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[KD] The taxi driver left a note saying he was going to drive some tourists across the county. He never returned home. After that, both the driver and his taxi was observed all across the country. What happened to Gudmund Stenersen? [Norway, 1972]

This write-up is a bit long, but there is a lot of details regarding this case. It has been investigated multiple times, and the Norwegian detective show Åsted Norge also investigated it themselves in 2018. The taxi and its driver was observed all across the country, and the police did an okay job investigating them. But, as with most of my cases, it turned out that the police didn't do a very good job in the end. At the bottom of this write-up is a theory that renders the entire investigation absolute and that would have put it back to square one, had it been discovered earlier.
Gudmund Stenersen was a taxi driver from Hornset in Ytre Rendal. He bought his first car in 1935 and lived from his taxi ever since. His life was talking to people, driving people, and helping people. A lot of his trips were driving people to the hospital, to weddings, or to funerals. He moved to Hornset in 1952.
The disappearance
The sun is shining, and it's a warm and quiet summer day. It's Thursday the 13th of July 1972, and everything is about to change for the family Stenersen living in a small town called Rendalen. 59-year-old taxi driver Gudmund Stenersen was outside his home working on his car when his son, Sæmund, arrived at their house. He was home on summer vacation and was there to pick up his sister Aud to visit their grandmother. They talked to their father for a while before driving off. After Sæmund and Aud left, Gudmund presumably got a phone call from an unknown person. Gudmund left a note on the kitchen table before he drove away in his taxi.
At around 2:15 PM, Sæmund and Aud started their drive home from their grandmother. When they got to the main road they noticed that their father was driving behind them. They waved at each other before Gudmund and his taxi turned off the road towards the town of Hanestad. This was the last time his children saw him again. Sæmund and Aud continued home where they found the note on the kitchen table. It said:
"I'm driving some tourists that have wrecked their car. The trip is to Storfjord, Møre. I'll be back on Saturday or Sunday. Gudmund."
Neither his children nor hos wife reacted, as this was normal for Gudmund. He often took long trips.
It was now 4 days later, and Gudmund was nowhere to be seen. They thought that something was amiss, as Gudmund always stayed on time. They called the police, and they put out an APB. They suspected this was a criminal case, but the police had nothing to go on except the note. They started with the obvious question: Who are these tourists? After they investigated for a bit, they found out there were no abandoned cars in the area, and there were no cars that had broken down. To make the matter worse, there is no place called Storfjord. The only place with that name is an actual fjord called Storfjorden, but this fjord is 110 km long.
The discovery of the taxi
The days fly by, with no signs of Gudmund nor his taxi. That is until 11 days after his disappearance, on the 24th of July 1972, when a man walks into the local sheriff's office in the town of Åndalsnes. His name is Kåre Erlandsen, and he can see Gudmund's taxi from his kitchen window. Kåre lived very close by and had observed this taxi standing there for a week. He said that the car hadn't moved and was abandoned. When the police arrived, they found the car in a parking lot right in front of the town hall.
The white Ford Taunus with the license number "D-25098" did not give the police many clues. The doors were locked from the outside and the key was still in the ignition. The inside of the car was completely cleaned out, except for Gudmund's driver hat and 9 cigarette butts in the ashtray. Gudmund didn't smoke cigarettes, only pipe, and he cleaned the car and ashtray after every trip, so it is likely that these butts were smoked by the passengers on the taxi's last trip. They also found a half-full pack of Pall Mall cigarettes in the glove compartment.
The following witness testimony wasn't discovered until many years later. I thought I should include it here as it belongs to the taxi being parked in the parking lot.
Multiple witnesses have stated that the taxi may have been there as early as two days after Gudmund disappeared. When the taxi was parked, a woman was watching from the third floor of a building next door. Two men stepped out of the taxi, and she is sure none of them were Gudmund Stenersen. She said:
"The two men stay in the car for a while before coming out. They pressed the doors and boot lid (AN: locking the doors). Then they stayed for approx. 1 minute before they start walking towards me. They walk past the house and disappeared up in the street. I was terrified of being involved in something and was sure that the two had something to do with Stenersen's disappearance."
The observations
After the taxi was discovered, the police were flooded with tips and observations. The taxi had been observed all over the country. The police checked every observation and found out that a lot of them crashes with each other. The car couldn't have been at two places at the same time, so some of the observations had to be wrong, but which ones? I will go through three of the observations. These are the main ones, and the ones the police had the most faith in.
Observation 1 - Stordal - 80km from Åndalsnes, 330km from Rendalen - Map
In the morning of Friday the 14th of July 1972, there is a fire at Hove Møbelfabrikk (Hove furniture factory). The whole town gathers around to watch, and they close down the main road. Ottar Storheim worked for the local newspaper and was there to take pictures of the fire. He parked on a side road and stepped out of the car. At that moment, a taxi pulls up behind him. Ottar said he saw 4 people in the car, 1 driver and 3 passengers. When he went to move his car, he could see all of the people clearly. He is sure that Gudmund drove the car at this point. He wasn't questioned before 1982 and in 1987, he made a drawing of the people in the car. He also said that the man sitting behind the driver had an oval/round tattoo on the back of his left hand. (Take note of this tattoo, it shows up later).
