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Monday, March 30, 2015 2 comments

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 9 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 3 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.

Friday, March 20, 2015 9 comments

Fair Trade (#FridayFlash)

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

Image source: openclipart.org
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 5 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—and I just spent $100 US for a 3TB drive—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?

If you have a day job, be careful about bringing that work laptop home with you at night and using it until you can repair or replace your primary writing workstation. Most companies have a clause about using their equipment that translates to “if you use our stuff to do it, it’s ours.” Most non-evil companies aren’t interested in grabbing rights to a work of fiction, though. Still, consider that as a last resort. It usually isn’t difficult to find a cheap or free used computer that will hold together for a few weeks.

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. On the Android side, OfficeSuite Pro (free on Kindle Fire via Amazon’s “Underground” program) works. In the comments, Katherine Hajar mentions AndrOpen Office, an Android port of OpenOffice. If anyone has other suggestions, 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 3 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.

Friday, March 13, 2015 9 comments

DeVine (#FridayFlash)

Here’s a peek at one of Skyscraper City’s supervillains. If you haven’t been reading all along, don’t miss out on Blink: Superhero Summer Camp (link to first episode); new episodes drop every Monday. Or hit the Skyscraper City link for other related stories!

From a distance, Gethsemane Church shines like a jewel on Skyscraper City’s northern edge. Crystal spires catch the sunlight, gleaming like a beacon and blinding unwary motorists at rush hour.

The grounds are no less imposing nor less beautiful. Exotic and native plants grow in ordered harmony across twelve acres of prime real estate. A wide expanse of lawn, manicured as finely as any country club’s fairways, provides a natural space for outdoor events. Even the sprawling parking lot, big enough for a thousand cars, has plenty of shade and greenspace. The impious often say that Gethsemane is a shrine to its High Minister, Charles “Chuck” Worley. But it’s hard to argue with success, and Gethsemane is success on steroids.

Image source: openclipart.org
But even Rev. Worley would say that there are two gems in the tiara that is his church. One is the replica of its namesake, the Garden of Gethsemane, where the Savior Himself prayed for deliverance. The other is indoors, the Arch of Living Vines over the pulpit, reminding the faithful of the parable of the vine. (These vines are not grapes, and bear no fruit, but that minor quibble is lost on most.)

On this Tuesday afternoon, the sanctuary is almost empty—except for one man at the Living Vine. Snick go a pair of clippers, and a long length of vine drops to the floor atop a growing pile of clippings. Anyone watching Philip Klor at work would be horrified, but Klor insists on working with nobody nearby. He does his job well (and cheaply) enough that Worley tolerates this one quirk. Nobody else could complete his vision of an arch of vines over his pulpit, after all.

With the arch thinned out, Klor reached out and focused. Slowly at first, then gaining speed, the vines grew. On both sides, the vines stretched up the chicken wire that formed the Arch, thickening and leafing out. In minutes, the chicken wire was hidden by lush green, growing exactly where it needed, with not a single leaf out of place.

Klor hopped down the ladder and strode to the back of the sanctuary to check his handiwork. “Lookin’ good as always,” he muttered. Returning to the risen area around the pulpit, he stuffed the clippings into a bag and fed the planters a generous helping of fertilizer and mulch. Automatic systems, more of Klor’s handiwork, took care of the watering part.

Sauntering out to the prayer garden, he looked around. That chump Worley often brought his own chumps out here to shake more money out of their pockets, but today he had the place to himself. He checked the place out, willing a few of the plants to try a little harder, to get a little greener. As always, they responded. The pay was crappy, and Klor often daydreamed of walking out and burying the grounds in kudzu behind him, but he did his job. It was—no pun intended—excellent cover for his real work.

Tucked away behind a holly hedge was the caretaker’s cottage. Gethsemane provided him with living space, but he had to pay rent out of what little they paid him. Not to mention the ten percent “tithe” they withheld from his meager paycheck on top of taxes… but this megachurch was not Klor’s sole source of income.

Not by a long shot.

He deposited the clippings in the mulcher system behind the cottage, then went inside for a shower. Minutes later, clean and refreshed, he sat at his computer. His Internet link went through the church’s network, which was constantly monitored for signs of impropriety, but there were ways around that. Accessing his cover site, a botanical database, he hopped on the anonymizing relay and went to town. Or, to be more precise, Twitter.

