Looking for writing-related posts? Check out my new writing blog, www.larrykollar.com!

Monday, October 16, 2017 No comments

Tines 1.11.1

… is out. This is a quick bug-fix release, the PageUp and PageDown keys should now work properly (on Macs, use Fn-up-arrow and Fn-down-arrow). I’ve also merged the dev branch into the master branch on GitHub.

To make things more convenient, I registered tines-outliner.org and set it up as a shortcut to the repository.

If you aren’t familiar with Tines, it’s a console-mode outliner. It runs in MacOS X, Linux, and the Microsoft thing (using Cygwin). It’s unique in that it supports a “text” tag for entries, and so can differentiate between headings and body text. It can export to Markdown, HTML, *roff, and plain text formats. You can export your outline to Markdown and pull it into Scrivener. See Getting Your Outline into Scrivener (pt 2) for details.

Tines, and a few other outliners, has support for to-do lists (basically a collection of entries with checkboxes). That means you can use it to keep outlines, goals, snippets of scenes, and notes about your stories in a single place.

Compile?

Yes, the word “compile” is composed of the Latin com (together) and the English pile (a random heap, or hemorrhoid). So, yes,  compile means either to throw things together, or a multifaceted pain in the @$$. Still, if you need an outliner, it’s available!

I want to get back to working on an install package, at least for MacOS X. I’ll probably have to leave packages for the other operating systems to their own experts (not that I’m anything like an expert in MacOS X packaging, mind you).

Tuesday, September 26, 2017 3 comments

Happy #1, Zoey!

I haven’t blogged much about Grandkid #2, mainly because I haven’t seen much of her, mainly because The Boy lives about 120 miles from FAR Manor. (Smart move, that.) But she had her first birthday party over the weekend, with a “Wild One” theme. Zoey isn’t terribly wild—she’s not quite walking yet—but her parents…

Anyway, I expected Charlie to get a good nap on the 2-hour drive down… nope! He was fascinated with the 18-wheelers and transfer trucks on the freeway. When we got all the way past one truck, he would crane his neck to look out the windshield for the next one. We got to the pavilion, and he was ready to party!

A good time was had by all. Especially the birthday girl. There was cake. With icing, of course:

Now why did someone give me this spoon? Who needs a spoon?

Charlie thought the party was fun, too. He even tried to steal the show by turning loose and trying to walk away once—for the second time that weekend. As with the first time, he got two steps, keeled over, and I caught him. He wasn’t too sure about me holding Zoey; but while the wife had him, I carried her over to say hi to Charlie. He grinned at her, she stuck her tongue out, and Charlie cut loose with the Joyous Ear-Splitting Screech™. Zoey suddenly decided she’d had enough, and started wailing for someone she knew to come get meeeeee!.

One of the cool things they did was to put out a stationary pad for everyone to write Zoey a letter. She’s supposed to get them all and read through them when she’s 18. That involves a lot of confidence that someone will be able to hold on to that correspondence for 17 years, but it’s still a cool idea.

After the party, we hit Golden Corral and hung out for a while before heading back. Once again, Charlie kept a lookout for trucks… at least until it got dark. But he refused to give in until we got about 10 miles from home. Then, he crashed. It didn’t take much longer for me to do the same.

Friday, September 22, 2017 4 comments

Boys, Books, Birthdays, and B…

Get the shot, Granddad, I’m about to pull it off!
Somewhere along the line, I’ve become Charlie’s favorite. It might be because, most days, I’m the first person he sees in the morning and the last at night. I also spend a fair amount of time with him through the evenings, usually either reading to him or helping him walk through the house. He likes to go from one end of the house (door to the garage off the kitchen) to the other (shower door in the master bath), then back. Several times. It’s beneficial in several ways: he enjoys it, it helps to wear him out and get him ready for bed, and his (supported) walking has improved greatly over the last couple of weeks. No more drunken stagger, although he does do the pigeon-toe thing.

Most mornings when I drive to the office, I drop him off at daycare. He likes riding in the Miata because there’s always someone next to him. He also likes for me to lay my right hand over on his car seat, so he can touch it. I also keep a little toy car for him to play with. When the sun shines in on his side, he starts squinting, so I grab my hat (much like the one in the pic) and put it on him. He gives me a big grin and pulls it off… I guess he’d rather squint than have something on his head. But that’s what gave me the idea for the picture, and the knowledge I’d have to be quick on the shutter.

Charlie’s favorite book
Oh, and Charlie has re-discovered his joyous ear-splitting screech. He doesn’t reserve it for Mason, either. If he’s enjoying whatever he’s doing or seeing—the dogs tug-of-warring over a chew toy, walking around, Mason doing something silly—he cuts loose. (I’ve often joked about looking forward to going deaf as I get older, even if I wear ear plugs when I mow the lawn, but I’ll likely get a chance.)

I’m sure the hat is a coincidence, but this is his favorite book. When I’m reading this one to him, he doesn’t try to flip to the end to read the blurb or whatever. Personally, I think it’s because he loves the water so much, he’s always ready for a story about a little boy getting to play in/near the water. It’s a blast to watch him in his float, screeching with joy and splashing water everywhere. I want to get him and Mason up to the resort to play in the pool before it gets too cold.

Speaking of Mason, I kind of get the impression he’s been feeling left out lately. I’m constantly taking care of Charlie most evenings and weekends, and the wife is constantly taking care of her dad, so where does that leave him? I take him to soccer practice twice a week, wife takes him to school and occasionally has a dinner date with him. But of late, he’s been hostile, demanding, and often doesn’t want much to do with Charlie. It didn’t help that I couldn’t get out much from May into the first part of August (the resort trip in July taxed my knee and relaxed most everything else). Now that I can do most of what I could do before the knee started acting up, I’m working on changing that. That’s one reason I want to get them both up to the resort.

It will also help (and cause trouble) once Charlie starts walking on his own. The physical therapist that will soon start working with him thinks once he’s fitted with leg braces, he’ll be walking in less than two weeks. On the other hand, the daycare people told me he took one step today, then got really wobbly and sat down. I figure once Charlie starts walking, he’ll be beelining for Mason’s room (his personal concept of Heaven)… the only thing that will slow him down is deciding whether to get into Mason’s Legos, cars, plastic army men, or the rest of it. Angsty teenagers got nothin’ on Mason when someone starts messing with his stuff. Mason turned 8 earlier this month—I told him now he could learn how to change Charlie’s diapers, because I was 8 when I learned how. I think only the father-in-law could have given a better “deer in the headlights” look when I said that.

Will he have the patience?
We got Mason his own book from the book fair. It’s a pretty good how-to on creating stop-motion animations (making a movie one frame at a time), and Legos are a great way to get started with that. Mason, however, is definitely a child of the wife’s side of the family—no patience, and will argue with a fencepost. First, he expected me to read the entire book to him, when he’s quite capable of reading it himself. (THIRTY-EIGHT PAGES? *rage quits*)

Once he settled down, he went through the book, and learned how to storyboard a movie. He sketched out an idea for a simple “cops and robbers” story, and did a pretty good job of it. But (lack of patience again), he tore one of the backdrops included in the book… the one he wanted to use, of course. I taped it up and it works okay. We’re experimenting with a hybrid of stop-action and motion video, and hope to make some good progress over the weekend. Maybe I’ll have a new Weekend Cinema post for y’all soon.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017 1 comment

RIP, Big V

It happened on eclipse day, but it took me a while to process. Then I keep putting off the post. Still in denial, I guess.

Big V in better times
Up until evening, Eclipse Day was one of the best days I’d had, recently. It had been a pretty good day, by all accounts, for Big V and her family as well—no quarrels, lots of smiles, all was going pretty good for a change. The only problem: she had recently had gone back to home dialysis, after not being able to do it for a while, and the drain cycle wasn’t working well.

