Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Swimming.


Swimming gives wonderful intangible rewards.








Swimming is a wonderful low-impact workout for the entire body.
In all honesty, I’m not much of a swimmer. The important thing is that I like it. That alone qualifies me to try and motivate others to get out and have a bash for all the right reasons.
You’ll soon see what I mean.
As a non-swimmer who took lessons for years, there is some real satisfaction, a kind of intangible reward involved.
A little over halfway to my goal, there is a feeling where the arms begin to burn, and yet I feel strong, I’m managing my breathing, I can see the shore going by at a pretty good clip, and I know that I can do this…
This afternoon when I arrived it was lightly spitting rain.
There are those who say you can’t go swimming when it’s raining because you might get wet.
Ignore those people, for surely they are misogymnasts or something. Some kind of gymnast, anyway.
I swam yesterday, using a combination of strokes, without touching bottom. I went about ninety metres the first time and about seventy metres the second time. I would describe myself as a non-swimmer for that alone—after that I need a rest. Otherwise I’m plummeting to the bottom, my sordid failures and lurid mediocrities flashing before my eyes like a blue light special at K-Mart before they closed her down.
Okay, so today, I did eighty metres three times. I swim to the next groyne (that’s a real word by the way) starting more or less where my shoes are. I go out until I’m in about four feet of water. When I swim, I do a modified dog paddle, with a two-footed kick, very slow but also very large—I make a thump like a ship’s propeller when I kick. I keep my head up so I can see where I’m going. My arms are under me, not out to the sides, and I sort of scoop backwards, both hands at once, just like a beaver or muskrat. When I just can’t do it any longer, I might roll over on my back. I don’t do a classic back stroke, it’s too hard. I burn out too quick. I might scull along with my feet trailing, and I have a couple of odd little strokes for that. It’s not a question of speed, but of using what reserves I do have as efficiently as possible.
I can do a proper face-down crawl, but synchronizing the breathing has always been beyond my ability. A crawl with the head up is faster, but I burn out quicker and then have to rest anyway. But I can do a crawl for maybe thirty metres. An excellent upper body workout involves doing a heads-up crawl with legs trailing. If you’re not kicking efficiently to begin with, this is surprisingly efficient and almost as fast. I can do a side-stroke on my left side, but the right side isn’t anywhere near as good.
In order to save my life, in water of relatively warm temperature, the odds are I could swim a lot farther than eighty metres. Draining everything I had, (and taking my time, and not panicking) I might be able to go the full 240 metres, grab a dock or a rope or most likely crawl ashore. I might survive, right?
Now, if I was lost and traveling across country, I wouldn’t try to swim even a thirty or forty-metre wide river or swamp. It’s too chancy, and you’re going to want to preserve your clothes. You might be carrying a few things to begin with. If you go upstream a ways and can’t find a ford, you might want to swim for it. A strong swimmer pushing a raft or float can survive a fairly long time if the water isn’t too cold. The raft allows you to keep your clothes and shoes dry.
In my opinion, and at least in my own case, that sort of stuff is strictly last resort.
Swimming is low-impact. Unlike throwing a ball, which might tend to pull and yank on tendons, or running, which tends to pound and punish the knees and ankles of joggers, there is a lower risk of serious joint and ligament injuries. I’m a tall, skinny guy, and without football drills or weight lifting, my neck’s not that strong. I have a long, skinny neck, some back injuries and at my age, every so often the knees, the elbows, the neck bother me.
Even walking waist deep in water is good exercise, although doctor-prescribed hydrotherapy usually takes place in a heated pool. Cold water is good for reducing pain and inflammation.
(That’s why you put ice on a sprain.)
Right now, my neck feels like it had a good workout, as did my arms and shoulders. Swimming is an excellent aerobic exercise. There is some sensation in my lower back, but I am far better off to work that lower back, in a reasonable manner. This pays off in winter, when I’m a lot more sedentary. My knees bother me a lot more in winter, possibly due to the cold, but in winter I’m not cycling or swimming either. You fall out of shape pretty rapidly. That’s just a fact.
Walking on a nature trail for a kilometre or maybe a little more, once or twice a month, doesn’t hurt me any either, although it does cause some pain in the hips. In terms of riding the bike, (which I’m actually pretty good at) my longest trip this year was about thirty kilometres. That’s not bad for a fifty-four year old guy with long-standing back problems. (And he smokes, too. – ed.)
I used to take pain pills, prescribed by a doctor. I still had pain, often a lot of it. So what I did was to stop taking the pills—and stop doing stupid things like trying to go back to work as a drywall guy, or a roofer, or doing something really hard like high-pressure water-blasting, on twelve-hour shifts, on call and on shut-downs.
All I was doing was punishing myself and not getting anywhere. I failed at all of them jobs!
I guess you could say I retired early, and now I do whatever the hell I want. It doesn’t pay much but I have my freedom.
You got to like that, ladies and gentlemen.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Ghost Planet.


























What the hell happened, I will never know. It was just some rare electronic glitch that brought me down.

I was on my way to my sister’s wedding.

In transit from Galactic East, clear across to the other side, it made sense in terms of energy curves to cut straight across the southern arm and make a shorter trip to my destination of Westside. In purely conventional terms the Galaxy spun in that direction anyway. Technically the universe is isotropic, in that half of all galaxies spin clockwise, and the other half counter-clockwise. Without some agreed-upon convention, we wouldn’t know which way is up.

Crossing the Great Dark Sea, an anomalous term but not without merit, it never occurred to me that I might have a breakdown. The Petrel had never let me down, or at least nothing that I couldn’t fix on my own and with the few tools and spares available.

When she sputtered and the display warnings lit up, my first reaction was a little mild cussing.

Before long I realized it was serious, as both engines were down, and the re-start procedure failed three times running.

The realization that I was a hundred and thirty or forty light years from the nearest human or other habitation was sobering.

Looking at my map display, I opened it up on a large scale, tracking magnetic anomalies in the projected glide path—I’ve never used that term before or since, but that’s what it was, and I quickly determined that the electronic suite was showing green on all points. According to the computer, there was nothing wrong with the quantum engines. Without knowing what was wrong, I had no idea of how to proceed.

All I could do was to run all diagnostic programs on the software, looking for bugs, glitches, and missing bits of code, which happens often enough. This would take a little time, so I went back to the maps.

One major bulge in the fabric of the space-time continuum bore further investigation. On zooming in, I saw a string of numbers and a pinprick of yellow light. The un-named white dwarf had one planet, and the planet had been mapped a couple of centuries ago. It had that much going for it. There was an asterisk, indicating a robotic surface probe. It was so close to the end-point on this trajectory that it seemed like I was going there anyway, whether I liked it or not. There were some ruins of archaeological interest but no present habitation. The ruins were classified as belonging to a well-known, highly-dispersed group of predecessor species. They were thought to have died out or moved on fifty or a hundred thousand years ago, according to my search of onboard files. While not the most up to date encyclopedically, these were usually good enough for the time being.

Managing a ship without engines is a simple problem of thermodynamics, and it didn’t take long to calculate emergency maneuvering thrust from the auxiliary bottles, which I would have to mount within the next two or three days if I couldn’t get her running otherwise. The ship was stored with the minimum legal number of six, which would require some space-walking. Not my forte, really, but it might have to be done.

