Aquatic Ambassador (the sequel to "Submarine Academy")

Submitted into Contest #72 in response to: Write about someone getting a job offer they never would have thought to apply for.... view prompt

62 comments

Fantasy Friendship Speculative

I sat on a padded seat next to a bubble window in the lounge and sipped from a cup of hot tea. The warmth from it felt good. Every so often, I saw a vertical stream of foam and larger bubbles flow past the window.

The school's exterior lights were dimming since it was getting closer to bedtime. Beyond their shrinking, darkening perimeter, it was as dark as the night sky above my home back on dry land. All that was missing were the stars.

But what swam out there, at these depths? Sperm whales, probably, and giant squid; then there were the blind fish who lived in literal darkness; and finally there were phosphorescent fish, some with long sharp teeth. Even pale crabs might scuttle about down here.

There were also the myths and fairy tales about underwater kingdoms like sunken Atlantis. Children probably believed them, but surely I was too old now for that sort of nonsense. But sitting here, I wondered how much truth lay at the core of those stories.

Just don't let your imagination run away with you, Shui, I told myself.

Timku's voice asked, “Enjoying the view?”

I nodded. “It's equal parts beautiful and unearthly.”

He came round me and sat down on the other half of the padded seat. “Can't be unearthly. We're still here on Earth. But beautiful I can agree with. It's like seeing pictures and videos about the rain forests. Such vibrant, fascinating places. It's a shame that they were almost wiped out.”

Looking at him, I asked, “Is that why you came here? To study how to save them?”

He nodded. “It's probably nothing more than a pipe dream, but maybe I can repair at least a little of the damage. What about you?”

“When you live on dry land, there are so many things that you take for granted,” I said, looking back out the bubble window again.

A bright yellow-colored saucer-shaped submersible with its headlamps on floated past us. It turned briefly towards us, then backed away. Behind it, I thought I could see some sort of garage. Like a turtle pulling back into its shell, the submersible pulled back into the garage, then shut off its headlamps.

“If you don't see it in videos online or read about it, it doesn't seem real,” I went on. “For years, scientists and activists warned what could happen if we humans didn't take better care of our world. So many of us disregarded the warnings as nothing more than fantasy, a hoax. But the reality is turning out to be far worse than even the worst warning ever given. Many coral reefs are gone and likely will never come back. Most of the fishing stocks have been all but reduced to nothing by overfishing. The increase in destructive storms. The rising ocean levels.”

“All those people with beach-houses,” Timku said. “Now most of those beach-houses are underwater.”

“How could we have been so blind?” I asked, looking at him again.

“Because it's easier to believe the soft fantasy than it is to face the hard truth, Shui,” he said.

“We were fools,” I said. “Idiots.”

“No argument there,” he said. “We thought we could do whatever we wanted with the Earth. Surely it could recover from our worst efforts.”

“Until it just couldn't anymore,” I said. Please don't let me cry. But I felt the tears on my cheeks anyway.

Timku reached out to wipe the tears away. “Some lessons are harder to learn than other ones.”

“Do you think the lessons we'll learn here taught here will be any easier?” I asked him.

He nodded. “At least we won't risk endangering the Earth if we make a mistake.”

“Thankfully,” I said.

“Come on,” he said. “You're just tired from a long trip and your first day here. Maybe you just need some sleep. You'll probably feel better in the morning.”

“You're probably right,” I said. “Thank you for being so understanding, Timku.”

He smiled. “Anytime, Shui.”

----------

I laid on the floor of the throne room, feeling the gentle ocean currents flowing over and under me. Every so often I had to gently push my long green hair away from my face. I played with the pearl necklace around my neck as my fish-tail swept back and forth, keeping me in position.

“But, Father, I don't know anything about them,” I protested. “I'm a mermaid and they're … they're ...”

“Human?” he finished for me, from where he sat on the throne.

I nodded.

“It's not permanent,” he said. “But I think it might be useful for both our species, if someone were to be a liaison, an ambassador. Someone with the right amount of empathy.”

“What about Mother?” I asked.

“She isn't that young anymore, Naia,” Father said.

“And you can't?” I asked.

He shook his head. “I have to stay here. It's one of the limitations of being the king. A king has duties, whether he likes them or not.”

“Then that leaves me,” I said, looking down at my clasped hands.