Party at my place Friday, one tweet offered. There were several replies from accounts he followed, chatty cover aliases, offering to bring drinks or snacks. He chimed in with his own reply.

The supervillains were planning something big. DeVine meant to be a part of it.

Monday, March 09, 2015 3 comments

Blink: Superhero Summer Camp, episode 12

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

“Still looking for him,” Captain Heroic said into his headset. “I’m taking another sweep of the Sim Room, just in case he was—crap! He just popped in! Blink!” He sprinted across the Sim Room to the doors, where Blink doubled over and sat on the floor. “Where the hell have you been, kid? Professor Zero’s turning the place upside down looking for you, and now we got a situation outside!”

 “I know,” Blink puffed. “I saw Montana doing her breaking news thing. I totally forgot about the interview. Kinda got tied up with personal stuff.”

 “Are you okay? How far did you teleport?”

“You know the Dari-Freez by the freeway exit? They had it on TV.”

“Cripes. That’s like eight miles. How did you get there?”

 “I popped out to the road and started walking. Then I got a ride. From Warmonger.”

 “Warmonger?” Captain Heroic looked horrified. “How is he mixed up in this?”

“He says he’s not. And he might switch sides for the evening.”

“Oh, that’s reassuring. What else did he tell you?”

Blink’s breath came easier, and he scrambled to his feet. “It can wait. But I got some questions for you and Professor Zero a little later. The aerial shot showed the attack-bots—Warmonger called them ABAs—and he said there’s about two dozen.”

“Pretty good assessment, from one glimpse. But that’s his thing.” Captain Heroic led Blink down the hall, back toward the parking deck.

“What are the bots doing out there?” Blink asked.

“Making a mess, mostly. Security is slowing ‘em down, but the tac software says they’ll breach the conference center in about twenty minutes. After that, whoever is running the bots will need about five minutes to realize it’s a facade. Not good.” Captain Heroic pointed to one of the golf carts, and they climbed in. “Staging area’s set back from the entrance.” He let the cart wind up, not letting up on the pedal; the breeze flipped Blink’s hood back and blew his hair around. “Only thing slowing them down so far are the mines and Security’s heaviest weaponry. We shut off the active defenses, they weren’t doing any good and the noise was getting to our people.”

Near the other end, he braked hard and slewed the cart sideways in front of several others. “Just in case we need to run for it,” he explained. Golf carts bracketed each end of the staging area, with folding tables and several laptops in between. A whiteboard hung on the wall, somehow.

Professor Zero was here, with the Masked Warrior woman Ms. Ma, several security peeps—and, to Blink’s surprise, Nixi was hunched over one of the laptops. He spared a second to glare at her back, then the Professor rushed forward. “The timing could have been better to have a personal moment, Blink, but we can worry about that later. Right now, we have a major situation. I’m sure Captain Heroic already briefed you.”

“Yeah. Two dozen ABAs. I came back as soon as I heard.”

“He was pretty worn out, after an eight-mile teleport,” said Captain Heroic. “I guess he discovered his distance limit.”

“That’s something else we can worry about later. For now, we have to figure out how to destroy those things out there. They can’t jam our comms inside the hill here, but outside we’re basically blind—”

“Our Internet link is up!” Nixi yelped. Seconds later, the iPad in Blink’s bag chimed as the laptop next to Nixi started displaying data. “That’s the radar and surveillance!”

Blink dug through his bag and pulled out his iPad. There was a Twitter message from Warmonger: @blinkss14 I got Pulse to interfere with the cyber attack, at least for now. Tell the Zero I want a crack at the ABAs. He shrugged and showed the screen to Professor Zero.

“Things just got a little more interesting,” said Professor Zero, pulling out his cellphone. “And more manageable.” He poked at the phone for a minute, then pocketed it. “Well, reinforcements are on their way, and Warmonger is on our side for the next hour or two. I’m sure he has his reasons. We can’t wait until he or the Devis arrive, though. Unfortunately, the only portable weapon we have in the arsenal that will damage an ABA are the magnetic limpet mines, and we have to be close enough to put one on them.”

“Easy,” said Blink. “I take a mine, pop next to a bot, slap the mine on, then pop away.”

“I might be able to improvise a mine launcher,” Captain Heroic added. “If one gets close enough, I could shoot one.”

