Thursday, August 29, 2013 9 comments

Staff Meeting (#FridayFlash)

Image source: openclipart.org
A Nazgûl’s piercing shriek rang through the conference room. Orcs, trolls, balrogs, all cringed and covered their ears, their heated argument suddenly forgotten.

“Now that I have your attention,” said Sauron, his glowing eye piercing the attendants, “let us try to stay focused from here on out. We do not have the luxury of time.” He turned to one of the few humans in the room who had not fled or fainted at the Nazgûl’s screech. “Mouth, kindly open the slides?”

The room darkened, and the projector lit up the screen descending from the ceiling. “Our situation looks very good, at least on paper,” said the Mouth. “We have superior numbers, supernatural assistance, and we have co-opted Saruman.”

“I’m not so sure that last is a positive,” said a cave troll. Despite their brutish reputation, carefully cultivated, cave trolls were intelligent and usually well-educated. “He is turning our own weapons against us. If he manages to seize the One Ring, he could push both Gondor and Mordor aside.”

“Your concerns are noted,” said Sauron. “But Saruman is no longer a player. The forest rose up against him, and undid all his work.” He paused to let that sink in. “But even without that detail, my Ring is difficult to locate. The Nazgûl are scouring the countryside, especially in those rare moments when it’s used. If they cannot find it, then only a great stroke of luck will put the Ring in his hands.” He gave the Nazgûl king a dark look. “Your failures so far have not been encouraging.”

The Ringwraith bowed his head. “It is only a matter of time, my lord.”

“But time, as I mentioned, is not on our side!” Sauron’s eye blazed in the darkened room. “The King in exile revealed himself in the captured Palantir, and I believe the Ring is already in his possession!”

Murmurs rippled through the room. “My lord,” the cave troll opined, “if he has the Ring already, why has he not worn it?”

“I—” The Dark Lord came very close to blurting I don’t know, and that would not do. “But even that is not the greatest threat we face.”

More murmurs. “But what threat could be greater?” the Nazgûl asked.

“The greatest of all.” Sauron’s voice grew hushed. “The writer.”

“I thought he was a myth,” one of the balrogs blurted.

“He lives,” the Dark Lord said, in a near-whisper. “I have seen him. He’s some kind of goody two-shoes, despite having given us all the advantages. I fear he’s going to pull a deus ex machina out of his ass.”

“But what can we do, my lord?” the Mouth asked, looking even more pale than usual.

“We must talk to him,” said Sauron. “Convince him that the King must take up my Ring, fall under my power, and allow us to prevail. His story thus becomes a cautionary tale, and certainly a more realistic one.”

“There is certainly a market for dark fiction,” the cave troll added. “We can not only conquer, but be a commercial success!”

“Hear, hear!” the orcs chanted.

The Dark Lord smiled. “Then let us begin, without further delay.”

Monday, August 26, 2013 5 comments

The Lost Years: Season 1, Ep. 3

One of the good things about serializing this is that I can include definitions for Termag-specific jargon at the end of each post.

Episode 1 | Episode 2



Credit: Roy Lathwell
Before The Madness, Jira had enjoyed the solitude of her posting. Near the tip of the Northern Reach, North Keep was near the important Straits, and only a few days’ sail from Isenbund and the islands of the cold Northern Sea. But the Northern Reach itself was rural, almost remote, a land of farms and hillside vineyards. Its primary settlement was the Keep itself and the adjacent military outpost. Like the rest of the world, most Reachers died in the Madness or its aftermath. But its relative isolation shielded many of the survivors from the after-effects, and the surviving soldiers, brave men and women all, helped Jira maintain some semblance of order.

A few weeks had passed since the unfruitful trip to Ak’koyr. Phylok was now in Isenbund, but they devoted a ketch to carry information and essentials between Isenbund and the Reach. Jira and Phylok had urged Anlayt to do the same for Ak’koyr, but the Captain insisted that all their resources were needed for rebuilding.

“Notable.” Striker—no, Hundred Perin now, she had promoted him to command the cohort that remained—stood at the door to her chambers. “The watchtowers are signaling an alarm.”

“Is a drill scheduled?” Jira could not remember a time when the watchtowers had ever signaled more than a drill.

“The flares are yellow,” he said. During a drill, the watchers would add copper salts to the fire, to turn the flames blue or green.

“I assume you have placed the outpost on alert?”

“Indeed, notable.”

Jira rose. “I will lend my aid, if needed. Ready a runner. If there is an incident, we should let Ak’koyr know.”

“Whether they deserve it or not,” said Perin.

“Indeed, Hundred.”

• • •

A runner from Point Watch met them at the outpost. “Eight fastboats, from the East,” she panted. “No banners. Four of them turned south toward the Straits. The others are heading around the Point.”

“Perhaps they are trying to establish trade routes?” Perin suggested.

“Given Captain Phylok’s reception, when he made his survey,” said Jira, “I will assume them hostile until I see otherwise.”

Perin nodded and gave orders. On either side of the harbor mouth, banners were raised: red, with a white horizontal stripe. No entry, was the message.

Another thing I have seen only in drills, Jira thought. She reviewed what she knew: a fastboat could carry two or three strikes. If these were indeed raiders, four fastboats could carry an entire cohort, equal in strength to this outpost. Whether they had a mage with them or not, Jira expected to take part in any skirmish. As a Protector, she knew combat magic, but had not specialized in it.

Well offshore, the fastboats struck their sails, deployed oars, and arrayed themselves. “Flying Diamond formation,” Perin spat, pointing to the approaching ships. “Fools. They’ve given away their intent.”

“If they land in the harbor, we could have trouble,” said Jira. “We need to repel them before they reach the breakwater. Let us reposition ourselves.”