So her hubs got out of the shower, and heard her call him. By the time he got to her, she was already on the floor and not breathing. He called 911, started CPR, and kept it up for a heroic 15 minutes until the ambulance got there. They kept working on her until they got her to the hospital… to no avail.

One of the doctors said, “in her condition, 98% of the time, it’s a heart attack.” So we all went with that. Between the diabetes (not controlled well), leukemia, and kidney failure, this was going to happen sooner or later. I expected much later, after a prolonged decline, but maybe it was better for her to go out on a good note.

Since her widower works nights (truck driver), Skylar spends most school nights here and spends afternoons and weekends with his “papa.” Mason’s glad to have him around, even if they argue a lot. Charlie’s always up for another older kid who will play with him.

But I’ll hand it to Big V. She gave it all she could to stay with Skylar. In the end… maybe it was enough.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017 4 comments

Totally Eclipsed!

Since I was Mason’s age, I’ve always wanted to see a total eclipse in person. So when I learned that it was going to pass only an hour’s drive from FAR Manor, I was stoked. Then August came in with rain, and more rain… I’ve always considered August an unlucky month.

But then the usual August dryness started moving in. Some things are stronger than bad luck, after all. I checked the maps, and found that US23, the GA/NC border, and the center of the eclipse path all intersected. There's a rest stop a few miles into NC, so I thought maybe I had my plans set.

“They said on the radio that traffic is going to be horrendous,” said the wife. I don’t listen to commercial radio much these days, but the wife does and passes on stuff that really matters. It made sense: a lot of metro Atlanta could make the same daytrip I was thinking about.

But Wednesday, I woke up with the solution. The resort we have a membership at was in the path of totality, it’s an hour from the manor, and there are lots of sunny areas. Woohoo, we’re on! I put in for Monday off, warned Mason’s teacher that I’d be getting him out early, and started making a list of stuff we’d need.

Crude but effective
First thing, I decided to make a pinhole viewer. I did something similar for the annular eclipse in the previous millennium, but got a little fancier since I had time and materials.

I taped a piece of paper in the bottom, cut a square hole in the top, then sacrificed a broken plastic plant pot for the cause. A 1/16" hole in the plastic piece, taped over the hole, projects an image of the sun onto the paper (if you have it aligned properly).

With all that taken care of, all you need is a way to look inside. I cut a slot, hoping maybe I could get decent cellphone shots of the projection. That didn’t turn out so well, but it did the job otherwise.

After going through all that, I learned that the school was going to give all the kids direct-sun viewing glasses. Still, I figured, my efforts were not all in vain. Mason could use his glasses, and I could use my viewer.

With the partial eclipse phase sorted, I Googled for optimal exposure settings for a total eclipse. Google obligingly turned up a chart. The National Weather Service provided times for the eclipse, and I was set. All I needed was a little luck to get there.

Everyone turned out for this one
Luck, in the form of Siri plotting a route over some backroads, was with me that morning. I loaded up the camera, tripod, pinhole viewer, sunscreen, and swim gear (I figured we’d want to cool off in the pool afterwards), picked up Mason from school, and away we went. The backroad route worked better than I expected, and we arrived at the resort almost ten minutes sooner than I’d hoped.

The resort had decided to throw an eclipse party, with hot dogs, drinks, and even a DJ! He never did play “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” but I did LOL when he played “Bad Moon Rising.” I found a place to park in the corner, but there was plenty of space on the grass. One guy thought the pinhole viewer was a pretty neat idea, once he saw how it worked. (I learned to tilt it up until the shadow on the backside just goes away, and that gives you the angle.)

Mason looking cool in the heat
It was a hot day—August on Planet Georgia, duh—and the heat had Mason dashing into the clubhouse a few times to cool off. I got him a hotdog, and water for us both… and then the sun got a chip taken out of it. Over the next hour or so, we alternated looking through the pinhole viewer, taking brief direct peeks through the sun viewers, and I tried in vain to get a decent shot with the phone camera through both the pinhole viewer and using the sun viewers. It cooled off as the coverage increased. I looked for the weird shadows, like I saw during the annular eclipse, but never did catch them. The wife, who stayed closed to home (in the 98% coverage zone), did though.

Of course, I envied the several people who had brought telescopes to the party. None of them, though, matched the rig I saw during the annular eclipse: a sun-scope with motor drive and camera attachment, taking shots at set intervals.

As the crescent sun grew ever thinner, I turned up my own camera and pointed it sunward—then put the lens cap on, loose, until the main event began. I looked at my chart one last time, making sure turning the clickwheel left was what increased exposure times.

Total!
At last, things got really dim. I looked up, saw the corona ring, and got going with the camera. Click click click click I went, working down through the chart from Baily's Beads to the widest corona. Finally, I grabbed up my phone and got a shot of Mason with the eclipse in the background. Being a cellphone camera, it gave me a bright disc instead of a ring, but it was still an interesting shot. The sky looked really weird.

The last two shots, 1sec and 4sec, suffered from camera shake. Had I used the self-timer, I probably could have avoided that, but I might not have had time to get the shots anyway. Had I been closer to the centerline, I would have risked it.

Then things brightened up really fast, and we retreated to the pool. I was already thinking about the 2024 eclipse—Charlie will be 8 by then, and maybe he’d like to see one. It might be too early to book hotels and the like, but not too early to save up for the trip…

Thursday, August 03, 2017 1 comment

Hitting My Stride, and Other Stuff

Sunday morning, I went to get something from the kitchen, when I realized I was walking my like old, pre-knee-issues self—long, brisk strides that covered ground with only the tiniest twinge of discomfort from the Whiny Quadriceps. Hey! I thought, I’m back! That, more than anything, convinced me I’m close to fully recovered. After a week of my feet giving me grief, one or both at a time (while Charlie is cutting molars and wants to be held more than usual, which is a lot), it felt really good to walk instead of limp or shuffle.

I guess cutting those molars is really rough on a baby. Charlie is trying to be his normal happy self, but he’ll start crying at anything or nothing at all. But here’s a pic from a couple weeks ago, when Mason also felt like cutting up:

Just me and the boys… Charlie's trying to grab the phone, of course.

With school starting today(!!), we swapped our Labor Day timeshare week for one in July, and so we escaped FAR Manor last week. We spent a lot of time at the pool, and Charlie loves the water. We have a float he can sit in, with his legs in the water, and he can reach out and splash with his hands. Definitely his happy place. But mid-week was when he started cutting molars, and started getting rundown and moody later in the last few days.

Meanwhile, Mason wanted to try this zipline place near the resort, and Skylar stayed with us for the first half of the week, so we took them over there. The big ziplines were beyond their ability, but they had smaller "adventure" runs over a rope bridge, a rolling platform… and finally, a short zipline:

video


So that’s pretty much the end of summer at FAR Manor, even if we have all of August to get through.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017 No comments

Fireworks, a Day Late

It was bound to happen sooner or later. June and July (so far) have featured thunderstorms pretty much every day. It finally happened Wednesday evening, between 4 and 6 pm, while nobody was home but the dogs. While we were out shopping, Daughter Dearest texted me a picture of the light switches in the foyer, next to the front door:

Blew the ends right off the plate!

She followed up with The DSL box got fried. Or it's not on at all. I had her check the computers and all was well there. Mine’s on a UPS, so is the TV and the DSL box. The phone line, though, doesn't have a surge protector. So… after thanking God the manor didn’t burn down1 and the computers were OK, the wife and I discussed what else we needed to check before calling the insurance company.

Insurance was pretty copacetic about the situation… probably because we have a $1000 deductible. They said my idea of having the wiring inspected was a good one, and said to just keep a list of our expenses. Besides the exploding switches, we checked things out and discovered:

  • Everything connected to a phone line, including the lines themselves, got clobbered (more on that shortly)
  • The TV signal amp was fried
  • We thought the Wii had lost video, but it turned out to be the VCR it was connected through
  • One of the garage door electric eyes is blinded, so we can’t close the garage

The funny thing was, the clock-radio in our bedroom was still keeping time—that means the power didn’t go down for even a fraction of a second. Considering the damage could have been a lot more extensive, I’d say we got off pretty light. Mason (and me, to a lesser extent) was jonesing for Internet access, so I turned on my phone’s personal hotspot and started making a dent in our rollover data.

