Prospector’s Choice

That’s right. Prospector’s Choice the third and final book in my Artifact series is now available on Amazon! Pick up your copy today and follow the adventures of Holtz Mitsumi and Genia Calliot to their thrilling conclusion.

Dawn’s Reach

Yes, it’s true. Dawn’s Reach is one of the finalists for the Whitney Award in the Adult Speculative Fiction Category. The Whitney Awards recognize the best in fiction by LDS authors each year. That is quite an honor. And, no, I’m not just saying that because it’s me being honored. Well, maybe just a little. I asked The Lovely Marianne if that means I can now call myself an award winning author. As all loyal companions do she brought me back to earth. “You haven’t actually won anything yet have you?”

“No,” I responded. “But I’ve been selected as a finalist. That’s got to mean something.”

“It does,” she said giving me a hug. “It means you are one step closer to winning an award.”

“But that doesn’t have the same ring to it as ‘Award Winning.” And here, to be totally frank, just a hint of whine edged into my voice.

“No,” TLM said, “but it has the advantage of being true.”

So, there you have it. I am now an author who might win an award, which, come to think of it, is no different than what I was yesterday. Still it has to mean something, right?

The Boy Who Flew

This didn’t end the way it started out in my head. I promise to be happier next time.

Evan Wilson Craig was extraordinary. It was hard to tell that from his normal, little-boy face. It was difficult to see when he played with his toys. You had to squint to observe it when he plagued his little sisters. But it was true. Evan was special.

“There’s something about that boy, Jenny,” Tom said to his wife as Evan swiped at his sister Nora with a Lego sword. Nora swept an arm and shattered Evan’s fragile weapon, then charged with gritted determination. Fourteen months younger than Evan, Nora fiercely defended herself from Evan’s predations, sometimes to the point of preemption.

“Yep,” Jenny said as Nora collided with Evan and they both screamed, “he needs more paternal supervision.”

Concentration wrinkling his brow, Tom shook his head. “No, that’s not it.” He lifted a chin in Evan’s direction. “Look at his steps.”

Huffing in frustration, Jenny grabbed Nora, separating her from her brother. “Evan, you can’t do that to Nora. You need to apologize. Now.”

“She started it!” Evan said, offering the time-honored absolute defense. Children have no sense of proportionality. If someone else starts it, for given values of “start” and “it,” the floodgates are open and anything goes.

“You can’t hit your sister,” Jenny said. “Do you need to go to time out?” Unable to comprehend the unjustness of the situation, Evan restated his case with more vehemence on the universally recognized principal that increased volume aids in making oneself understood. “But she started it,” he yelled, adding a few stomps to reinforce his point.

With a stern glance in Tom’s direction, Jenny said, “A little help here?”

Tom shook off her request instead, pointing at Evan. “See, right there.”

Jenny rolled her eyes, but turned her attention to Evan. Oblivious to his parents’ inspection, Evan continued his tantrum apace.

“That!” Tom said. “That’s definitely a float.”  

In her mother’s arms, Nora wriggled. “Let me go, Mom,” she said.

“I don’t care what you say!” Evan shouted, advancing on Nora and pointing at her. “She started it. It’s her fault.”

“Time out, Evan,” Jenny said, pointing to a chair in a corner of the room. “Now.”

Evan collapsed to the floor, tears tracking down his face. “Not time out,” he cried.

“Would you like a do-over?” Jenny asked, her soft, even voice barely audible above Evan’s sobs.

With a nod, Evan took two shaky breaths, wiped his eyes and through a clenched jaw said, “I’m sorry, Nora.”

Oblivious to the drama, Nora finally wiggled her way from Jenny’s grasp and hurried to her toys. “C’mon, Evan. Let’s build a tower.”

And like a summer afternoon thundershower, the storm passed. Evan wiped a sleeve across his nose and joined Nora.

“He’s ready,” Tom said.

“I could’ve used some help there,” Jenny said, looking askance at her husband.

Tom laid a hand on her shoulder. “You’re right, of course.” His eyes shone. “But did you see that?” He pointed at Evan. “That was amazing in a kid his age.”

Reluctance slowing her words, Jenny said, “Maybe. But even if he’s physically ready, he’s too young to be trusted untethered.”

Tom scoffed. “A tether’s only to prevent injury from a fall.” He shook his head. “There’s no chance of that with Evan. Not with the ability he’s shown.”