Observation 2 - Vengedalen - 12km from Åndalsnes - 263km from Rendalen - Map
On the same day as the Stordal observation, just an hour later, the taxi was seen in Vengedalen. In 1972, there was extensive power development there. Kolbjørn Mittet and two colleagues are on their way up the valley to survey the new power line when they see something abnormal. Coming up the valley is a white taxi that looks a lot like Gudmund's car. Everyone living in Vengedalen at that time worked with power development, so taxis were not common at all. Kolbjørn said he saw people in the car, but can't remember how many, or who drove the car. He couldn't remember the license plate either.
Observation 3 - Road close to Vingrom - 266km from Åndalsnes - 147km from Rendalen - Map
In 1986, a key witness with new information was revealed in the media. He wasn't questioned before 1983, 11 years after Gudmund Stenersen disappeared. Around 6 hours after Gudmund's children saw him turn away from the road, Helge Førland and his wife was driving on a road between Vingrom and Fagersnes (see map). Along this road, they are overtaken by the same taxi multiple times. Helge said that it looked like there was a fight in the car. Since Helge thought the taxi drove irresponsibly, he took note of the license number: D-25098. Ever since the investigation started, the police had been adamant on the route Gudmund supposedly took on his last ride. They meant that he drove the northern and quickest route to Åndalsnes. This observation turned the investigation upside down. If Helge's observation was correct, it meant that Gudmund had driven a southern and longer route to Åndalsnes. After this observation reached the public, several witnesses came forward, saying that they had seen Gudmund and/or his taxi along the route from Fagersnes to Åndalsnes. But several witnesses had also seen Gudmund and/or his taxi on the northern route. What route did he take?
How could Gudmund's taxi have been seen so many places? Well, in the same space of time as Gudmund's taxi would have been driving around, there was another taxi that drove around in the same county. The driver of this taxi was on summer vacation and his car was almost identical to Gudmund's. This car is probably the car many of the witnesses saw. But who saw which?
Gudmund's personal organizer
The theory that Gudmund drove the southern route was made stronger when Åsted Norge in 2018 investigated Gudmund's personal organizer (what is a personal organizer?). Gudmund wrote down all the info about all of his trips in his PO: who he drove, to where, and how many kilometers he drove.
When Gudmund's taxi was found, the car's mileage said 35491km. On the 11th of May 1972, Gudmund had written down the current mileage of his car. Åsted Norge and the police in Elverum did some math to figure out how many kilometers Gudmund's car drove the day he disappeared. They came up with 839km. The quickest route from Rendalen to Åndalsnes is 270km, which meant that they were missing 586km. Map of possible routes. When they saw how long it was to drive the southern route, they were missing only 40km. This supported the theory that Gudmund never drove the northern route.
The confession
In 1986, something surprising happened. A 42-year-old man from Ålesund confessed to the murder of Gudmund Stenersen. A witness had seen Gudmund's taxi outside of this man's home in Ålesund, and the man confessed during the interrogation. The man then withdrew his confession. In 1997, he confessed for a second time but withdrew this as well. During the interrogations, he changed a lot of the details; where the murder took place, how he supposedly killed Gudmund, as well as other details. The police did not trust his explanation, and he is no longer a suspect in the case. The strange part of this is that this man had this tattoo on his left hand. This man had also just gotten out of prison for murder. Is this just a coincidence?
The Rendalen theory
I hope you're still with me here, as this is the most interesting part of the case. In short, this is the theory that Gudmund never left his home town.
The police have always believed that Gudmund was in the taxi on the whole trip. This led to the police never investigating observations in Rendalen. In 1986, NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation) made a radio documentary about the case. When they went to Rendalen to do interviews, they got a strong feeling that something was wrong. People seemed scared. A woman told NRK:
"They are never going to find Stenersen. They are looking too far. Because the answer is here in Rendalen."
When NRK talked with people around the town, they found witnesses that the police never talked to. A short time after Gudmund turned away from the main road after waving to his children, the route bus from Hanestad started driving towards Rendalen. The bus driver knew Gudmund well, and he said that he never met Gudmund's taxi on the road. The only possibility is that Gudmund drove off the main road.
Åsted Norge finds a completely new witness in 2018. He and his family saw Gudmund's taxi driving on the farm road going right next to their house. To get to this farm road, you have to turn off the main road where the bus drove. The witness lived at Hårsetvollen farm, and he and his family went outside when they saw a taxi driving down the gravel road at full speed. They are adamant that there were multiple people in the car, and one of the witnesses that saw the driver says it wasn't Gudmund. There was also an unmanned toll booth between the farm and the main road. When the witness checked the pay box the Saturday after Gudmund disappeared, he saw that the taxi hadn't paid. The witness knew Gudmund well and says he know for sure that Gudmund would have paid.
And then another witness shows up. This witness was located between where Gudmund waved goodbye to his children, and the farm road mentioned earlier. Map. He saw Gudmund's taxi turn off the main road and drive onto a gravel road that led to an abandoned construction site. This gravel road is only a couple of kilometers from where Gudmund's children last saw him.