Unfortunately, that is exactly the way things turned out.

***

With a bigger ship, I never would have made it down. With its lifting body shape, more of a styling thing these days with transmission booths everywhere and the modern propensity for saving time, money and docking fees by leaving ships in high orbit, but the atmosphere had sufficient density. My jury-rigged thrust bottles gave enough braking power for insertion. I could at least steer to the initial point.

The low gravity of the planet itself, which was only about one-half of one standard planetary mass, made the glide into the selected destination fairly calm, although there was quite a bit of turbulence in the troposphere.

Picking my spot, dropping the skids, deploying flaps and speed brakes, kept me busy enough, but the signs of past civilization were there all right. The electronics suite was just blank, a new experience for me. It was all dead down there, the people departed long in the past.

There was nobody home.

My landing was slated for an oval saline lake bed, fifteen kilometres wide and about forty long.

I only had one shot at it, and so I held her a bit high, bleeding off speed in a series of pull-ups, gentle stalls, and finally one big, diving S-turn right over the downwind end of the lake.

At three thousand metres, we had plenty of space in front of us. We were falling at a thousand metres per minute. With no place else to go but down, I was committed to the landing.

The ship flared when I pulled back on the stick, battery power still holding out, which was good as hitting a little too hard would have been fatal. Ground effect, which I had never experienced, surprised me and it was like she just wanted to glide forever. There wasn’t even a bounce. Once she set down, she stuck nicely.

It took a long time to stop on the pebbly salt surface, with an improbably blue mirage coming up fast under the nose. My heart raced at the sight of all that water, and the possibility of having to make an underwater exit.

The ship came to rest in a foot of water, nose pointed out into the middle of the lake, and I had gotten very lucky indeed.

The temperature outside was about twenty-eight degrees Celsius and the winds were from the southwest. It was nine-thirteen-thirty-six a.m. by the ship’s chronometer.

I sat in my seat for a long time, but sooner or later I had to go out there. Scanning with the manual emergency periscope, it looked like the nearest mountains, and the most likely place to find fresh water and hopefully local game animals, were about fifteen or twenty kilometres to the northeast.

Hopefully the rescue beacon I’d left in one of the LaGrange points for this system would be spotted by somebody, but that could take a long time if it happened at all. Of necessity, the things were low-powered and traffic out here was pretty much non-existent. Any passers-by would be looking for salvage as much as anything. The ship had its own transponder, one with a little more juice to it, but my hopes were very slim.

Skimming through the start-up checklist, I tried yet again to get the motors running.

No luck, no clue as to what the problem was. She just wouldn’t go. I sat quietly thinking about that. One last restart was all I dared. I was going to need those batteries, at least in the short term, just trying to stay alive for as long as possible in hopes of rescue.

That didn’t seem very likely.

The truth was that I could very well die here—probably would, and no one would be the wiser.

This was my new home.

***

Without any idea of whether the ship would settle into the silt, which seemed hard enough at first examination, I faced some tough choices. The natural inclination was to stay right where I was. That’s what all the survival manuals said.

Coming down in pretty much any other part of the Galaxy, staying aboard might have been an option. While rescue was not exactly assured—it still took days, weeks or months for missing ships to be found, the thought of leaving her behind and striking off all alone into the barren wastes of an alien planet far from home was not attractive. I figured it had to be done, and the sooner the better. The more supplies I kept in reserve, the more options I had in an emergency.

The thinking seemed clear.

Just sitting there until food and water ran out was not an option.

One way or another, I had to find food, water, and with a little luck, a more permanent shelter.

As for inhabitants of this rather unattractive little pebble in space, they had left long ago, and there wasn’t much we could do about that.

I left a note on my seat and the hatch unlocked. It seemed like a reasonable thing to do.

I took enough solid food for a three-day journey. I figured one day there, and one day back, which left a day to sit around and wait for something to walk by. If I could find something to eat, that would be helpful. Hopefully, if I could see it, I could hit it with the old .45 I kept for pirates and landings on inhabited but otherwise inhospitable planets, of which I’d seen a few in my time.

Clambering down the ladder, I stood in the warm brine and looked off to the north and east. Walking around underneath, the Petrel seemed in good shape. That was some consolation.

I had no famous last words, just the terrible thought of dismantling parts of the ship and pioneering, hopelessly alone, for the rest of my life out there in the middle of nowhere.

It took twenty minutes just to find dry land. Turning, the Petrel looked forlorn, lost and out of her natural environment. From this angle, she seemed down by the nose already, and again I wondered just how much she might settle.

I did have one last word, and having said it, I turned with grim resolution towards the low dark smudge on the horizon, the only thing I could see that held any promise at all, and then I started walking.

***

Like many a true spacer, my physical condition was not the best. All that time spent in artificial environments, and tightly-constrained ones at that, meant that I was soon sweating. My lower back and hips had some twinges, but I kept going. Hopefully that would ease over time.

I reached the base of the hills in less than two and a half hours, an oddly impressive feat. It wasn’t as far as I had thought. Partly I think that was due to something called atmospheric perspective, something else spacers weren’t too familiar with. The air dimmed the colour of the distant scene. What I thought were mountains a couple of thousand metres tall were just hills less than a third of that. Rising out of the sun-baked white plain I trod, the first big ridge loomed up in front of me. At first it was welcoming, with glades of grass, and an open park-like forest of tall green vegetation on its lower slopes, with some of the stems two or three metres thick. It was inviting enough until I comprehended the meaning of the bare tops and reddish tint of the summit, sticking up above the tree-tops.

I was sticking to the bottom of a cleft, for surely this was my best chance of finding water, and in fact I was heartened to see rounded rocks, patches of sand and gravel, and the occasional sign of the bank coming down recently. There were roots and dark topsoil exposed in vertical walls of dirt.

So far, no water, but I felt I was on the trail of something. I drained the first of my one-litre bottles and stuck it back in the side pocket of my pack.

Then I set out to find the top of the mountain.

After a few minutes the forest closed in, and the ground got steeper. The thicker brush implied some occasional rainfall if nothing else, for the small gulley I was following was still dry. Up ahead was a tangle of broken rock, roots and fallen vegetation. I got out of the gulley but tried to stay beside it as best I could. The problem in my mind was evolution. If the trees had evolved over millennia for a dry environment, then signs of rain or water might be months old, and of course what looked like trees and grass in my limited knowledge might be anything but comparable to trees and grass elsewhere in the Galaxy. They might be able to go a very long time without rain, but unfortunately I was going to need water in the next two days or it would be a long walk back for more.

While that was my initial plan, and my backup plan still. The view from the top would help me to decide what to do next, or where to go next, is more to the point.

When the trees gave out, there was nothing but the stringy green growths, which had an unfortunate tendency to rip out and let go just when I tugged on them to get up a steep spot. Finally, I was on all fours, slipping and sliding until I got to one final ledge. Above me the rocks were bare and wet-looking. A light mist clung to the summit, one which hadn’t been there when I first started up. Walking along the base of the ominous rock slope, wondering if I really ought to even attempt it, I found a crack, gushing with a small rivulet that petered out within yards. The rocks were green with slime, there were small round pads of something spongy and pale green, and the darker grass circling beyond that was thick and lush.