Bottom lip in her teeth, worry wrinkled Jenny’s brow. “It’s the opposite I’m worried about. You know what will happen if he goes too high.”

Tom smoothed his beard and considered his son now playing peacefully with Nora, their momentary tiff forgotten. “I’ll tell him,” Tom said. “Make sure he knows the limits. You know he’ll be too scared the first few times to get into trouble.”

Doubt still clouding her face, Jenny shook her head. “I don’t know, dear. I still think it’s too early. None of his classmates will be ready for at least two more years.”

“That’s the great part,” Tom said with shining, excited eyes. “Think of the practice he’ll have. How advanced he’ll be. He’ll be doing loops around the others when they’re still trying not to fall to the ground.”

Unconvinced, Jenny shook her head.

“I’ll be there, right there with him.” He rubbed her shoulders and kissed her softly on the cheek. “It’ll be fine. I promise.”

With a sigh, she patted his hands. Giving in to the inevitable, she nodded. “Please be careful,” she said.

The next day dawned brilliant and clear. With a summer sun peaking over the mountains, Tom sat across the table from Evan. “After breakfast Evan, I have a surprise for you.”

Evan perked up and lowered his spoon back into his bowl of cereal. “What is it?”

“A surprise,” Tom said. “Eat up. The sooner you finish, the sooner you find out.”

Nora piped up. “I want a surprise.”

Jenny placed a piece of toast on Nora’s plate. “I have a surprise for you, Nora. After breakfast, just like Evan.”

Jenny and Tom had discussed this the night before and decided it was easier to give something to Nora than it would be to fight yet another “It’s not fair” battle.

Evan slurped the last of the milk from his bowl. “I’m done, Dad! What’s the surprise?”

“Let’s go upstairs and I’ll show you.”

Evan clumped up the stairs, following his dad out onto the rooftop platform. “Are we going somewhere?” Evan asked, glancing about the platform. “Where’s the harness?”

Tom crouched before Evan, holding his gaze. “I’m not taking you anywhere, Evan.” He took Evan by the shoulders. “Today, you’re ready to go on your own.”

Excitement lit Evan’s eyes, and he jumped. It was all Tom could do to keep Evan on the platform. “I’m ready? I knew it.”

Beaming with pride, Tom nodded and squeezed his son’s shoulders. “Yes, you are. But first we need to talk about a few rules.” Evan settled onto the platform and nodded solemnly. Tom had rehearsed this part. At Evan’s age it would do no good to talk about Earth’s magnetic field lines and their interaction with the structure buried deep in his pineal gland, nor would a discussion of the dangers of tangling those field lines in the mid-troposphere. Those lessons would have to wait a few years. Right now, Evan needed a simple rule to follow. Tom produced a device resembling a wrist watch and offered it to Evan. “Do you know what this is?”

Evan took the device by its strap and frowned. With a laugh, the frown disappeared. “Yeah, it’s an almeter, like your.” He pointed at Evan’s wrist.

Tom smiled. “Altimeter. It’s an altimeter, Evan and it’s almost like mine. That dial, see it’s all green? That means you’re at a safe height.”

“Now this is important, Evan. Look at me.” Tom waited until Evan’s eyes met his. “When we go up, if that turns red you have to go back towards the ground.” He searched Evan’s face. “Do you understand me? If that goes red, you could fall.” Again Tom searched Evan’s face for understanding because if Evan hit sixteen thousand feet, magnetic field lines would tangle in his gland and he would fall and the lines would only untangle thirty seconds after he dipped below ten thousand feet. But long before then the ground would stop his fall. Tom had set Evan’s altimeter to turn red at fourteen thousand feet. A buffer of two thousand feet had seemed entirely sufficient.

Evan glanced down at his hand where he was trying to fit the altimeter to his wrist. “Right, Dad.”

Tom squeezed Evan’s shoulders. “Look at me, Evan.” Evan stopped fiddling with the altimeter and met his father’s eyes. “What do you do when it’s red?”

Evan tried to shrug his father’s hands from his shoulders. “Go back to the ground, Dad.”

 With one last squeeze, Tom nodded and released Evan’s shoulders. “Okay,” he said with a grin. “Are you ready for this?”

Evan laughed and leaped. Tom marveled at his control. He’d seen lots of first flights, but none so confident and assured. Evan jetted five hundred feet in the air and hung.