He swam over to me and lifted my chin. “Would you do it for me, Naia?”

I looked at his tired face, older than I'd ever seen it before, and nodded. “Yes.”

Father smiled. “Good. I think you might even enjoy it.”

“All right,” I said. “When does this job begin?”

“Would right now be soon enough?” he asked. “You'll report back to me every day. That way you can stay here each night, instead of among the humans.”

“But won't they be asleep right now?” I asked.

“That way they won't even know you were there,” Father said, hugged me, and kissed me on the forehead. “Be careful.” He paused. “Oh, and here.” He handed me something. A translator. “You might need it. Humans don't usually speak our language.”

I nodded, held the translator in one hand, and swam away from the throne room. Looking back once, I saw him in the doorway, looking at me. He waved and I waved back. With a flick of my fish-tail, I quickly swam through the palace and then out into the ocean itself.

----------

The bed was big enough for two people, which I hoped wasn't a subtle hint about possible relationships in the school. Or maybe it was just cheaper this way?

There was a console on the night-table near the bed, which controlled various things in my quarters. I'd already experimented with it a little bit. For instance, I could brighten or dim the overhead lights; I could request all sorts of music; I could change the transparency and opacity of the windows; and I could even change the holographic art on the walls if I didn't like what was already there.

Against the wall to the right of my bed was a desk with a chair, and a computer terminal on the desk.

I'd already sent my parents a message: Good evening, Mom and Dad. All is well here. I guess you won that bet after all, as you probably knew you would. It's really nice here, even if the ocean outside feels a bit alien to me sometimes. I've already made one friend, Timku. Classes start tomorrow morning. I'll send you another message tomorrow evening. I miss you both. Love, Shui.

And they'd sent a reply message: Hello, Shui. We're happy that everything seems to be going well already. Don't worry about the bet. Your bedroom seems so empty now. Hope you do well in your classes. Glad you're already making friends there. We miss you, too. Take care. Love, Mom and Dad.

There were two bubble windows, smaller than the ones in the lounge, in my quarters. One was across from the foot of my bed. The other was beyond my night-table and to the right of my desk. Lying in my bed, in my pajamas, I looked out of both bubble windows, even though there wasn't much to see, as far as sea life went.

As I was about to drift off to sleep, I thought I saw a large fish swim past the bubble window across from the foot of my bed. Nothing to worry about, I told myself. Just go to sleep, Shui.

Then I heard knocking on the bubble window.

I looked over at it. It wasn't cracking from the atmospheric pressure down here, I hoped.

The fish was either slapping the bubble window with its tail, or it had something like hands that it was knocking with. But fish don't have hands. I closed my eyes.

I was woken up a minute later by more knocking.

The fish had been replaced by what looked like a swimming girl. She seemed to be about my own age except that she had long green hair. I blinked, rubbed my eyes. Was she one of the students after being changed into an amphibious human?

No. Because even the man who'd given the orientation speech had had human feet. Granted, his were webbed almost as much as a frog's feet were.

And this girl most definitely had a fish-tail where her feet might've been.

I sat up in bed and pinched myself. “Ow!” This definitely wasn't a dream.

The girl outside the bubble window gestured to me and then to herself.

I got out of bed and went over to the bubble window.

The girl smiled and pointed upward several times. I looked at the ceiling above me. She shook her head and pointed past that. Oh. There must be somewhere above my quarters that she wanted me to go to.

I put on a bathrobe, left my quarters, and went upstairs.

There was a smaller lounge near the top of the residential wing of the school. I hadn't known about that until now. I was just used to the lounge where Timku and I had talked this evening.

In the middle of the lounge was a pool. For swimming? Or maybe for people who wanted to go scuba diving?

I sat on the edge of it, looking down into the water. Where was the girl I'd seen?

Then suddenly there was a splash and a giggle. Floating with her head and shoulders above the water was the girl. This time I could see that there was a pearl necklace around her neck.

She said something, but I couldn't understand. It sounded like a mixture of singing, whistling, and gurgling. I shrugged apologetically, pointed to my ears and shook my head, hoping that she understood what I meant.