“I don’t know if there’s time for that,” said Zero. “I hate to say it, but it sounds like Blink’s plan is the best one. I’ve already sent for a crate of limpet mines.”

“Give him a headset with a transponder,” Nixi suggested. “Now that we’re not blinded, I can mark him on the map here, and tell him where the closest bots are.”

“Blink, are you willing to do this?” Zero asked.

“Sure. I can pop away from anything that’s giving me trouble.”

“You need to keep tabs on yourself,” said Captain Heroic. “If you start getting fatigued again, you need to get out. I expect you’ll have some fatigue issues, if you couldn’t even stand up after your last teleport. You’re rested now, but you won’t be a hundred percent.”

“I’ll be okay,” Blink replied. “Let’s do this.”

They heard another golf cart approaching from up the hall. “That’s the limpet mines,” said Zero. “We’ll alert Security to your presence on the battlefield.”

Friday, March 06, 2015 4 comments

Poison Kaine (#FridayFlash)

Image source:
Old Kaine paused in his long shuffling up the sidewalk and leaned on his cane, looking over the two younger men who stood in his way. “What’s up?” he sighed, knowing well what was up. They said nothing. “I got four dollars and twenty-seven cents,” he continued at last. “And a paperback. But I guess you boys aren’t much for reading.”

The assailants looked at each other, trying to decide if they had just been insulted. “I bet you got more than that on you,” one said.

Kaine looked around. Nobody was around, let alone paying attention. “Look,” he said, raising his cane. “I think you need to…” The cane made a phhut sound, and one of them fell over, stiff as a statue, staring at the dart in his gut. The other gave his partner a goggle-eyed look. “Young folks these days,” said the old man, now pointing his cane at the second man. “In my day, the survivor would’ve had the sense to run for it by now. So why aren’t you running?”

The would-be attacker took a few steps backwards, hands up, then turned and ran. “About time,” Kaine muttered, plucking the dart out of his victim. He was not quite dead yet, but the poison had done its work, seizing up all his muscles. He was suffocating, and feeling every bit of it, at least until he lost consciousness. “If you were one to do a little thinking, you might have thought about how an old geezer walking alone out here lived long enough to be an old geezer, eh?”

He looked around one more time, then opened his cane at the crook. He dipped the dart in fresh poison and reloaded it into the barrel. One shot was all he ever needed. But there was real work to be done later. The Senator was having his big rally in the Square tonight.

Thursday, March 05, 2015 2 comments


About a month ago, I dropped my Kindle going into work. It was in a case, but those eInk screens are fragile at the top:

Where’s the title bar?

Once screen rot sets in, it doesn’t get better… only worse. The grey crept down to obliterate half the top line of text, and picked up a few vertical lines down the right side, and I knew the old guy was due for… something. I have a Kindle 3, aka Kindle Keyboard, and I use the keyboard to take notes on stories I’m writing (and sometimes reading for other folks). It has 3G networking, which has come in handy on occasion, and it came out before that whole “Special Offers” stuff that you can pay to get rid of. A Kindle Paperwhite in similar trim (3G, no Special Offers) is north of $200. Yeesh.

But hey, I replaced the battery in my iPhone last summer. Maybe I could do this, too. Googling turned up repair instructions at iFixit—but unfortunately, they don’t carry replacement screens. More Googling turned up videos of the teardown procedure, and another set of instructions at Instructables. I finally found a source for a replacement screen at PowerBook Medic, which also had a Youtube video of the teardown procedure. The screen was used, but flaws were supposed to be cosmetic. It came to less than $30 including shipping, so I figured I’d take a chance. (I was happy in the end.)

Even with the cleanup from Winter #3 going on, the new screen arrived on Saturday as scheduled. After a few of the usual delays that are part of any weekend at FAR Manor, I grabbed my tools and got to work. I think the hardest part of the whole thing was getting the back cover off and on the Kindle. After that, it was a couple dozen itty-bitty screws and four cables. I used paper plates to keep everything as organized as anything gets around here:

How about a nice bowl of Shredded Kindle for breakfast?

That white smear toward the top of the screen is one of several cracks. It wasn’t, as I sort of hoped, just a matter of cables coming loose in the drop. That was an ex-screen. The instructions said I would have to remove the speaker assembly and ground clip, but they stayed attached to the mid-board without any hassle on my part. The iFixit instructions also say to leave the audio cable plugged in, but other instructions said it comes off without any trouble and that was true.