The water was cool, clear, and there was really only one way to find out. I sucked some up thought a filtered hand pump, examining it in the clear tube of the body. It looked okay. I pumped some through into my mouth.

Unbelievable. I never knew water could taste that good. I filled my empty bottle, drank half of it off now that there was no shortage, and filled it up again.

For the first time in my life, I really appreciated water, which sounds odd for a spacer but it’s true.

That’s all I can say.

So far I hadn’t felt hungry, and I really didn’t feel hungry now, but contemplating the climb that lay ahead, it seemed like a good time. With the mist hanging between me and the lake, I couldn’t make out the ship. That was a lonely moment, and without further hesitation I opened up the pack and took out the first of my meals. Opening a tin of something indecipherable, I saw row after row of small fish packed in a reddish sauce with bits of green leaf in it. That one, I think, had been in the back of the galley cupboards for a very long while. With a lightweight plastic fork, I dug in and began eating dutifully. Whether I liked it or not, I had no choice but to eat every bit of it. Looking down, it looked like a thousand metres or more. I had no experience judging distance by naked eye in such an environment, a sobering realization.

The humblest, most scuttling little four-legged varmint had at least that much of an advantage on me.

It was one hell of a view from up there.

***

An hour later, drenched in sweat from the unaccustomed effort, I pulled myself onto a flat slab of red rock, banded with wide strips of white, and looked back the way I had come. There was a tiny black dot in the sparkling aquamarine of the dead lake. For all I knew, it was the Petrel.

The thought of climbing back down that wet seventy-degree slab, cracked and studded with ledges and crevices as it was, was not a good one.

The sun was high in the sky. The planet’s rotation indicated about a sixteen and a half-hour day at the equator. This time of year, there were about seven hours of darkness at this latitude.

With a shrug and a strong pull of will, I turned and looked the other way. My knees seemed weak and wobbly.

This actually took some guts. As things turned out, I was deathly frightened whenever I looked down. It was a kind of razorback ridge of up-ended slabs. This made standing tall out of the question—I crouched there, and yet the other side didn’t look quite so bad.

That was a bad moment. To look back, and to fear the descent. To look forward, and it was only marginally better…

Going over the lip was bad, yet I had enough objectivity, once safely clinging to the edge and standing on the first outcropping, to take a moment and try to figure out where I was headed.

Below lay a snaking blue watercourse. Obviously, down was my first priority. The next thirty metres were the worst, for on this side the plant life if I can call it that began almost immediately.

Having a branch or root to cling to was better, especially going down. The fact that I had made it up at all, was something of a miracle.

On one side, it was barren desert, on the other side, a river and a temperate forest. Every spacer must know a little bit of planetology, if only for trading purposes, and it didn’t seem too outlandish. The hills blocked the rain and kept it from getting to the desert. Elementary school stuff. There was a much better chance of food here as well.

Once I felt safe again, I took a little more time to study the prospect laid out below.

The river’s curves tightened up and got closer together on the right, and it seemed wider there. The hills on the far side diminished in the distance, and maybe the valley opened up a bit. Off to my left was nothing but mist, so it wasn’t a fair comparison. I decided to follow the current when I found the river.

Based on what I saw, my instinct was that the river ran to the right, and grateful for the low brush screening my view of precipitous depths and plumb vertical drops, I carefully worked my way down, becoming conscious at some point that the light was fading and it wasn’t all due to the hillsides or the forest blocking out the daylight.

Night was coming and it was time to find somewhere safe to hole up.

With that thought came another kind of dread.

I had a sleeping bag, I had my toothbrush. All that sort of thing, but the real problem was that I had never really been away from home before—I’d always had one ship or another to call home.

So far I hadn’t seen any animals, nothing that even resembled an insect, or anything, really.

The thought wasn’t much comfort.

***

I didn’t even think of having a fire that first night. I just curled up in my sleeping bag and tried to put all thoughts out of my mind. Sleep was essential, and to get too exhausted in physical or psychological terms was stupid. I would need every edge to survive, even in the short term. Just sitting in the ship for day after day would bring inevitable thoughts of despair. I was no worse off out here, and there was every chance I would learn something of value. I needed that knowledge.

By now, people would know that I was missing. They would be so worried. I thought of my mom, and it was wretched. Tears almost overwhelmed me but I kept them back, sniffling a bit and wiping my nose on the sleeve of my jacket. They at least, would be fine. I didn’t have to worry about that. It wasn’t helping me to dwell on it.

My most important asset was what was inside my head.

I had everything I needed to survive out here, at least that’s what I told myself. As the sky darkened and the temperature dropped shockingly fast, I watched the stars come out and marveled at my fate, thinking about some of the survival stories that I’d read or heard about over the years.

The only sound was the wind. On a ship there are noises, always something running in the background. But here there was only the wind.

It occurred to me that if I ever got out of there…I would be one uniquely privileged individual.

The most amazing thing about the experience is that I finally did sleep.

***

Nothing ate me in the night.

I woke with a bang, with the rustle of the wind in some low bushes right beside me, and of course I had to pee. The sleeping bag was warm, and the air on my face felt cold, but nature’s call must be obeyed.

My shoes were right there.

After climbing back in the sleeping bag, I waited for a little more daylight, but I could only stand it for another ten or so minutes. There was nothing for it but to go on. At least I had a water source within easy walking distance of the ship, although there was no guarantee the small spring I had found would be there in all seasons.

In an hour and a half of walking, the forest had grown to trees thirty or forty metres tall, maybe higher.

That’s when I came upon a road. At first, it was just a wide slash across my line of travel, which tended downhill and what was indicated planetary west on my old-fashioned compass.

Looking to the left, it seemed to narrow, but the shadows might have been deceptive. It also seemed to climb, while on the right, perhaps due to the angle of the sun, the way seemed more open, and it also appeared to drop in the distance. Through the tops of trees I could see a bright gleam off the water.

I followed the slash to the right, for while my initial impression was of a street or road, there was nothing underfoot to indicate pavement or asphalt or anything like that. It was relatively flat in small, interlinked patches.

It went on for a while and then the forest on the left opened up and I could definitely see that I was paralleling the river. I still wanted to see which way the current was going, so I stepped into the forest proper again and cautiously made my way down to the bank.

Just because the planet was uninhabited, that didn’t rule out big, predatory animals, although I had seen none so far. Neither did it rule out other hazards, inimical plant life, parasites, and unknown diseases, many of which would be water-borne.

***

The second night found me in what once must have been quite the metropolis. The ruins were a strange mixture of massive stone blocks clearly belonging to a barbaric age, and then crumpled heaps of something much more recent, and fairly high-tech if the bits and pieces of building materials literally sticking out of the grass in places were anything to go by.

Metal would have long since corroded, or simply sunk out of sight. I grabbed the end of one that looked like a twenty-five millimetre T-section. I gave it a good tug, but it wouldn’t come up out of the ground. The impression was of stiff plastic, rather than light metal. There were even small buildings entirely covered in brush and undergrowth, and yet the shape of it revealed that the house inside might still be intact. I considered hacking away with my little hand-axe, and what the interior would probably look like, and gave that idea up. All I really needed was shelter.

Some of the huge masonry ruins had arches and recesses relatively out of the rain, and it was to these that I turned my attention.

Off in the distance, the rumble of thunder, a darkening sky and flashes of light spurred my search.

