Monday, March 30, 2015 1 comment

Blink: Superhero Summer Camp, episode 15

Blink’s earlier adventures:

Blink’s First Adventure | 2 | 3 | 4

Superhero Summer Camp (this one): 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14

The augmented reality display showed Blink, bent over with hands on his knees, in the fading light of the decoy. “Come on,” he rasped, tossing Blink over his shoulder. He started to toss the bag of mines, then stopped. “Heyyy.” He armed their last four mines, laid them in a row, then jogged straight away from the approaching ABAs.

“I can walk now,” Blink protested.

“Gotta keep moving,” Captain Heroic replied. “Maybe we’ll buy ourselves some time…”

Behind them, they heard two sharp clanks, the limpet mines’ strong magnets catching a bot by the ankles. A few seconds later, the mines detonated.

“About time I got one!” Captain Heroic laughed, setting Blink down. “Nixi. One or two?”

“One,” Nixi replied. “Unfortunately.”

“Can you run now, Blink? We still got one more after us.”

“Maybe we should lay down some more mines,” said Blink, still short of breath.

“I put all four down. I figured we’d have a better chance of nailing one.”

“The last one’s still coming,” said Nixi. “You need to keep moving. Maybe it’ll turn back.”

“Roger.” They got moving. Nixi used the display to point them toward the road. Behind them, the ABA kept coming, picking its way through the trees that slowed its pursuit. Blink picked up the pace as his wind came back, but the battle-bot continued to gain on them.

“If we had another decoy…” Captain Heroic muttered.

“Any chance you got a lighter?” Blink asked.

“Hey, yeah. I had it in case Nixi’s remotes didn’t work. You got something in mind?”

“Yeah.” Blink pulled off his hoodie and hung it on a tree branch. “Light it up.”

“Nice improvisation. Good to know some of what I’ve been teaching stuck.” Captain Heroic held the lighter to the cotton-polyester garment until it caught fire. It blazed up, and they hustled away, veering toward the road.

“That worked,” Nixi told them. “For now, at least. It’s at the hoodie, but it’s just standing there and shooting it. I think it’s going to wait for your decoy to finish burning up, then it’ll come for you again.”

“Let it,” said Captain Heroic. “We’re at the road.” They crawled under the hedge, then crossed the road and crawled through on the other side. “That should slow it down.” They doubled back, jogging a little faster now. Behind them, they heard the ABA crash through the hedge. They picked up the pace.

Then Captain Heroic fell with a strangled cry.

“What?” Blink rasped. “Are you okay?”

“Crap. It’s my ankle. Keep going.”

“No way. I ain’t leaving you here.” Blink grabbed an arm and hauled the old hero to his good foot. “I’ll pop us back to the staging area.”

“You can’t! You’re already worn out. You don’t know what it will do to you.”

“Even if I pass out or something, that’s better than letting you get shot up.” Blink wrapped his arms around Captain Heroic and hoisted him. The staging area, he thought. I need to be there now.

Nothing happened. The bot drew closer. “Oh crap,” Blink breathed.

“Go! Run for it!” Captain Heroic insisted. Nixi and Zero echoed the sentiment in his headset.

“We’re not dead yet.” Blink looked at the approaching ABA in the display. “Hey. Maybe it’ll get confused if I move off.” He edged away from Captain Heroic, watching for any reaction. The bot slowed for a moment, turning toward Blink, then back to Captain Heroic, then continued toward the fallen superhero.

“No, you idiot! This way!” Blink picked up a rock and threw it at the battle-bot. He heard the missile clang off its armor, and threw two more. Again, the ABA stopped, as if assessing the situation, then turned back to Captain Heroic.

It’s over, the old superhero thought, watching the ABA loom larger in his display. I had a good run, though. It raised an arm, tipped with a machine gun—

Twin beams of energy stabbed down at the android, hurling it backwards. It slammed into a tree, then attempted to return fire. But as it shot, the energy beams blasted it again, vaporizing the bullets and melting the ABA’s armor. It ground to a halt in a shower of sparks.

Blink looked up, and saw a woman riding a sparkling rainbow. A golden cape billowed behind her. “The League of Devis!” he crowed. “Just in time!”

“Are there any more of those?” the Devi called down, her accent reminding Blink of Sarika’s.

“The rest are at the conference center,” Captain Heroic replied, pointing the way.

“Then I will join my fellows there. Be well!” She flew away.