“Indeed.”

Standing in a sheltered nook on the breakwater, Perin gave orders to the Strikers: “Keep the harbor clear. I don’t want a single one of them setting foot ashore, unless they’re surrendering. We’ve drilled in defending the outpost, you and yours know what to do. For the glory of Camac—” Perin swallowed past a lump in his throat— “the glory of Camac That Was!”

“For Camac!” the Strikers shouted as one, then hurried to their posts. Two strikes, one on either side of the breakwater, operated the concealed ballistas. These were fearsome weapons, like gigantic crossbows; a well-placed shot could breach a ship at the waterline or pin together half the rowers on one side of a fastboat. On shore, the catapults were ready. Jira held her breath as the attacking force drew ever closer.

The offshore mooring posts had a second use; they marked the effective range of the outpost’s larger weaponry. As the lead fastboat rowed through at full speed, the Strikers gave orders. Two ballistas loosed their bolts, aiming for the waterline. From the shore, the first catapult launched its own missile. Rowers in the lead fastboat, the focus of the defenders’ first response, broke rhythm as their ship took the onslaught. One ballista fell short of the mark, the bolt plunging into the water and slowing harmlessly. The second went high, wounding several rowers. But the catapult shot was true, sending a heavy bronze ball smashing through the hull.

Lightning crackled from the fastboat closest to Jira as it passed the mooring posts, slamming into one of the ballista emplacements. Jira stood and sent her own lightning in return, aiming to shear the oars along one side. The second ballista on Jira’s side of the breakwater returned fire, aiming toward the source of the lightning. A volley of arrows came Jira’s way, but she had already raised a fender and ignored them. She called the water, her primary element, and sent a mighty wave at their broadside, nearly capsizing two fastboats and swamping them both.

The battle had been joined only a minute, and already three of the fastboats were disabled or sinking outright. The fourth backed oars, trying to stay out of range of the outpost’s weapons, ignoring the shouts of their fellows and the taunts of Camac’s last cohort. Archers on the breakwater continued to shower the other three with arrows, confounding the crews who were trying to return fire or simply bail out enough water to keep their ships afloat. At last, Perin gave the order and the arrows ceased. A soldier struck the No entry banner on one side of the breakwater, and raised a banner of blue and yellow. This signal offered honorable surrender to any who reached shore unarmed. The attackers gave no response, but those who could on the lead fastboat abandoned ship. A few swam to shore to surrender, but most swam to join their fellows at one of the other ships.

Jira nodded, as Perin rejoined her in the sheltered place. “Do you notice something odd about yon raiders?” he asked.

“Besides their bent to war, when every living soul is more precious than ever?”

“Send your vision across the water, noted Protector. Tell me what you see.”

Jira closed her eyes. “One of the fastboats I swamped—there is no bailing out that one.” She sounded satisfied. “A man with a red sash floats dead in the water—your ballista crew aimed true, Hundred. Men scurrying about or swimming… hoy.” She opened her eyes and turned to Perin. “Not a single woman among them?”

“Indeed.”

“But why? The women in our cohort would make three, maybe four strikes.”

“And women or men, they fought bravely.” Perin grew grim. “But perhaps they…” He paused. “A dead woman cannot carry the next generation forward.”

continued…



Terminology:

Fastboat: a long, narrow ship with both sail and oars. Favored by raiders and navies for their maneuverability.

Strike: 10-12 soldiers, commanded by a Striker.

Cohort: 10-12 strikes, commanded by a Hundred.

Friday, August 23, 2013 10 comments

Adam and Steve (#FridayFlash)

Amazing, the ideas you come up with on a morning commute.



“Yooooooohoooo. Adam… Earth to Adam.”

“Oh… geez. Sorry, Steve.” Adam patted the riverbank next to him. “Have a lie-down.”

“Dude. I could have swallowed you whole, just now, and you wouldn’t have even noticed.”

“Sorry,” Adam said again, as Steve dropped next to him with an audible whoomph. “Got a lot on my mind, I guess.”

“Remember when it was just you and me?” Steve gave a wistful sigh. “You’d ride on my shoulders on those evening walks, and we’d talk about the day? Paradise lost, man.”

“You could still come.”

“After that curse she laid on me? Man, that was just mean.”

“You caught her at three-quarter moon. I don’t know what it is, but she gets really horrid at three-quarter. Not that it’s all that much better the rest of the month, lately. Why haven’t you weeded the garden, when are you gonna put up that rain shelter, why can’t we eat the apples—”

“Whoa. She knows better about the apples!”

“She keeps asking what’s the point. Like there needs to be a point? God said no. It’s not like there’s a shortage of food or anything.”

“Wow. That’s a new one.” Steve rubbed his head against a tree. “Who’s she been talking with?”

Adam sighed. “Well, she’s been hanging out with the serpent a lot.”

“Jeez, not the serpent?” Steve sounded shocked. “There’s something wrong with that dude. Look, man. Tell her anything. Tell her… tell her you’ll stop seeing me if she’ll stop hanging out with the serpent.”

“I wouldn’t do that!”

“You have to, man. For both your sakes.“

Adam gave Steve a sad smile. “You’re the best friend a man could ever have, Steve. If you had lips, I’d kiss you.”

“Ha, a T-rex is man’s best friend. I like that. Just see if you can get that curse rescinded. Having my descendants evolve into chickens would really suck.”


“Hi, honey.”

Adam paused. It had been quite a while since Eve had greeted him with a smile and a kiss. “Uh, hey,” he ventured. “You sound happy.”

“I know, I’ve been a real bear lately. I wanted to make it up to you.” She smiled. “I baked you a pie.”