I found a likely spot, what might have been a temple or shrine, all pale and smooth marble or limestone, or who knows what. It was like a semi-spherical band-shell, and the right end was angled against the prevailing wind.

With some thought to the prowlers of the night—I’d seen a few tracks at waterholes along the way, I gathered up dead branches and sticks, heaping them in big armfuls along the trail. This was on the bank of a small, clear stream that went through in there.

More thunder, and the wind whipped up a little now, and then I started bringing in the heaps, making a big pile three or four metres from where I planned to sleep. I went back for more, thinking that I had really only had two meals so far. Other than a clean white skull and three other small bones from some omnivore judging by the teeth, I hadn’t seen any wildlife so far.

The tracks by the river said otherwise, and although there was nothing there much bigger than a dog would make, the key thing was to be the predator, rather than ending up as prey.

With that thought, I unrolled my sleeping bag and stuck the .45 under the rolled-up jacket I was using as a pillow. If I left the camp, that baby was going with me. First thing in the morning, I would have to figure out a better way of carrying it.

***

The storm had passed, although flashes still came over the horizon from the south-east. My watch said four a.m., a little after. I must have fallen asleep pretty early, zonked as I was from all the walking. The flickering of adjacent walls made an eerie impression.

I could have sworn I heard voices, a lot of them.

I froze in terror inside the bag. My hair prickled and a chill of something shot right through me.

My guts slowly relaxed as I listened. It was a kind of awe, for surely it must the creek, gushing and gurgling along, dropping over small ledges and bustling past snags and small boulders. I’d never heard anything like that before in my entire life. That stream made the weirdest noise effects.

It was the most horrible thing. I had the impression of laughing, and people talking, like at a cocktail party, one going on just over on the next block but you can’t catch even a word of it.

I mean, like when your ears burn and you think everyone’s talking about you, and there’s another wild burst of laughter just to ram the point home.

My heart ticked over at a steady beat. Maybe a little faster than it should. With dawn still some hours away, I lay as still as possible and tried to convince myself that I didn’t have a care in the world, let alone worrying about what a planet full of stupid ghosts thought of me.

***

“So, you made three of these expeditions, spending a total of thirty-four days on the planet’s surface?”

“Yes.”

“And you managed to finally get some food?”

“Um, yes. There were starchy fruits growing on low bushes. I did see a couple of animals, small furry ones, but I didn’t try to shoot them as they were too far away.”

Constable Owen Barnaby of the Patrol looked sympathetic on the view-screen.

“And then for whatever reason, on impulse, you tried to start the ship and it worked. Okay, that seems clear enough. We can’t find any service bulletins for the GB-19 series, and this one is definitely serious.”

“Yes, also, my folks will be asking about me.”

“Confirmed. Would you like to patch through, or maybe we could notify someone?”

“No. I’ll call in a few minutes.”

“Well, thank you for filing a report. As for a planet there, we don’t have anything on that. Our records just show the magnetic anomaly you spoke of.”

There were some implied doubts regarding my story in that statement, but I was prepared to let it drop if he was. They were more concerned with my safety than anything else. Certainly there were no criminal charges they could lay, as I had filed a flight plan and my ship’s log showed the engine failure and a landing on something.

Going on and on about my irrational thoughts or feelings about the experience was not an option. These guys could yank a permit on a whim if they got grumpy, and a pilot’s mental state is definitely grounds for inquiry.

“Well, if there’s nothing else, Mrs. Snelgrove, all we can do is to let you get on with your busy day.”

“I’ll have the ship checked over as soon as I get home.”

He nodded and stuck his thumb to the screen.

I stuck my thumb on the screen and sealed the file as far as I was concerned. There was more, a whole lot more, but duty was done and unless he asked a specific question, I wasn’t going into it.

“Thank you.”

We broke the connection at the same time.

I especially didn’t want to bring up the feeling that I got after my first big fright, that demoralizing feeling that someone was watching me, every stinking minute of every stinking day. I don’t know how long I would have lasted out there on my own if I hadn’t gotten lucky with the ship.

I will always think of that place as the Ghost Planet. I would also very much like to get all these voices out of my head.

***

Here is the Louis Shalako page on iTunes, where all my titles are presently free. Not appearing here are Time Storm and Selected Poems. Those titles are available free at several other fine online bookstores.

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/artist/louis-bertrand-shalako/id412091968?mt=11









The Implosion Bomb.

A burst of radiation...and then it was gone.









“The implosion bomb works on a very simple principle, ladies and gentlemen.” Doctor Stephen Morley was addressing a top-secret symposium of the planet’s most imposing sub-nuclear scientists.


The grizzled African-American father of two peered over half-glasses, his notes neatly arrayed on the podium. He hardly needed them, but they provided reassurance.

He had full confidence in the findings, and well he should. The thing was a reality now, in a twenty-five year project that made the Manhattan Project look like a fart in a windstorm.

He put the first slide up on screen. It was an asteroid, hanging dim and mottled in the inky blackness of space. On the far side of the sun from Earth, its detection, or rather the lack of its presence, would not be remarked by unfriendly powers for many years. He’d done the math himself, and the secret location was highly-classified. Space was free territory. Other powers could easily investigate, if only they knew where to look. Stephen had given countless briefings over the years, including the present and three past presidents.

“As you know, the atom is mostly empty space. So, it turns out, are the sub-nuclear particles with which we have all become familiar. Or at least thought we had.”

The room was dead silent as he went on.

“Modern scanning techniques go far beyond molecules, atoms, and particles. Now, ladies and gentleman, we have glimpsed the very matrix, the space-time continuum itself. It promises great revelations for the future, and yet this technology must still be proven. Research must still be paid for. The work must go on.”

He waited. Eyes gleamed back at him in the darkness, lit only by the slide on the screen.

“What if we took all that empty space and made it go somewhere else?”

He put up the next slide. At first, it looked like a washout, all white glare with smudges of pale grey and finally charcoal in the corners. The next slide came up when he clicked. This one showed a spectrum of radiation, a very strong impulse, with major frequencies shown with graphic scales of the signal strength beside each one. The figures didn’t make sense at first. The numeric values were astronomical, although the scales had been designed with such a possibility in mind.

The swell of talk began to envelop the room as the brains behind those glazing eyes and open mouths took in what he was saying and it all began to sink in…

“Now you see it—and now you don’t.”

The talk turned to an uproar as a field of stars appeared, the exact same stars as in the previous image. The picture was clearly taken from the same vantage point, probably a satellite or small spaceship. The significance of the photo’s time and date imprint became collectively known and then everyone was out of their seats and shouting questions and even some abuse in his direction.

Quickly the lights came up, a safety precaution as they were all out of their seats by this point.

“That’s right, ladies and gentleman.” He stood at the rostrum grinning down at his colleagues, all six hundred of them here tonight. “That’s right.”

Hiding in plain sight, the symposium’s main venue was the ballroom of the Anaheim Hilton hotel. Security arrangements were unobtrusive but intense.

The uproar dropped down a bit, almost reluctantly, or so it seemed at first, but then it spontaneously built to a crescendo. The applause of his peers and the shouts of his supporters and admirers quickly drowned out the inevitable moaners and groaners, asking questions about ethics and what all this was costing and just exactly how it all came about. All the really fun science was happening right here in the good old U.S. of A.