Thursday morning, I grabbed tools (and an old landline phone I keep for testing) and went out to the network interface box (aka the NID). We had no dialtone inside, as I rather expected, and didn’t have dialtone at the test jack, either. BUT, we had dialtone at the second test jack. I promptly moved all the connections down, but that didn’t help. Armed with some data, I called Windstream (aka Windbeans) and gave them my findings. They promised to have someone out here before a week from Friday. Um… this is a business line, guys? We kind of need this connection to function? “It should be earlier than that.” I’m going to ask them for a 25% reduction on the bill for the month, since they can’t be bothered to get anyone out here for a freekin’ week. If they balk, I’ll see what the PSC has to say. I measured along the walls and came up with an estimate of 14 feet from the NID to my window… meaning a 20-foot phone cord would reach my desk.

We got through the weekend. I continually reminded Mason, no Youtube, no Netflix, and he complained but complied. Still, between us, we chewed through 1GB pretty much daily. I turned off automatic updates to prevent surprises. But I kept thinking about that second line that was giving dialtone…

Monday finally arrived. I took Charlie to daycare, then learned that Mal*Wart no longer carries anything having to do with landlines (you would think, with so much of their clientele coming from the edges of civilization, they would try to help out). Fortunately, Home Depot seems to understand, and I happily bought a 25-foot phone cord from them. This I ran from the NID’s test jack, into the window in front of my computer, and onto my desk. I plugged in the phone and got dialtone, yay! Then, just out of curiosity, I called my cellphone. I don’t recognize this number. I called it back, just to see if anyone out there would answer. My test phone rang, but nobody else answered. Something obviously melted in a pedestal upstream.

Still, desperate times call for desperate measures. I scrounged up the old DSL modem we used before Windbeans gave us one with built-in Wi-Fi, plugged it in, and it connected. Then I found the Linksys router Mom gave me a while ago, and hooked it up. With my computer next to the router, I used Ethernet cables. Let the tablet users share the Wi-Fi, right?

With a temporary DSL lashup in place by Monday afternoon, the electrician showed up Monday evening. Two of the switches had exploded. The third, amazingly, still worked, but he replaced them all. The insulation on one wire was melted, but barely enough to expose the wire, so he wrapped it up. Three new switches and a plate, I wiped up the soot, and he pronounced the wiring otherwise OK.

We still have a few things to fix to get back to completely normal here, but we’re good to go otherwise. I just want to be here to see the look on the phone tech’s face when (s)he realizes we have access to a phone line we shouldn’t. On the other hand, they really need to get people out here sooner, and take care of their plant a little better.


1I don’t want FAR Manor to burn down… just the mortgage.

Saturday, June 03, 2017 4 comments

Saturday Rugrat Roundup, plus a Knee Update

Charlie can’t quite reach him… for now.
School’s out, and that means Mason’s around a lot more. Charlie definitely approves of that, and wants to be in on the action as much as possible. But in the mornings, Mason just wants to have some quiet time watching YouTubes or playing Minecraft… and he goes through some rather odd contortions to keep Charlie from interfering.

I’m still mostly at home, although in the last week I’m now able to get in and out of the van without much discomfort. Wife has decided since I can get around with a cane instead of the walker, she can take off to her dad’s and leave me with the boys… pretty much as if I were 100%. Most of the time when I’m supposed to be working, I have the house to myself, but early mornings and late afternoons are problematic.


I was framed! Framed, I tell ya!
As for Charlie, he’s become a very good crawler. He will go from one end of the manor to the other, and find bits of debris and slobbered-on dog toys that mere mortals just can’t see. We bought a pair of 16-foot enclosures/baby fences to cordon off parts of the living room where he shouldn’t go, although they work very good as a baby pen. Naturally, Charlie doesn’t want to be on a clean rug and surrounded by his own toys—he wants to get into everything else! Still, after a couple minutes of complaining, he’ll often settle down and start playing. There’s more room than the old Pack&Play, and we could always add another panel or two from the second one if we decide he needs more room. Charlie’s therapist took to the new setup right away, and enticed him to walk the entire perimeter of his new cage, following her phone playing an episode of Sesame Street.

As for me, I continue to heal. The in-home therapist is satisfied with my range of motion, and this afternoon he discharged me to start outpatient therapy. I’m supposed to get a call on Monday with the schedule (and presumably anything I need to bring along).


I just happened to have one of my twice-yearly checkups on Tuesday, so I went on in. Wednesday, I get a call from the office—when it begins, “you don’t have to go to the ER, but,” it’s not a call to give you the warm fuzzies. Turns out my platelet counts were through the roof, past a million, and they were worried about me developing blood clots. Seeing as someone I know died of a blood clot in her 20s, my stress levels puffed up like a startled blowfish. Anyway, they prescribed me a powerful blood thinner, and scheduled me with a hematologist on Friday. I calmed myself by figuring if I didn’t have to see the specialist for two days, it couldn’t be that serious… although I did keep a mental list of symptoms.

Fortunately, none of the blood-clot-getting-loose symptoms manifested, and I got to the hematologist in good order. They ran another blood test, which showed my platelets were down to 630,000—still way high, but something like half what they were three days ago. My iron was low, though, perhaps for the first time in my life. She thus suggested I cut back my blood thinner dosage (“as fast as that count came down, I don’t want you getting too low”) and start taking an iron supplement, and come back next Friday to see what to do from there.

The low iron would explain why I’ve wanted to have a nap every early afternoon day this week, although my crappy sleep cycles (I haven’t had a normal night’s sleep since before the surgery) could have explained that as well. But I slept all the way to 6 this morning, so I’m hoping to be mostly normal (health-wise, forget the other kind of normal) in the next few days.

Time for my afternoon exercise routine. May you never have to have a knee replacement!

Friday, June 02, 2017 No comments

Hotwire (a new Skyscraper City story!) #FlashFicFriday

Pulse watched in the rear view mirror as the bus pulled up behind his blue truck. He had removed the Harr Electric signage, easy to do when it was all magnetic, and the traffic surveillance system was used to his coming and going downtown at all hours. Good electricians could stay as busy as they liked, and Pulse’s alter-ego Helmut Harr was one of the best.

Several passengers stepped off the bus, brushing by several others impatient to get on. One of the debarking passengers looked around, saw the blue pickup truck, and ambled that way.

Tap. “Got a cycle?”

“I have sixty,” Pulse replied. “Get in. Say nothing until we arrive.”

“Fine.” DeVine was not what one would call a sparkling conversationalist, anyway. He held a leather bag in his lap and watched out the window.

Pulse drove away in front of the bus, then took an indirect route to one of the many parking decks that studded Skyscraper City’s downtown business district. The lots were never empty, even on weeknights, but the upper levels allowed for some privacy.

“Sonic interference is active,” Pulse said at last. “What is it?”

DeVine said nothing, but opened his bag and took out a small netbook. “Here,” he said, tapping the password on the screen. “I left it up for you.”

Pulse looked at the open terminal window, displaying DeVine’s cracking attempt. “City Loan usually doesn’t... vas ist?” He scrolled to the bottom and paused.

Injection begun...
Injection aborted.
Hot Wire says: Don't do that again.
> inject
Injection begun...
TERMINATED

“Yeah. Looks like someone tapped my connection and inserted that,” said DeVine. “Then they cut me off on the second attempt.”

“Someone, or something,” Pulse replied. “Perhaps this ‘Hot Wire’ is a custom network surveillance program they have installed recently. I'll have to look into it.” He started the truck. “Do you want to go back to the bus stop, or shall I drop you a little closer to home?”