“That was too close,” Blink muttered, helping Captain Heroic up again.

“You’d better get used to the phrase ‘in the nick of time,’ my friend. You’ll be hearing it a lot when you’re on active status.” Captain Heroic threw an arm around Blink’s shoulders. “Good thing I put you through all that conditioning, you can hold me up. Let’s get back to the staging area. The Devis can finish off the rest of the bots.”

“What about Warmonger?” Blink asked, then they heard the Jeep rev up. It crunched into the hedge as Warmonger turned it around on the narrow lane, then zoomed away.

“I guess he’s okay,” Captain Heroic winced as he forgot to stay off his bad ankle, and put some more weight on Blink.

“Warmonger tweeted you again,” Nixi told them. “He says, ‘I ran out of juice and the stupid hammer broke. Cavalry’s here anyway. See ya in the funny papers.’ Whatever that means.”

“Get on back here, you two,” said Professor Zero. “I’m sure Montana Rack wants that interview more than ever.”

to be continued…

Friday, March 27, 2015 8 comments

Bailar Downriver (#FridayFlash)

This is another one of the “young Bailar” stories, the next scene after The Voice of the Forest.

The barge crew and porters laughed as Bailar sim Prensin pulled himself out of the muddy water of the river landing, using his staff and the gangplank to steady himself. “An inauspicious beginning,” he muttered, clambering onto the gangplank. On the other hand, he had kept his pack out of the water. His food and belongings were dry and safe.

“Hoy, lad.” One of the crew offered him a hand. “I’d not seen anyone slip off that gangplank before.”

“My balance is a steaming heap of bowgnoash,” said Bailar, letting the poleman haul him aboard. “Always has been.”

“To be rude about it, boy, no need,” the barge master snapped. “Yer pack, under the tarp ya can drop. Settle in, outta the way ya stay.”

“Yes, sir,” Bailar replied, using his new staff to keep his balance. Greased with fat and cured in the chimney, the river water ran off it. The only wet part was its leather boot. He made his way across the barge to the tarp. The crew had their own places staked out already, but there was plenty of open space. He chose a spot near one corner and sat with his pack. His bedroll was wet on one side, but he laid it out and left his pack on the dry side. It would all be dry by nightfall.

With that out of the way, he sat in the sun along the edge of the tarp, watching the porters and crew work. He was alone, but he had said his good-byes. His sisters tried to talk him into staying home, if only so he could mind their children once they chose mates and wed. But sorcery seemed like a good match for him—perhaps he could use magic to go and do without falling on his face so often. He would certainly see more of the wide world than he would staying at home. Even his parents had never been farther than Exidy…

The polemen strained, pushing the barge away from the landing. No turning back now, he thought, letting the early-summer sun dry his clothes. The next two days would be interesting. In the Matriarchy, women ruled from the household to the throne, but barges were a man’s domain.

“Your pardon, notable,” Bailar asked the first person he saw on the Exidy docks. Behind him, the porters offloaded sacks of wheat and rye, likely including some that his parents had grown. “Where might I find the local sorcerer?”

“Old Gilsen?” The woman looked him over. “He dwells across the river.” She pointed to a landing across the Wide; a wide-bottomed craft sat pulled up on shore. “You can hire a boat and paddle across, if you’re in a hurry. If it can wait, Mara can bring him to you even sooner.”

Bailer puzzled at the riddle for a moment. “Are you saying that’s Mara’s boat over there?”

“Indeed. Clever lad, you are. And yonder they come.” She pointed to two figures making their way down the river bank to the landing. “They’ll come ashore at the landing. Follow me.”

They made their way to the landing, Bailar watching his footing to avoid stumbling or worse. At the river’s edge, a sturdy woman pulled her boat ashore while the man sat waiting.

“Hoy, Mara!” Bailar’s guide called. “This boy-sprout wants a word with your passenger.”

The two of them eyed Bailar. The man nodded and clambered onto the damp sand. An old grand, Bailar thought, noticing the white sash draped over one shoulder. The man’s hair was only a slight shade darker than the sash.

“I am Gilsen the White,” the old grand greeted him. “Say your say.”

“My name is Bailar sim Prensin,” said Bailar, putting a hand to his forehead and bowing, the salute to a superior. “I wish to become your apprentice.”

“Indeed?” Gilsen looked surprised. “Son, you know that it takes more than a staff to become a sorcerer. You have to have the Talent.”