Wednesday, August 21, 2013 7 comments

Writing Wibbles

A couple weeks ago, I hit one of those “I suck, why do I think I can write” phases that is something all writers go through from time to time. (If you haven’t, hang on. You will.) A couple nice reviews, that popped up on Amazon soon after, put me mostly right.

I got myself the rest of the way right by starting The Lost Years and posting the first episode last week. As part of the angst-fest, I got to thinking about some of the writing things I really enjoyed doing—and that included posting the latest episode of a long-running serial every week over a four-year period (two years each for FAR Future and White Pickups). As long as this blog has run, that’s still half its lifetime, right? I wanted to recapture the magic of those days, when I had no pressure except to remember to queue up the next episode and add it to the Tuesday Serial collector.

One of the things I’ve recaptured, something I haven’t done for nearly a year, is writing at least some of the scenes by hand. This is part of next week’s episode; even if you can read it, much will change before it’s officially Episode 3:

If you can read this…

And who knows… when I get it finished, I’ll probably turn it into an eBook and put it on the market. But there’s a lot of writing to be done before I get to that point. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the weekly posts.

Monday, August 19, 2013 3 comments

The Lost Years, Season 1 Ep. 2

I have a good start on the next episode. So far, so good!

Episode 1



Credit: Roy Lathwell
“I wonder if this is a calculated slight,” Captain Phylok muttered. “Sending an open ox-drawn cart, instead of a proper carriage.”

“Perhaps.” Protector Jira sounded distracted, as she looked about. All around them, the once-proud city of Koyr lay in char and rubble. The main thoroughfare, River Run, was cleared—perhaps at the expense of side roads, most of which were blocked by debris. “But this is comfortable enough. The weather is agreeable, and seeing is easier. If all the world’s horses were as hard-hit as our own, perhaps they have nothing but oxen to pull us.” She paused. “I presume Isenbund is better preserved than Koyr.”

“Indeed, notable. At least the Old Town, the walled district, survived in reasonably good order. Much of the wooden structures outside did not fare so well. But the Old Town is more than enough to house the survivors.”

They said little else as the cart followed the road, which in turn followed the Vliskoyr River. But when they passed through a gap that was once the famed Iron Gate, Phylok spoke again. “What happened to the gate? No madman could have carried that away!”

“I rather expect to pass through it yet,” said Jira.

• • •

The acropolis was ancient, perhaps predating Camac itself. Seven walls, one inside the other, climbed the hillside. The acropolis proper was inside the highest wall.

Phylok nodded with approval at those who guarded the first gate. “One could choose a worse place to sequester oneself at the end of the world,” he mused. “A hundred good soldiers could defend this place from any army you could field today.”

“There are granaries and storehouses under the hill itself, I’m told,” Jira replied. “Koyr used some of them, but the shafts and tunnels go on and on. The sages say it might at one time have been a Goblin fastness.”

“Let us hope that none are left sleeping there.”

They continued up the hillside, gate by gate, until they reached the top. Jira chuckled at the sight. “The Iron Gate,” she said. “As I thought, our hosts took it down and moved it. They must intend to live here, far above the chaos and debris. An interesting statement.”

Through the Iron Gate, the acropolis showed no signs of the recent chaos. Yet, there was much evidence of patching and construction on the ancient buildings. Here, the narrow streets were laid out in rings, an echo in miniature of the walls outside. The cart wormed its way around and through, until at last the driver pulled the placid oxen to a stop before a squat circular building.

“I believe that was once a tower,” Jira replied. “The ancients could have seen for miles from here.”

From the outside, the building was unimposing, its circular walls the only distinctive feature. Workmen stood atop a roof that once was higher, laying brick and stone.

“The center of the center,” Phylok whispered. “I wonder whether this is a statement as well.”

• • •

The driver announced them: “Protector Jira, of the Northern provinces. Captain Phylok, of Isenbund.”

“Enter, in all peace and harmony,” came the sharp reply.

Captain Anlayt is not pleased to have us here, Protector Jira thought, as they entered the Council Chamber. The chamber took up much of the old tower’s ground floor. It seemed far larger than necessary, but perhaps they would close off sections later.

“Welcome to Ak’koyr,” Anlayt greeted them. “I trust your sail was uneventful?” His expression lacked the warmth of his words.

“Nothing out of the ordinary,” said Jira. Spring in the North was often stormy, and the fastboat had been tossed like a rag before they reached the Straits, but Jira had resolved to make no complaint. “Captain, have you made a survey of the Gulf region? What is there to report?”

Anlayt gave her a dismissive look. “Forgive me, notable, but I report to First Protector Nisodarun. This is not your domain.”

Jira drew herself up, looking down at Anlayt, her swirling blue cape and her anger making her seem even larger. “The First Protector fell to the Madness! Have you forgotten the rules of succession?”

Anlayt fell sullen, as those nearby stole glances in their direction. “Of course I am familiar with those rules.”

“Good. Then you know, until we appoint a new Protector for the Gulf region, then the nearest Protector is to take charge. Of the nine Protectors, only myself, Protector Kontir of Stolevan, and Protector Borvin of the Spine have survived the events of the past year.”

“Truly? No word from the East?” Anlayt could not hide his surprise.

“I myself surveyed the East,” Phylok spoke for the first time. “If any of our mechanisms of government survived the last year, they have been swept aside. Those provinces not lying in anarchy and ruin have thrown off their allegiance.”

“Pah. Ungrateful wretches, the lot of them. And I myself am Eastern.”

“So what news of the Gulf?” Jira insisted.

“You saw the rubble of Koyr for yourselves. Vlis is much the same. Camac is worse.” Anlayt sighed. “The Pearl Throne was smashed. I have seen it myself. I cannot be certain, but I believe the scattered remains in the throne room were those of Her Sublime Majesty.” He turned away, and nobody spoke for a long minute. “And you?” he finally continued. “Have you other news?”