It was a triumph of science and engineering, and they all knew it.

“Matter, and space, time and energy, ladies and gentlemen. It’s all rolled into one now.”

He clicked on the icon for the slide show to roll automatically. Dramatic music swelled as the lights dimmed, interspersed with coughing and shuffling noises as people looked around and found their seats again.

“What’s really interesting is that we theorize that all of the laws of conservation of momentum ceased to apply at the moment of implosion. There is no debris to follow along a trajectory, ladies and gentlemen. It has ceased to exist.”

The room got very quiet.

“So there are still many gaps in our theory. Science brings us constant surprises.”

Pictures of the asteroid, close-ups of the space-ship, one which they had never seen before, drew gasp after gasp from the assembled watchers. The room was dead silent again, as the implosion event played across the screen, from multiple angles, varying distances, and at different time-markers, beginning at Point Zero.

Finally there came a picture of the device itself, which was not much bigger than a deluxe backyard barbecue. It even bore a passing resemblance on its tall trolley wheels and with a keypad slung on each side of the device for arming and programming. The next pictures showed a power panel, mounted on the left side. The right panel held a keyboard and a small screen, and a pair of old fashioned key switches.

A collective rumble went up. It was a psychological moment in this type of briefing.

The doctor concluded his briefing, holding up a hand to still applause. He wasn’t quite done yet.

His peroration was short and to the point, a quote from J. Robert Oppenheimer, spoken after the Trinity test at Alamagordo in 1945.

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, we have become Death, the destroyer or worlds.”

The uproar broke out again, but he shouted them down.

“And it’s true, isn’t it ladies and gentlemen? We have become destroyers of worlds.”

Which was more shocking, the pictures onscreen or the image of a serious scientist yelling his damned fool head off at what had become a mob of frightened humanity, no one could say, but the people eventually quieted. Reluctantly, they listened and watched with spellbound attention as Stephen concluded with some minor points.



There was no way to keep such a thing a secret, of course. The question was how and when to announce it to a tired world, one which had seen enough power politics and gunboat diplomacy, long before the implosion bomb came along.

That would be the next item on the symposium’s agenda. Inwardly he could see the relationships already sorting themselves out, into cliquish little study groups, each and every person wondering what the hell to say. How could they ever cover their own asses in the pitiless lens of history…the unpalatable answer of course, what that they hadn’t known about it.

They would have plenty to say about it. He knew most of them, some of them very well.

The real work was just beginning.

“All I do is invent them, ladies and gentlemen. Your job is to figure out what to do with it. And may God have mercy on our souls.”

It wasn’t exactly the Bhagavad-Gita, but it would have to do.



END



Many of my books and stories are currently free from Amazon and other fine online retailers.

This is by no means a complete list.

http://www.amazon.com/Louis-Bertrand-Shalako/e/B005GHIF86/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Monday, August 19, 2013

Thumbnail Reviews of Independent Publishing Platforms.

Kindle Direct Publishing now has spell-check.






Nook Press (formerly Pub-It)


I opened up an account on Nook Press, mostly because people I liked said it was a good idea. An interesting feature, besides regular publishing through Barnes & Noble’s Nook platform, is that you can use the interface to write a book from scratch.

I don’t know how useful that is, but in terms of cloud-based innovation, it has its interest.

The problem with Nook Press is that as a Canadian author, I couldn’t complete the process to set up a vendor account, and without the vendor account, you can’t publish on Nook.

Audible (audio books)

Audible is recommended pretty highly by users. Unfortunately, when I set up an account, again, I couldn’t see any way for Canadian authors to get paid, or even successfully get through the sign-up process. And if you can’t get through the sign-up process, you can’t publish. The only other thing I can say in my defense is that I can (and have) enabled text-to-speech on all my Kindle books. The issue is not that serious, at least not yet.

OmniLit

When I signed up for OmniLit, I only got so far into the process. There did appear to be provision for Canadian and foreign authors to sign up with the correct payment information including country, province, etc, and there was provision for ITIN numbers and exemption from tax withholding, etc.

Unfortunately, (and it may have just been a temporary site issue,) but I couldn’t complete the sign-up process for unknown reasons. I’ll have to go back in a month or two and try again.

Smashwords

Smashwords has some great strengths, one of which is the access to multiple distribution channels. One of the downsides is they have all the books involving bestiality, incest, and other raw forms of smut.

I’ve written some erotica myself, but too much is too much!

The problem with distribution channels is the author gives up some control. One of my science fiction books appears on iTunes. Unfortunately, it’s tagged ‘adventure.’ Adventure readers aren’t necessarily looking for SF, and SF readers can’t find the book. I can’t fix this without contacting Smashwords staff, which becomes a pain in the butt after a while.

Smashwords is relatively easy to sign up for and they have all of those distributions channels. This is a good thing, as actual sales from Smashwords site itself have been few and far between in my own experience. Also, a mix-up with ITINs and W8BEN forms, means that they withheld tax when they shouldn’t have, and now they’re saying the money is ‘un-retrievable.’ This is not good, (I don’t even really accept that information,) but on the plus side they do have accommodation for Canadian and foreign authors. I have a lot of experience on Smashwords, and there are a number of minor irritations with the site.

For example , when you upload a new marketing image, the auto-vetter brings up the last deficiency report for your .doc file. Yet the file has been accepted into Premium Distribution.

This is an important point. When I uploaded a new image for Core Values, I got a bad report on the interior file.

I spent hours with the file, looking for whatever was wrong with it, and I concluded there was nothing wrong with it. The reason I panicked—and I tend to remember that sort of thing, was that I had distributed 6,200 copies already. The idea that 6,200 people had bad versions of a book I wrote was disturbing to say the least.

Three or four days later the thing was accepted into Premium Distribution again. Yet the little uncertainties bother me. My reputation as an author and a publisher are riding on each and every product. I take great care with my files before uploading, and yes, I make mistakes too.

Another thing is abuse by immature authors. I couldn’t believe it when I saw a 200-word short story listed at $1.99. I’m sure glad I don’t have their nerve in my tooth. I’m not the sort of guy to upload every freakin’ thing I ever wrote.

Also, if staff members lose, misplace, or file in the wrong place an author’s W8BEN, the author is just plain fucked. There is apparently no recourse and no accountability in Smashword’s internal processes. They’re not used to criticism either. Staff members get all defensive when they would be better served by listening.

People gush praise for Smashwords.

But they’re invariably inexperienced authors who honestly believe they’re going to make a killing. Smashwords isn’t the stodgiest looking website—that honour belongs to Google books.

Smashwords is clearly a bit of a victim of their own success, and it’s high time for a makeover. My advice is not to get too dependent on any one platform. Don’t become complacent and think that this self-publishing world is carved in stone. New platforms come along every day.

Kobo

I signed up for Kobo several years ago. It would give an added measure of independence for Canadian authors. I think it’s a Canadian company. Unfortunately, at that time certainly, although the site may have changed, I had the impression when uploading books they were sent one chapter at a time, with all kinds of meta-data for each chapter.

(This is all different now.) At that time I concluded it didn’t make a whole lot of sense when I was already distributing to Kobo, (worldwide at this point in time) through Smashwords. Now, or during the winter, it might be a good time to look into Kobo again, just to see what’s up over there.