The girl nodded and tossed something to me. Something wet, solid, and partly metallic and partly plastic or maybe coral. It was narrow, rectangular, and about the size of the palm of my hand. It didn't have as many functions as the console in my quarters, but it might as well have been written in a foreign language for all I understood of it. There were buttons of different sizes and colors. It reminded me of the early cell phones that I'd seen in a local technology museum.

The girl pointed at a round green button about the size of my thumbnail. I pressed it.

“Can you understand me now?” she asked, her voice coming from a speaker somewhere on or inside the item.

I nodded.

“Press the red button above it when you want to talk,” she went on.

I pressed the red button. “I'm a little confused. Who are you?”

“I'm Naia,” she said.

“What are you?” I asked.

“A mermaid, of course,” she said. “Haven't you ever seen one?”

“Only in movies,” I said. “I thought that they weren't real.”

“Oh, we're real all right,” she said. “We just don't usually show ourselves to humans.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because we're afraid you'd capture us and put us on display,” she said. “That happened to one of my great-grandparents. We never saw him again.”

“I'm sorry to hear that,” I said.

“What's your name?” she asked.

“Shui,” I said.

“I like it,” she said. “It's a nice name.”

“So is yours,” I said. “Do you live down here?”

Naia nodded. “Not near here. I live in a kingdom on the far side of the canyon. My father is the king.”

“You're a princess?” I asked.

She nodded again. “What are you?”

“I'm a student,” I said. “Or I will be, starting tomorrow morning.”

“Aren't there schools where you come from?” she asked. “I mean, on dry land?”

I nodded. “My parents thought I might like coming here. I didn't think I would, at first. But I'm glad I came. I've already made a friend.”

“I don't have any friends,” she said, looking sad. “Unless you count fish, crabs, whales, and that sort of thing.”

“Doesn't it get lonely?” I asked.

“Sometimes,” she said and hesitated. “I probably should be here for too long. This was just supposed to be a scouting mission. I wanted to see who lived here. I didn't think I'd meet anyone until I saw you in your bed.”

“A scouting mission?” I asked.

“My father asked me if I would be willing to become an ambassador,” she explained. “It would mean being the go-between my species and yours. That's why I had that translator with me.”

“Do you need it back?” I asked.

“Not yet,” she said. “You're the only human I've met so far. You can give it back to me later.”

“Do you think we could meet again sometime?” I asked. “Maybe tomorrow night?”

Naia looked thoughtful, then nodded. “Will you be in your room?”

“Every night,” I said. “Unless there's a change in the school's schedule.”

“I'll be back here tomorrow, then,” she said, sounding like she had to leave.

“It was nice meeting you,” I said.

“Likewise, Shui,” she said. “Do me a favor?”

I nodded.

“Don't tell anyone I was here,” she said. “Not until I'm ready to meet you all more formally.”

“I won't,” I said.

“Until tomorrow night, then,” Naia said, turned, and dove back down into the pool.

When I returned to my quarters, I dried off the translator and put it on my night-table. I got back into bed, but I didn't see her in either of the bubble windows. With that fish-tail of hers, she must be a fast swimmer, I thought and drifted off to sleep.

----------

I returned to the palace. Father was waiting for me outside the front entrance.

“How did it go, Naia?” he asked.

“It was really nice, actually,” I said. “I got to meet one of them. A girl named Shui.”

“When I suggested a scouting mission, I didn't mean for you to actually talk to them,” he said. “At least not yet.”

“I got curious, Father,” I said. “And no harm was done. She promised not to tell anyone that she met me. That way I can still meet them all more formally later.”

He looked at my hands. “Where is your translator?”

“I loaned it to her,” I said. “That way we can talk with each other whenever we want to.”

“You're planning on going back there?” Father asked.

I nodded. “Tomorrow night. Don't worry. No one else saw or heard us. I was careful.”

“And a little reckless,” he said.

“You asked me to be an ambassador, Father,” I reminded him. “That means risking meeting them. If they're half as nice as she is, I think we'll get along with humans just fine.”

“Don't forget what happened to your great-grandfather,” he said.

“I haven't and I won't,” I said. “Where is Mother, by the way? I want to tell her the good news.”

“She's in her garden,” he said.

I kissed him on the cheek and swam to the garden.

----------

Mother was softly singing to herself as she made a basket out of kelp and seaweed.