“Stolevan has fallen, but Protector Kontir tells us that several other coastal cities have maintained or re-established order. I will let Captain Phylok speak for Isenbund.”

“Isenbund lives,” said Phylok, “but the summers have grown shorter in the last few years. If that continues, we shall be icebound in a generation. Do you know of any other Captains in this region, besides the two of us, that have survived? No? We three may be all that is left of Camac’s governing mechanisms, outside the southern coast.”

Anlayt nodded, the silver plume atop his helmet bobbing in counterpoint. “Then you should urge your folk to gather here, Captain Phylok. The more we have working together, the more likely we can recover from this crisis.”

“They would not, Captain Anlayt. The Northern folk are proud citizens of Camac, and they will not lightly throw aside their allegiance. Nor will they lightly abandon their home, until it becomes absolutely necessary.” He drew himself up. “And as Captains, we should defer to the surviving Protectors.”

Anlayt gave Phylok a sour look. “Much of the old order, by necessity, must be put aside, no?”

“Perhaps,” said Protector Jira, “but it is our duty to preserve what we can. What of the eastern Gulf?”

“Only the cattle are left,” said Phylok. “They roam wild through the streets of the old fishing towns and across the plains. If any folk have survived, they stayed out of sight. Our remnant, Isenbund’s remnant, and the three of us are all that is left of Camac.”

continued

Sunday, August 18, 2013 2 comments

Debugging Mobile Windows

Not the kind that runs on your phone. I’m not sure there is any debugging of the hot mess that is Microsoft products.

The father-in-law has two F-150 pickups (yes, both are white) for use on the farm. The slightly newer one is a 1994 model, and was fairly luxurious when it was new… power everything, cloth seats, and so on. Nowadays, it’s a truck. It looks like a truck, and smells like a truck.

So on Monday, I came home from work to find the nose of one F-150 plugging the hole in the garage that’s reserved for the Miata. “The driver’s side window is all the way down,” the wife told me, “and I can’t get it to go up, and I don’t want it getting rained in.” So, in a valiant effort to reclaim the garage space I worked so hard to clear for my own vehicle, I gathered screwdrivers and other tools. I figured to pull off the door panel and push the window up. I didn’t get the entire panel off, but got the top loose enough to grab the window. With a little pulling while hitting the up button, the window bounced but did slide up. I parked the truck off to the side, put my car in, and promised the wife I’d give it a fair shot to make a permanent fix come the weekend.

During the week, I Googled “1994 f150 power window repair” and “remove 1994 f150 power window motor” and found a ton of forum postings and a couple videos. Funny how O’Lierly was ranting about how bad the Internet is on Fox Spew this week (the father-in-law insists on watching that crap, which comes on around the time we eat… and that might explain why I’ve had indigestion all week… but I digress), when I was using it to figure how how to fix a vehicle he would approve of. So come Saturday, I was armed with both tools and enough knowledge to be dangerous. With EJ at my side, we pulled the truck under a carport and got to work. The only screw that required the impact driver was the one in the door handle, but it wasn’t long before we had the panel popped off. Of course, there was a sheet of plastic, that felt like the same material in a heavy-duty garbage bag, glued to the door itself, so we peeled that away and decided to duct-tape it back up when we were done.

Here’s where things get interesting. On these trucks, Ford seals the power window motors behind sheet metal, but leaves dimples over the two bolts that are covered. With a 1/2" drill bit, a heavy duty drill (of which we have several, remember), and a little WD-40 as lube, we had access holes.

“What do you think that slot is for under this hole?” EJ asked me, pointing to a cutout below the lower hole.

“Maybe it’s to stick a piece of cardboard in, to catch the bolt if it falls off,” I suggested. “Actually, that sounds like a good idea.” Instead of cardboard, I used the lid from an empty McDonald’s drink that was laying off to the side. And a bolt fell, and the lid caught it. (Score one for me, huh?) So we got the motor out, and I pulled the cover off…

Crumbles are good on cake.
Inside motors, not so much.
And asked EJ, “You think that might have something to do with it?”

“Yeah, probably.”

I learned a few things about power window systems, yesterday. First off, I’d always assumed there was some kind of belt drive connected to the motors. I figured that belt was slipping and needed to be tightened. EJ had torn a few doors apart and knew better, but it seemed like a good assumption at the time.

The second thing I learned was, that triangular space in the plastic gear (the one under the metal gear) is supposed to hold three cylindrical rubber bumpers. That makes sense, it provides some “give” when the window hits the top or bottom. But in this motor, after a mere 19 years, the rubber had hardened, then crumbled.

One of the things I’d learned online was, the plastic gears are replaceable (that is, you can get just that part), instead of having to replace the whole motor (or the entire “regulator,” as it’s called, the motor and the scissor jack that lifts the window). So hi ho, off to AutoZone we go.

“Um, I don’t think you can buy just the gear,” said the counter dude. I pointed at the “power window gear kit” selection on his screen. “Oh.” So he punched up inventory, suggesting I buy the entire regulator for $129. “We don’t have one in stock, but they do at the Keith’s Bridge location. Or we do have the motor, $47.” Bah. The gear kit (gear and bumpers) was $20, and Keith’s Bridge isn’t that far away. We had to listen to the same surprise that they carried just the gear kit, and he went back and found it.

Triumphant in the hunt, we drove back to the manor, where I have some clear workbench space. Out with the old gear (after wrestling with a snap-ring), in with the new. I found that by putting in two bumpers, slipping the metal gear on, then wedging in the third bumper, I was able to cram it all in. Put everything back together, no leftover parts, put it back in the door, and test. Window went up, window went down. Hooray! We duct-taped up the plastic sheet, greased the slider track under the window, then put the door panel back on. All done, except to carry home all the tools (of course).