• • •

Pulse always kept his tools close at hand. After dropping off DeVine, he turned—not toward home, but back downtown. Something about that warning made him curious. Warmonger was fond of saying, curiosity killed the cat, but Pulse thought curiosity itself was not dangerous, at least if tempered with caution. Furthermore, sometimes one had to put aside caution to trick the enemy.

Thus, Pulse paused in an unlit parking lot, where a bodega had gone out of business some time back. He slapped a chromatic film over the hood and side panels of the truck—depending on the light, it might look yellow, green, or silver—and changed the license plate for a bogus Pennsylvania one. There were ways to trip up the traffic surveillance system, and Pulse had learned most of them. Passing on such things that Warmonger called “intel” indebted the other villains to him, and he would collect when the time came.

In disguise, he turned into the Chamberlain Two parking deck—adjacent to the City Loan offices. This was a calculated risk, but his calculation gave the potential benefits more weight. The corporate Wi-Fi carried out to the deck, and a ferret sent Pulse the passphrase on a regular schedule. He opened his laptop and connected to the network.

Roughly a fourth of the PCs in the office were compromised, and Pulse connected to one at random. DeVine had used the safer method of a cascade of anonymizing relays instead of a direct connection, but no matter. Pulse uploaded the SQL injector to the victim PC and started it.

Injection begun...
Injection terminated.
Hot Wire says, You need to quit while you're ahead.
>

Pulse swore at the prompt, then typed.

> you are not a bot, are you?
you: command not found
Hot Wire says: Go bot yourself.
TERMINATED

Pulse switched his connection to promiscuous mode, which displayed all traffic on the Wi-Fi. He did not have to wait long for the expected probe to hit his laptop. He turned off the radio, then drove away. Whoever this Hot Wire was, it was not a program. He was sure of that.

• • •

Natalie Strand tossed the last candy wrapper in the wastebasket as the IT morning shift arrived.

“Hey, Nat,” one of the guys said, dropping his bag on the desk. “Anything interesting?”

“Just a couple intrusions.” Her voice was flat, annoyed at the nerdy nickname the rest of the department gave her. “Nothing I couldn’t handle.” She was already taking up her purse and heading for the door.

“Yeah. Later.” Natalie did not hear the last. The morons who had let their computers get infested would be whining to the day shift soon enough. The boys could take care of delousing the PCs in between rounds of Minesweeper. This job was not paying her enough to deal with other people—and even with the supposed boost for working night shift, her pay was lower than any of the men on day shift. Having a look at the payroll systems took no effort and offered no risk, but told her nothing she had not expected.

She walked the four blocks to Republic Tower, where Sonny’s Sky-High Deli stayed busy on the ground floor. “Large coffee, real cream and double sugar,” she told the young woman behind the counter. “And a Mortal Sin.”

The counter woman gave Natalie a look she had seen many times: If I ate that, I'd put on twenty pounds. Sometimes, Natalie wished she could put on twenty pounds, just to see what the big deal was.

Taking her coffee and gigantic cinnamon roll, she consumed both with gusto. Work made her hungry. She knew to expect a carb rush for the next two hours, followed by the inevitable crash. But she could look for another job until then. There had to be something out there better than City Loanshark. The boys in the department called it that, and it was one of the few things they all agreed on.

Maybe she would find it, if she kept looking.



If you enjoyed this story (and more is coming), there’s lots more Skyscraper City action in my new novel, Blink! Stevie Winkler thought being able to teleport was cool… at first. As Blink, he’s not sure whether he wants to be a hero or a villain, but he finds that’s a blurry line. And Skyscraper City is home to other powers with other agendas. Blink has three goals: survive, keep Mom from finding out… and maybe get a girlfriend.

Get it at the major eBook stores now!

Amazon: US UK FR DE IT ES JP CA BR IN MX AU NL
Smashwords iBooks Nook Kobo

Saturday, May 27, 2017 No comments

Family Feud

While Daughter Dearest is now married, she still lives in the free-range insane asylum, in the same trailer she had rented with a roomie back before meeting Sizzle. This has been helpful; with me recovering from knee surgery (going well), wife has been taking Charlie with her… at least until today. I’m mostly being neglected in favor of the father in law, who sits on his butt and demands everyone take care of him, or the endless demands of a farm. At least I haven’t (again, until today) been expected to take care of a baby when I’m just barely out of the walker myself, and that’s supposed to be part-time.

But I digress. One evening this week, Daughter Dearest went down to visit the father in law (mine, aka her grandfather). Mr. Sunshine, who has been living there as well, came in.

“Get outta my chair,” he ordered DD. “I need to sit down.” Now Mr. Sunshine was actually pleasant to be around for about a month after recovering from his stroke, but after that he went back to his old center-of-the-universe self. Maybe even worse.

“You bought this chair?” she sneered, not budging an inch. “Do you have your name embroidered on it somewhere that I can’t see?”

Sunshine, who thinks he’s superior to everyone and especially women, decided to take more direct action—he tried pushing the chair over to tip her out. DD, who is neither tiny nor weak, dug her feet into the carpet and pushed back. At that point, he looked ready to try upping the ante.

“You touch me,” DD warned, “and you’ll have a fight on your hands.”

“You think you’d win? Or you gonna sic your husband on me?”

“Yeah, I’d win, but I’ll save him a little piece after I get through with you.”

DD inherited the axe-murderer glare from her mom, and I think he saw it. So, like any thwarted bully, Sunshine turned to Daddy. “Make her get up!” he barked.

“She was sitting there first,” he replied.

“Well I guess you’re a bitch like your momma,” Sunshine snarled and stormed out.

Now Sizzle has his dander up, of course, but DD can obviously take care of herself. I’m proud of her… and a little bit proud of myself for raising her right. As for Sunshine, he’s slowly getting it hammered into his head that he’s neither king, boss, nor particularly respected around here (or anywhere else). There has been some talk about getting an injunction to get him tossed out of the house he’s not paying any rent for, and as far as I’m concerned it can’t happen soon enough.

Stay tuned… more cRaZy FAR Manor action as it happens!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017 3 comments

Blink has launched!

Skyscraper City’s newest superhero(?) is ready to teleport into your eReaders!

You can get it from all the major eBook outlets right now.

Amazon: US UK FR DE IT ES JP CA BR IN MX AU NL
Smashwords iBooks Nook Kobo

Synopsis:

In Skyscraper City, kids often dream of getting a superpower when they grow up. Stevie Winkler never expected to "manifest" at age 13! Being able to teleport is cool, but keeping it a secret sucks. Professor Zero and some of Skyscraper City's most famous superheroes are training him, but Blink finds the line between hero and villain is often blurred… and Skyscraper City is home to other forces with their own agendas.

Blink has three goals as a teenage superhero: survive, keep Mom from finding out—and maybe get a girlfriend.

But the fun doesn’t stop there! Blink includes a collection of backstories and capers from other Skyscraper City heroes and villains. I have some longer stories in the works, both for Blink and other supers.

Here’s a quick excerpt:

As he penetrated deeper into the alley, he felt something behind him. He stole a backward glance, and saw two shadows detach themselves from the walls. This is just a drill, this is just a drill, he told himself, but his heartbeat quickened. If this was for real, there would be light at at the other end of the alley; he could pop down there, grab the entire fracking garbage can, and pop back to Professor Zero. But this is just a drill, so it would not be quite that easy.

Ahead of him, two more shadows rappelled down the walls while a third appeared to block his way. This one whirled a staff around himself. Blink almost laughed—this was a clich├ęd scene from a bad kung fu movie—but stayed in character. Professor Zero wanted to see how Blink faced off against five ninjas? Fine. He could probably “achieve his objective” (as Captain Heroic put it) without a fight. Pop past the three ahead of him, find the message, and pop back.