Kobo’s Writing Life. (Looks like some major improvements there, and I will check this out when I get time.)

The more titles you produce, the more work it will be to open up a new distribution platform.

Kindle Direct Publishing

Kindle is easy to use. It has by far the most daily store traffic, all hours of the day.

A recent innovation on the site is spell-check—that’s right, spell-check when you upload a book. From Amazon’s perspective, this must represent a response to criticisms of independent ebook authors, some of whom don’t realize there is spell and grammar check on their home computers!

Just sayin’, ladies and gentlemen. One of my pen-names just published a story on Kindle. Since I haven’t uploaded him anywhere else, I may experiment with KDP Select, which involves prominent store promotion of free titles. Some authors report great success with Select.

iTunes

I have a customer account on iTunes but haven’t signed up to publish there yet. I may check that out in the winter. What I am looking for is provision for Canadian and foreign authors to get paid, and not to have 30 % withholding tax. I don’t live in the U.S., I do not receive services there and quite frankly I don’t owe Uncle Sam a darned thing until I sell a lot more books than I am due to the basic personal deduction. (Consult your own tax expert.)

Lulu

Lulu is fairly easy to work with. I have a couple of Print on Demand paperbacks there. That’s the first POD site I ever used. The stock (free) templates are unimaginative but they do have the 4” x 7” size, which attracted me there in the first place. They have been making some changes.

Createspace

Createspace has a step-by-step, guided process that is easy to learn. Interestingly, you can also do CDs, presumably from MP-4 type files.

I have used Createspace to produce ten PODs. They’re all 5” x 8”, otherwise they would have to be 6” x 9” or some other size. That site gives a good overall impression, although I am sometimes hard pressed to find a link for my own books! If I promoted those books more I would probably have less trouble. Books published on Createspace are automatically linked to their ebook counterparts on Amazon—Smashwords provides for such links as well. The royalties on Createspace are much higher compared to the exact same book on Amazon. The challenge is getting someone to buy them.

Goodreads.

You can upload books to Goodreads. I have only four titles there. This might be a good site if you spent a lot of time there, giving all your friends five-star reviews and vice-versa. The trouble with being on too many platforms is that ultimately, I don’t go to Goodreads that often. I never successfully changed covers there, I couldn’t get it to work. I’ve never made a single sale there as far as I know. There are a fair number of troll reviewers on Goodreads as well, a problem shared by other platforms across the board.

When I tried to upgrade cover images I ended up with no images at all. Not so good. It’s been a while since I went there. Things may have changed, as Goodreads is now owned by Amazon.

Google Books.

What an ugly website. Every page looks like it was designed by blood-and-iron guys who cut their teeth writing letters to the editor using COBOL or HTML or something.

Worse, authors are not actually selling books. They are providing content to give Google an excuse to put up ads. While there is provision for book links, the reading interface is the clunkiest and most old-fashioned. It even looks grainy and unfocused. It’s meant to imitate the book-reading experience.

Authors are paid by page-views and click-throughs on ads. I never made a penny there. The process of uploading books was a pain in the ass if you’re doing it yourself. If you’re paying a nine year-old Chinese kid ten cents an hour to do it, maybe it’s not so bad.

In my opinion, not recommended. I emailed them and asked to close my account, which they did.

Note:

Amazon, iTunes and Smashwords have affiliate marketing schemes, where you can flog other people’s books and perhaps enjoy a greater measure of success, especially if you pick the better books to begin with. Some of the other platforms may have them as well.

I haven’t really tried any of them yet, as my primary focus is on writing new material and developing my skills as a writer and publisher.

It can’t be ruled out for the future. It’s easy enough to set up a book-blog or review site, then you simply attach your own affiliate code to the end of product links and voila! It looks like you’re objectively reviewing books for the good of readers everywhere and providing courtesy links to the authors you most love.

The trouble with these secret get-rich-quick schemes is when everyone is doing it, the world is flooded with spam, and we’re getting enough of that already.

Lightning Source. I’ve never used it, so I can’t comment reliably on it.

There are quite a number of other independent publishing platforms. In the interest of brevity I cannot list them all, but readers please feel free to add them in the comments if you like.

There is an article by India Drummond listing alternative book publishing platforms. I cannot vouch for them, but check them out if you will. The next couple of years will bring strong and increased competition in this field and it is wise to keep abreast of new opportunities.

Lately I've been having real problems with Blogger, so the links are all missing in this article. By careful key-word search, readers can find all of this on their own.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Spider Baby.

(J.J. Harrison. Wiki.)





Dade McCorkindale burst into the maternity ward, still flicking at his phone. Momentarily distracted by his shit-ticket-tracker app, he made a mental note that they were down to the last two rolls of toilet paper. He never would have known that otherwise, just one of the many benefits of modern telephone-science.


“Honey!”

His wife Dee’s pale, oval visage swung to him and his heart leapt strangely. She was a real trooper.

In her arms was the newborn. He stood at the edge of the bed as a nurse bustled around on the other side.

“Oh.”

Dee lifted the bundle in his direction.

Warm in his arms, and surprisingly heavy, they already had a name picked out.

“It’s a girl.” The nurse looked at him proudly, as if she’d done the deed herself. “Eight pounds nine ounces.”

Dade had the phone tucked awkwardly in between this ear, neck and shoulder area, waiting for Solly Melman, the famous Hollywood agent, to come on the line.

“Miss Muffett!” Little Miss Muffett.

His heart pounded. He could hear the blood streaming through his ears, but this was just so real.

Dee smiled tiredly, too wrung out by the ordeal of childbirth, plus all those drugs, to argue with Dade.

“Look at that little nose.” He eyed Dee and the nurse. “Has she opened her eyes up yet?”

They shook their heads, eyes shining with womanly emotions.

It was too bad.

The phone dropped and he cursed, but stopped abruptly.

He put the baby on his wife’s arm and shoulder area, and stooped to pick up the device. All it had was a dial tone. Thoughtfully, he snapped it shut and put it in a side pocket.

He stood looking at his daughter. Then, as a hint of sadness crossed Dee’s face, he took the edges of the blanket and pulled them back.

“Oh, magnificent. Magnificent.” He looked up at the nurse, beaming down and making goo-goo-ga-ga noises at the child, who appeared impervious to her wiles.

Miss Muffett’s eight hairy legs, three joints on each one, with a small thorax, the big abdomen, and the vestigial mouthparts, were just adorable.

The phone buzzed in his pocket as he gazed open-mouthed at the fruition of all his life-long dreams and ambitions. The technology was there, and with the right people behind them, a deal had been made.

Now he and Deirdre had a spider-baby.

His wife put the wrappings back on and brought the child’s oddly-formed mouth to her breast, which she exposed.

Licking his lips, he answered the call.

It was Melman.

“Solly! Have I got some sweet news for you!”

“So it’s all right then? How’s the kid? How’s the mother?”

“Fine, fine. Better than expected. So…what’s up?”

“Oh, ah…the kid’s okay? It’s going to live and everything?”

“Yeah! It’s going to live.” Dade gave the nurse a big thumbs-up as she left the room.

“Okay…okay then. I will let them know, ah, okay?”

A ten-million dollar advance. In the bag. Yes!

