannot be avoided will always teach you something if you have your eyes and ears open.

Why would Melorania not want Rini to do Psychic Development training until Mati had completed hers?

Our religions are formed from a mixture of revelation and evolution, in other words, a mixture of what the universe gives us (or lets us glimpse), and what we add to it from our own cultures. This can be seen in the differences between Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism. Theravada, to this day, is relatively simple and "plain." Mahayana, however, moved into Tibet, and incorporated the colorful culture and the pre-existing Bon religion. Another example is the Book of Revelation in the Christian Bible. In itself, it is believed to be a vision of heavenly and future things. Our commentaries and interpretations of it, if collected in one place, would fill a large library.

Chapter 42: The Search

As far as we know from observation through light and radio telescopes, the entire universe is composed of the same stuff we have here on our planet and in our sun:
- 82 elements that have stable forms, and their isotopes.
- a few heaver elements that do not have stable forms.
- electromagnetic energy that ranges from very low frequency radio waves to very high frequency "cosmic rays" (and includes, in the middle, visible light).
- a handful of mysterious energy particles, such as neutrinos, that we know little about.

But when it comes to the composition and structure of living things, we have only one sample: life on Earth. Life here uses 30-40 of the stable elements, but the vast bulk of it is Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Calcium, Phosphorous, Potassium, Sulfur, and Sodium.

The "trace" elements that seem to be necessary for most living things, in small amounts, are Magnesium, Copper, Zinc, Selenium, Molybdenum, Fluorine, Chlorine, Iodine, Manganese, Cobalt, Iron, Lithium, Silicon, Vanadium, Arsenic, Bromine, Chromium, and Tungsten.

A few other elements may only be necessary for life in extremely small amounts, or only for certain species. These include Aluminum, Strontium, Bromine, Gold, Silver, Lead, Cadmium, Tin, Germanium, and Boron.

We often call life on Earth "carbon-based" because Carbon is the most common element in life that is not common in non-living things. Oxygen is the most abundant element in living things, but it is also abundant everywhere else, such as in the atmosphere.

We have a fossil of a bacteria-like microbe that we believe came from the planet Mars, but no other information about life on other planets yet. This leaves open the possibility that life elsewhere may have a different chemistry than on Earth.

The essential structure of life on Earth is based on sugars (glucose, sucrose, lactose, etc.), amino acids (in proteins and enzymes), and ribonucleic acid (RNA, DNA, and similar long-chain molecules that can encode genetic information). We know so little about how this arrangement came to be that arguing about "evolution" and "creation" reveals a great deal about our egos, and very little about the origins of our biochemistry.

Chapter 43: Re-settlement

When the foods of 3 planets were finally offered to the special group of mostly-young reptiles, they were divided into 4 groups because any experiment needs a "control" group, a group that does not experience anything different from normal, to have something to compare the other groups to.

How might the results of the "experiment" be changed because they "knew what was happening"? If this is a weakness in the "experiment," why do you think Kerloran told them?

How could 3 + 3 + 3 + 2 = 13?

What qualities did Silmula Sorafax have that allowed her to lead the final meeting before the re-settlement (without Kerloran or Melorania present)?

The "temperate zone" is the band of latitudes, both north and south of the equator, between the wet and warm tropics, and the boreal forests and tundras that approach the artic regions. The continental USA and most of Europe lie in the temperate zone, and in the southern hemisphere, Argentina, South Africa, and Australia.

If you were one of the homeless reptiles, which would you prefer: sapient horses on another part of the planet, sapient birds everywhere, or the planet to yourselves?

Kibi's use of a jungle video to calm her passengers is based on an Earth tradition that began in the 1950s: one of the first nicknames for television was "electronic babysitter."

Can you tell which crew member is saying what as they begin the flight?

Do you have anything you would "freak out" without? Eye glasses? Medicine? Mobile phone? How long could you live without each thing?

We have many images on Earth, made by people from our distant past, that appear to be of things we shouldn't have been able to see or know about until much later. Some can only be seen from high above the ground. Others are of ships in the air, or people operating ships, or people wearing suits that we use today only in space or deep-sea diving. What purpose do you think these "anomalies" (things that don't fit) serve in our society? What do you think the lizards in the story will do with their memories of their new planet as seen from space?

Kerloran tells the reptiles that they will make many mistakes, and that those mistakes are theirs to make, and theirs to fix. Today, our problems are larger and more complex than ever before, and include a trembling economy, wars and other political conflicts, and climate changes that could overshadow all else. Many people believe science, God, or aliens will save us. What do you think?

Why did Kerloran not allow the lizards to see the planetary approach? What tends to happen to humans when they witness a rapid approach to a solid surface?

What myth (story to explain what we do not fully understand) do you think will be told (and someday written) by the reptiles about the first seven days on their new planet?

