Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011: Dump Year in Review

Hobo Dan: So where the hell have we been? It’s been a busy fall, let me tell you. We organized a 5K run, attended some sort of gathering every weekend starting in mid-October, both have been sick (the Wife twice!), field dressed a cat, had another car problem (on the first day at my new job!), got a PS3, learned that my suit jacket (which I’ve had for two years) has real pockets and that they just sew them shut for packaging, avoided mowing the lawn one last time, fought with the Wife about jack-o-lanterns, fought with the Wife about everything else, apologized to the Wife about being wrong in all the fights, threw caution to the wind, had caution blown back in my face, ate a lot of holiday food and (if you can believe it) completely forgot/was too lazy to even think about blogging over the last few weeks. Our sincerest apologies.

The Wife: Again, sorry for the lack of posts as of late. Like many of you the holidays are an extremely busy time for us. Pesky sinus infections don't help with blogging either! First off, we've failed to review two awesome movies that we've seen this month. Sadly, our collective favorite movie of 2011 will not receive it's own separate review due to time constraints. But, we will discuss it briefly! I know, I know, you are BURSTING with anticipation!

The new Muppet movie, The Muppets, is without a doubt the BEST movie of the year! We saw this when I was feeling under the weather, but at the same time had cabin fever and desperately needed out of the house! Well, this film proved to be excellent medicine! It perked both of our spirits right up. Growing up always loving the Muppets, made the nostalgia of the movie particularly great. It even brought a few tears to my eyes when they sang the infamous "Rainbow Connection." So if you haven't yet done so, plan to see The Muppets! It delivers laughs and is just plain fun — something we all need every now and then! We also saw Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and it too, did not disappoint. It was much like the first film, clever, witty and action packed. If you can't make it to the theatre to catch this flick, give it a view when it comes out on Blu-ray and DVD in a few months.

Hobo Dan: I was not kidding when I proclaimed on the Facebook that The Muppets is my favorite movie of 2011. There is nothing to dislike about this film. If you don’t like it, you have no soul. After a year of being beaten to a pulp by the economy and society and idiocy and reboots and sequels and everything else, The Muppets truly energized me and made me feel good, young and happy; even if for only a short time.

The Wife: We suppose we should discuss our Christmas celebrations too. As usual our holiday was great, despite the aforementioned pesky sinus infection. We both got a lot of great gifts, had fantastic food, including quite possibly the BEST turkey ever that WE cooked for Christmas Day dinner, and of course, enjoyed new and old traditions with family and friends. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Festivus, we hope your holidays were a blast!

So now for the burning question...how was our 2011? Well it's been quite an interesting year filled with new events and exciting change. For a year that started rather rough, it has ended quite well for both of us. The beginning of 2011 was filled with too much snow (funny now that we are complaining about the lack of snow where we live...grass is always greener right?). The winter months also brought the start of our Best Picture Project. Yes, we know it's been quite awhile since we last did a BPP review, but don't fret, more will be coming your way in 2012! In March we had quite a bit of fun on St. Patrick's Day! Gimme Da Gold! Then spring time brought about Easter and of course, my (the wife) birthday celebrations! Yes, celebrations, plural. Didn't you hear? My birthday is basically a month long holiday. FACT. Thanks to Charlie Sheen's insanity of the year, the slogan of this year's birthday bash was "Winning" as the tiger blood runs deep within my veins! On the day of my party, we also ran a 5K together and I took home a first place win! With my win, I got a $50 gift card to Dicks...so can we say...wait for it...wait for it...WINNING!