Another witness that was on a field next to the construction site saw the taxi standing still at the construction site before it suddenly disappeared. The construction site consists of large amounts of blasted rock mass from the development of the power plant at the beginning of the 70s. It has been virtually untouched since then. When Åsted Norge looked at maps from 1972, they could see that there was a big hole in the ground, which was covered a few years later. As former homicide detective Asbjørn Hansen said about the construction site: "This is the perfect place to hide a body."
Look in the comments to see how it went when Åsted Norge searched the construction site with Trixie the cadaver dog and when they dug up the hole with an excavator.

Do you have tips regarding this case? Please contact the police on 02800 or via this link. You can also contact Åsted Norge anonymously by calling 22 38 98 98.

Har du tips til denne saken? Kontakt politiet på telefon 02800 eller ved å bruke denne linken. Du kan også kontakte Åsted Norge anonymt på telefon 22 38 98 98.

Did you like my write up? Then you may find interest in my other ones:
A 6-year-old that disappeared without a trace
A 94-year-old that was found strangled and tied in her own bed
A 32-year-old left his home in the middle of the night and was found stabbed to death in his own car
A 71-year old man that was found beaten and tied in his home with $15,000 in his safe
A 20-year-old was found raped and strangled to death. 3062 witnesses have been interrogated
A 17-year-old was found raped and beaten to death, 400 meters from her home
An 18-year-old that disappeared after a party. He was observed by loads of security cameras
https://sumo.tv2.no/programmefakta/aasted-norge (the Norwegian detective show)
Thanks for reading!!
submitted by KingDrude to UnresolvedMysteries


Dandelion: Chapter 3, Pt I

[Beginning | previously]
DANI had landed a shuttle car at Mount Messier’s summit for today’s activity, and it was helpfully projecting an avatar for him as the Ranger troops arrived. The children had eaten breakfast, warmed up with camp chores and little games, and by late morning they were ready to make the final push from their camp to the top of the mountain. Even though the gravity was a third lighter at the peak than at the bottom, that last stretch was still a hard ascent by anybody’s standards, meaning most of them had burned off enough energy to actually sit down and listen to a lesson by the time they arrived.
School was for skills, academic knowledge, research, and learning. The Rangers were as much about teaching them who they were and who they would be as it was about survival skills. That meant telling them where they were, why they were there, and how it all worked.
That was one of DANI’s favorite tasks. Among other things, it basically meant talking about himself to thousands of Ranger troops simultaneously. But his favorite group was Walker’s, for one simple reason—Walker took on the specialcases.
Every last member of his troop performed far above the ship’s average on a variety of performance metrics, while the ship’s averages in turn were superior to most of the human race they’d left behind in Sol. They weren’t confined to a single field. Some were physically impressive specimens, others were budding creative geniuses, mature for their age, or just…possessed of some indefinable spark DANI couldn’t detect but which the Rangermasters absolutely could.
Even little Rose Durand, at seven years old, had caught the Rangermasters’ attention. DANI wasn’t exactly sure why yet, but he’d learned to trust them. They had never yet been wrong, in his experience, and he himself was by no means all-seeing and all-knowing. Humans had a vexing capacity to surprise him, all too frequently.
On days like these, however, the Rangermasters stepped back and let the younger kids learn from the older ones. It was good for both groups—the senior Rangers got the chance to prove they knew their stuff, and the younger Rangers got to see what they could grow up to become. Role models close to their own age were important.
Naturally, DANI’s avatar was left waiting. He didn’t mind one jot—his attention span was effectively unlimited, and events elsewhere on the ship occupied his attention while Roy blustered gleefully around the top of the mountain, reminding all the kids to air out their feet, hydrate, change into a dry shirt and dry socks…all the little steps that made the difference between walking back down the mountain comfortable, fit, and happy, or walking back down it with a rash, blisters, and a miserable cloud of pain over their heads.
With that job done, the younger ones sat in a half-circle around Nikki as she introduced them to the Universal Tool.
“The U-Tool,” as Nikki explained, “is incredibly useful. It’s probably the most wonderful thing you could possibly carry with you in a survival situation…but it’s not a survival tool. Anybody care to guess why I say that?”
DANI watched the children with interest, gauging tiny changes in skin temperature, sweat, eye dilation, pulse, and a dozen other things to guess which of them knew the answer but couldn’t remember, which genuinely had no idea…and most importantly, which of them knew the answer and were too shy to speak up.
Arianna Mayweather, he decided. It was simplicity itself to transmit that information to Walker, who was patrolling at the back where the kids couldn’t see him, and he in turn discreetly pointed Arianna out to Nikki as he passed.
Nikki knew the drill. She put on an encouraging smile and skewered her reluctant troop-mate with it. “Arianna? Care to take a guess?”
“Uh…” Arianna glanced around in case somebody wanted to jump in front of her, but quickly gave up and ventured an answer. “Because…because a survival tool has to be simple?”
“Right!” Nikki beamed at her and Arianna relaxed. “But why?”
“Uh…because if it’s simple…it won’t break?”