“Yah!” Blink and his opponents turned toward the shout. A sixth figure ran his way, from the same direction he had come. With a couple fancy handsprings, he(?) cleared the two guys behind him and came to a stop before Blink.

“A student is in need of help.” It was Ma Ling, the Masked Warrior who had trained him since last summer.

Blink gave her a quick, stiff bow, keeping an eye on the others. “I am always ready to hear, Master Ma.”

“You take those two,” she ordered, pointing to the two ninjas behind them. “I will see to the others.”

“Okay.” Blink faced off with his two opponents, wondering if this was a message from Professor Zero. You will not fight your battles alone. The black-clad figures took “ready” stances.

Blink knew he was still a beginner when it came to martial arts. If he were facing real ninjas (or Masked Warriors playing villain, in this case), he would get his butt kicked. Except for his superpower… glancing around the alley, he spotted a garbage can without a lid. Captain Heroic’s improv lessons took over, and he had a plan.

Pop. He grabbed the garbage can and turned it over, while his opponents whirled to find him. A few bags and chunks of styrofoam tumbled out, representing actual garbage.

Pop. Behind the nearest ninja. He brought the metal garbage can down over the head of his opponent with a clonk, and jumped to avoid the expected sweep kick. The extra weight of the garbage can unbalanced the ninja, and Blink pushed him into the wall, making him bounce back and fall. Blink banged on the garbage can until he heard a heavily-accented “I surrender.” Up the alley, he saw Ms. Ma had somehow taken the staff, and was holding the other two at bay. The former staff-wielder was down, but watching the battle.

But his second ninja was coming for him, fast.

So how did Stevie get a superpower at age 13, when 19 or 20 is the typical age? How did he get one at all? It’s all revealed in Blink, so get your copy now!

Saturday, May 20, 2017 2 comments

Kneecapped, 2017: Progress

Ah, to heal like Wolverine… because I never would have had to do this in the first place! But a week later, I’m making visible progress.

Stylish stripes!
Early in the week, I decided I needed to have some kind of morning routine besides sitting in the recliner and doing my therapy exercises. I’ve never been one to care about appearances much—except, ironically enough, I’m a little vain about my legs—but looking presentable is a definite mental boost. So each morning, I get dressed, shave, then sit at the desktop and do things that are more difficult to deal with on the mobile devices. I can actually get some useful stuff done that way, and that also gave my attitude a boost.

Keeping up with the three-a-day exercises is a chore, but I set alarms in my phone to remind me when to do them. The same therapist who worked with the wife, when she had her knee done, is now working with me. Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Those are painful… that deep, annoying pain that’s the equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard. Fortunately, that fades to an ache (still annoying) quickly enough. He gave me some additional exercises on top of the ones I brought home from the hospital.

Sunday, I decided to explore that “as tolerated” part of the repaired leg’s weight-bearing. I found it could tolerate a lot more than I had expected, leading me to wonder why I’m plonking around with a walker. I got my answer Monday: OMG was I stiff! That made therapy extra-OUCH-special. It didn’t help that the A/C wasn’t working (turned out to be a bunch of dead rats in the fan) for a few days.

The wife helped me get a shower Tuesday night. Soon after, the dressing peeled off (which was OK according to the doc) and we put a fresh one on. Despite my taking aspirin for pain relief as well as blood thinning, when that one came off, there wasn’t even a spot of blood on it. We’ve just let it get some air since then. Somewhere in there, the tight muscles began to loosen up. A little. Getting in and out of the recliner is easier and less painful. I’m putting less weight on the walker.

Friday, the staples came out, and my new stripey-knee style came in. I like it. The therapist is still clucking about getting my knee to straighten out completely, but was encouraging that I was able to straight-leg lift my heel a quarter-inch off the bed. Seeing that the quadriceps muscle wasn’t even working on Monday, that was a step forward. Getting in and out of the van wasn’t any less painful than a week earlier, when I got out of the hospital, but I’m no longer on hospital-grade painkillers.

So I got on the bed to do my exercises this morning, and I managed to lift that leg all the way off the bed! Now that’s what I call progress. I’ve also been able to shuffle behind the walker without putting weight on it, but (given the previous experiment) I’m not doing that one so much.

Looks like I might be good for resuming work (from home, anyway) come Wednesday. Not sure how much longer it will be before I can drive myself around again. I just hope I can be a pain-free passenger soon… that would be a good step forward.

Monday, May 15, 2017 2 comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 11 (CONCLUSION)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

“Serves the louts right, tangling with a Matriarchy woman and her Northerner husband.” Reeve Kendri waited for one of her assistants to push the stone box off the trap door, then nudged the bolt away. Her assistants had already seen to the driver, who complained of a terrible headache and claimed to have no recollection of how he had ended up in the yard. “They have some means, if they can afford a juggernaut as a carriage. What were they doing?”

“We unearthed an artifact from Camac That Was while we were plowing,” Liana explained. “I don’t know how word got all the way to Queensport.”

“You should have just given the thing to the sages. It would have saved you a mickle of trouble.”

“We’re going to market tomorrow,” said Liana. “We mean to give it over then.”

“All shall be well, then.” Kendri kicked the trap open. “You are prisoners of the Crown,” she called down, “charged with assault and attempted robbery. One at a time, and leave any weapons on the floor.”

As her four assistants marched the prisoners to their wagon, Kendri followed Liana and Chakan outside. “Your ‘Misiva’ was probably using an assumed name,” she explained. “But one of her friends might turn her in for a lighter sentence. Clever idea, going out to meet them with a paring knife in your slippers. Good thing marking their carriage was unnecessary.”

“Sturdy, strong, and brave,” Chakan boasted, “everything a Matriarchy woman should be, aye?”

“That immigration program… well, I admit I was skeptical at first, but every single newcomer I’ve met has been a credit to the Matriarchy. The Queen is wiser than I gave her credit for. Well, that’s that. I’ll drive their wagon back.” Kendri stopped. “So where is this mechanism?”

“Ha!” Chakan laughed. “I wrapped it in some blankets and took it to the neighbor’s. It’s in their chicken pen.”


“I’ve not seen one so well-preserved,” Sage Datra breathed, looking over the mechanism. “We have examples others have dug up, but none like this. It still works, you say?”

“Yar,” said Liana. “We tried it out. Had an endless river of neighbors coming to consult it as well.”

“‘Tis one reason we’re glad to be shut of it,” Chakan added.

Sage Wesim chuckled, looking up from the book and the transcripts they had made. “It was a parlor toy,” he explained. “Turning the knobs, and the speed at which you crank it, creates a randomness. It’s a sophisticated version of tossing a handful of rounds into the air, and recording the patterns they make when they land. The answers it gives are vague enough that you can apply them to just about any question. These are excellent transcripts, by the way. If your crops ever fail, let us know. We’ll put you to work as scribes.”

“Gods willing, that won’t ever happen,” said Chakan. “So you say that thing really doesn’t tell the future?”

Sage Datra shook her head. “I’m sure some ancients thought it did. But what it does is let you access your inner mind. In a very real way, it tells you what you already know.”

“Well, then…” Liana trailed off. “May your studies be fruitful.”

“Wait a moment.” Sage Wesim wrote on a slip of paper, then gave it to Liana. “The Crown pays a bounty for items of interest, depending on their state of preservation. This one certainly qualifies as exceptional. Take this paper to the office, and the Provost will take care of the rest. I’m recommending she pay you the maximum of five octagons, and it’s worth every round.”

“Tell me true, Chakan,” said Liana as their plodding oxen pulled the cart homeward. “Do you believe that thing we dug up was nothing but a toy?”

“So the sages told us.” Chakan scratched his head. “But would they not tell us that in any case, so we have no regrets about turning it over?”

“Five octagons put paid to any regrets I had, my love. Even if we have to add a new room to the house, we’ll have money left over to carry us through a crop failure.”

“Aye. But let us focus on you having a healthy daughter, first.”