The spring also brought a personal accomplishment for me as I finally scratched "run a half marathon" off my bucket list. I successfully completed the Flying Pig Half Marathon in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was a challenge, but a great experience. It provided me with a sense of accomplishment in regards to my running that I had not had since college. To read all about my experience, check out my half marathon post! While the spring did bring many positive moments, it also began the start of some very challenging months, which continued into the summer. The stressful time and late nights of work often put a strain on our sanity. To help ease the stress, we relaxed by seeing multiple movies over the summer. We also met one of my goals of 2011, a goal that I never really thought would come true! Yes, we visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida. Click here for a full recap of our magical experience. It was fitting that we got to visit the Wizarding World this year, as it was basically the summer of Harry Potter! While the books are my favorite, the Harry Potter film series will always hold a special place in my heart! Luckily I now own all of the films on Blu-ray, but it isn't the same knowing I won't get to anticipate a new movie anymore...that is until the emo reboot in twenty years. We also visited Walt Disney World, my favorite place on earth! Here you can find all of our mini summer vacation blogs. We can't forget that we also celebrated SHARK WEEK over the summer as well...you know otherwise known as the greatest week in television.

The end of summer and beginning of fall started to bring many good things to the DUMP family. I accepted a new job, which I love, and the husband accepted a promotion about a month later! Now that we are adjusting to our new positions, we hopefully will get back into a regular blogging rhythm for 2012!

So that brings us here. Despite the challenges, I think 2011 proved to be quite a great year. We hope to make 2012 even better! As we mentioned previously, we saw several movies this year...some good and some bad. Below we will each rank our top five movies of 2011. If you would like to further discuss our choices or tell us yours, please comment!

The Wife:
1. The Muppets
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
3. Captain America
4. The Hangover Part II
5. X-Men: First Class

Hobo Dan:
1. The Muppets
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
3. Thor
4. Captain America
5. Sherlock Holmes

We wish you all a very happy, healthy and safe new year! Be sure to look for our first Movie Monday post of 2012, set to publish Jan. 2. We will be sharing our thoughts on the recently released The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Hobo Dan: And finally, because I know you all have been waiting patiently, the most viewed Dump the blog post of 2011 was... Statesticles with a huge 466 hits!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Relay: Episode 12

Season 1 final! Cliffhanger alert! Remember you can find all of the episodes here! Please let me know in the comments what you think of this episode and the combined work.  Thanks so much for reading. Enjoy! Also, more is coming, but you'll have to wait...

Episode 12

Julia moved quickly through the market, keeping low to avoid recognition. The mud made it difficult to advance too fast. She rounded a corner and snatched a piece of fruit from a vendors table before ducking into a near by ally. Thunder cracked high above; a storm. Julia caught her breath before continuing slowly down the ally. It soon opened into a wider walk way filled with trash and refugees. Julia looked up through the giant towers of Echelon to see heavy, dark clouds ready to burst. She turned down another ally and arrived home; a storage container made of sheet metal. Rain began to beat down. Julia hated being wet, but at least the rain muted the constant smell of garbage a bit. She knocked lightly on the door. Lilana opened it and Julia entered. She removed her soaked shoes and sat by a burning candle. Then she unloaded her pockets. Fruit of all kinds appeared from them. Lilana looked it all over.

“Fresh?” She asked.

“Most of it, yes.” Julia removed her hood and flipped her hair. Lilana smiled while gathering a few items for dinner. Julia removed the rest of her wet cloths and toweled off. She dressed in a long, hand stitched robe and approached a basket in the corner.

“And how are you today?” Julia reached into the basket and picked up a new born child.

“Pissy.” Lilana said.

“I really wish Byron wouldn’t teach you those words.” Julia held the child close. “Have you decided on a name yet?”

“No,” Lilana chopped the fruit. “I like Daniel. Byron says people will call Danny? Says knows too many douches called Danny?” The processed fruit entered a pot.

“Lilana, soon you and I are going to have a long chat about Byron’s vocabulary. I won’t have my nephew growing up calling everyone douches.” They both laughed. “How are you feeling today?”

“Better,” Lilana idly stirred the pot of fruit. “Still very sore.” Julia stood as someone knocked at the door. She passed the child to Lilana and cracked open metal panel acting as he door. Byron pushed his way in. He sat a pack on the floor and kissed Lilana.

“Byron?” Julia said condescendingly as she inspected the contents of the pack. “Did you forget something?”