I had often wished I had her artistic abilities, but she had told me that she often wished she had my musical abilities. For instance, she couldn't make a conch shell sound right if she tried. It sounded awful. But when I blew in one, it sounded beautiful. Probably just dumb luck I'd told her.

I gave her a hug. “That looks beautiful, Mother.”

“I'm going to use it when I go harvesting,” she said.

“Do you think you could make one for me?” I asked.

“I could show you how to,” she said. “It's not that hard.”

“For you maybe, but I keep making a mess of it,” I said.

“Your father said that he had a new job for you,” she said, changing the subject.

“That's one of the reasons I wanted to see you,” I said. “He made me an ambassador. I'll be interacting with the humans.”

“It should at least keep you out of trouble,” Mother said.

“And I've already made a friend with one of the humans,” I said. “Her name is Shui.”

She looked at me. “Be careful, sweetie. Not all humans are nice.”

“But she is,” I said.

“Are you going to see her again?” she asked.

I nodded. “Tomorrow night. After all the rest of them are asleep. They'll never know I was there. Twice.”

“But she will,” Mother said.

“She promised not to tell anyone,” I said. “I trust her.”

“I hope she trusts you, too,” she said. “I wish you well in your new job, Naia.”

“Thanks, Mother,” I said. It wasn't often that she gave encouragement. “Maybe someday you'll both get to meet her.”

December 12, 2020 03:17

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62 comments

Hello!! I loved the sequel! I think that you nicely incorporated the story's plot to this new prompt! Lovely job! =)

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Philip Clayberg
16:47 Dec 15, 2020

Glad you liked it so much. It's not always easy to find ways to incorporate the story prompt into a story. Sometimes the obvious way isn't always the best way. In this case, it took me almost two months before I found a story prompt that suggested a sequel. I just hope it doesn't take that long (or longer) for a third story in the series. I'm curious to see what happens next (and if it matches any of my brainstorming ideas). As I said in a response to another reader, I did do some recent research online (via Google) and realized th...

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You're right. It's not ALWAYS easy to write the perfect story for every single prompt, because sometimes our ideas for that story might be a little different. But I really loved the plot of this story! Amazing job! :)

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Philip Clayberg
17:11 Dec 15, 2020

And to think that I initially had doubts about submitting it. There was that moment of "Should I really submit this? Won't they think it's weak compared to the story that came before it? They probably won't like it. Um ... um ... um ... oh, never mind. Submit it and take your chances. Why else are you writing it? You want to share it, right?" Maybe story #3 (when it gets written) will feel more full-bodied to me than this story did. I hope so. Cotton candy is nice, but sometimes you want something more substantial. Something you c...

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Yeah, for some of my first stories, I also had that inner thought of whether or not submitting it, but there are so many kind people in Reedsy, so they'll always support you! But really, cotton candy is amazing! Also, looking forward to your third story!! :)

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Philip Clayberg
17:24 Dec 15, 2020

Nothing wrong with nice and fluffy creativity. It can be a lot of fun. But sometimes I feel the need to go deeper, where things aren't so light and humorous. Then I have to remind myself that a little humor every so often wouldn't hurt. Balance. Yin and yang. I do wonder, though, if I'd be able to write a light and funny story without anything dark and/or edginess to it. I'd probably have to be in a pretty silly mood to do it. And since I drink alcohol anymore (and I've never done illegal drugs), it's not always easy getting into a s...

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Akshaya Sutrave
04:02 Dec 14, 2020

Hi Philip! Your story was quite amazing! I loved reading it, and it intrigued me till the very end. It was a great idea to write it as a sequel to 'Submarine Academy' because I really enjoyed it. I liked how you addressed some of the problems that are prevalent in today's world. The characters and their thoughts were well-written, indeed. Great work! Is there a continuation to this, perhaps?

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Philip Clayberg
19:29 Dec 14, 2020

Glad you liked it. Sorry that it took two months before a story prompt came along that suggested a sequel to "Submarine Academy". I wasn't entirely happy with it, but in hindsight, it seems to be better than I originally thought it was. I thought it was weak at first. But the more I think about it, the more I think that it's actually all right. I didn't want anything like the animated movie, "The Little Mermaid". I wanted something more like Hans Christian Andersen's story, "The Little Mermaid". Something where the overall story might...