“Send word to the Queen,” Sage Datra told Wesim. “She needs to hear about this, and soonest.”

THE END

Saturday, May 13, 2017 4 comments

Kneecapped 2017, post-op

Chainsaw go ning-ning-ning-ning…
The deed was done Wednesday morning, and Friday afternoon I was back at the manor. I only got four hours of sleep Tuesday night, because Charlie wasn’t sleeping well and I got up with him. So I was already pretty well out of it when I got to the hospital at 6:15am, and don’t remember much of anything after shucking my clothes in the prep room, putting on the standard extra-drafty hospital gown that would be my home for the next however long, and getting stuck for the IV. When I came to (at least to myself), they had just deposited me in my room. And there I sat. Or laid, actually.

I had prepared a bag for the wife to bring, containing my iPad, Kindle, a charger, and cables. She neglected to bring it up when I first saw her, but I was still sleeping more than waking. The same foot massagers they had put on her when she did this a few years back were now buzzing and squeezing my own feet. So some hours went by quicker than expected, and soon she was back with the goodie bag. That first day was okay, except that the nurses were a little slow to get around to me. I picked at my lunch (dry turkey, some interesting potatoes, green beans, fruit), caught up on the dumpster fire that is the daily news these days, read a little, played some solitaire, and listened to all the noises that are part of a modern hospital facility (even one out in Sector 706).

Except for two bobbles that first day, where it took an hour for someone to come after I buzzed, and the day nurse didn't take me walking up the hallway, things went smoothly. But sleep, even with pain-killers, was kind of elusive. I kind of skimmed the surface of sleep, with repetitive dreams (mostly about work of all things). I finally sat up on the side of the bed to use the undignified bucket they give you to pee in, and nearly filled it, sometime around 4am.

Thursday was a little better. My appetite and the food both improved, an ombudsman asked us if we had any problems (I told them about the hour wait on Wed), a therapist came by, and I got to talk with some people on the Outside―the wife and Charlie, Mom, and the home therapist who would be coming by after I got home. Except for the two patients whose meds were maladjusted, and who could thus be heard from the other side of the hospital, of course. I kept running out the saline they kept putting in my IV, and actually did fill the 1-liter bucket once. On my third walk down the hall, I reached the nurses’ station and thus “graduated.”

So I came home Friday. Getting in and out of the minivan was harder than I hoped, but I made it into the manor and to the recliner. The first home therapy visit was this morning, and I’m left with a feeling of “I can do this.” If only I can make sure nothing gets infected…

Monday, May 08, 2017 No comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 10

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
“Don’t hurt me,” Liana begged. “I’m with child!”

“Indeed. Tell us where the mechanism is, and you’ll live, you and your child.”

“My husband took it to the sages two evenings ago,” Liana replied. “Not long after you left.”

The knife tip poked harder. “You had better be lying. Now tell us the truth!”

“It’s… it’s in the barn. There’s a trap door behind the compost heap. An old wine cellar. We put it down there.”

“Truly? Well then, we’ll leave you here. You’re bound—so to speak—to tell us true.” One of the men slipped around her, pulling her arms behind her back, and bound her wrists with a leather thong. Then he knelt, bound her ankles, and lowered her to the floor. “You can shout and awaken your husband, but he won’t live long afterward.” A glint of moonlight on bronze told her they each held a dagger.

The shadows retreated, and soon Liana got to her feet. She laid the paring knife, concealed in her slipper, on the table before slipping outside. She jogged across the dark yard. The danger is yours now, love, she thought. May the lesser gods watch over you.

The juggernaut had been modified to include a driver’s perch. The driver, not expecting to be called to work at such a late hour, had already worked his way through most of a jug of ale. He managed to reach their destination, but then laid back on top of the carriage to rest. Stupid louts, he grumbled to himself, listening to the noise his passengers were making in the yard, I thought they knew how to stay quiet.

He dozed atop the juggernaut, ignoring the whickering and quiet scuffing of shod hooves on the old highway. A clicking noise, and then a smoldering smell, brought him out of his stupor. He looked over the side to see a figure backing away, and small flames licking the side of the carriage.

“What—hoy!” he rasped, leaping down. He barely felt the shock of landing, drunk as he was, but the vandal rounded the juggernaut and ran through the yard.

Gotta do something, he thought, giving chase. Ahead of him, the vandal leaped and dodged, running like a frightened rabbit before a hound. Then he stopped short and staggered backward a few steps. “What’s this?” he muttered, his hand around the rake handle that had stopped him short.

Liana grabbed up a piece of firewood—one of many stumbling blocks they had laid in the yard—and brought it down on top of the driver’s head. The man gave her a sad look that said, I never asked for such treatment, then his knees buckled and he fell down snoring.


“Gods, how do they stand it?” one of the men complained, lighting a small lamp. “They must let their oxen run loose in the barn.”

“Step carefully, then,” said the other. “That must be the compost heap over there. It don’t smell much better.”

“Ah, here’s the trap door,” one said, holding up the light. “I’ll go down and fetch it, you keep an eye out.”

“Yar.” He watched as his companion descended the rickety ladder, taking the light with him. Darkness filled the barn, except for what poured up from the trap door.

“A wooden box,” the other called up from below. “They must have put it in—”

The man above yelped and jumped at the sudden stabbing pain in his backside. Unfortunately, his jump carried him over the open trap door and he plunged downward, shouting in alarm and pain.

Chakan dropped the pitchfork and reached over for the trapdoor. The first man drew his dagger and leaped for the ladder, but Chakan slammed it shut. He shot the bolt and dragged the heavy stone box on top of it. Down below, the trapped men pounded at the door and shouted empty threats.

“Done and done,” he called.

“Likewise,” Liana replied, holding a lantern at the door.

“Gods, I hated letting you put yourself in danger like that.”

“Eh, it went the way I expected. Except they had a driver. He’s snoozing in the yard, now.” She gave him a lopsided grin. Those two years I spent as a soldier were useful after all.”

They embraced in the midst of the ox dung they had spread to confound the attackers. “And like anything else you set your hand to, you performed admirably,” he said. “But let’s get this cleaned up before Mirthan brings the reeve.”

to be continued…

Monday, May 01, 2017 No comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 9

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
“First thing,” said Liana, as darkness crept over the farm, “we should hide the mechanism.”

“Aye. But not in the barn. That’s the first place they’ll look.”

“And the second place would be under the house.” Liana thumped the wooden floor with her toe. “So where would be a good place?”

“Ah, I think I know.” Chakan fetched a blanket and wrapped up the brass mechanism, explaining his idea. “I won’t be long. Take inventory of what we can use as weapons while I’m out.”

When he returned, almost an hour later, Liana had made a long list. “One thing about farm life, love,” she said, “there’s no end of pointy things lying about.”

“Aye. And I know what bothered me about that carriage.”

“It did seem plain for such a wealthy woman.”

“The Valiant Men of the North—that’s what Reachers call their army—have them,” Chakan explained. They call ‘em juggernauts. Ya have a couple of oxen pull it up a hill, then ya unhook the entire hitch. Plenty of hills in the Reach, ya ken.”

“Your accent is getting thick, heart of my heart.”

“Aye, talkin’ about my old home will do that. So, these juggernauts. An enemy starts up the hill, you loose one o’ these things to smash into ‘em. It’ll carry a whole strike—ten soldiers, give or take—and they can steer it from inside. So they plow into the enemy, then jump out and take ‘em hand to hand. That pointed front end is thick enough to deflect a cannonball, unless it’s really close range. That’s the important thing as far as we’re concerned. Against what we have, it’s an impregnable fortress on wheels.”

“If it’s made of wood, perhaps we could set it afire?” Liana mused.

“Oh, aye, but it would take a while to do more than…” Chakan paused, then swept Liana into a twirling embrace. “I must have married the cleverest woman in all of Termag,” he grinned.