“Yeah.”

“We need the first three chapters straight away so our ghost-hack can get to work.”

“Sure! No problem.” His neighbour was onboard already, he was functionally literate, as Dade didn’t bother with such things himself.

He had bigger fish to fry.

“Uh…bye, Dade. Say hi to the wife for me.”

Dade bit his lip in sheer excitement.

“Yeah—I’ll do that.”

He snapped the phone off again.

“Congratulations, honey. It’s in the bag.” She was right out of it.

His eyes softened.

Spider-baby made little sucking noises, as she took in the essence of life from her mother’s milk.



END

Here is the trailer for a 1964 film called ‘Spider Baby,’ starring Lon Chaney.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmAX0lzgRaI







Friday, August 9, 2013

Project Laundry: the Top-Secret Battle for Null-Space.

“Mister President?”

Even after a year and a half, it was unbelievable to sit in the Oval Office. To sit in the chair of the President of the United States.

This was his desk now…

Eugene Farrell looked up from the notes he was preparing. In a half an hour, he’d go down to the press room and make a brief statement on events of the day. He’d learned to use his time well.

“Yes?”

“Your three-thirty appointment, the Admiral, is here now.”

“Ah. Send them right in.” There was never just one of course, but always two or three.

Zeke, his personal assistant, ushered them in and made brief introductions, the most important of which was the admiral himself.

Scott Hopkins was young for the job at forty four, and this was their first meeting.

They shook hands with professional bonhomie.

Farrell already liked the other, the trouble was the president couldn’t really trust his guts. Not anymore. They all took their seats.

He knew nothing about the man. They’d had a few of these visits, requested as official courtesy calls, or otherwise rather mysterious in the details. Then, usually, all they wanted was more money. Most of the projects seemed fairly legit as far as his advisers could ascertain. Conning the president wasn’t exactly unheard-of. If nothing else, it took nerve, something he’d always admired.

“So. Gentlemen.” The President put his hands up behind his head, leaning back in the deeply-padded leather swivel chair and giving them his full attention.

He put a foot up on a knee, looking comfortable.

“Thank you, Mister President. Our purpose today is to give this office an initial briefing on Project Laundry.”

The President straightened up with an odd look in his eye. He exchanged a glance with Zeke, who shrugged.

“Project Laundry?”

“This is the first time you’ve heard about this, Mister President. It’s not a high-priority weapons-system or rather, a strategic-balance-altering bomb, missile or laser. No, Project Laundry is pure science, and long-term science at that. We may not see the benefits in our lifetimes…”

“It’s not even particularly expensive, as such projects go.” Doctor Anton Schneurle was an elderly man with thick, dark, rounded glasses and an accent that sounded Dutch, possibly German.

“Oh, really.” The President pursed his lips, tipping back again as he listened. “Go on.”

They probably wanted him to intercede with the armed services committee. Budget allocations were a heated and very partisan subject under any administration. Allocations, or at least proposals, were ongoing.

The admiral hesitated, unable to meet the President’s eyes.. He looked up and cleared his throat.

“This may sound rather odd.” He pulled notes and diagrams, a sheaf of glossy colour photos of a laboratory complex, out of his leather valise.

“You see, Mister President. It’s all about the missing sock.”

“Hence the name—Project Laundry.” Captain Edward Beachey, the admiral’s youthful adjutant, stuck in an oar to clarity.

It was his project and he wasn’t so shy about it.

“Sock? What sock?” Eugene stared at Zeke in awe.

He was sure someone was playing a quick joke on him. They’d done it before, even hammed it up for the media a time or two. Eugene had been tempted to blacken a tooth and wear a straw hat, after what Senator Don Beeemer of Oklahoma said about him.

It was important not to take it too personally.

The admiral beckoned to the captain.

“You can explain it better.”

Eugene nodded at the young officer.

Even Captain Beachey had to take a breath and clear his throat.

“Okay. So when the lady of the house does the family laundry, approximately forty-four one hundredths of the time, a sock goes missing. This is a scientifically-established fact. Problem: where does it go? And how would we ever be able to verify that?”

“In other words, what happened to the sock?” The admiral stepped in, trying to be helpful.

“You can’t be serious.” Zeke almost slapped himself in the side of the head.

His boss Eugene hated time-wasters. His time in office was precious and he had a lot of things he wanted to see over and done with. Not everyone got a second term, as Eugene said himself.

Their current president hated pork and slush projects, projects that were off the books and run with little oversight, the whole hideous, seamy underbelly of federal funding for military development and research. The intelligence community was really bad for that. They already had several feuds going with them.

The president gasped. He stared at Zeke.

“These people are serious.”

“Yes, we are, Mister President.” The captain was deadly earnest in his need to convince, to explain, to convert if necessary.

Eugene’s head swiveled inexorably around to the captain.

There was a long moment of silence as the president digested the fellow’s mien, the unusual gravitas of the old scientist. Hopkins was nodding complacently.

Those eyes were brimming with some thrilling secret.

“What are you trying to tell me, young man?”

With a quick glance at the admiral, the captain took a breath and began at the beginning.

“What if they’re going into Null-space?’ The captain’s eyes bored into his.

“Hah?” The president swallowed. “Null-space? You’re out of your mind.”

Captain Beachey shook his head decisively.

He explained about the static electricity buildup, its interaction with the regular kind of electricity, the rotational motion of both the motor and the drum, the lines of electromagnetic force crossing other lines of electromagnetic force, the heat, and the humidity…finally, the blank look on the president’s face brought him crashing to a halt.

“I’m sorry. It’s just that science isn’t my thing.”

“The President is really known more for his economic theories.” Zeke was apologetic, which was actually a bad thing as a defensive posture was usually unproductive in these little sessions.

This would be going on the taxpayer’s tab.

The captain took another deep breath and tried again.

***

“So you have a thousand dryers in a room? A sealed environment?” Eugene shook his head, glancing in disbelief at his assistant. “Unbelievable.”

“Yes, sir. And we have a couple of hundred washers, forty-eight employees, all top security status, and a hundred thousand pairs of socks, all numbered and tagged, with a seamless web of checks and tracking points.”

They had fifty thousand internal camera pickups. It was wired tighter than Fort Knox, as the captain assured.

Apparently they were trying to catch a sock in the ‘act’ of vanishing, or so he explained.

They were doing loads of laundry, around the clock, in three shifts.

The admiral leaned forward.

“And get this, Mister President.”

The president sat calmly composed, still sure it was some kind of odd-ball prank. His birthday was coming up, maybe that had something to do with it.

“We still don’t know where they go, Mister President.”

“What? What the hell are you talking about? Where what goes?” The President, not sleeping well lately and tied up with preparations for the economic summit, was quickly becoming exasperated.

“The socks, Mister President.” The captain gave Zeke a significant look. “Even under hermetically-sealed conditions, even with professional lab personnel, forty-four one hundredths of all socks still somehow manage to disappear, Mister President.”

“They cannot just vanish into thin air. I am convinced.” Doctor Schneurle’s face was set in concrete.

According to the captain, the laundry machines were regularly dismantled, again under lab conditions, and only seldom was a stray sock ever found. Ductwork, piping, drains, it had all been checked over and over by highly-trained people.