“Oh, it’ll break. Everything breaks eventually. But think about what I’d have to do to fix my U-Tool when it breaks.” Nikki shifted her seat. “I’d have to fire up a diagnostic console, decompile, dissolve, regrow, and recompile. Take a few hours, maybe. And if it’s completely f—,” Nikki hesitated as Walker’s eyebrow nudged upwards a fraction, “—friedbeyond saving, I’d recycle it to build a new one on the omnifactory.”
She let that sink in.
“Now. Let’s say my steel knife gets damaged,” she said. “What do I do?”
This time, DANI was quite certain none of the kids knew. They hadn’t had that course yet, which was scheduled for the evening, anyway, and none of them were showing any signs of having picked up the information independently. Again, he passed his observations on to Walker, who gave a slow shake of the head.
Nikki smiled and produced a couple of damaged knives from her bag.
DANI watched with interest. Outerdeck engineers were a select crew, who recruited young and demanded not just the brawn to hack sustained higher gravity, but the brains to solve practical problems on the fly. Nikki and her brother were the best young engineers DANI had yet had the pleasure to train, and Nikki was at her most effusive when she got to talk about something technical.
“Okay, here we go. One chipped knife, and one totally broken one.” She showed the abused blades to the gathered kids. “Now, I’d still keep the broken one, because, I mean, it’s still sharp, and I can still use it with my fire steel.” She demonstrated by pulling the steel in question from her pocket and scraping off a few good sparks. “And with a good stone and some time, I bet I could sharpen the chip right out of this other one. So the thing about a steel knife is, it’s still useful when it breaks! My U-Tool though? If this thing breaks, it’s basically just dead weight.”
She put the broken blades away. “Survival can get tough when things start going wrong; that’s why we carry spares and simple things that won’t go wrong so easily. Remember the rule: Two is one and one is none. We load up with all the things we need first, then we load up with spares of the things we need, and only then do we load the things we want.Your U-Tool is the first item on your list of wants.
“That being said,” Walker added from the back, “today we’re going to learn about our U-tools, because they do make life much easier…Which is why today, we’re going to trust you with a full unlock.”
There were excited nudges and whispers among the seated Rangers. A Ranger’s U-Tool by default was set to its “safe” functions: flashlight, holographic monitor, communicator, and medical sensor. Fully unlocked, it could be so much more than that…and thus dangerous. Still, there was nothing alarming about their enthusiasm. Walker had a way of making responsibility seem exciting.
Walker grinned at DANI, who smiled back. “Functions unlocked,” he confirmed, sending a pulsed command to every U-Tool in the group, which all promptly reported that they were in standby mode, no restraints.
“Thank you, DANI. Okay, Nikki, show ‘em how it works.”
Nikki beamed at him, then turned to her “pupils.” She always got chattier and more enthusiastic when she got to show off some technology, DANI had noticed. Left to her own devices, she was generally happy to tinker, cook, experiment, make things with her hands, and she didn’t have a lot of time for small talk, except among her very nearest and dearest. Give her a chance to show off her knowledge, though, and the full McKay boisterousness gleefully bubbled to the surface. She waggled her U-Tool at the Rangers, turning it over to show it off.
A Universal Tool was basically just a sturdy grip with an emitter at one end and a receiver in the other, designed to fit ergonomically in (mostly) any human hand regardless of size. It was slightly ovoid in cross section, easy to orient, with its controls placed next to where the thumb and fingers would naturally rest.
Inside that grip was a clever arrangement of solid-state components: a potent little computer with all the usual sensor-on-chip accoutrements, a powerful transceiver, a short-range forcefield emitter, and its associated high-capacity power cell. It was as rugged and simple as the ship’s fabricators could possibly make it, quite capable of taking a beating and still ticking along reliably. Despite Nikki’s cautionary words, breaking one was actually quite a feat.
“Okay, so…the tool has a lot of different functions: it has a flashlight, a communicator, a magnetic compass, a signal light, motion sensors, and all that. It also has a high-powered emitter that can start fires, weld, and cut metal. The sensors onboard are all really good, so it can function as a general scanner, and it can assemble a screen for viewing text, video, or images, including maps and sensor data…but of course, you knew all that.”
She grinned at them as she cycled through the safe functions, finishing with the screen. U-Tool screens were stored inside the handle as a crystalline dust. When activated, the dust flowed out with a hiss to form a hand-sized opaque touch screen.
“The bit you guys have never used before is this receiver on the back,” Nikki said. She dismissed the screen, and flipped the tool over to show its other end to her students. “You pull it open like this, and…voilà! This right here can accept compatible cartridges that do all kindsa different things, depending on what kinda cartridge you put in there. Medical cartridges can be used to inject antitoxins, anti-allergens, coagulants, regenerative gel, and other emergency field care. With an engineering cartridge, it can print small single-material components, like springs or firing pins. But I think the coolest one is this guy here, the dust cartridge.”
She rammed the little red nodule home at the base of her U-Tool, thumbed the controls, and a shimmering scarlet blade as long as her arm hummed into existence with a seething crackle. Several of the kids made suitably awed words and noises.