“No. I went to the medical bay. Dr. Riley hasn’t been seen in three weeks! They told me if we wanted anymore meds you and Lilana would have to come in person.” Byron took the baby from Lilana and rocked it in his arms.

“Both of us in person?” Julia tossed the pack aside. “Not a risk we can afford.”

“Sis, it’s been six months. Maybe it’s safe. He’s never made a move on me.”

“He wants both of us. Killing you would only push me further into hiding.” Julia paused. “This just feels like a trap.” She sat on her bedding and thought. What would Avery do here? Nothing came to mind.

The next morning, Julia left early. Her daily routine involved visiting three or four open air markets. They were all situated at the bases of the huge towers of Echelon. She tried to avoid the same market two days in a row as she went about her looting. The vendors never noticed the small amount of food she stole. It had rained all night long. The streets were a slick mess and very few shoppers were about. The small crowds made Julia more noticeable. She had a feeling today would be a lean one.

The first market yielded nothing. Julia moved quickly to the next one. A small horde of creatures milled about the shops there, so Julia moved closer. She walked by a vendor sitting cross legged on the ground. She walked by him again and noticed he wore dark glasses like those of a blind man. On her third pass she attempted to get his attention with a wave. He did not respond. Julia went around the market again, returning to this man’s shop after some fifteen minutes. His wares were strewn out on blankets in front of him. A tarp hung from some poles protecting it all from the rain. The man himself had long pointed ears and an odd protrusion from his chin. Other than that and his gaunt frame, he seemed quite human. Julia took a deep breath and reached for a small cucumber looking vegetable.

“Stop.” The man said. He did not move. Julia froze and thought of something to say for cover.

“How much?” Julia had no money. The man reached out and grabbed Julia’s arm. His cold skin took Julia’s breath.

“That is my lunch.” He let go of her arm. “You seek Mabry.”

“What? How do you know that?” Julia stepped back and scanned the area for Wasalt.

“You told me.” The old man smiled. “Please, sit with me under the tarp.” Julia cautiously sat by the old man.

“Have we met?”

“Just now. I am Jon.” Jon poured a hot liquid from a pot into a ceramic cup and handed it to Julia. “Mabry is hard to find, but not impossible.”

“You know him?”

“No.” Jon poured himself some of the hot drink. “I know because you told me so. Your touch.”

“How do I find him?”

“The natives know where he is. One visited me last week. When we shook hands he told me so. I think he regret it.” Jon sipped the drink. Julia drank as well. The warmth of the liquid rushed through her.

“What are the natives?” Julia felt much better after the drink.

“The native people of Echelon.” Jon said flatly.

“I thought they were all dead.”

“That’s what Eada would like you to believe.” Jon sat down his cup. “The natives are alive and walk among us. They continue to grow in numbers and plot to take back their world. Mabry works with them, I think. That is what the native man believed at least.”

“He told you this?”

“No, I felt it. I feel many things.” Jon took Julia’s hand again. This time it was warm. “Seek my good friend Naz-ark. He knows where to find natives. You can find him in tower 38, level 101.” Jon released her hand and seemed to stare into space. Julia stood and stepped back out into the rain.

“You love him.” Jon said.

“Who?” Julia gasped.

“You know.” Jon sat quietly and answered no more questions. Julia walked slowly through the rain. She passed shop after shop, but had no energy to steal food. As people crossed in front of her she scanned their faces for Wasalt. She hadn’t seen him since their medical bay escape. Dr. Riley’s information seemed to be true, Wasalt did not venture down to the slums. Julia began to think over what Jon just said about natives. Bullshit or truth? She had trouble believing an old man on the streets could know such things. Then again, he knew about Mabry. She lost focus and ran into the back of a large alien. It cussed her and went on with its day. As it moved away Julia’s eyes focused on a man across the market. Avery? In the blink of an eye he vanished. Julia ran to where she saw him standing. Nothing. She twirled around and around looking for him. She even went so far as to shout his name once. Gone, if he was ever there at all. Her imagination? She thought again about what Jon said.