“I know, sir. This staff is to help me with my balance. I know I have magic in me, for I heard the Deep Forest speak.”

The two women looked at each other; their smirks said upriver bumpkin. Bailar ignored them.

“If that is true, then you may well be suitable,” said Gilsen, surprising the women.

“Do you have room for another apprentice?”

Gilsen stifled a laugh. “Indeed, son. If you would, come to the market with me. When we finish, we shall return to my home, and I will administer a few tests.”

Monday, March 23, 2015 2 comments

Blink: Superhero Summer Camp, episode 14

Blink’s earlier adventures:

Blink’s First Adventure | 2 | 3 | 4

Superhero Summer Camp (this one): 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13

“Guys,” Nixi said in their headsets, “Uncle Zero says the reinforcements are delayed. There’s been a big uptick in activity in town, and a lot of them are tied up. But Count Boris and a few of the Devis are breaking off and getting out here as soon as they can.”

“In other words,” Captain Heroic said, “we’re on our own. A retiree, a rookie, and a villain who temporarily switched sides.”

“What about Ma Ling?” Blink asked.

“Her skills aren’t geared toward fighting ABAs.” Professor Zero’s voice sounded distant; perhaps he was leaning over to speak into Nixi’s mike. “She’s helping us out where she can, and the security team is holding off the assault so far. The screen says about half the remaining ABAs are investigating the decoys. Tac is recalculating, but I’m sure it’s buying us some time. Get back in the fight, if you’re ready. We need all the help we can get right now.”

“Stay a little left,” Nixi reminded them. “Keep the decoys between you and the ABAs until you get a visual.”

“Roger,” said Captain Heroic, jogging along with little effort, like he and Stevie had done every morning. But now it was Blink running alongside, having no trouble.

Gunfire and a hollow clang resounded beyond the decoys. “One of the ABAs stopped moving,” said Nixi. “But it’s still up.”

“Warmonger probably kneecapped it with my hammer,” Captain Heroic chuckled. “I guess we need to get moving if we’re going to stay ahead.”

“Let’s do this,” said Blink. He scanned the woods ahead; the augmented reality display shaded the flames of the decoys and showed the ABAs moving closer. “Is it clear behind the closest one?”

“Yeah.” Nixi got that excited tone again. “Go get ‘em.”

“I’ll take one mine at a time,” Blink told Captain Heroic, hoisting a limpet mine. “Now you see me…” He disappeared, popping in behind the nearest ABA. It whirled to face him, and he threw the magnetic mine at it and popped back to his partner. “Two, one—” The flash preceded the explosion by about half a second, and Blink grinned. “That’s how we roll!”

“Confirmed down!” Nixi said, as they heard gunfire and another clang. “And it looks like Warmonger kneecapped another one.”

“I hope he’s okay,” Blink breathed.

“He will be,” Captain Heroic assured him. “He’s a survivor.”

“Tac reassessment in,” Professor Zero told them. “The decoys bought Security another twenty-five minutes, even if the remaining seven ABAs turn and rejoin the main force right now. Every one you guys take out gives us three more minutes.”

“Roger,” said Captain Heroic, handing Blink another mine. “Nixi, what’s the best one for Blink to take out next?”

“Third from the right,” she replied. “It’ll be clear in a few seconds. Ready… now!”

Blink was gone and back in two seconds; the mine detonated in two more seconds. “Boom-chaka-laka!” he yelled.

“Hey! Kid! Cap!” they heard, then Warmonger joined them, puffing and still clutching the hammer.

“You’re hurt!” Blink cried, looking at the gash on Warmonger’s arm.

“Just grazed. But I need a fresh tankful of that teenage wrath. Don’t worry about the ABAs, even your mom shoots better.”

Instead of the intended anger, Blink laughed. “Nice try.”

“Yeah, well keep an eye out for Captain Grabby-Hands there.”

Blink heard Captain Heroic draw a sharp breath, and Warmonger sighed with relief.

“Imply a straight old fart is gay, pisses ‘em off every time,” said Warmonger. “Okay, gotta run. You’re ahead four to three, right?” He sprinted back to the battle.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Blink. “I know you’re not gay. One of my best friends is, though. Only time I’ve been glad to get friend-zoned.”

Captain Heroic doubled over in a belly-laugh, and Nixi giggled in their headsets. In the distance, they heard Warmonger whooping in delight as he pounded another ABA.

“What’s next?” Blink asked Nixi.