The second hard part was getting the screen off the adhesive. There's a strip on either side of the screen. The right side (from the front) turned loose easy enough, but the other side clung tight. Several of the online instructions warned about how thin the glass backing on the eInk screen is (which is why it broke, I suppose), so I was really careful and finally got it to pop loose.

OuchThe rot continued to advance…

The instructions said “it goes together a lot easier than it comes apart,” and that was mostly true. I continued to consult both step-by-step and video instructions, though, to make sure I got everything right. I had to back up at one point, since the power switch was binding. It turned out I hadn’t snapped in the “mid board” just right.

And my patience was rewarded, even before I got the back snapped all the way on:

It lives! (and I was living this chapter last week)

The rule is, you always end up with more parts than you started with. These things just kind of dropped in out of nowhere when I was reassembling.

Grommets? Standoffs?

Whatever they are, I couldn't figure out where they were supposed to go. The Kindle seems to be working fine without them right now. With any luck, it will continue to keep working.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015 4 comments

Writing Wibbles: Is B&N Flirting with Vanity Publishing? Yes. (UPDATED)

We—that is, those of us at Green Envy Press—are making the push into print this year. This came about a year after what I had planned, but we’ll have some very nice-looking books indeed. Since most of our eBook income is from Amazon, using Amazon’s CreateSpace service was the first and obvious choice. But being an indie author is about anything but the obvious choice, so we started poking around. I remembered hearing that B&N’s Nook Press had set up a print on demand (PoD) service, and I thought, “hey, that’s a no-brainer… maybe people can order books in the store for pickup.”

Well… no. In their own words:

Well, crud. Seems like they’re missing out on a really good opportunity to skewer Amazon here. Amazon can’t say “hey, order this book and have it shipped for free to your nearest brick-and-mortar for pickup… and while you’re there, check out the thousands of titles” etc. And while Amazon can’t, B&N simply won’t.

Okay, maybe there’s some stuff happening behind the scenes, something beyond the usual hidebound “we ain’t never done that way before” you see in lots of old-guard businesses. Maybe their suppliers (aka big publishers) are leaning on them to stifle competition, they way they tried (and failed) with Amazon. Or maybe they consider it too big of an expense or something… who knows? If they wanted to limit this to “serious” authors, they could easily require an ISBN.

But I got an email from B&N recently that, in combination with the above, got my alarm bells ringing. I guess it wasn’t enough to have a PoD service that they won’t help you sell, now they have author services as well:

Now those prices are in line with what I’ve seen from freelancers, but the whole thing smacks of a vanity publishing setup, especially if you scroll down to see their “packages.”

I emailed B&N to ask them about these issues; their auto-responder said “we’ll get back to you in 24 to 48 hours,” and that was a week ago Tuesday. If they do respond, I’ll update this post.

UPDATE: OMG. B&N still hasn’t responded, but Katherine Hajer pointed me to an article at Nate Hoffelder’s Ink, Bits, & Pixels. It’s worse. Much worse. They’re using the well-known scam factory Author Solutions, and trying to hide it. No wonder they ignored my request for info.

Other reading at:
David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital
The Passive Voice

So… thanks, but no thanks. We’ll stick with CreateSpace for now to test the waters, and maybe move to Lightning Source or another printer later if the sales warrant it.

Everything from here on out is speculation and opinion from yours truly, so adjust your filters accordingly:

Amazon may not have created indie publishing, but (like Apple with computers) they made it work for a lot of people. And yes, CreateSpace offers author services, but they also provide you with a marketplace to sell your books. I guess the point is, Amazon is trying to make money with indies, while B&N and vanity presses try to make money from indies. One treats you as a partner (however junior), and the other as an income source. I hasten to point out that there are plenty companies with a similar outlook to Amazon’s (Smashwords being one of the most obvious), but there’s one company that most of us think of first, at least in the Western Hemisphere.

Too bad, B&N. You coulda been a contender. Your brick and mortar stores give you an advantage that Amazon (or even Apple, who isn’t likely to start selling fiction in their stores any time soon) can’t easily match. You just needed the will to buck the system, instead of crawling into bed with the scummiest of scammers. You could have built a solid business with indies, but instead you treat us as marks to suck dry.