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Akshaya Sutrave
02:57 Dec 15, 2020

Certainly, your story is unique, perhaps really more similar to Hans Christian Anderson's story than the movie. Dark, misunderstood, and confusing parts are sometimes necessary, rather than always being too optimistic. Hopeful endings, if written properly, are some of my most favorites, because they say not everything is always pleasant in the end but there's always some hope for things to get better. The setting was very realistic, indeed, though you say you've made some mistakes with the depth of the ocean. While reading, I really didn't ...

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Philip Clayberg
16:59 Dec 15, 2020

I figured that if anyone prefers a lighter version, they can watch and enjoy Disney's "The Little Mermaid". I can understand that parents with little kids don't want the latter to watch anything too scary, too weird, and/or too disturbing. But when the kids grow up, they'll likely want their fiction to be less cotton candy and more substantial. Since I majored in Archaeology in college, I naturally didn't study marine science. In hindsight, I wish I had. Because when I'm improvising in a story, I don't always have my facts straight. ...

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Akshaya Sutrave
02:40 Dec 16, 2020

I agree they can always watch the movie. Readers want stories that are not always 'joyful'. A blend of both is what balances a story for an older audience, I suppose. I don't think there are many too-young kids here in Reedsy. Yes, such stories are mostly made of fantasy, but if we rely too much on fictional elements, the story may become too contrived and hard to believe. Especially when we want the readers to be relating to our characters and their worlds. I've found myself going off in a different direction, too, while writing. Even if ...

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Philip Clayberg
03:09 Dec 16, 2020

(I think my brain is getting tired. Another writer pointed out I got pronouns mixed up in one of my responses to them. I'll probably head off to bed after typing and sending this response. I just yawned after typing the second paragraph below. Definitely time to go to bed after sending this to you.) I'm not sure what the age range is on this website. I think I've heard of writers who are still at least in junior high school all the way up to people as old as I am (I'm 53). But the quality of writing has been mostly amazing regardles...

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Beth Connor
02:29 Dec 18, 2020

I loved this as a continuation! Of the two parts the first was my favorite, but I feel like this one did an amazing job setting up more. The world you have created is amazing. I hope you have opportunity to write more of this story!

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Philip Clayberg
02:33 Dec 18, 2020

Thank you. I'm hoping I don't have to wait almost two months to write story #3. But if I do, I guess that's just how it has to be. As I said in my previous response to your reaction to story #1, I'm brainstorming ideas for story #3 (and any further sequels). Whether the actual stories will match up to any of my current ideas remains to be seen. As long as I get surprised, I don't mind if they don't match my ideas. I like it when a story gets written in a way that makes me feel more like one of the readers than as the writer.

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D. Kase
18:08 Dec 13, 2020

I'm in awe, Philip. Your story was beyond impressive. You have such a way with words. I can't even begin to tell you how much I loved this piece! It took me back to a time when I wished I could be a mermaid. I've always loved the idea of them being real, but us land folk just didn't know it. I can't wait to read more of your work!

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Philip Clayberg
19:53 Dec 13, 2020

Glad you liked it so much. I checked when "Submarine Academy" was submitted and realized that it's been almost two months until I finally had a story prompt that suggested a sequel to it. I had ideas about the sequel, but they were more like a skeletal framework, rather than a complete story. When I actually sat down and wrote the sequel, things happened that I didn't expect and I was surprised by where the story went. Whenever I write the sequel to "Aquatic Ambassador", I suspect that it will probably be a bit darker in tone. I kep...

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D. Kase
20:25 Dec 13, 2020

My mind goes toward dark places in almost everything I write. When you responded about 'the little mermaid' by Hans and her terrible fate. I felt like Naia was dangerously close to a human much too fast in their brief meeting. I was just waiting for her to get messed over to be honest. I want to be IN the story as well, like you said, Three-dimensional. Unfortunately, I've read so many books and shorts that I have to trudge through just to finish. That aside, I will be reading more of your work today. I can't get enough of it!

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Philip Clayberg
23:10 Dec 13, 2020

I try not to write about dark topics. There's enough sadness, tragedy, etc. in real life, so why add to it via fiction? But I also prefer a balance of light and dark. 50/50 would be ideal, but anywhere close to that will also do. That's why I still prefer the first three Harry Potter books. They had the balance down quite well. The other four books just didn't do much for me. I did read all of book #4, but completely misunderstood the central point to it, because I reacted to it based on what I went through in grade school. I didn't ...