“This cartridge is full of the same crystalline dust it uses to make the screen, just way more of it. The emitter can instantly assemble it into basically any simple shape, especially blades,” she explained. “If you wanna use your U-Tool as a machete or knife, you use the dust cartridge. It’s light, but not completely weightless, ‘cuz that would be super dangerous, so you’ve got some weight to help you. It can assemble a blade anywhere from six to a hundred and fifty centimeters long, and the red glow is a holographic safety feature—without it, the blade is invisible, and believe me, it’s sharp.Sharper than anything. Treat it with respect.”
By way of a demonstration, she turned to the thick branch Roy had thoughtfully hauled up the mountain for her and wedged upright between some rocks. With a casual swipe, she neatly and cleanly cut off the top thirty centimeters. Even DANI was impressed—Nikki’s arm barely twitched, and aside from the heavy thump as it fell to the ground, the wood barely made a noise.
She turned back to the awed, silent Rangers with a grin, and dissolved the blade. The crystal “dust” flowed back into the emitter with a sandy hiss.
“Anyone wanna see what else it can do?”
Captain Amida Torres
A population of one million people fell into an interesting sweet spot, as far as Amida could tell. It was neither too big nor too small; big enough to convey the full weight of a culture and carry it forward, small enough that whatever rifts and schisms developed in that culture likely wouldn’t cut too deep and tear them apart.
One of the side effects of such a Goldilocks population was that the things they took seriously, they took very seriously. And there was nothing onboard that got the people fired up quite as much as the Shipboard Olympics. Oh sure, each hamlet and town (and farming district, too) had their sports teams. Games like baseball and cricket, bowling, soccer, target shooting, video games, or competitive Sudoku were certainly fun, and they scratched that human itch to play. Almost everyone played at something, but those were mostly casual affairs.
Ship-wide events, however, were fiercely contested, and none more so than the Olympics. Merely qualifying for an event was a big deal in anyone’s life, and many of the ship’s most influential celebrities had their start in a particularly fantastic bout of sport. There was track and field of course, as well as swimming, gymnastics, and all the other classics, but where the people got really excited were the most intensely individual sports: the strength events, and the martial arts competitions.
And in those events, apparently, there was a growing problem.
The games weren’t due until next year. The thrice-blessed genius who’d first set them in motion had timed them so they’d immediately precede Arrival Day, and thereby give the first-wave colonists the chance to enjoy them before they headed dirtside to start building Newhome. The process of qualification and selection was well underway, and from what Amida could gather, there were a few young up-and-comers in nearly all the events who were totally distorting the competition. Even worse, the two most extreme examples of this phenomenon were in precisely the events that garnered the most attention.
Naturally, that could not stand, at least if the most vocal were to be believed. Concerned parents and commentators had raised their objections both broadly and specifically, which had been picked up by Antony Mayweather, one of the civilian council’s more populist members. He in turn had brought it to the council, and as captain, it was Amida’s job to sit in on, mediate, and moderate such discussions.
“All I am saying is we need to reconsider the weight classes! Two of the entrants—who, by the way, are entered as adultseven though they’re still merely teenagers—utterly dominated their class last year, and are doing so again. At the level they’re playing at, it just isn’t sporting anymore. It’s almost cruel.”
“Well, that’s the nature of competition,” Uddam Ahuja, the Olympic committee’s chairman, replied evenly. “We haven’t seen any need to modify the weight classes at any point since leaving Earth, other than adding the unrestricted class twenty-five years ago. Sometimes you do just get exceptional talent. I should also remind you that the existing weight classes are already much higher than the ancient norms.”
“The fact that you haven’t updated them doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be updated,” Mayweather retorted. “Just that you haven’t had reason to until now. Humankind progresses over time, including athletically. By your own admission, the current classes were once much lower. We’ve updated them before, and we need to again.”
Amida decided a little more objective information was needed. “Okay,” she interjected as diplomatically as she could, “who are the two you mentioned?”
Mayweather sent over their files, and Amida was forced to raise an eyebrow. “My, those are big lads. You say they’re only teens?”
“Barely, at that. Both of them are so big, they had to cut weight to make it into the adult super-heavies. They’re also unmatched athletes despite their enormous size. Nobody can compete with them at any level, except perhaps a few older adults in the unrestricted class. And there are more like them following in their footsteps. I don’t know what it is, but this upcoming generation are qualitatively different.”
“And these two…what are they guilty of, besides excellence?” Ahuja objected.
“Excellence that takes them so far beyond the others in their weight class that it’s a competition between them for the gold, and then between everyone else to see who takes bronze,” Mayweather said. “I don’t see how that can be called fair.”
Amida looked at the files a bit more closely. Both young men had racked up…well, she wasn’t deeply knowledgeable about such things, but there was hardly a second place among their long, long award lists.
“They seem to be in the habit of winning,” she noted drily.
“They can hardly help themselves. Which isn’t surprising, once you’ve seen them. Look at their stats and their photos.”
Amida scrolled down, took one look, and lifted her eyebrow further. “…Dang.”
“Indeed,” said Mayweather.