“Aye, my heart of hearts, I would agree,” Liana replied in a horrid parody of Chakan’s Northern accent. “But if it takes too long to burn one of those juggernauts down, what does it profit us?”

“Now say this Misiva sends her boys to take the mechanism. We go to the magistrate with a grievance. Misiva claims she was at some function, with a hundred witnesses, at the time. Sow confusion and doubt, and the magistrate is more disposed to the wealthy anyway. But if one of her properties is marred in a specific way…”

Liana stopped Chakan’s speech with a kiss, long and passionate. “I think it was I who married the clever one,” she murmured against his lips.

“Ah. Our girl will tie the other sages in knots, some day.”

“We’re trying to plan, here,” Liana purred. “If you keep talking like that, I’ll end up dragging you to bed instead.”

“I fail to see the problem, beautiful one.”

“Eh, you’re right. We can plan some more afterwards.”


On the night before market day, the juggernaut rolled quietly along the road that ancient maps called Sunset Coast Highway. The horses wore boots, and the wheels were wrapped in soft leather. Neither boots nor wrappings would last long, but stealth was needed only until they reached their destination.

The carriage rolled past one farm, where someone lounged on the porch with one lit candle and a jug of ale for company. They passed Liana’s farm, then turned about and stopped. Two men emerged, their clothing a darkness reflecting the surrounding darkness. Without a word, they hustled directly toward the house—

“Unh! Ah!” one of them shouted.

“Quiet, ya lout!” the other hissed. “What happened?”

“The untidy fools left a rake out here. I’ll have a bruise for sure tomorrow.”

“Nothing for it. Move a little slower, now. If they heard, they heard. Nothing they can do about it.” They continued, spotting and avoiding other hazards. “Eh, I wonder if they expected us.”

“No bloodshed, the mistress said. Unless it’s needed.”

“Yar. Maybe they’ll give us the need.” He rapped on the front door.

Liana opened the door, yawning, candle in hand. “What is it?”

Hands seized her, and she felt a knife point at her throat. The candle fell and snuffed itself before hitting the floor. “Cry out and die,” one of them whispered.

continued…

Monday, April 24, 2017 No comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 8

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Chakan led the two men to the barn, leaving Liana with Misiva. He had an uneasy feeling, but thought Liana stronger than this wealthy visitor. As for the men… well, Chakan knew what tools could become weapons and where they were hung.

“The thing was sealed up with pitch on the inside,” he explained as they stepped inside. “We had quite a time of it pulling that lid off. Whoever put it in the ground expected it to survive the ages.”

“Indeed,” one of the men said; later on, Chakan never could remember which one was speaking at any time. “This is the box?”

“Aye.”

“I mean no offense, but you speak like a foreigner.”

“Aye, I take none. I was born a Reacher. The Matriarchy offers louts like me a plot of land, if I agree to be a good husband to my wife. Seems like I got the better end of that bargain.”

Both visitors looked amused, although Chakan meant his words as a pointed warning. Reachers were often considered warlike in this part of the wide world. One of the men reached inside the box, and scratched at a light spot on the bottom in one corner. “Wax,” he said. “They lit a candle before putting the lid on.”

“Why would they do that?” Chakan asked.

“It helps to seal the box. Perhaps the ancients had other reasons, things we forgot in The Madness.”

“That contraption showed a date… year 1812 of the Pearl Throne, if I remember right. The eve of The Madness. The rest of it warned of disaster.”

The men looked at each other. “I don’t suppose you remember the exact date?” one asked.

“Nay, but I sketched the thing as it was when we took it outta the ground.” Chakan took a breath. “Tell me true, folk. Can a machine predict the future if it’s calibrated against the stars?”

Again, they looked at each other before speaking, making Chakan wonder if they had some form of silent communication. “That we know not. Such things we leave to the mistress.”


“Ah,” said Misiva, as Chakan entered the kitchen. “I was telling your wife, I have never seen an artifact from the time of Camac That Was so well preserved in my entire career. I am prepared to offer you twenty-five gold octagons for the mechanism and the instructions, and five more for the notes and transcripts you have made.”

Liana and Chakan stared wide-eyed at each other. That kind of money would make them rich, by Chakan’s reckoning—able to live idly for over a year, perhaps two.

“Ah, ah, we’ll have to think that over,” Liana stammered after a long moment.

“Oh, I hope you won’t think it over too long,” said Misiva. “The sages will simply take it off your hands, and call it property of the realm. “You have put much work into puzzling it out, and I would think you should have somewhat to show for it, no?”

“Aye,” Chakan replied. “We’ll give it our most serious consideration.” That was a sarcastic Northerner idiom, but he doubted this wealthy Westerner knew that. Indeed, he would have to explain it to Liana.

“Good. We shall return, day after tomorrow.” Misiva stood, her menfolk bowed, and they departed.

“Chakan,” said Liana, watching the carriage roll back towards Queensport, “I am leaving this decision to you. Had we turned it over to the sages right away, as we should have done, I would not be so tempted by wealth.”

“They were polite and proper,” Chakan mused, “but that says little about their hearts. Say we took their money right away. Who can assure us they would not find a way to take it back?”

“But if they would do such a thing… perhaps they would try to take the mechanism while we consider the situation?”

“I told those men I was a born Reacher. If they took not the hint…”

“So we should take the mechanism to the sages right way,” Liana suggested.

“That they will expect,” Chakan countered. “They’ll have a trap set for us.”

None fight like a Northerner defending his land,” Liana quoted. “So we let them come to us, when we’re ready for them. When do you think they’ll come?”

“A day or two before market day. That gives us a little time to plan our defense.”

continued

Monday, April 17, 2017 No comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 7

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Brinla was indeed loose of tongue, and she was not the only one. The rain came in as Chakan had expected, but it did little to wash away the stream of folk coming to ask questions of the brass mechanism.

Chakan and Liana grew irritable, although they usually remembered to direct their ire toward the constant interruptions—at meal times, work times, gardening times, even lovemaking times—any time of day, and into the evening, someone would come a-knocking. They tried to put up a sign to limit the visits, but most folk simply ignored it.

At least, Chakan thought, they do not come empty-handed. Visitors brought chickens, slabs of salted beef, bacon, bundles of onions, sacks of potatoes or bread, and even a little money. The list of items they needed at market diminished each day, and that brought Chakan a new worry—that they would not need to go, and then they would be stuck with the cursed mechanism forever.

As for Liana, she soon became dismayed at the banality of the questions the folk brought:

Should my son marry this woman or that woman?

If I bet on the dice tomorrow, will I win?

Is my husband seeing a woman in Queensport?

After one of these left the house one day, Liana threw up her hands. “Love, I will never ignore your advice again. First thing in the morning, we’re putting that thing on the wagon and taking it to the sages.”

Chakan took her in his arms. “Soft, soft, my heart. It’s not been all bad. We can wait until market day, it’s almost here. But I tell ya true: I’ll be glad to see that hunk of gearworks gone.”

Liana pulled the bar across the door, then turned and gave Chakan a look she knew made his stomach lurch and his desire rise. “Come to our bed, love. Let us thank the Creator for giving us each other.”


Thankfully, the knocking did not resume for a while. When it began anew, more insistent than usual, they rolled out of bed and threw some clothes on, grumbling about more intrusions.

To their surprise, there were two men and a woman at the door. They were unfamiliar, and their manner of dress suggested they were city dwellers. Out at the road stood a carriage with two donkeys. It seemed plain, but something about it nagged at Chakan.

“Yar?” Liana asked, having no better greeting at the moment.

“Your pardon, notables,” the woman replied as the men gave a half nod-half bow. “We were told you have unearthed an ancient treasure?”

“If you are of the Crown, please present your forms,” said Chakan. One of the lessons he had learned in this new place was emissaries of the Crown always carry their papers. They had shown him copies of papers, so at least he knew what they should look like. He likely would be unable to tell forgery from genuine item, but it made more work for those with bad intent.