The wife got to test it shortly after, as some of the cows were being noisy and we had to shift them to another pasture. She rolled the window down and up several times, looking through the light rain to see what was going on. Everything worked just as it was supposed to.

I wonder how long it will be before we have to do the same thing on the passenger side.

Friday, August 16, 2013 12 comments

Gods on the Mountaintop

A high fantasy of sorts, this week…

If you’re in the mood to catch a serial at the beginning, I’ve launched The Lost Years this week as well.



Image source: openclipart.org
I

They were not gods, but neither were they mortal. To such as you or I, the distinctions are not terribly significant. They watch. They judge.

Sometimes, they intervene.

II

Two were sent to watch us. As it is with gods, they chose a mountaintop as their dwelling place, and they made themselves human bodies, that they might interact with us where needed.

But not being true gods, there was a mistake. Both had planned to live as men, but their handlers misinterpreted the genetic blueprints, and both found themselves in the bodies of women, full and ripe.

“We can make it right,” the handlers assured them, “but we will do it one at a time.”

“Let it be so,” said the gods, and it was done.

But before the handlers could repeat the change, the human bodies, male and female, looked at each other and at the gods within. They came together and joined.

God-like sex is exhausting to a human body, but bodies recover with rest. The gods watched, coupled, rested.

III

As a disguise, the gods’ mountaintop home was a rustic general store. The lonely road that snaked past was once the primary highway, but now the interstate went around (and through) the mountain. These days, motorcycles and the occasional RV made up most of the traffic.

One afternoon, the gods lay exhausted in their bed, after a particularly satisfying romp. A screech, then a crunch, penetrated their sleep.

“What was that?”

“We have to see.”

The gods forced their weary human bodies out of bed, and into clothes. They shuffled into and through the public part of their dwelling, and out the door.

A small car rested against one of the concrete pillars that guarded the old gasoline pumps, long disused. The fender was crumpled, and steam rose from the front of the car. Behind them, skid marks showed their path; perhaps the driver was distracted and missed the curve. The doors were open, and two young men were surveying the damage.

“Is everyone all right?” the god in the woman’s body asked.

The men’s heads snapped around, their eyes riveted on the woman. “Uh—yeah, we’re okay,” they stammered. “Sorry about the damage. I guess we’ll need to use your phone to call a tow truck. I can’t get a signal up here.”

“It’s not that bad,” the god in the man’s body assured them.

“Are you serious?” They stopped. “No offense, but the radiator’s busted, and the fender’s smashed up against the tire. No way we can drive it.” They spoke to the man, but looked at the woman.

Worshippers could be useful, they thought to each other.

“Come inside,” the woman said, and they followed her willingly. The other god made sure they were out of sight, then moved the car away. The crumpled fender straightened, leaving a scuff and a small dent. Radiator fluid ceased to hiss, and that which puddled beneath dried away, leaving only the scent of ethylene glycol. By the time all was finished, both young men were exhausted—and entirely devoted to their service.

IV

The two young men reluctantly took their leave, but were invited to return whenever they could. They brought offerings of books, magazines, music, video, and anything else requested of them. They were granted the power to repair their vehicle as necessary, if another mishap befell them, and they used their power to heal the cars of the poor. Quietly, they spread the word.

Gods live among us.

They watch. They judge.

If they must, they will intervene.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013 6 comments

Indie Life / Writing Wibbles

Welcome, Indie Lifers, to the free-range insane asylum! Don’t forget to hit the linky at the end, and see what other indies have to say about their travails, triumphs, and tips this month.

Extreme Pantsing

One of the more fun things about being an indie writer is the forever-ongoing “plotter/pantser” debate. I haven’t run across anyone who takes it seriously, we’re just pretending to debate (or argue) the issue because it’s a good way to share a laugh with our friends. One of my friends in the pubished-writer camp is a dedicated pantser: “The one time I tried to do a detailed outline, I ended up not wanting to write the damned book, because in my head, it was finished.”

Me, I go both ways. I like to have an idea of how a story is going to end, but I don’t exactly demand that of myself before I start writing. I’ve plotted two stories. One is in slow progress, the other I haven’t started.

Have you ever been there? An opening scene typed up, and it’s pretty cool. Now if you could only figure out what happens next…

That’s when you should consider a technique that I call “Extreme Pantsing.” Like any “extreme” activity, it’s not for the faint of heart. But like the first time I jumped a speed bump on rollerblades, just going for it might bring success, and not trying at all is a guaranteed faceplant.

Extreme Pantsing works like this: you take that cool opening scene, clean it up, and post it on your blog. Tell all your friends on Twitter that you’ve started a serial, encourage them to read it and leave feedback. When Tuesday rolls around, add the link to the Tuesday Serial collector and make sure to mark it “DEBUT” (only for the first episode). Include the episode number and genre (if you can) in the title line, like this: Long Story, Episode 1 by Joe Bloggs - Litfic - DEBUT. Now you have an incentive to keep writing the story—your readers are going to expect regular updates! If nothing else, you have a weekly deadline to turn in 1000 words or so.

(Disclosure: I’m one of the TuesdaySerial staff. It’s all-volunteer, no ads even, and we’re always looking for guest posters.)

I first tried Extreme Pantsing in 2007, when I’d not even heard the term “pantsing,” and I wasn’t on Twitter and hadn’t heard of TuesdaySerial. I posted Episode 1 of a story I called FAR Future; the title was a pun on my blog name, and the story depicted blog posts from an oil-depleted near future (a little too near, as it turned out, oops). I had no idea what I was doing, where the story was going, or how long it was going to be. There were weeks that I didn’t get an episode up. But I kept cranking away, and the story unfolded… and kept going… and going. It run over two years, with 104 episodes total.