There really wasn’t any other word. The stats were…impressive, though Amida didn’t have enough of an athletic grounding to properly grasp what they meant. Nevertheless they were genuinely huge lads. Huge, and obviously elite athletes.
For her, it was the photographs that told the real story. Both had thick, sinewy necks wider than their own blocky heads, severely handsome faces and intense ice-blue eyes. One was a shorter and broader juggernaut with close-cut, inky black hair, the other heroic and tall with a long platinum-blond mane. Both were so ridiculously athletic looking, so absurdly well-muscled and so obviously powerful, it wasn’t hard to see the root of everyone’s objections.
“Well…I presume everything is on the level with these two?”
“Of course,” DANI added. “They and their coaches have been scrupulously honest. They pride themselves on their work ethic and have had no advantages over the other youths, beyond their own discipline and genetic good fortune.”
“A luck which has placed them in a league of their own,” added Mayweather.
“And which nobody can control,” Ahuja retorted. “Are we seriously considering punishing these fine young men because of their genes? Where would we stop, with such an idea?”
Amida read through the file while the two gently bickered. Mayweather did have a point, in that it really did seem that everybody else onboard was competing for a distant bronze next to the pair of teenage supermen she was considering. She had to agree with him, that didn’t sound particularly fun or fair.
On the other hand, the suggested remedy didn’t sit well either.
“It seems to me like you’re asking the committee to punish them for excelling.”
“Far from it. I’m asking for them to be given the chance to prove themselves in a fair contest. It’s not fair on them to so totally dominate their brackets any more than it’s fair for all the people they dominate. They aren’t being given the chance to shine that they so richly deserve.” Mayweather sounded fervent. “But it’s not just them.”
“It’s not?”
Mayweather shook his head. “The last two Olympics saw a lot of ship records smashed. This year, some of those records have been broken during the qualifying rounds. I don’t know why or even how that would be, but just in the last eight years or so, we’ve seen some truly incredible young people in all kinds of competitive fields. Not just sports but the math championships, the literature and music contests, the film and game jams…And the problem with truly exceptional people is they can eclipse the merely very good who are also deserving of recognition.”
Amida nodded. “Well. You’ve both made your cases. I don’t think this is an issue that’s subject to a Captain’s Decision,” she said. “For what it’s worth, I do think you both have valid points, but in the end, the Olympics cannot be static and unchanging. People change, and their culture must change with them. So, I’ll book this for a discussion in Council on…hmm…”
DANI, ever attentive and helpful, popped up a few recommendations on her tablet. “August the eleventh,” she offered.
“Thank you, Captain,” Mayweather said.
Ahuja nodded resignedly. Clearly, he’d been hoping for Amida to decide in his favor. Both men shook her hand, and once the door closed, there was peace.
“That was more interesting than I thought it would be,” she said aloud. DANI’s avatar formed opposite her, seated primly in the chair Mayweather had just vacated.
“You usually find the minutiae of such things rather tedious,” he observed.
“Oh, the whole ‘weight category’ thing was dull, but have you seen Mayweather’s data? He’s not wrong about those ship records.”
“I’ve seen the data,” DANI confirmed.
“What do you make of it?”
“Steady, broad improvement of human ability throughout the duration of the ship’s mission, and not merely in sport. I’m quite pleased by that.”
“I suppose so…” Amida agreed. “Still, Mayweather’s right. You can’t ignore the standouts. Especially if they’re as unexpected and exceptional as he claims.”
“True.” DANI offered nothing more.
That was significant because DANI was normally a chatty sort. If he didn’t venture more, it meant he didn’t consider the matter to be particularly important. Amida smiled to herself and let it drop. DANI lacked a physical body of his own, unless one counted the titanic cylinder of the ship itself, and that could hardly do back-flips. He was fascinated by outstanding athletes and displays of human physicality and was sometimes prone to gushing about particularly impressive feats. If he didn’t consider the matter important, then it wasn’t.
She let him have his way and moved on. “What’s next?”
“A few members of the planetology team want to petition the council for funding for a survey probe to fly ahead and take a closer look at Newhome.”
“Seems like a waste if we’re going to be in orbit next year…did they say why?”
“They’re concerned about wood smoke levels in the atmosphere, which is probably just forest fires, but they want to survey for ‘other causes’. I’m inclined to agree with you. Why waste the resources when we’ll be close enough for detailed ground mapping soon anyway? Should I send them in?”
“Yes, sure. That sounds like an easy one,” she agreed, “assuming it falls under my powers to make a decision?”
“It probably will. I’ll inform you if not.”
“Thanks, DANI.” Amida stood and made herself a coffee. She had half a dozen more meetings and felt like approaching this one with a hot drink in her hands.
Just those, and she could go back to listening to what the Rangers were up to…
Amber Houston
The weekend passed in a happy blur for Amber. She liked her troopmates. They were kids, and some of the boys could be McKay-sized handfuls in their own right, but they were uncomplicated, and she truly meant that as a compliment. Her home life was nothing but complicated, a stressful tangle of feuding parents and the looming question of her future career on the horizon…
Well, except it wasn’t so much a question as a hard conversation she’d been putting off for a while. Ranger weekends were a chance to forget all that. They were an opportunity to hang out with her friends, to have fun, to swim and tell stories around the campfire and sing along to Walker’s marching cadence and all the other stuff that was just so blessedly simple.