“Either of the two on your right. They’ve reached the decoys, and they’re turning around.”

“Okay, this one’s a two-fer.” Blink held out both hands for mines.

“Don’t get cocky,” Captain Heroic warned, but gave Blink two mines. “Maybe we can keep them occupied if we get closer, though.”

“Okay. I’ll meet you at the decoy line.” Blink disappeared. Seconds later, two mines went off. “Six!” he yelled, as Captain Heroic jogged to meet him.

“Two headed to Warmonger’s position,” said Nixi.

“Warmonger!” Captain Heroic bellowed. “Incoming!”

“Incoming yourself!” Nixi shouted. “The other two are headed for you guys!”

“I need a rest,” Blink puffed, somewhere in the dark.

“Crap! You overdid it!” Zero grated through Nixi’s mike. “Break off and get out!”

“I got him!” Captain Heroic shouted, sprinting toward the decoy line.

to be continued…

Friday, March 20, 2015 9 comments

Fair Trade (#FridayFlash)

“Is all well, good scribe?” Breeze wrote on the chalkboard.

Image source:
My feet were freezing, and I hate for my feet to be cold. The lighting was all wrong. This suit chafed me. But I really shouldn’t complain; I was one of the first twenty humans to set foot on Mars and converse with an alien in person. Symbolic, the language the Phwu had taught us over the last year, was very literal; an inquiry like this expected more than fine, thanks for an answer. “There is some discomfort,” I wrote below Breeze’s inquiry, “but I can function well enough.”

“I share in your discomfort, being very warm. Let us proceed, then.”

“Good Lord, it’s -50°C out here and he’s complaining about the heat,” I said aloud. That got a couple chuckles in my helmet radio.

“You’re talking about the fracking weather?” one of the ESA people griped.

“He said ‘let us proceed,’ so I think we’ll be getting down to business now,” I retorted.

Breeze—his (its?) real name was 40kph wind from the northwest at six atmospheres and 120 Kelvin, so you can understand why we gave him a nickname—confirmed my guess. “As we stated (two weeks) ago, we wish to use your fifth planet as a dwelling place. In exchange, we offer you our starship and the information you need to understand its working.”

I translated the Symbolic for the benefit of those in our delegation who didn’t understand it, as well as for the cameras. Everyone tried to respond at once, making a gabble in my helmet radio. “Ask him if the information is in Symbolic, or if we’ll have to figure out another language as well,” someone finally said.

“Got it,” I said, and turned to the chalkboard. “Must we learn another language to understand the technology?” I wrote.

“The information is in all interspecies languages, including Symbolic,” Breeze replied. “We include tutorials so that you may learn those languages compatible with your senses.” There were at least two dozen different languages used to communicate out in the galaxy; usually, two species could find one they could both use. Biologists were already talking about using some of them to communicate with dolphins.

Again, my helmet radio filled with gabble. The Chinese and ESA delegations were urging caution; NASA and Russia were gung-ho. When the transmission got back to Earth, the xenophobes would crap themselves, but that was normal. As far as I was concerned, it was a no-brainer. The whole galaxy in exchange for one lousy gas giant we weren’t going to use anyway? What I didn’t understand was why our delegation was trying to hash this out all over again; the Phwu had made the offer before they sent us the ship to bring us here. (One of the wags at NASA wanted to dub the ship Short Bus, since it seated twenty humans who probably didn’t measure up to the galactic average, but he got smacked down in a hurry.)

“Ecuador is trying to claim this ship as theirs, as it landed there,” one of the Russians said. “Where will the starship land, and what country might claim it?” The question of where the ship would land had almost triggered World War III, although we kept it really quiet so the Phwu wouldn’t hear. In the end, we all agreed on Ecuador. Maybe that hadn’t been such a good idea in retrospect.

“Wait a minute,” I said, and took up the chalk. “Can you broadcast the information and the tutorials to the entire world?” I wrote.

“Of course,” Breeze replied. “We expected to do just that.” You have to understand, in Symbolic, the phrase do just that is very emphatic.

“Uh, guys,” I said. “I think the Phwu understand us better than you think. If you put Breeze’s response in colloquial English, it would be ‘well, duh.’ Nobody’s going to have a leg up, here.”

Blessed silence filled my helmet for a minute. “I think that will be acceptable,” said one of the Chinese delegates.

“Works for us,” said NASA. The others, including the delegates from India and central Africa, agreed.