Not content to take a break, I started posting White Pickups shortly after FAR Future wrapped up. Again, I had no idea of how it would finish, but I had a good head start (about ten episodes written) when I started posting it. I thought it might run 30 episodes. HA! It ran 90, another run of nearly two years, and turned into a 100,000 word novel that demanded an 80,000 word sequel (Pickups and Pestilence).

And that brings us to today… or maybe yesterday would be more accurate. I’ve been wanting to write some historical fiction about my fictional world, Termag, for some time now (does that make it fictional historical fiction?). The story was reluctant to be written, but I had an opening scene that looked good. So I forced the issue. If you have a mind, go check out The Lost Years, Season 1, Episode 1. (Breaking up a serial into “seasons” gives you the luxury of taking a break once you hit a good stopping point, just in case you decide to start plotting.)

Sounds scary, but it has worked for me before. Why question success? Start posting, and pants the hell out of it.


Thanks for reading, and check out some of the other Indie Life writers this week!

Monday, August 12, 2013 8 comments

The Lost Years, Season 1, Ep. 1

The four centuries between the fall of Camac That Was and the Age of Heroes is commonly called “The Lost Years.” These are the stories of the remnant who tried to re-establish order and civilization.



Year 1, Spring

Credit: Roy Lathwell
The last of the mad ones was dead, and Protector Jira felt a guilty relief.

“Bury her,” she told Striker Perin, looking out her window at the sea, grey and cold as her thoughts. “Do it properly, and erect a marker. She had a name—Linya sam Tiegs—so give her a proper grave.”

“It will be as you wish, notable,” said Perin. “But indulge my curiosity: why do for this one, what we could not do for the thousands of others?”

Jira sighed. “Most of those had no name. Or no name that we could put to them. And Perin, I am weary. We burned so many bodies over the winter, I fear the soot will cover the entire Northern Reach forever. We had to cover the burial pit last week for the smell. And the smell of death is one I hope to be done with for a good, long time.”

“Understood, notable.” Perin saluted and departed.

“It’s over,” Protector Jira said to herself, trying to believe it. Not a year ago, people began to go mad, for no known reason. It spread across Camac’s vast domain like a virulent disease. Many who kept their wits fell victim to those who did not, or simply died in the general chaos, or killed themselves in despair over loved ones. Jira herself had considered the latter.

Spring is the time of renewal, she reminded herself. But what is there to renew? Take twenty of the folk. Twelve of them fall to The Madness. Seven more perish, by the hands of the mad, starvation or accident, or their own hands. One is left to carry on, the horrors of the last few months forever etched on her mind. Could this tiny remnant re-establish order? Was it even worth trying?

Jira left the window, crossing the room to a map of Termag. Jira marked the places in her mind. Rumors said the great cities—Camac, Stolevan, Vlis, Koyr—were all smoldering ruins, and that seemed likely. There had been a brief message from Protector Kontir of Stolevan, claiming the cities east of Stolevan had managed to maintain a semblance of order. Captain Phylok of Isenbund had traveled across the Eastern provinces, to see how they had fared, and now his ship stood in the small harbor outside the Keep. Perhaps that was a good omen—Phylok’s safe return on the same day the last mad soul took her longest journey. Any hope was worth clinging to, these days.


“Notable,” a runner called from the door that Jira had left slightly ajar. “Captain Phylok.”

“Enter, in all peace and harmony,” she said. Phylok was a Westerner, short but broad and strong. Jira, a Northerner and a sturdy woman herself, stood nearly a head taller.

Phylok saluted. “Noted Jira, I am ready to make my report.”

“Good news, I hope.”

“As I see it, good and bad. The Eastern provinces were stricken hard, perhaps not quite as hard as ourselves. However, every one of them with any semblance of government has declared independence. Most refused us harbor. We can expect no help from the East.”

Jira shrugged. “And the southern coast is too far away to focus on anything but its own needs. As expected, it seems we are on our own.”

Phylok paused, gathering courage for a question. “Have you received word from any other quarter?”

“We have heard from Captain Anlayt. He was able to gather survivors in the acropolis outside Koyr. They have named it Ak’Koyr.”

“But not Camac?”

“First Protector Nisodarun fell to The Madness,” said Jira. “Perhaps Captain Anlayt has made a survey of the Gulf, but he did not see fit to give me any kind of report beyond the fact of his own survival.”

“Perhaps we should join him there. I’ve seen the acropolis, it’s defensible, and the climate is better.”

Jira gave him a sour look. “If relocate we must, climate be damned. I would rather relocate to Isenbund. Captain Anlayt is… intractable.”

Phylok looked down. “If summers get much shorter, we may have to abandon Isenbund. The remnant is in good order—we gathered three, perhaps four hundred sane folk into the city—and the farms above the city were not greatly damaged. We were organized enough to bring in the harvest, and we actually have a surplus of food, but this was the first winter in the last five that we were able to feed ourselves.”

“Good thing. There has been little we could have done here.”

Phylok nodded. “Indeed. So what do we do now?”

Jira thought a moment. “As unpleasant as Anlayt is to deal with, we cannot shun him—or any living, sane soul—in these times. We shall ask him if he has surveyed the Gulf, and what he has found. But, as much as it pains me to do so, I believe I must make this request in person.”

continued…

Sunday, August 11, 2013 3 comments

Oh, Dam.

When this isn’t happening,
there’s a problem.
Even without the chicken houses, there are a zillion ways around here to have a significant percentage of one’s weekend eaten alive. This one, however, was a little different.