Even so…she wasn’t able to forget entirely.
The big thing on her mind was Newhome. Dandelion was a colony ship, there was just no getting around that fact. Colonizing the planet was what they were for. Which meant, in a way, it was what Amber herself was for. In the hundreds of years the ship had been flying, all the generations before her had just been counting off time, waiting for the ship to reach its destination and trying to leave it intact and functioning for the eventual grandchildren who would have the privilege of completing the mission.
Amber was one of those privileged ones, if she wanted to be. And…she did. She wanted to go down to the surface and be a colonist.
But the twins didn’t.
She’d been grappling with that, but it was a conversation on the morning of their walk back down the mountain that finally tipped something over in her mind.
Floyd Harris was about the geekiest kid Amber had ever met. He and slim, blonde Arianna Mayweather were entirely inseparable, and Amber honestly didn’t know if they were just the closest of friends or something more. Both, probably, because they were effusive about what they’d be doing down on Newhome: science, and lots of it. They were complimentary sides of the same coin, with Arianna being fanatical about botany, Floyd being equally enthralled by zoology, and both were enthused by virtually nothing else all the way down the mountain.
“Did you see that thing about the smoke in Newhome’s atmosphere? Doctor Kowalski was talking about it on her podcast last night.”
“Aww, I missed it! Did she think it might be forest fires?”
“I knew it! It’s so hot down there, there’d have to be forest fires every year…”
Kelly Liu shot the pair of them a dismayed look as she walked alongside them. “That sounds…bad?”
Amber smiled to herself. Kelly was a few weeks younger than her, and brilliantly smart, but anybody who spent five minutes around her knew her passions lay elsewhere. She loved to dance, paint, sing, paste things into scrapbooks, and a hundred other things that had at one point or another temporarily caught her fancy. Any space she occupied for more than a few minutes tended to end up having been doodled on or decorated in some way. She had a pure creative soul, that much was for certain, but it wasn’t exactly focused.
Then again…she’d never needed to focus it yet.
“Oh, no!” Arianna grinned at her. “Forest fires are great! There were, like, whole ecosystems back on Earth that depended on them!”
“Didn’t they burn down whole towns and stuff?”
“Only because people didn’t know how to manage them properly back then,” Floyd sniffed. “They used to stop them from happening so instead of little healthy seasonal fires that were normal for the forest, they got huge big ones they couldn’t contain that burned everything down…”
“I bet there’s all kindsa plants down there that need fire to spread their seeds and stuff…” Arianna mused. “I can’t wait to name one!”
Kelly sighed. “You two are so lucky you’ve got it all figured out. I have no idea what I’d do down there…I don’t even know if I’m gonna go down, yet.”
“Aww, we’d miss you if you don’t!”
Kelly gave Floyd a touched smile. “I probably will, I guess. I just don’t know what I’d do…What about you, Amber? I know the twins aren’t coming. They’re gonna be outerdeck engineers, right?”
Amber sighed. “That’s right,” she confirmed.
“What would you do if you did come down?”
“Medicine,” Amber admitted. “I think I’d make an okay doctor. But maybe I’d find something else, I don’t know.”
“Wouldn’t you miss Roy and Nick though?” Arianna asked.
Amber looked forward toward the head of the column, where the twins were trading their usual brand of physical affection as they hiked, arguing loudly about something. The truth was, yes, she would. They and the rest of the troop felt like the best things in her life, sometimes. She worried about going down to the colony only to find herself just as lost and dissatisfied down there and then she’d have to work through it without the twins to turn to.
But in her gut, she knew that wouldn’t happen. As fascinating and impressive as Dandelion was, there were times when it felt like her whole body was itching with the urge to break free of the ship’s confines. To feel real gravity instead of spin. To look up at night and see stars, not city lights. To look to the distance and see a horizon…
Huge as Dandelion was, sometimes Amber felt claustrophobic.
“Amber?” Kelly gave her a concerned look, and Amber realized she’d gone quiet.
“Sorry.” She forced a smile. “I just…Yeah. I’m gonna miss them a lot.”
It was such a small thing to set her in motion, but it really was the first time she’d actually talked about the subject with…anyone. She hadn’t mentioned it to her parents of course, nor any of the McKays because how could she? She probably could have discussed it with Walker, or DANI but…well, worrying about wasting their time was foolish. Walker would have gladly made time, and wasting DANI’s time was literally impossible. But still, she hadn’t taken it to them. Maybe she should have.
Kelly gave her a sympathetic smile, and a walking half-hug. “It’s a pity they’re not coming down. Roy’s pretty cute!” she smirked.
“What? He is!” Kelly had a musical giggle, which Floyd and Ari joined in with.
“Ugh.” Amber tried not to dignify her antics with a smile and failed miserably.
She was, mercifully, rescued from any further teasing by the sound of Walker’s voice calling a halt for lunch. They were about a third of the way down the mountain, with another few hours of hiking ahead of them before they were back in the city. Up ahead, Nikki waved back at her down the column and gestured for her to join them while waving a meal pack. Amber waved back to acknowledge her, shared a “see you later” with Kelly as Ari and Floyd wandered off discussing forest fires, and took a steadying breath. She’d been putting the hard conversation off for too long, waiting for the right moment.