“Oh, we are not with the government,” the woman assured him. “I am Misiva sam Tiefi, a private investor in antiquities and the like. Have I indeed been directed to the correct house?”

Chakan held his tongue, but he was sorely tempted to say we left the contraption with the sages this morning. Instead, he hoped his wife would say it, with more conviction than he would be able to muster. His father used to tell him, you make a poor liar, Chakan, but the only shame in that is to try lying anyway.

“Yar, we still have it,” Liana said after a brief pause, dashing Chakan’s hopes. Something about this situation made him nervous.

“Oh, excellent. Could I perhaps see it? I am willing to compensate you for your trouble.” Misiva produced a small bag, and took from it a gold octagon.

Liana and Chakan stared at the coin. While their farm would garner the equivalent of that bag over a year, assuming it was filled with octagons, neither of them had seen that much money all at once. A single octagon would buy enough food for three weeks or more.

“Ah, indeed, we can let you have a look,” Liana stammered, taking the coin. “Do enter, in all peace and harmony.”

“Tea?” Chakan asked as Misiva and her two men—bodyguards?—followed them inside. “We have Queensport Black and Two Rivers Red. I can have the pot warmed in short order.”

“You are indeed hospitable,” Misiva replied, “but we should not be long. This is… it is marvelous! It looks as though it might be functional.”

“It is,” said Liana. “We have used it according to the instructions.”

“Truly?” Misiva looked astonished. “A book survived that long buried in the ground?”

“‘Twas in a stone box,” Chakan blurted. “Sealed up tight for the ages. We had a time of it getting it open without breaking it, let me tell ya.”

“I suppose the box has become paving stones,” one of the men said.

“Nay. We kept it intact. Thought we might come up with a use for it later on.”

“May we see it?” the second man asked Chakan.

“Oh, aye. It’s in the barn. Liana?”

“Yar, let them see it.”

continued…

Friday, April 14, 2017 5 comments

Charlie, Fast-Forward

Charlie’s first beach sunset
While Charlie's development has been slow, due to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, I haven’t given up hope for him to catch up. Daughter Dearest was a preemie, and spent her first six months mostly passive (although she would laugh and play with her parents). All that changed the day we put in her a walker, and she figured out she could kick to crash into The Boy's push-trike. From then on, it was fast-forward for DD—that mobility boost was all it took.

Charlie has been—with the therapist and us helping—working on crawling for a while now. Up until last week, he would almost do it. Then, while on vacation… he got it. And immediately wanted to get on the floor and go everywhere. The cottages we stayed at have less-cluttered floors than our own, although there were some gouges in the cottage’s hardwood floors, so we kept an eye on him but otherwise let him roam until he got into something he shouldn’t. At home, he just wants to get on the floor so he can free-range around the living room. He crawls to the edge of his mat, pulls up a border piece, and starts chewing on it. (With Rosie the Boston Terrible shedding so much hair, I’m surprised she’s not bald. We’re using the vacuum and Clorox wipes a lot.) Or he’ll find his little toy-bucket and tip it over to find some goodies.

Not satisfied with just crawling, he got hold of the rim of his Pack&Play and stood up. He still needs to work on his stamina, because it wears him out to do it more than once or twice. I expect he’ll be walking soon… and we’ll never need to look for him, because Mason will be complaining about Charlie being in his space.

One thing he needs to work on is to pick up his knees. Right now, he drags them forward, which scuffs him up on carpet. This evening, I put him on the floor next to me at the desk. He shredded some paper, banged on the spare keyboard, then started crawling away. He got down to the bathroom before he sat down and contemplated the situation until I came and picked him back up. You would think he’d be sleeping better, but his newfound mobility seems to have him so excited he can’t wind down at night. Not that he minds, being the charter member of the Sleep Fight Club (first rule of Sleep Fight Club: you don’t fall asleep in Sleep Fight Club).

Monday, April 10, 2017 2 comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 6

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
“Eh, that kettle heats up fast,” said Chakan. “Should be ready.” He fetched the kettle, scooped a healthy pinch of tea leaves into the cups, then brought it all to the table on a tray. “Our honored guest,” he said, pouring Brinla’s tea.

Brinla nodded, then took another cup and poured for Liana. “My gracious host.”

Finally, Liana poured a cup for Chakan. “The love of my heart, and the father of our child.”

“Love and friendship,” said Brinla, raising her cup. “A toast always worth drinking to.”

After Liana first, and having a farm of their own second, Chakan thought the tea ceremony might be his favorite thing about life in the Matriarchy. Woman or man, everyone poured each other’s tea. Liana had once told him that if he, a common and foreign-born man, were to take tea with the Queen, even she would pour his tea after he poured hers. All serve in the Matriarchy, the consul had told him, back before he left the Reach, and two years of living here had not shown him different.

“So,” said Brinla, “this thing you dug up. It is truly from Camac That Was?”

“So Chakan believes,” Liana replied.

“Aye. See these numbers?” Chakan pointed to the bottom display. “That’s today’s date, according to the old calendar. When we dug it up, it was showing a date from twenty-four hundred years ago. It was in a stone box, coated with pitch and sealed up. I can’t imagine it could have survived so well otherwise.”

“May I ask a question of it?”

“Of course,” Liana chirped, before Chakan could utter a word.

“Love, I should start spreading that fertilizer before it gets too dark,” Chakan said quickly.

“Go and do. I’ll join you soon.”

Brinla waited until Chakan was outside before speaking. “He seemed nervous.”

“Not a word,” Liana replied. “But I think he’s a little superstitious. He thinks the date the mechanism showed, when we dug it up, was the eve of The Madness.”

“That would be enough to frighten anyone,” said Brinla. “Perhaps the owner buried it before fleeing, thinking she could recover it once she returned? In any case, I suppose fertilizing the field is a chore that needs doing.”

“Yar. But your question? I’ll turn the crank. You twist these knobs while you ask it.”

Brinla took her place at the machine, gripping the knobs. “Will our flock prosper this year?” she asked, as Liana turned the crank.

“Zero three eight, nine two four, five four seven,” Liana read the display. “Now we consult the list.”

The wolf prowls without
Vigilance is no error
Beware the weak house.

Liana looked at her neighbor. “What does that tell you?”

“It tells me I need to get my lout of a husband to shore up that gods-forsaken chicken coop,” Brinli replied. “I’ve been after him about that for a while now.” She stood. “You have a good man, Liana. Even if he is a foreigner. May he continue to bless you.”


“And maybe if Brinla treated him like a partner, instead of a servant, he wouldn’t find ways to vex her so often,” Liana concluded. “Truly, do we spread this so thin?”

“Aye,” said Chakan, sprinkling fertilizer on the rows. “Too much, and it’ll kill the seedlings. Indeed, if we don’t get rain in two days, we’ll have to irrigate to help our crop along.”

“The mechanism said we wouldn’t have drought.”

“Aye, but a few days without rain doesn’t make a drought. A few dry days right now can be a bad thing, though.”

“I see.” Liana scattered compost on the adjacent row. “Husband… after we finish this, could you go to Brinla’s and help Mirthan strengthen their chicken pen?”

“I suppose.” Chakan clucked at the ox to move the cart up. “Is this about that… thing we dug up?”

“Yar. Brinla asked if her flock would prosper. It warned of wolves and weak houses.”

“Aye. I’ll bring a jug of ale and we can make the wind after we finish with the pen. You know, Brinla’s got a bit of a loose tongue. We’ll soon have all the folk around here coming to ask questions of the mechanism. When are we taking it to the sages?”

Liana sighed. “We’ll have to go to market in a week. We can take it then. Maybe you’re right, Chakan. Brinla said you’re a good man, and she speaks true. Your instincts are talking, and I need to stop ignoring that. So when we go to market, we’ll be shut of this.”

“That thing does worry at me, love. But we’ll ask the sages to tell us what becomes of it, aye?”

continued…

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