The inlaws have a farm. And on that farm there is a pond. With a pump house on one side, and a dam on the other. A few months ago, the pump house was flooding out, due to a lot of rain coming in and a clog in the overflow pipe going out. We ended up running a piece of high-pressure roll pipe down the outflow pipe, and ramming away until it broke free. The obstruction turned out to be a can of starter fluid, which to me was just more proof of the usual bizarre stuff that happens around here. (Only here would a can of starter fluid stop something.)

So on Friday, the wife is telling me a tale of woe. Something was clogging the pond’s outflow pipe this time, and the water was threatening to rise over the dam and cause massive problems. Three people had spent half a day on it, but she suggested I call Evil Lad NOT and ask him for assistance. Well, he was moving into his lodgings at UGA, so I was on my own.

Being by myself, I decided to survey everything first, to see what they’d tried and what I was up against. I suggested opening the drain, to buy some time, and was told the end of the drain is capped and it would be a major hassle to dig it out. I decided to put that in the “last resort” bucket, right before the idea of dropping a weighted M-80 down the pipe. The end of an augur line (a souvenir from the chicken houses) was sticking out of the outflow pipe below the dam, their attempt to break the clog from underneath. I decided to work from the top.

The problem was, the outflow pipe (up top) was difficult to find. The usual formula is “about eight feet left of the drain handle and just a little past,” but this time, the drain handle was under water. Being a pond, the water isn’t exactly clear, so it took a little paddling around the general area until I got close enough to see it. Then, I had to find the outflow pipe. Half an hour later, I was ready to… something. I probed with a thin piece of roll pipe, and concluded that the blockage was probably at the bend.

Then I got an idea. If a can of starter fluid could block the pump house outflow, could another kind of can block this one? And if it was steel, maybe I could fish it out with a magnet. The Boy has blown out speakers of all sizes, and they were piled up in the garage. I figured, since I’ve been planning to repurpose the magnets for a windmill project sooner or later, that I could pull one of the subwoofer magnets, tie it to a rope, and try to fish out any metal object blocking things up. I left the roll pipe sticking out of the overflow, to mark the spot, and got the magnet. I pulled up all sorts of crud with it, perhaps muck with a high iron content, but couldn't grab anything else.

At this point, I suddenly thought of the pump house blockage, and how we used the thick roll pipe to ram the obstruction out. In fact, I wondered why the wife hadn’t thought of it, since it was her idea that time anyway. So I got the unwieldy stuff, spent another half hour relocating the pipe because I didn’t leave the other to mark it, then got at it. After a couple minutes of ramming, I felt something give just a little, and the pipe resisted pulling as if it were stuck. So I bashed away a few more times, then felt a vibration. Putting my ear to the pipe let me hear the sound of rushing water, and I saw a little vortex form above the pipe. Yay!

I left the pipe there, just in case, and went down to the outflow. I was rewarded by the sight of plenty of water flowing out, although I didn’t see anything in the water that could have been the obstruction. I figured it was debris and muck that collected and packed up. I felt rather good about myself, having accomplished in three hours what three people hadn’t in four hours… although, around here, that usually means they’ll expect me to take care of the next problem myself.

Sunday, August 04, 2013 4 comments

Weekend Roundup

It’s been a busy week…

Awake and ready to go!
The few minor issues with my new-to-me Miata are electrical. The driver-side power window isn’t working, and Solar installed a manual crank. This is a common workaround among Miata enthusiasts, as the replacement parts for the power windows can run several hundred smackers. Since the passenger-side power window works, this is something I can live with for a while.

What I can’t abide is the lousy stereo. It’s original equipment (1992), an AM/FM radio with a cassette player. Just for grins, I stuck a tape in it earlier this week, and now it won’t come out. Worse, the left channel was gone. I put it down to a blown speaker in the driver-side door, especially since I wired a spare (home) stereo speaker box into the connector and got sound. So, it was off to Best Buy for a pair of Pioneer speakers. One of the “fun” parts of this replacement was that the Miata’s speaker mount uses three screws, and the new speakers came with four slots. With a workbench clear enough to use (yay!), I used one of the existing holes and marked the places for the other two. A few minutes with a Dremel, and I had the slots I needed.

Since the Miata uses a plug connector for the speakers, I drilled the rivet out of the old speakers and clipped enough wire to insert in the holes that the new speakers provided. A little quality time with a soldering gun, then a screwdriver, and I was done. Except that I still didn’t have a left channel. What…ever. A day or two later, I pulled the left-side speaker, and found that I hadn’t done a good job with one of the wires. More soldering, put it back in, and now both sides have sound! I’m still going to replace that head-unit, though. I’ve wanted a stereo with aux-in (or better yet, USB-in) for some time now. All it takes is money, right?


The Boy will have a hard time
borrowing this one
One of the drawbacks of the ceiling fan in Mason’s room has always been that it had no light. I looked at attaching a light once, some time back, but it didn’t work out. So earlier this week, Daughter Dearest bought a ceiling fan with an attached light. I got on it last night. It wasn’t exactly a “no problem” swap, but it wasn’t all that difficult once I got all the tools together. I’m (re)learning that keeping at one of these projects will let me finish it sooner than I might think. I put the old fan (with detached blades) in the box and sat it in the living room.

So today, the wife says, “you need to get that fan out of the living room.” It took me two seconds to decide where I wanted it, and about 20 minutes to put it up. (Mason helped by carrying the detached blades out to the garage for me.) I nailed a 2x4 across two rafters, used four screws to attach the hanger, and it doesn’t get much easier. I didn’t feel like dorking with splicing into one of the nearby light fixtures, so I got a 3-wire cord I’d clipped off some dead appliance in the past, and spliced it in. Run to an extension cord, plug it in, and away it goes. There was an initial blast of heat, as it flushed out what was up in the rafters, but it was soon moving ambient air around. So… if you’re ever wondering how to dispose of a working ceiling fan, putting it up in the garage seems to be a pretty good idea. Yes, it clears one of the light fixtures by about 3 inches.