“In a half a million cycles, we have recovered exactly two socks. This is lost in the statistical noise. I mean, it doesn’t prove anything, either way.” The accented voice of Doctor Schneurle was calm and assured. “They were in the dryer vent and the machines in question were rebuilt, as some of their parts had become worn and sloppy.”

“Really?” The President quickly recovered his composure. “And what, pray tell, is the significance of that?”

It only sounded half snarky.

The admiral took over again, as the captain, especially, wilted under that gaze.

“Those socks must be going somewhere, Mister President. Whoever commands that secret, for surely that is what it is, commands the next battlefield. We will command the next battlefield, and by that I mean the one for time and space, matter, and energy itself. We will win the battle for Null-space. Trust me. You can count on that one, Mister President.”

There was no trace of a smile.

Eugene’s gambler’s heart spurted into a trip-hammer beat. This was real…?

“So you’re saying this is not a joke then?” The president looked at his hands. “Hmn.”

“No, Mister President. No joke.” Doctor Schneurle smiled thinly, sounding an awful lot like Henry Kissinger for a moment, a man whom Eugene had always admired.

Eugene Farrell looked helplessly at Zeke, who shrugged and looked thoughtful.

“It’s your call, Mister President. They’re here now. We might as well hear them out.”

“Holy shit.” Mother always said there would be days like this.

And she was right, too.



End



Author’s Note: All of my books and stories are presently available for free from iTunes.

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/artist/louis-bertrand-shalako/id412091968?mt=11





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Monday, August 5, 2013

The Eternal City.


Calvin Teo, Wiki.



Butch was a black figure, sucking up all light, and yet he saw himself from outside…he turned a corner and went up the stairs, but the faded wall-paper did nothing to reflect light back upon him or illuminate who he was.

He was a shadow with a fedora, and he rebelled at the sight. It lasted but a second, and then there they were.

Everyone was watching him, and yet all was darkness. There were a thousand eyes upon him, and he felt them, and he knew them. They were invisible in the darkness. He could not put a face to a feeling, nor a name to a vibration that was each and every one of them. Their existence was undeniable. Invisible hands and feet buffeted him. There was shocking reality in the pain from their hits. There was real joy in the pain which he dealt out in retaliation.

Separate and distinct, and alone among all others, each unique in its strengths and weaknesses, together they were formidable, and he despaired. It was happening so fast, all seemed hopeless, and still his spirit remained. It could not last forever against such an onslaught.

What they fought for no one could say, and he never even asked. There was no time. All were upon him, they who seemed like they must once have been good friends or harmless, friendly strangers from a whole new world.

Even in the struggle, held down by the weight of them, he marveled at their vulnerability, and struck out with force and effect, for they had laid themselves open for it.

He was very strong, Thrown off effortlessly, they swirled about, never quite able to conceal themselves or hide their own true essence from him. They wanted him for some reason. It meant nothing to him, and he looked inside some of them. It was something inside of him that resonated. Something was isolated and he got inside the heart of one of them for one thin slice of time and then he at least knew something about them. No one was touching him now.

He laughed.

They were afraid of him. But then, he was afraid of himself, wasn’t he? He always had been,

They had something in common.

There was a bright light and he stood in the midst of an open plain.

The sun baked the cracked alkaline surface and seared the back of his neck. The silence was profound.

They stood in a ring around him, a stone’s throw away. The plain stretched off into the haze and the horizon no longer existed. It was a blue glass bowl overhead. Two dots floating above the far edge of the distant sky resolved themselves into big black birds, but they didn’t frighten him either. He should have been scared. He felt nothing but contempt for their mystery.

He knew their names now, and a wave of despondence washed over him. Each and every one of them, he had once thought his friend. He had loved them, liked them, looked up to them and respected them. They were all good people. It was why he sought them out in the first place, always knowing that he was unworthy of their confidence…his heart sank. He had wanted so much…

Why were they doing this to him?

“What do you want?”

The words rang out and mocked him in the emptiness.

No one spoke.

They were trying to tell him something.

They stood there in their everyday clothes, with their everyday faces, in their everyday postures, looking at Butch with a tolerant amusement.

They pointed now, and twisting, Butch craned his neck and looked behind.

His jaw dropped.

It was the most beautiful city he had ever seen, looming up over the shimmering waves of naked heat and towering right up into the base of the billowing white clouds that emanated from the city itself. Under its soap bubble dome, the oasis of green verdure and shining blocks of ennobled humanity beckoned in promise of welcome, a tall, soothing drink and a place to stay for the night. He turned, momentarily blinded by the mist across his eyes, but they were gone, as mysteriously as they had come, and he was still there. Whatever had just happened was over.

“Thank you.”

A promise had been made, one that must be kept on both sides.

His stomach felt very strange and he was sure he would wake up in a minute. It would have been better if all of this wasn’t so real, and so pregnant with obscure meanings.



End


All of my books and stories are currently free from iTunes.

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Sunday, August 4, 2013

The thousand-yard stare.

I need to go for a bike ride or something.
I’ve got that thousand-yard stare. Maybe even a thousand-year stare, for I have been working far off into the future.


Having just completed a novel of 62,650 words in about forty-nine or fifty days, I can finally sit back and figure out what to do next.

It’s a nice, quiet little science fiction novel. Insofar as submitting it goes, I owe it to myself to try. An advance would be useful and a traditionally-published book would bring some glamour to the operation and get space in bookstores, with all the cachet of whatever imprint.

My next project is the third in the Maintenon Mystery Series. I have all kinds of ideas, and if I can just stick to my present routine I could probably have another novel/manuscript by about October 1.

So I’m preparing the SF book for submission. That gets it out my hair immediately, with no thought of self-publishing that one for a year or more. Generally speaking, response times vary from four months, to eight months, and one rejection came in two years later.

The mystery novel will be self-published. That still leaves me time in 2013 to write a bunch of short stories. If I could do twenty stories in a week I would be happy to have them. I probably have at least a dozen or more short stories under submission right now. They get rejected, I submit them somewhere else. Every so often I stick one up on my blog.

On my desktop or in folders are a number of unfinished projects, including ‘Whack ‘Em and Stack ‘Em,’ a parody thriller novel. That sits at about 13,000 words, so it’s already got a good start. I could just peck away at that one. There are one or two other stories as well, of varying lengths.

The trouble with writing a novel in such a short time is maintaining that focus. It requires producing a good two thousand words a day for about five or six weeks, although at the end the pace slows a bit and then the rereading and editing process is slower still. Life sits still for no one and leaving out personal details, everyone around here faces all kinds of challenges on all kinds of levels.

Life is like that sometimes.

You may have had a similar experience.

Escaping to another world, one completely under my control, has its uses when the stress levels begin to build. Any pressure to perform stems completely from within. No one puts a gun to our temple and makes us do this. Focusing on what’s inside the book helps me to forget about everything else, if only for a couple of hours.

It takes a kind of persistent focus, working day in and day out according to some semblance of a routine. I don’t claim any great work ethic. This is what I like doing, and without it I might be bored out of my skull.

My first two books took ten months to edit. Now I’m doing it in less than a week. That is the value of writing your brains out and studying the craft, not just of writing, but editing, proof-reading, fact-checking, research and even publishing.

This is my eleventh novel and I start number twelve in a week or so.

In the meantime, I need to go off bike riding or something. I really do.