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D. Kase
00:06 Dec 14, 2020

I love to read horror and anything that is really bizarre or completely off-putting. I know what you mean about the world being a scary enough place, and the dreams... oh the dreams. Yes. I do understand wholeheartedly. It's just where my mind goes when writing a story. I can't help it. This is literally the ONLY story I've written that wasn't scary, messed up or gorey. I don't believe you'll be much interested in some of the things to come, and that's okay! I've had amazing discussions with you, and that's fantastic in itself! I will le...

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Philip Clayberg
19:37 Dec 14, 2020

I've tried reading stories by H.P. Lovecraft. Not really my thing. A dark mood or tone is one thing, but horror is quite another. Don't be surprised if I'm willing to make exceptions when a story is written (and written very well) by someone I've already read stories by. But even then, I might not give a response to it after reading it if it's too far off the beaten track. I would rather not respond than leave a negative response. (As I know far too well from my own experience, writers need positive encouragement.) Pointing out edi...

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Anna Mosqueda
19:20 Dec 17, 2020

Hey! Starting a new thread to your last response here: It does! I completely agree. Oh yeah, that definitely wouldn't be the best scenario. I guess it's good that you had kind neighbors. Yes, definitely! The nets a very similar, though. I hope so! And that's a very good idea! I'll have to see if that is allowed on the SC beaches! I would love to do that with a friend. It'd be bad if you set it close to the water, you may even wake up in the middle of the ocean! Oh yeah, definitely. I am so afraid of heights, though it doesn't explain my...

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Philip Clayberg
23:22 Dec 17, 2020

I wish I knew how to start a new thread. I haven't figured out how to, yet. It does make it harder trying to figure out what you were responding to, though. You're lucky you live so close to the beach. Then again, since I sunburn so easily, it's probably a good thing that I don't. I've had more than my fair share of painful sunburns (some worse than others). But the sunrise (in the case of a South Carolina beach) would be wonderful to see, or a sunset (in the case of a West Coast beach) would also be wonderful to see. I remember one v...

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Anna Mosqueda
21:57 Dec 21, 2020

True, it’s actually pretty easy to start a new one. If you want to, on our other thread, you can start a new one to my latest reply. All you have to do is open two tabs on your computer, one with the reply that you are responding to and the other with a reply box on another story. You just comment on any story you want. Hope that helps. Yes! The sunsets and sunrises are beautiful. I am actually watching the sun go down outside my window right now with a plate of apples from Michigan. They’re really good apples. That does sound like a wonde...

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Philip Clayberg
22:16 Dec 21, 2020

Not really. I think I'll play it safe and let you create a new thread instead. Hope that's okay. I tend not to leave in places where the view of the setting sun is a good one. But I've visited places where the views are really good. Especially the Youth Hostelling International's old location in Seattle about half a block below 1st Avenue and Union. They had a lounge on the sixth floor, I think, and it had a great western view. But they moved from there and they're now in the American Hotel about a loud shout (the Chinatown gateway is...

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Anna Mosqueda
20:14 Dec 29, 2020

Okay! Sorry for the freakishly late reply. Christmas break has been great but I accidentally left my computer at home while I was in Ohio, so I had no way to answer. But Happy Holidays! Nice! I'd like to visit Greenland one day, apparently they have some amazing sunsets and they last for long periods of time, which is really cool. Hm...Maybe it is in Asia. I may have accidentally said longest when I meant to say highest. It was called Verruckt and it was 168 feet tall. Yeah! I think he enjoyed it as well. He was an interesting man, like...

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Philip Clayberg
21:32 Dec 29, 2020

No problem. Glad you've enjoyed your Christmas break. You, too. I spent my Christmas at home, but my mother was kind enough to let me use her credit card to buy her a collection of crossword puzzles as well as presents for me (the same collection of crossword puzzles, a 2021 Washington State calendar, "Story of Your Life and Other Stories" by Ted Chiang, "Blade Runner 2049" on DVD, and "Arrival" on DVD. Sadly, "Arrival" hasn't arrived yet (pun unintended). It was supposed to come via the post office anywhere from Dec. 28 to Jan. 5. But...

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