Chapter 44: Unfinished Business

We humans of planet Earth have no experience with projects that can "stretch on for thousands of years." Rome can claim more than a thousand years of history from its founding to its fall (-753 to +476, not counting Byzantium), but that history was divided into three major periods (monarchy, republic, and empire). Most leaders had their own priorities, and often ignored, or completely undid, the accomplishments of previous leaders. Some of our most durable architecture survives the millennia, but rarely in a usable form; an exception is St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, with wooden trusses that have been under stress for more than a thousand years, but only because the building has received constant care and maintenance. Our most recent building spurt, during the 20th century, will probably not leave much of enduring value, as it was all built with the assumption that electricity would be cheap and plentiful. Any building over about 4 stories tall becomes uninhabitable without electricity for heating, cooling, ventilation, water pressure, and elevators.

A few of our stories survive the millennia. We still read and love Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, written more than 2500 years ago. But much did not survive, such as the contents of the ancient library of Alexandria, Egypt. Medieval monks labored for centuries to copy fading manuscripts, and they saved much, but much more was lost between the Roman Empire (400s) and the Renaissance (1400s). Today, as we surf the internet, dead links often outnumber good ones, and we wonder what is being lost every day.

What qualities would a society need to have to realistically consider taking on projects that would "stretch on for thousands of years"?

It is calculated that we need to store the wastes from our nuclear power plants for about 25,000 years before they will be safe. What physical and organizational structures might make this possible?

Does it seem right that Nebador REQUIRES certain training programs and experiences for its people, and sometimes even disguises them as something else (like Boro's juggling lessons)? How is this different from slavery?

To some people, "marriage" is the forming of bonds and the making of commitments between two people. To others, it is a legal contract, and a ceremony in a church or temple with a priest of some kind. To most people, it is a combination of the two. Some people make the mistake of doing the legal contract and ceremony, but forget to build the personal bonds and commitments. Whether you once did in the past, or in the future hope to enter into such a relationship, what personal, legal, religious, or social elements do you think the event should have?

What differences can you see between those who "watch over" the people of Nebador (like Melorania and Kerloran), and those who "watch over" us in our society (bureaucrats, police, etc.)?

Who was the large monkey mammal wearing fuzzy material, and whom did he represent?

Who was the human girl wearing a flowing green gown, and whom did she represent? What meaning might the color green have in this situation?

The exchange of marriage vows parallels any social exchange, and sets it apart from all economic exchanges. If we both have cookies, I give one of mine to you, and you give one of yours to me, we both end up with the same economic value, and so the exchange was a waste of time economically. But socially we just established a deeper level of trust, and we might have started a friendship that will have great value to both of us in the future. In the case of marriage vows, I pledge life-long companionship and love to you, and you do the same to me. In your opinion, have we gained anything?

Advanced students: Although human religions vary widely in their concepts of "life after death," they have even less to tell us about "love after death." Assuming, for a moment, that marriage could survive death, several questions arise. How good would a marriage have to be to make the people in it WANT it to continue after death? Since "bread-winning" and "house-keeping" are probably not part of spirit life, what "job" would you want to have, and what "job" would you want your partner to have, in a spirit-life marriage? If a couple wanted their marriage to survive death, what should they do in their mortal-life marriage to prepare themselves?

Advanced students: "It is not the purpose of the universe to get things done as quickly and efficiently as possible. ... The purpose of the universe is experience and personal growth." Which people and institutions in your society would agree with this idea? Which would disagree? Are the two purposes completely incompatible, or is there some overlap?

Advanced students: "If Melorania, Kerloran, and others like them, just did everything without helpers like us, none of the citizens of Nebador would get any training." This explains why deep-space response ships have a crew of six, while (using voice commands) they really only need a crew of one or two. What do you think would motivate powerful spiritual beings like Melorania and Kerloran to share universe work, instead of just doing it all themselves?

"Small minds with a little knowledge and power try to keep it to themselves. Real wisdom is for sharing." Have you met anyone who fits into the first category? The second category?

Why did Toran Takil "slip away" before Kibi returned to the couch?

For each of the six crew members of the Manessa Kwi (or just your favorite), what life-lessons have they recently learned? What life-lessons do you think they need to learn next?

Assuming their mission bracelets didn't chime during the dance party just for a simple cargo run, what kind of mission do you think they'll get?

Book by Book

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




Letter to Readers

Dramatic Audiobook

Audiobook Chapter 1 (6MB)



Deep Learning

Where to Get It

Screenplay 1

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


Letter to Readers

Dramatic Audiobook

Audiobook Chapter 13 (8MB)



Deep Learning

Where to Get It

Screenplay 1

the colorful aurora above majestic mountains
Book Three:
Fall 2010


Letter to Readers

Dramatic Audiobook

Audiobook Chapter 5 (13MB)



Deep Learning

Where to Get It

Screenplay 1

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


Letter to Readers



Deep Learning

Where to Get It

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


Letter to Readers



Deep Learning

Where to Get It

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


Letter to Readers



Deep Learning

Where to Get It

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


Letter to Readers



Where to Get It

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


Letter to Readers



Where to Get It

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


Letter to Readers



Where to Get It

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


Letter to Readers


Where to Get It

Nebador Archives

Copyright © 2009-2018
by J. Z. Colby
unless otherwise attributed