But there never would be a better time to have it than now.
All resolutions aside, the conversation didn’t actually happen until they were on the move again. The twins set a brisk pace, and pretty soon they’d put several twists of the trail between themselves and the rest of the troop. Amber had been waiting for that; it gave them some privacy.
“So uh…” she cleared her throat and began. “I decided on my apprenticeship.”
Nikki looked pleased. “Oh cool! You gonna go into medicine like you said?”
“You should be a sports therapist!” Roy boomed, bouncing around Amber and Nikki with far more light-footed grace than one might expect from such a big burly boy. His cheery self-interest in his own suggestion couldn’t possibly be more obvious.
Nikki poked at his ribs. “You just want free help when you hurt yourself!”
Roy grinned sheepishly but didn’t dispute the charge. “Sometimes I gotta wait a whole week for an appointment!”
Nikki giggled and backhanded his bare shoulder with a solid, meaty thwack. “Your superjock is showing, bro.”
“Well, um…” Amber interrupted them by clearing her throat a second time, and took the plunge the moment she had their attention again. “A–actually I, uh…I thought I’d go down with the first wave.”
Their faces fell. Nikki’s instantly, as if her smile just slid right off. Roy’s grin faded more slowly, over a few seconds.
“Uh…but…Amber…” He didn’t seem to know how to start.
“We’re staying up here!” Nikki said.
“Yeah,” Roy echoed.
“I know!” Amber assured them. “I know that. I just…that’s my choice.”
“But it’ll take months before the ground-to-orbit link can handle anything but mission gear!” Roy was almost whining like a big dog.
“We won’t see you for…like, a whole year!” Nikki agreed.
“At least!”
“Guys, you’ll see me every day, I’ll call—”
Roy shook his head. “It’s not the same!”
“How’re you supposed to be friends if you can’t even hang out?” Nikki agreed.
“Guys. I love you too.” Amber swallowed and did her best not to cry. She’d been dreading this, for good reason. “But I have to do this.”
“But why? There’s gotta be something up here on the ship that grabs you—”
“Don’t you think I’d have found it by now if there was?” Amber sighed at the hurt-puppy expression she was getting from both and willed herself to stay patient and calm. She didn’t want to fall out with her best friends, especially not now.
Nikki sighed miserably. “So you’re gonna be…what? A frontier doctor?”
“It’s going to be tough down there. People are gonna be separated from their family…their friends…” Amber managed to work a sad little smile into her observation and got its echo back from them. “People are gonna get hurt as we build, or when we run into stuff we don’t know anything about, yet. It’s safe up here, mostly. Down there…I’ll always have somebody to help.”
“Your mind’s really made up, huh?” Roy said, quietly.
Amber nodded. “Yeah. I just…I don’t know why,” she said, “but it’s like…it’s a calling. I think I’d have chosen this a long time ago, but I was hoping…I was looking for…” she trailed off. “…I know I’m meant to do this. You understand that, don’t you Roy?”
He looked away and shook his head. “That’s not fair!” he accused, though he said it with a small, sad smile. “Who’s gonna bore me with philosophy while you’re gone?”
Amber found some real humor from somewhere. “Who’s going to bore me with their latest performance stats?”
He didn’t get the chance to form a comeback, because the next contribution to the conversation came in the form of a punch in the arm from Nikki. It was the kind of loving, painful punch she reserved only for the most special people, followed by the tightest kind of hug.
For whatever reason, Nikki had always been awful at expressing her feelings. In this case, though, she didn’t need to be good at it. She nuzzled hard into Amber’s shoulder and held her tightly. A moment later, Roy joined in too, and that was the start of a long, quiet interlude where nobody said a word.
Nikki broke the silence with a muffled sniff. “…You made me cry. I hate crying.”
“Nikki, I …” Amber rubbed her back. “I’m sorry. I just…”
She didn’t know what to say, but it didn’t seem to matter. Nikki nodded damply into her shoulder, then let go and turned away, probably so she could wipe some moisture from her cheeks. She hadn’t gotten even half of it off by the time she looked back with a complicated expression that was almost a weak smile.
“I guess…I mean, if this is what you need to be the best you, then…I mean, I’ll never drag you down, Amber. Neither of us will.”
Amber squeezed her hand, and looked to Roy, who put on a brave face for her despite the water in his own eyes.
“I know,” she promised.
“Okay. Okay,” Roy said, to himself as much as anything else. “I can dig it. I think it’s brave, y’know? And I guess we’ve got a year to get used to it…but the least you owe us is plenty of couch nights. Got it?”
That was the thing Amber would miss the most—the closeness. The McKay twins knew everything about her, and they shared everything with her, too: their home, their food, their little embarrassments, even sometimes the foldout hide-a-bed in the living room for their occasional Bad Movie Nights.
Living without them would be harder than anything else she’d face down there.
But her mind was made up.
[Continued in Chapter 3, Pt II]
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