Before going home empty handed Julia stopped by an information kiosk. She accessed the city map. Tower 38 was the same tower as the medical bay. Level 101 had to be very close to the level they arrived on. It was most certainly up in the relay districts. On floor 101 a single room was leased to a Naz-ark. That room contained a relay. Julia thought it was very odd that someone could lease a relay room.

Julia took cover from the rain under a crudely constructed metal shelter and weighed her options. Stay on Echelon indefinitely and hide from Wasalt or use the advice of the old man and seek out this Naz-ark. When she put it that way it seemed clear. Hiding from Wasalt would get her no closer to Mabry or Alexandria. The rain continued to beat on the metal shelter and Julia thought about Avery. As the incident slipped into the past, Julia became less sure she actually saw him. Why would she want to see him? Why would he want to seek her out? The rain let up. Julia began to trek home. As she did, she confirmed in her mind that they had to take this chance to find Mabry. She decided they would drop Lilana and the baby off at the doctor for a check up. Then Byron and herself would find Naz-ark and question him about the natives and Mabry. Julia explained this to Byron and Lilana when she arrived home and they set out for tower 38 within the hour.

Lilana was just happy to get out and see the world. Since their arrival and her pregnancy she had mostly been confined to the small storage container they called home. She cradled her unnamed child as they walked among the shoppers and merchants toward tower 38. Her comprehension of things had improved since meeting Byron and Julia, but she still could not understand how people could build such tall structures like the towers of Echelon. Byron seemed happy that Julia agreed to take herself and Lilana to the doctor. Julia cautiously lead them into the tower lobby and onto the elevator. Her heart began to pound as other aliens flooded into it with them. This would be perfect conditions for an ambush. They arrived on the medical floor and found their way to the doctor’s office without incident. Julia kept her eyes on the crowd just outside the medical bay doors as Byron spoke with a purple doctor.

“Sis?” Byron gently took Julia’s arm. “You first. I’ll keep a look out. When you’re done they will check Lilana and the baby. We can go to Naz-ark’s then.” Julia shook her head and entered the curtained area with the purple doctor. The exam was quick and to Julia’s surprise the doctor did not even have to touch her. It was all done with gadgets and scanners. He gave her a clean bill and sent her out. Lilana and Byron kissed and then Byron kissed the baby before Lilana vanished behind the curtain. Byron and Julia turned and made for level 101. A hooded figure watched them leave, but instead of following, it entered the medical bay and made for Lilana’s curtain.

Julia and Byron made their way back to the elevator and traveled up a few more floors to get to level 101. They were high enough now that the building’s windows became more open. Byron hated being this high up and hated even more being able to fully view it. Julia quickly checked the registry and found the name Naz-ark attached to unit 42. Byron watched for blue colored people while Julia counted door numbers. Traffic was light, but they traveled against it, which made for the occasional awkward moment with any number of strange creatures. After walking further than either of them were comfortable with, they reached door number 42. They stood in silence for a moment.

“Do we knock?” Byron asked.

“I don’t know, is there a doorbell?” Julia stepped towards the door and it whooshed open. She jumped back, startled. Inside was a small room very similar to the one they landed in when they arrived. At the back of the room hovered a relay ring. Julia and Byron entered.

“Hello?” Julia said, not that there was anywhere for someone to be hiding in the small square room.

“Hello.” This voice came from behind them. They both whirled around to see Wasalt standing behind them. He held a small pistol in hand. “I’d grown inpatient. Mabry wasn’t sure you’d make it here,” Wasalt smiled. “I’m glad you did. He pays very well for completed tasks.”

“Listen buddy,” Bryon stepped forward. Wasalt raised the pistol and shot Byron. The bullet put a small hole just above his right eye. Julia screamed but before she could go to her brother’s side, Wasalt pointed the gun at her. She stopped and watched as Byron stumbled forward and then backwards. Then he fell back so far his arms reached through the relay ring at the back of the room. A quick flash of light later and Byron’s body was gone. Julia, shocked, began to cry. A crowd formed outside the room, no one stepped forward to help.