Monday, March 02, 2015 4 comments

Blink: Superhero Summer Camp, episode 11

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

Stevie found a table away from everyone else, within sight of a TV. Channel Fourteen was showing one of the sitcoms that Mom liked, and he found himself wondering how she was doing. Was she maybe eating ice cream and watching the same show? Out with some friends, doing whatever it is that grownup women do? He missed Mom, but realized he would have to go back to Zero Point tonight. Nowhere else to go, really. Maybe he could find a way to avoid Nixi for the next three weeks.

“Here you go,” said Warmonger, sliding a Choco-Peanut Explosion onto the table and taking the seat across from him. There was a little card next to the dish. “Twitter contacts. Both sides keep in touch, it can save everyone a lot of hassle. Do you have a Twitter ID yet?”

“Yeah. Blinkss14. No dots or underscores.”

Warmonger jotted it down. “Yeah. I’ll pass it around. You know to run your online stuff through an anonymizer, right? I wouldn’t put it past the Zero to listen in on your stuff. Just something to keep in mind. Anyway, even if you’re in the inactive bucket, you should keep up with what’s going on.”

“Makes sense. That looks good,” said Stevie, eying the banana split. “I might have to try that some time.”

“Tons of calories, kid, just like yours. But in our line of work—on either side—we burn a lot of calories. I guess if you’re inactive, though, you’ll have to watch your intake.” Warmonger stopped. “Hey, I just thought of something. Why were you in the vault that night DeVine broke in there? He’s pretty pissed about that, so I’d steer clear of him for a while, by the way. Ballsy move, asking for his John Hancock, though.” He raised an eyebrow. “Were you thinking about grabbing a little loot for yourself?”

Stevie sighed. “Yeah, I was thinking about it. But I wasn’t sure. I thought maybe the bad guys got the money, and we needed some. I used to think maybe the good guys got the girls, but I’m not so sure about that now. If you can’t tell anyone you’re a superhero, how are you gonna get the girls anyway?”

Warmonger stifled a huge laugh, nearly choking on his banana split. “I’m okay,” he wheezed after a minute. “I haven’t had that good a laugh in a long time. Yeah, you got it partly right about us, though. When we score, we score big, but we got expenses just like everyone else. Jaguar was flat broke for a while. He’s doing better now, but they were starting to foreclose his house at one point. Your one-percenter pals get the government to fund your side, but they’re cutting funding. Cutting their own throats is what they’re doing, but if the enemy is helping you out, just stay outta the way, you know?” He looked at Stevie. “What’cha thinking about?”

“You know, we wouldn’t be talking right now, none of this would have even happened, if Ultra Woman just took the credit for stopping DeVine. I told her to not mention me and say she made the stop herself.”

“Haha! Ultra Woman has two big weaknesses. One, she gets pissed off really easy, which helps me big-time in a fight. She’s working on her temper, which is why you don’t see much of her lately, but it’s still easy. Two, whatever a guy tells her to do, she’ll do the exact opposite. Even if what he tells her makes sense. When you get to know a super, know their weakness, you’re already ahead of the game. It’s newbies like you and Miss Siles that are the most dangerous, because we don’t know what your weaknesses are, yet. No intel. Me and Jaguar ran into her that night we… hey, what’s up?”

Stevie just pointed at the TV, and Warmonger turned. They had interrupted the sitcom with the Breaking News graphic, and Montana Rack was on the screen.

“…in the last few minutes,” Montana was saying, looking shocked. “I had been invited here to Zero Point, to interview the elusive Blink and several others, but—”

“Oh, crap,” Stevie groaned, realizing what had been nagging at him since he took off. “I forgot all about that stupid interview!”

“Looks like… what the hell?” Warmonger muttered. Channel Fourteen had cut to an aerial shot. “Those are ABAs!”

“What are ABAs?”

“Autonomous Battlefield Androids. Battle-bots, in other words. They walk around and shoot up whatever they’re programmed to go after. Looks like two dozen. Someone’s going after Zero, big-time.”

“…jammed, but it isn’t affecting our satellite uplink,” Montana was saying. “We’ll stay on the air as long as possible, until this situation is resolved. For Channel Fourteen On the Scene, I’m Montana Rack.”

Villain and superhero-trainee looked at each other for a long moment. “Is that you?” Stevie asked, and Warmonger felt the youth’s anger building again.