And I leave you with a Mason pic (that is, a pic by Mason). He asked to take some pictures yesterday morning, and got a good one of EJ snoozing (or pretending to) on the futon.

Kids take the darndest pix.

Friday, August 02, 2013 11 comments

Crossfire (#FridayFlash)

Meanwhile, in Skyscraper City…



Image source: images.all-free-download.com
“What would really help,” Bijay said, “is if we could just feed it a spreadsheet, and the app pulls the parts list from the database and gives us a per-unit cost.” He paused, as the waitress came by with their beers and a big basket of chili cheese fries.

Jesse took a generous drink. Still holding his mug, he picked up a sloppy fry with the other hand. “If everything’s in the same place, every time—”

Hannigan’s Bar and Grill jolted, and a sharp whoomp followed hot on its heels. The table jumped, nearly upending Bijay’s mug. Jesse’s reflexive jerk sloshed some of his own beer. “Damn!” he snapped, over the growing babble. “What the hell was that?”

“An earthquake?” Bijay’s eyes were wide. “I thought we didn’t get earthquakes here!” He looked across the restaurant, at the people gathering to look out the big window out front. “Must have been a big wreck outside.”

“Put it on Channel Fourteen!” several people yelled from the window, and the bartender complied.

“—on the Scene, live from downtown Skyscraper City.” Montana Rack took up one half of the screen. Behind her, the other half—

“Shit!” Bijay gasped. “That’s the office!” He pointed at a plume of smoke rising from the top floor.

“—daring raid on Republic Industries. All of Skyscraper City’s active superheroes are cooperating in the attack. We should have more information shortly, but the operation has just begun.”

“Oh, crap,” said Jesse, and got out his phone. Everyone at the window had their own phones out as well, taking video and adding their own commentary. “Hey, Ted. I took a late lunch with one of the engineers, to discuss the integration project, and it looks like all hell broke loose over there! What do I do? … Yeah, okay. I don’t think I could get back inside anyway, with all the supers running loose. … Sure, no problem. Thanks.” He pocketed his phone and turned back to Bijay. “Looks like I got the afternoon off,” he said. “Ted isn’t sure we’ll even be open tomorrow.”

Bijay was riveted to the TV. “The League of Devis!” he grinned, pumping a fist. “Go, you guys… uh.” He looked at Jesse, who only smirked. “Man. Talk about getting caught in the crossfire.”

“At least we’re in a comfy bar, and not really in the crossfire,” said Jesse, waving at the waitress. “What’s got them… hey, isn’t the executive conference center on the top floor?”

“Yeah,” said Bijay. “One for me, too,” he told the waitress, then turned back to his co-worker and lowered his voice. “They finally got something on Palmer, I’ll bet.”

Jesse looked around, and leaned across the table, nearly whispering. “Hell, I’m not surprised. He’s the biggest crook—oh, crap.”

“What is it?”

“Today’s the annual shareholder’s meeting. The whole executive team is up there, along with the biggest bigwigs who own the stock. And they’re all hiding under the tables, yelling sell sell sell into their phones.”

Bijay winced. “How bad do you think it’ll get?” On the screen, a helicopter lifted off from the roof of their office, but lost power and sank toward the parking lot.

“Well, that order I’ve got in to sell at forty-three isn’t gonna happen,” Jesse sighed. “Actually, things might get back to normal in a few days. Seems like everything runs better when those guys are out of the office. A little jail time might put the stock right back up!”

“Hey, look.” Bijay pointed at the TV. A familiar face stood next to Montana, wearing a satisfied smile.

“Here with us now is Skyscraper City’s most iconic figure, Captain Heroic,” Montana was saying. “Captain, have you come out of retirement for this raid?”

“No, Montana,” said the Captain. “It was a temptation, though. I’ve always considered Republic to be unfinished business, you know. But I helped plan the assault, and I’ve been authorized to speak for the team, today.”

“So what happened to trigger this action today?”

“In the last few weeks, we’ve had an anonymous tipster feeding us inside information—”

“Oh, crap,” Jesse moaned. “A mole? Security is going to be up our asses the rest of the year!”

“—to the City Court, and they issued warrants—”

“How? Who?” Bijay asked.

“Hell, I don’t know. Maybe Miss Siles flashed someone.” Jesse grinned. “I’d spill a few beans to get my hands on those.”

“Ha! Who wouldn’t?” They turned back to the TV, just in time to see a grey-suited figure plunge from a window. A brightly-colored Devi swooped in and caught the falling man, depositing him amidst a ring of awaiting police.

“Great catch!” Bijay exulted.

“This is certainly the largest superhero action in several years,” said Montana. “Captain Heroic, has there been anything to match this recently?”

“Not in the last few years.” Captain Heroic divided his attention between Montana and the camera. “Four years ago, Count Boris and I teamed up with the League of Devis in Operation Hockey Rink.” He laughed. “You know, the Samboni mob.”

“That’s right!” Montana gushed. “That was before the Masked Warriors relocated.” The camera zoomed in on a score of black-clad figures, climbing the glass walls of the Republic Industries headquarters.

“Man, the PR department is gonna have their hands full,” said Jesse.

“Everyone will have their hands full,” Bijay replied. “Hey. Maybe we can make this work for us, too.”

“Huh? Oh… you know what? You might be right. Beats getting caught in the middle.”

The two schemed and planned, as the supers lopped off the dragon’s head.

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