“Just do it!” Julia screamed at Wasalt. He aimed, but just before he could apply the proper amount of pressure to the trigger, a hooded man came rushing through the crowd. He yelled Julia’s name just before tackling Wasalt. The two wrestled on the floor as Julia stood in shock. Wasalt punched the hood off the man, revealing Avery’s bloodied face. Avery took a swipe at the gun in Wasalt’s hand, but missed. Wasalt kicked Avery down and took aim at Julia again.

“Julia! Go!” Avery screamed as he took out Wasalt’s knee. “Through the relay! I’ll find you! Go!” Wasalt pulled the trigger as he fell and white hot pain shot through Julia’s arm. He was off the mark. She turned and leapt for the relay. As she passed through the ring she tried to concentrate on her clothes as the white light surrounded her and took her away.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Top Ten Christmas Movies

The Wife: Well here we are once again...It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year! Merry Christmas everyone! Sorry for our lack of Monday posts and movie reviews, it has been quite a busy fall for us! To make up for that we have an early holiday gift for you, our Top Ten Christmas Movies! These are the films we like to watch over and over and over and OVER again every holiday season!

Please note that all of these movies are so close, and with the exception of numbers one through three, it was very hard to rank them! So let's get started, shall we?

10. Die Hard — YES THIS DOES SO COUNT! Die Hard is a movie set at Christmas that brings the awesomeness of Bruce Willis and Carl Winslow...as a COP, of course! This film also has a young Snape in it. Basically Bruce Willis saves Christmas just like Rocky defeated communism. Win!

9. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (cartoon) — You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch! This flick doesn't need an explanation. I have watched this every Christmas since I was a tot!

8. The Santa Clause 2 — Not as good as the original, but still cute and funny. It just "feels" like Christmas in this movie and Tim Allen once again shines as Santa. This film paints a perfect picture of how I always dreamed the North Pole would look like as kid.

7. Jingle All the Way — I seriously LOVE this movie. I don't get the hate it tends to receive. I think Sinbad is hilarious in it and I love how it realistically portrays the crazy greed that the holiday season brings. Not to mention this movie is so unintentionally funny, and that makes it even more awesome! You would think that they would have given Arnold's kid in the movie a name that he could pronounce. Instead they named the kid Jamie, which sounds like "Chamie" in Arnold speak. "Chamie, get ya muddah on da phone please!" I would say that the little boy who plays Jamie is the only annoying aspect of this movie. George Lucas, did you not bother to watch this movie before casting this kid as a young Anakin Skywalker?

6. The Santa Clause — I wish I could put this movie higher on the list because I love it so much, but alas, I can't have a tie. As I mentioned earlier, Tim Allen is awesome in The Santa Clause movies. I credit this film for making me spell "Santa Claus" wrong for SEVERAL years. It also taught me that hot cocoa tastes best when "shaken, not stirred." The Santa Clause is simply wonderful. It's kid friendly, but has jokes that adults can enjoy too. As a child I was fiercely defensive when it came to the question of Santa's existence, so much so that I would argue with kids at school about it. I WANTED to believe and wasn't ready to let the magic of Christmas go. That's why I love this movie; it shows you that you can "believe" in Santa at any age. "Seeing isn't believing, believing is seeing."

5. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York — I absolutely LOVE this movie! When I was younger I preferred this over the original, however, due to nostalgia and my "older" taste, the first Home Alone is now my favorite. However, this movie is almost just as good. I credit Home Alone 2 for beginning my obsession with New York City. I still have yet to experience NYC at Christmas time, but it is on my list of things to do. Sure, people gripe that it's a carbon copy of the original movie mixed with more harmful traps, but I say why ruin a good thing? Home Alone 2 delivers just as many laughs and of course, gives you that warm and fuzzy Christmas feeling.

4. Elf — How can you not LOVE this movie? I could watch Elf year round! I love Will Ferrell and I love Christmas, so this is the perfect combination! Along with my sister-in-law, I can pretty much quote this movie word for word. Elf is a hilarious, fun Christmas movie. In fact, it has become our traditional movie of choice when we celebrate Christmas with the husband's dad and stepmom. "The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!"