“No! No! I don’t have that kind of firepower! Settle down, kid. I don’t need ABAs. I don’t have nothing against Zero, either. Matter of fact, I might switch sides for the evening, just to have a crack at those things. Let me make a few phone calls. Hey, where are you going?”

“Bathroom.” Stevie spooned up a mouthful of Choco-Peanut Explosion, regretting how much he was leaving on the table, and dashed for the men’s room. The stall was open, and he pushed the door closed without latching it. The Simulation Room, he thought, focusing his power. I so wanna be there now.

Warmonger frowned for a second, then jumped to his feet. The kid took his gear. “Kid! Wait!” Warmonger burst into the bathroom, but it was empty.

Sunday, March 01, 2015 4 comments

Winter #3

Winter #3 took up pretty much the entire second half of February. And two weeks of winter on Planet Georgia is about as much as anyone can stand.

It began with a shot of Arctic air, once again pulling temperatures below 10°F overnight. It warmed up long enough to start raining on that Monday evening, then it got cold again. And kept raining. You know what that means:

So pretty. If you don’t have to live in it.

The power started blinking on and off around 7pm Monday night. The computers, DSL, and TV are all on UPSes, so we were okay for a while. The outages started getting more frequent and longer, and we grabbed flashlights. Just after 8pm, it went down… and stayed down. For 71 hours. We lit some candles, cursed the ice, and I shut down my desktop before the UPS ran out of steam. All my mobile gadgets had a full charge, and the TV held up for another half hour before the UPS ran down. We kept ourselves occupied and went to bed when we felt like it. All night long, we heard the cracking of branches (or entire trees) coming down. (Daughter Dearest, who was sleeping upstairs, said she hoped she didn’t end up with a tree wanting to cuddle up in bed with her. None did.)

In the morning, it was pretty chilly in the bedrooms despite the fireplace insert doing a fine job. We grabbed some cold breakfast and went out to survey the situation. The roads weren’t icy, but they had a few obstructions:

Kind of hard to drive over

It was then that we realized the one thing we didn’t do the day before: get gas for the generator. A neighbor with a Jeep said he could get over or around what was on the road, and offered to take our gas cans to town. With nothing better to do in the meantime, we got the chainsaw (and we had gas for that) and got to work clearing the road. Down the road, we saw other people sawing away at the downed trees on either side of FAR Manor. With the southbound lanes cleared, the wife called the guy she had working on the farm and had him bring the tractor up. There were some larger trees in the northbound lanes, and once I got chunks cut he would push them to the side with the tractor. It took maybe an hour or so to get the road open.

The gas got delivered, and I got the generator started (with the help of a little starter fluid). Voila, we had lights, refrigerators, furnace—and the Internet! The phone company buried fiber all along the road a couple years ago, so the phone and DSL were working. What wasn’t working was pretty much anything that ran on 240V service: water pump, hot water heater, stove, and dryer. We had water jugs and a toaster oven, though, and we were careful to run only one high-wattage appliance at a time. I had the work laptop, so I was able to get work stuff done.

On breaks, I got outside and took pictures:

Underexposed and overdramatic

We ended up getting Big V and bringing her to the manor. She hasn’t been taking good care of herself lately, and by the second day she was heading toward Diabetic Coma Land. Wife called 911 and they sent an ambulance to get her to the hospital. Otherwise, life went on, a bit of a hassle but we were warm and connected. We had to dump five gallons of gas into the generator twice a day, until the power came back on at 7pm Thursday evening.

But we weren’t out of the soup just yet. Another shot of moisture was coming. At first, the weather dudes were talking the dreaded “wintry mix,” then changed over to snow as we got closer to the actual event. It came in Tuesday night, of course. The power blipped once but stayed up—I rather thought it would, as all the stuff that was going to come down already had. But it snowed all day and night Wednesday. So here’s what it looked like outside the window come Thursday:

We usually get this much snow in March.

The Boy was here, so he took Mason and Skylar out to the pasture to slide down the hill while I worked. The temperatures were already above freezing, so Mason came in pretty much wet everywhere. Only his t-shirt was dry, so I got him into dry clothes. Meanwhile, he was complaining because he wanted to be out in it some more. (Un)fortunately for him, Mason-sicles are not allowed in the manor. It has stayed above freezing for a couple of days, so all that’s left are a few patches of slushy snow in shaded spots.

It’s March now. C’mon, spring!


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