“C’mon, Dad. Try and catch me.” Evan streaked to the south with Tom in pursuit.

As Tom had expected, at this hour on a weekend traffic was light. Warmed by the sun and cooled by the air streaming over his body, Tom exulted again in the freedom of flight. Since his first flight twenty years before, Tom had been drunk on flight. For other flight capable friends, it had become routine. They had settled into it as an efficient means of travel. Tom had never lost the awe from that first moment his feet had left the ground. So he cried out in joy and raced after his son.

A hundred feet away and gaining, Tom reached out to tag Evan’s foot. Impossibly, Evan reversed direction and disappeared, leaving only his high musical laugh behind. Tom slowed and searched and spotted him a hundred yards behind and above. Evan was proving himself a natural.

A delighted grin split Tom’s face and he leaped up and around to intercept. Weaving and dodging, Evan just eluded Tom’s touch, jetting straight up.

Face shining with excitement at the chase, Tom rose in pursuit. Almost within reach once more, Evan eluded Tom yet again. Suspended in time, Tom and his son carved intricate spirals in the air in a magical ballet higher and higher. Until, panting with exertion, Tom hovered marveling at his son’s skill.

Something tickled the back of his mind. With a glance at his wrist, Tom swore to himself. Fifteen Thousand Feet. They were too high. How could he have lost track? Screaming at Evan to come back, Tom streaked after his son. Evan increased his speed. After an agonizing few seconds, Tom caught Evan by the ankle and pulled. “Come down now, Evan!” he screamed. “We’re too high!” Fifteen Thousand seven hundred feet. They slowed, but not enough.

Either unable to hear him or too caught up in the moment, Evan used all his energy to escape. At fifteen thousand nine hundred feet, seconds from disaster, Tom used a trick he had learned years ago. He traded momentum with his boy. Tom shot into the sky and flung Evan lower. Even knowing it was futile, Tom tried to halt his rise. But as he knew it must, his altimeter ground inexorably higher. He topped out at sixteen thousand three hundred feet.

*

It wasn’t fair! Somehow his dad had pushed him down and passed him. Now Dad was on top. Oh, well, at least he was free. About to jet away, Evan paused. What was his dad doing? It looked like he was falling. Was this a new game? He waited for his dad to stop and come after him. His dad fell past saying something Evan couldn’t hear.

“Dad?” Evan yelled. His dad got smaller. He wasn’t stopping. Something grabbed Evan’s guts and squeezed. This game wasn’t fun anymore. He raced after his father. Evan was proud of how fast he was, but even with his speed, he couldn’t catch his dad.

*

In the middle of their neighborhood park, Jenny found Evan shaking Tom’s broken body. “Wake up, dad,” he said. “C’mon let’s play some more. I’ll let you win this time.” As Jenny approached, Evan raised a tear sheened face, “Mom,” he sobbed. “Dad won’t wake up.” His little body shaking, he said, “I want a do-over.”

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

This story started out as a writing assignment for a writing class. The assignment was to write a passage imitating an author I admire. I attempted to copy Neal Stephenson’s voice in the first paragraph. Once I had made that attempt I thought what the heck why not see where this might go as a story. So, I give you Foreign Affairs.

On a crisp fall morning in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Twenty, in time to the chirping rhythms designed to aid sight impaired individuals know which street to cross, Aldous Thundershanks stepped off the curb at the corner of Second South and State street in Salt Lake City, Utah. Aldous had more important matters on his mind than trivia, like which light was green and which light was red. The moment before that step, Aldous had received a message on his phone, the contents of which drew his considerable eyebrows together in a tangle reminiscent of the Amazonian jungle. As he took his second step, his eyebrows unknitted themselves in a process resembling untangling snarled cords and his mouth rounded into a perfect O. Those massive eyebrows just had time to leap impossibly far up his forehead when a bicycle messenger shouting vile curses arrowed into Aldous’ outstretched leg, spinning him hard into the asphalt. In a failed attempt to avert disaster, Aldous threw out his hand for balance. Unfortunately, that hand held his phone and extending it only added to the force with which it slammed into the ground, shattering its screen. On the pavement, blood streaming from a cut on his forehead, starred glasses turning the world into a crazed Kaleidoscope, Aldous Thundershanks was numb, his every sense focused on the text he’d received in his erstwhile phone—“Emergency protocol Alpha invoked. Report immediately to rendezvous Tempest Five. A sentinel is gone.”  