“We find that acceptable,” I wrote, conscious of the cameras recording my every move. “When will the broadcast begin?”

“In (one hour),” Breeze replied, then threw an arm around me in an approximation of a human hug. “As for the starship, we shall put it in orbit around the third planet. It belongs to all your people.”

“Get soil samples!” one of the NASA people shouted.

“Vacuum tubes?” I heard from an ESA delegate. “The electronics on this barge are from the fifties! Hell, we probably could have traded them a few computers for the starship!”

That, of course, was a completely different can of worms that we opened about seven hundred light-years from home.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015 3 comments

Writing Wibbles: Three Steps to Crash-Proof Your Writing

Yvette Kate Willemse recently blogged about losing writing. From misplacing files to pressing the wrong button to using cast-off laptops that crashed or overheated then crashed, to Word corrupting yet another file (which is the biggest reason I won’t use Word for anything I care about), she’s seen it all.

In the previous millennium, I would lose work—mostly due to Word either crashing or randomly corrupting files. Sometimes, the computer would just hang for no good reason, or the power would drop just long enough. Back then, it was just part of life. As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve grown intolerant to losing work to a computer or power glitch. Fortunately, it’s simple nowadays to prevent that from happening. Computers and their operating systems (some of them, anyway) are far more stable than they used to be, and now there are ways to recover from the rest of the problems.

The question you need to ask yourself is, how important is this? Whether you’re writing for traditional publication or going the indie route, you’re expecting (or at least hoping) to get paid for it. If you’ve sold a story, publishers take a dim view to “the computer ate my manuscript.” If you’re indie-publishing, you don’t want to scramble around looking for a draft—any draft—of that novel you’re about to upload.

So here’s the three steps I use to crash-proof my writing. I know I’m going to get some flak for Step One, but (as I’ve said before) this is what has worked for me.

Step 1: Never Trust Your Work to Anything from Microsoft or Adobe

Yes, I’m serious. Okay, Windows 7 (and later versions, I presume) are a lot more stable than they used to be. But I cringe every time I hear about a writer using Word (pronounced “weird”)… because usually something bad has happened. I want to think Word has solved some of the file-corruption problems since the 6.0 days (i.e. the previous millennium). Still, trusting a 400-page novel to Word, in my opinion, is just asking for trouble.

As for Adobe (pronounced “a doobie”), it’s all in the cloud now. The Cloud sounds great on paper (or pixels)—it takes care of updates for you, your files are stored on a server that’s maintained by professionals, and all you need is an always-on Internet connection. Unless the DRM goes sour and locks you out, like what happened for a couple days last year. Or you’re in a hotel room with crappy wifi that everyone is pounding on at once. Or your own network connection has bought the farm for whatever reason. Then that cloud is just smoke.

Fortunately, there are alternatives, and they often work better, and most of them are free. The one not-free option, Scrivener, is pretty cheap and It Just Works for the way I write fiction. If you prefer a word processor, both OpenOffice and its clone LibreOffice are free; I’ve done work things with OpenOffice after Word simply refused to do what I wanted, and it worked better and easier. So what if the free Office apps are a little ugly around the edges? The middle, where your words go, is pretty much the same either way. If you want a cloud-y thing, Google Drive is pretty reliable and has the option of local storage for when you’re not connected. Best of both worlds.

If you need a Photoshop-like product for some reason, take a look at GIMP. Again, it’s kind of ugly, and it works different from Photoshop, but once you figure out the differences you don’t have to worry about network outages, cloud outages, DRM, or subscriptions.

Step 2: Backup, Backup, Backup

I said “backup” three times, because there’s three kinds of backup you need to consider.

Backup #1 is power. If you have a desktop system, put it on a UPS (uninterruptible power supply). They aren’t terribly expensive—$50 or so—and they’ll keep you safely writing through the majority of power glitches. When you have a big outage, a UPS gives you plenty of time to save everything, tell all your social network friends what’s happening, and shut down. Put a small UPS on your home network box (cable modem/DSL modem) as well. Some cable boxes (like ARRIS Telephony Modems or Telephony Gateways) might have internal batteries to keep the phone lines running; they’ll shut down the data fairly quickly, though. So if you depend on a network connection, you’ll want to put it on a UPS as well. As for laptops, make sure to run that battery down every month or so and recharge it. Replace it when it can’t run for more than an hour.