3. Home Alone — Another favorite and probably one of my most constantly watched movies during the Christmas season. I LOVE Home Alone! This movie never gets old and I still laugh now just as much as I did when I first watched this at age five. I come from a rather large extended family, so it always reminds me of that. It also feels "Christmasy," so that's another reason why it's so good. When I watch Home Alone I find it necessary to have "a lovely cheese pizza just for me." I also always question if Kevin ever ate that awesome looking macaroni and cheese after his defeat of the wet bandits. Watching in 2011, I love noticing how dated this movie is and I love knowing that it couldn't be duplicated in the technology-savvy world we live in now. Home Alone simply makes me happy and it's not Christmas until I've watched this over and over, yes, and OVER again!

2. A Christmas Story — Many of you might be shocked that this isn't number one, but believe me it comes in at a very CLOSE SECOND to the number one Christmas movie. Again, I LOVE THIS MOVIE! A Christmas Story is just one of those classics that never gets old. It has so many great scenes and it's not Christmas until I watch this. While I own this movie, I still make sure I tune my television to 24 Hours of A Christmas Story starting on Christmas Eve evening. The dad is probably my favorite character. "Fra-gi-layyyy, must be Italian!" So many other great quotes come from this film as well. I love little brother Randy, especially when he is dressed in his snowsuit and "can't put his arms down!" Ralphie and his quest to get his perfect Christmas present, a Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air riffle, is classic! It reminds us of when we were little and desperately wanted our perfect Christmas present. The Christmas dinner at the Chinese restaurant is, of course, one of the best scenes. So politically incorrect, but hey, that makes it all the more funny. "Ra Ra Ra Ra!" I want a leg lamp...it's a major award!

1. Christmas Vacation — If you know me or my family at all this shouldn't come as a surprise! Christmas Vacation is my absolute favorite Christmas movie of all time! It's hilarious and every year it just gets better and better! I always feel like I notice something new and funny with each viewing. Much like the jelly of the month club, my family quotes this movie all year because it is the gift that keeps on giving the whole year! Our quote fest really heats up on Thanksgiving! Clark Griswold's quest to have the perfect fun-old-fashioned-family-Christmas and all the obstacles it takes to achieve this equals awesome comedy. Cousin Eddie is at his best in this movie as well! To keep the blog clean, I won't do Eddie's famous quote from Christmas Vacation, but I am sure all you Christmas Vacation fans know it by heart! Clark's angry rants are another great aspect of this film. I should also mention that I love Rusty's facial expressions throughout this entire movie (by the way Big Bang Theory fans, Rusty is a young Leonard!). Aunt Bethany and Uncle Lewis are great too as are all the grandparents! Christmas Vacation gives me that holiday feel with laughter and, like many other movies on this list, it wouldn't be the holiday season without watching it several times. "And WHY is the carpet all wet, Todd?!" "I DON'T KNOW, MARGO!"

Before this post is wrapped like a perfect Christmas present, here are some honorable mentions: The Polar Express, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Muppet Christmas Carol, It's A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Holiday in Handcuffs (yes, I know this is an ABC Family Original...but it's really cute), The Preacher's Wife and Merry Christmas Charlie Brown.

There are several other Christmas movies that I love, but it could take forever to mention them! Let us know your favorite Christmas movies! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Relay: Episode 11

Episode 11
 
Julia landed softly on a glossy white floor. It was so clean she could see her refection in it. She was not pleased with the sight. She was pleased to be fully dressed. Byron landed beside her and caught Lilana before she landed belly first beside him. They were in a relatively small room with one dark entry arch. A strange glow illuminated the room; none of them could locate an obvious source. Julia fought off the urge to vomit and stood. Byron helped Lilana to her feet. They all looked at the arch way as a light began to materialize before it. Soon they realized it was the form of a person. Byron wanted to comment on how Star Trek it all was, but didn’t. The image formed into a generic woman. It did not necessarily resemble a human or any other race, but seemed female.
 
