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Derringer had known many a season at the Oriya River Aerial Parkway, which is why he was given a ranger position for season closing without any real fuss.  People had their own way of doing things in the Pioneerlands.  In days of Derringer’s rambunctious youth, he won fleeting local fame for his between-stream tricks.  Nothing like what the big stars today were doing, but enough to make people cheer.

There was a handful of people left working here that still knew him.  They’d all taken higher up jobs except for Silas, who was still a season ranger.  They mainly kept people out of danger zones and cleaned up, attending to the rare emergency.  The gravitational engagement of these wondrous natural streams was nearly impossible to escape, regardless of trying.

When people looked up at the span-high, ten-long stretch of suspended branching waterways snaking through the air like crystal ropes studded with gemlike rocks – their faces turned silly.  Derringer wore that face now as he watched people readying to bust onto the river together, in season closing style.

There was boarder Elgin Conully and his co-athlete wife Kalana Olpan, with their camera crew.  There was no trophy competition on the aerial rivers, but it attracted champions from many sports.  Derringer thought he spied his old boss four levels removed: Ravl Pliskin, Plexus founder and inventor, in a kneel-down ovoid.

Among the spectators he saw fashion models, travelers, and the Aristyd locals for whom this was the beginning of the season for silvers.  In another month the waters would be chock full of the leather-shelled aquatics.  The feasting on silvers would be followed by runs of the soft-skinned goldens and the plated coppers, prized shellskins for fabrication.  Derringer continued to observe the people gathered.

He was near enough to discern faces at the starting line, but far enough out that his position wasn’t pressed.  There were about thirty people in his shouting radius.  Nearest him, a dark smallish man with a stretchy face displayed silly-look fascination.  He met Derringer’s eye and opened his arms, clearly loving the event.  Derringer tapped his ranger badge and tipped his hat in case he wanted to ask any questions.

After a beat, the man walked over.  “This isn’t your first Oriya closing, is it,” he supposed out loud.

“No sir, I’ve seen a few.”  Derringer let his silly-wild face show.

“Oh I’m not sir – I’m Gretz.”  They shook hands warmly.  “And this is my first closing, even though I have family on Aristyd.  It’s the natural wonder everyone always asks about.”  He pointed with his lips to one of the many eager starters.  “My cousin is running it this year.”  The two men were conversing right over the starting line pump-up speech.

“Welcome then,” said Derringer.  “It’s a thrill no matter where you’re standing.  I’m just here to make sure that’s not in the wrong spot.”

“Do you get plenty of your own time up there in the flow?”

“Not afterward, but I’ve gone up plenty during this past week-plus.”  Derringer tilted his face to include the highest rivers in his gaze.

“What do people do afterward?” asked the guest named Gretz.

“Besides clean up?”  Derringer shrugged.  “There’s a ping-pong table in the 3rd Span Lounge.”

“Ping-pong… really?”

Derringer saw that he’d awakened an itch.  He decided that he liked Gretz.  “If you’re up for an epic match, you can find me there in the wee hours.”

“I’m a wee hours kinda fella.  Be warned, I may take you up on that.”  Gretz unleashed an impish look.

“Warning heeded.”  The musical cue preceded the starting blast.  Derringer spread his arms out as a standing area reminder.  He half-closed his eyes as the distinctive and familiar twelve-string klaxon sounded, and cheers arose.

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