Backup #2 is an external hard drive. Both MacOS X and that Microsoft thing (since Windows 7, anyway) have backup built-in. Just connect an external hard drive and remember to turn it on every once in a while. If you balk at the price—about $200 US—consider the potential cost of losing a 10,000 word short story. At 5¢/word, that’s $500. In other words, you want the money spent on a backup drive to be… well, not exactly wasted. The MacOS backup system, Time Machine, lets you pull versions of whatever backed-up project you want out of the backup. So if you’ve made changes, and realize you want to take them back, you can return to that earlier version and start over.

Backup #3 used to be called “offsite backup,” but nowadays everyone calls it “cloud storage.” To an older guy, who has good reason to not trust that network connection to always be on, the cloud might not be the place to put working files but it’s surely righteous for backups. Before the proliferation of free cloud storage, the simplest method for offsite backup was to take the advice of a certain 70’s song: “send it off in a letter to yourself,” aka emailing yourself a copy of the MSS. Nowadays, whether you use Dropbox, Google Drive, Amazon Cloud, or something else, put your current work in progress in the local folder. Then you’ll know it’s getting backed up, and you can pull a copy no matter where you are. Scrivener also has a clever “Sync with External Folder” feature that exposes projects as a collection of RTF files in a different folder—including folders tied to a cloud service. With the latest Macs, the built-in Pages app can save to iCloud as well as local storage.

Step 3: Disaster Recovery Plan

Any business that wants to stay in business these days has a disaster recovery plan—a way to get back to business no matter what happens. Remember, if you’re planning to sell your work (whether directly or to a publisher), you have a business.

The most common disasters are fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes. For you, the writer toiling away at your masterpiece, add “computer falls over” to the list. It’s all well and good to have decent software and a regular backup regimen, but how quickly can you get back to writing after a fire, even if that fire was only inside the case of your PC? Or for that matter, a virtual fire caused by some infestation of malware?

This might be the case where having a dayjob is beneficial—bring that work laptop home with you at night and use it until you can repair or replace your primary writing workstation.

Using the “Sync with External Folder” feature in Scrivener might get you back on track immediately, even if all you have is a tablet or old laptop. There are plenty of text editing programs out there that can work with RTF: WordPad on Windows; TextEdit on Macs; AbiWord or TED on Linux. Unfortunately, the selection for programs that run on tablet operating systems, and can edit RTF files in Dropbox, are pretty thin. I bought a program called Textilus for my iPad, and it does a fine job of editing sync’ed projects when I’m away from home. If anyone has suggestions for Android apps that can do the same, share them in the comments.

The thing is, you need to memorize that Dropbox (or other cloud service) password if you want to use it on some other computer at the drop of a hat. I can imagine very few things more frustrating than having everything on The Cloud but not being able to remember your password!

The End

If all this is too confusing, Google Drive is probably the way to go. It runs on anything with a recent browser and an Internet connection, and lets you share your work with other people if necessary. Worst case, you can pop into a library or hotel lobby and use the public computers to get work done. Best case, nothing bad happens and your backup plans are a tiny inconvenience.

Monday, March 16, 2015 2 comments

Blink: Superhero Summer Camp, episode 13

Blink’s earlier adventures:

Blink’s First Adventure | 2 | 3 | 4

Superhero Summer Camp (this one): 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12

“Okay, I’ve got you on the map,” Nixi said in his headset. “Follow the road for now, up toward the conference center.” That was the building he had popped out of just over an hour ago… but he could be mad at Nixi later. There was hero work to do. This is what he had trained for half the summer.

“Yeah.” Blink took the road in short pops, covering ground faster than he could run.

“Whoa,” said Nixi. “The three closest bots broke off and are heading your way. Every time you blink up the road, they change course.”

“That means they’re using infrared,” said Captain Heroic. “They’re following your body heat. Blink, if you’re willing, we can change tactics. Temporarily, anyway. Go ahead and take out those three, then come on back.” He explained what he had in mind.

“Cool,” Blink said, when he understood. “It’s getting dark, though. I can’t see much.”

“Flip down the glasses,” Nixi replied. “It’s an augmented reality display. It’ll show the position of the bots.”

“Awesome.” He flipped the lenses over his eyes, and the bots showed up as tiny red dots. “Still a ways away.”

Boom, he heard ahead of him, and one of the bots disappeared from the display. “What was that?” Blink asked.

“One of them stepped on a mine,” Zero replied. “None in your area to worry about, and your transponder will keep them from detonating on you, but be careful. Just remember, the bots will open fire if you’re close enough.”