“Welcome to Echelon.” It spoke in a soft monotone voice. “Is this your first visit to our world?”
 
“Yes, it is.” Julia said in wonder.
 
“Excellent! My name is Eada and I will be your guide for the next few hours.” Eada turned and the dark arch blinked open. At first the light blinded them. As they adjusted a massive city stretched out before them. Towers of the city reached high enough to touch the dark blue clouds. They themselves seemed to be on a very high level of a tall sky scraper. Small vehicles zipped and zoomed in between the towers like lightning. Directly beyond the arch, beings of all kinds came and went along walk ways wrapped around the tower. Some were following holograms like Eada. Others were alone and seemed eager to get places.
 
“Echelon is considered the core relay world. It is estimated one in every forty relay jumps leads you to Echelon. Echelon also contains the highest concentration of relay entrances and exits of any yet discovered world. Echelon is home to the Trans-Relay Trade Union and the main recruiting center for Vanguard. Any questions so far?”
 
“I have one.” Byron studied Eada. “This exit relay is way up in this tall building. What happened before the tower was built?”
 
“A common question. Prior to the establishment of the collection towers, a great many visitors to Echelon perished as a result of the long drop to the planet’s floor. The now extinct native population of Echelon built the first pillars reaching up to the relays. Several memorials have been erected to remember those who died from such bad luck.”
 
“Bad luck…” Byron said. “How high are we?”
 
“Judging by your language, dialect and tone I estimate you originate from Relay 11281984. Locally known as Earth?” Eada stood plainly without inflection. Byron shook his head yes. “Using your system of measurements, that puts us 8708 feet or 2654.21 meters above surface.”
 
“That’s over a mile…” Byron took Lilana’s hand. “I hate heights.”
 
“I have taken the opportunity to scan your vitals.” Eada began again. “You are all malnourished and the young lady is carrying a fetus. Might I suggest your first stop be the medical bay?”
 
“That sounds like a good idea Eada, thank you.” Julia put on a fake smile.
 
“Excellent, follow me.” They all followed Eada as she floated out of the small room and began down the walk way. Byron was very carful to stay close to the wall, staying far away from the edge of the building even though there was a guard rail. The horizon was filled with other towers. Many of them flashed time and time again as more travelers arrived on Echelon. Byron thought they looked like bulb flashes at the super bowl half-time show. Lilana grew a smile at the wonders beheld. Never in her wildest dreams could she have imagined such a place. Julia followed behind, seemingly oblivious to everything around. Her mind remained elsewhere. Eada lead them to an elevator and they all packed in with a variety of other strange creatures. The door to the elevator almost shut when a blue hand thrust its way through to stop closure. The rest of the blue figure pulled the door back open and stuffed into the chamber. The figure flashed a toothy grin at Julia from under his hood. Then doors shut and the elevator began to descend.
 
Seconds past and the doors reopened. Julia never felt movement. Eada moved off the elevator and they followed. Julia noticed the blue man also exited on this floor. He quickly disappeared into a crowd. This level of the tower was much more closed off from the outside. Only a few windows reminded them they were still hundreds of feet in the sky. The halls of this space were wide and filled with beings from every corner of the relays. Eada lead them through all of this and down a long hall. They eventually reached glass double doors which whooshed open to reveal the medical bay. The area was full of curtains. Eada took them all to their own curtained off area before disappearing without notice. Moments later a tall yellow skin creature fumbled through the curtains opening. It had a small beak for a nose wore a white lab coat.
 
“Afternoon,” it said in perfect English. “I’m Doctor Riley and Eada tells me you have just arrived. I’ve looked over the scans she did. I bet you’re all really hungry?”
 
“Very, now that you mention it.” Julia realized just how little they’d all eaten other the three week boat journey.
 
“Understandable.” Doctor Riley sat on a stool. “I would like to examine her.” He pointed at Lilana. “Jumping can be tough on the unborn.”
 
“What are you going to do?” Lilana said. Julia and Byron stood dumbfounded. How could she have learned their language so quickly?
 