“Yeah. Two to go.” The bots were red streaks in the display now. He moved in with short pops, trying to keep trees between himself and the enemy.

“Clear behind them! Go!” Nixi sounded excited.

“Now you see me…” he muttered, taking a limpet mine in each hand. He popped directly behind the one on his left. Up close, they were intimidating, ten-foot steel giants with machine guns for arms. Blink slapped a mine on its back, then popped away before they could react. As they spun to where he had stood, he popped behind the second one and mined it. Another pop took him back to the road.

“Clear!” he shouted. A second later, the mines detonated. “Owned your asses!” he yelled, pumping a fist.

“Good job,” said Zero. “Just remember, your mike is open. How are you feeling?”

“Okay.” Truth be told, Blink was too excited to feel any fatigue or embarrassment. This was like being in a video game, but for real.

“Good. Come on back, and we’ll get the decoys deployed.”

The decoys were one of Captain Heroic’s improvisations: towels, soaked in diesel fuel from the backup generators, wrapped in plastic bags, and tied to iron bars. Blink carried four, Captain Heroic eight, and they hiked into the woods and planted them at Nixi’s direction.

“How is this going to work?” Blink asked, jamming one of his decoys into the soft ground.

“If the bots are programmed to check out heat sources,” said Captain Heroic, using a two-pound hammer to drive the bar in further, “they’ll turn this way. Hopefully, a few of them will step on the mines between here and there. More important, we might get enough of them to break off the attack to buy some more time. Nixi has remote lighters set up in these things. She’ll set them off once we’re clear.”

“Okay.” A few minutes later, they drove in the last one and headed back to the road. As they climbed into their golf cart, they heard a motor and saw lights approaching. “That sounds like Warmonger,” said Blink, squinting. “Yup, that’s his Jeep.”

The Jeep stopped, and Warmonger stepped out. “Hey, Cap,” he said. “You know we got a truce for the night, right?”

“Yeah,” Captain Heroic replied. “How did you get over the blowout strip? You’ve met Blink already, I’ve heard.”

“Special tires. You think I’ve never seen a blowout strip?” Warmonger eyed his old enemy’s hands. “Hey, is that a hammer? Can I borrow it?”

“What for?”

“To bash some robo-heads in, natch. Boots on the ground beats bots on the ground, every time.” Captain Heroic shrugged and tossed him the hammer. “Thanks. Hey, kid. Is he your baby-sitter?”

Blink’s anger flared up, and Warmonger grinned. “Yeahhh. That should do it for now. Where’s the action?”

“That way.” Captain Heroic pointed into the woods. “The bots are programmed to check out infrared sources, so we have a dozen flares planted down that way. They’ll go up in a minute. You can probably use them for cover.”

“Yeah, that’ll work. You guys take out any, yet?”

“I got two,” Blink replied with some pride.

“Alrighty. Time to catch up.” Warmonger sped into the woods, faster than Blink had ever seen anyone run.

“Whoa,” said Blink. “I thought only Jaguar could run that fast.”

“When he pisses someone off, like he did you just now, he can do all sorts of things. That’s why he hates facing off against the Masked Warriors. Those guys never lose their cool.”

Sunday, March 15, 2015 3 comments

Spring #3 Cleaning Up

Spring #3 has been pretty wet so far. All the rain melted the snow in a hurry, and it’s supposed to be sunny and 70°F Sunday and Monday. If we’re going to get a Winter #4, it had better hurry up because the calendar’s running out.

As you may recall, Winter #3 left us with a rather large mess on our hands. I was glad to put the generator away, though I do need to dump some Sta-Bil in the tank and run it long enough to get into the carb. But the first order of business last weekend was to deal with the downed trees above the mailbox:

Snap, crackle, pop

I had planned to get outside with a chainsaw as soon as I could on Saturday. I was stuck inside with Mason, but The Boy pretty much took over.

Let the cleanup begin…

The process was fairly simple, but rather physical: trim branches off the fallen ends, toss them on the truck, then cut lengths for the fire pit and load them separately. Finally, cut down the trunks and cut them up. He finished the job up Sunday morning while I was at church.

Lookin’ good!

The only downside is, now you can see the manor from the road. I guess I’ll have to plant some holly or boxwoods along that edge. The big upside is, the persimmon tree (to the left behind the holly bush) is no longer shaded by the pines. Maybe Mason will have some more fruit to munch on this fall.


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