“Just a routine check up. I gather you didn’t get many of those on your world?”
 
“No, not really.” Lilana stopped. “How do you understand me?”
 
“Ha! Eada forgot to mention the translator!” Doctor Riley laughed. “That explains the white faces of your friends here then. These curtained off areas offer a small translation zone. It’s all very complicated but it basically manipulates sound waves.”
 
“It only works in here?” Lilana seemed depressed.
 
“You can buy portable versions, but they are rather expensive.” Riley took out a handheld scanning device. “Would you two step out for a moment while I look her and the baby over?” He looked at Julia and Byron. Julia stepped out of the curtain. Byron went to follow but Lilana clutched his hand before he could.
 
“He can stay; I’d like to talk to him a bit before we have to leave the translator.” Lilana smiled at Byron. Outside Julia stood watching all the other curtains. Figures moved around behind them. She began to think about Wesley and Avery. The whole turn of events happened so fast. It almost seemed like a dream. This seemed like a dream. She hugged herself as she realized how cold the air was. Julia turned and looked out the door of the medical bay and spotted the blue man. They made eye contact quickly before he ducked away around the corner. She knew he’d been watching her. Julia walked across isle to an empty curtain and hide inside. She pulled it open just slightly so she could see the entrance of the medical bay. After a few moments the blue man returned. He moved slowly by the door and looked in. Not seeing Julia anywhere he passed inside and took a seat in the waiting area. Julia stood back from the curtain and breathed heavily. Adrenaline began to pump through her veins as she realized this man was after them. She needed to get back to Byron and Lilana without being seen.
 
Julia looked out the curtain again. The blue man was looking at a magazine. She stepped out the back of the curtain and dropped to the floor. She crawled across the floor to the other side and stood behind the curtain. She checked to see the man, who was still looking at the magazine and then ducked back into the curtain. She found Byron and Lilana passionately kissing. Doctor Riley sat on his stool. He looked at Julia and rolled his eyes. Julia cleared her throat.
 
“All done here?” Julia glared at Byron. He jerked up and looking embarrassed.
 
“Everything looks good with Lilana and the baby.” Byron said. Lilana just smiled an held Byron’s hand.
 
“Good. Doctor Riley, is there a back entrance to this place?” Julia feigned calm.
 
“There is, but it’s employees only. Is something wrong?” Riley stood.
 
“We are being followed. A blue man in the waiting room.” Riley walked out of the curtain and looked into the waiting room. He checked a chart at another curtain and walked back to them.
 
“That is Wasalt! Are you sure he is following you?” Riley seemed very concerned.
 
“I’m sure of it.”
 
“Eada?” The doctor spoke into thin air. “Eada?” He growled. “As I feared, Wasalt must have hacked Eada to find you. It seems you are right.”
 
“Who is he?” Byron said as he snuck a look at Wasalt.
 
“Wasalt is an assassin. A hired gun. If he is after you there is only one reason for it.” Riley took a handheld device out of his pocket. He furiously typed on its screen until he was satisfied. Then made an upward pulling motion with his fingers and a map was projected from the screen into 3D space. “We are here.” He pointed. “This is the back door and the nearest elevator is here. Your best bet is to head for the slums on the city floor. It’s easy to hide down there and a lot of people know and dislike Wasalt. Another option is to head up and grab a relay off world. I’ll go cause a distraction while you get away.” Riley produced a vial of dark green liquid from an over head cabinet and drank it down. His face cringed at the taste.
 
“You’re too kind.” Julia kissed Doctor Riley on the cheek.
 
“I wish I could do more.” Doctor Riley left the curtain and marched to the waiting room. Julia watched as he approached Wasalt and began to speak with him. Wasalt seemed to be telling to Doctor he was just waiting for someone and did not need any assistance. Then without warning Doctor Riley keeled over and began to violently vomit in Wasalt’s lap. The green liquid had done its job. Wasalt jumped from the chair and began to rage at Doctor Riley. He wiped the regurgitation off and looked back through the infirmary. The curtain Julia, Byron and Lilana had been in was drawn back and empty.