Anxious hands helped Aldous to his feet.

“Are you okay, man?” The bike messenger brushed wet leaves from Aldous’ suit coat. At other times the damage to his Mr. Mac two for one suit would have annoyed Aldous, but the words “protocol Alpha” and “Tempest Five” tolled doom in his mind drowning out everything else. It was too soon; they weren’t ready. With a worried glance at his shattered phone, he pivoted and strode back the way he’d come.

“I’m sorry,” the messenger shouted at Aldous’ back. “He stepped right in front of me,” the messenger explained to a bystander.

Weaving among pedestrians on the crowded sidewalk, Aldous stuffed his useless phone in a pocket and fished out a flip phone. When he’d received training on this device, he’d prayed he’d never have to use it. Now, he cursed his luck. This day was never supposed to come in his lifetime. That it had, was tragedy enough, but why today of all days? A flick of his thumb and the phone popped open. The number string sprang to his mind and he tapped it out. That done, he hit a final three number combination and tossed the phone to the gutter where it steamed. Somewhere deep in the bowls of Earth’s telecom system, software packages were opening up and sending activation signals.

Wetness trailing down his cheek and odd looks from people he passed reminded him of his injury. After a moment’s hesitation, he decided his suit was beyond saving anyway and swiped a sleeve across his forehead smearing blood onto the coat. With his phone out of commission, its shattered screen wouldn’t function, he’d have to find another way to alert Mari. Once in the facility, he’d be isolated. The system he’d just activated would provide her with directions, but the compulsion to say good bye forced his hand. His associates had warned him away from the relationship, but he’d ignored them.

“You will pay a price,” his friend Merrick had said.

“Maybe,” Aldous had responded, “but whatever price that is, I’m willing to pay it.”

Now he stared at the bill.

Another trickle. He swiped again. Ahead, a neatly bearded man sat on the edge of a concrete planter fiddling with his phone. With another swipe to remove the worst of the blood, Aldous stopped in front of the man and cleared his throat. “Pardon me,” Aldous said. The man refused to acknowledge him. Aldous tried again. “I’m sorry to disturb you, but I’ve just ruined my phone and I desperately need to text my wife. It’s an emergency.”

Head down, focused on his phone, the bearded man didn’t respond.

With a sigh—Aldous hated this sort of thing—he drew his SIG Sauer P320, flipped the safety with an audible snick, placed its barrel under the man’s chin and raised it. He didn’t want to kill the man, but now or within a day, the man was dead either way.

Eyes the size of quarters, the man sputtered. “What the hell?”

“I require you phone,” Aldous said, “just for a moment, then you can have it right back.”

The man’s eyes flicked wildly, searching passersby for help. No one met his gaze. In Aldous’ experience, most people wouldn’t react to this sort of blatant display of force. Either they would pretend it wasn’t really happening or they’d make up a story for themselves in which the gun wasn’t real or the two of them were engaged in an elaborate game, anything to support their sincere desire not to become involved.

“Now, please,” Aldous said. “I have enough blood on my clothes as it is.” Truly, Aldous disliked the terror now shaking the man causing him to fumble the phone and nearly drop it. Aldous mouth turned down in distaste at the stink. As a young man, Aldous never believed that fear smelled. It had seemed to him a creation of fiction writers with overactive imaginations. His mind had changed when he’d first smelled it on himself. Now, the man positively reeked of the heavy musk. Aldous noted more of a urine tint to this one’s smell. With a glance, Aldous understood. A spreading wetness in the man’s crotch accounted for it.

Aldous took the offered phone and with a practiced hand engaged the messenger app and tapped in Mari’s number. “The day has arrived, my love. I’m on a stranger’s phone, but it’s me. We knew it might happen. Remember the plan. If we survive, I will find you. Love forever, A.”

He tossed the phone back. “Thank you,” Aldous said and set off again. At his car, Aldous slid into the driver’s seat and it hit him. He strangled the steering wheel against the tremors. His body shook under each blow of his pounding heart. And the smell. Yes, fear filled the car. After a moment, the wave passed and his training took control. Get to the rendezvous point. He found the indentation on the steering wheel and pressed it. He was about to surprise a few earthers. With a grim smile, he pressed the hollow, and the engine thrummed to life. “Tempest Five,” Aldous said, and his car shot into the air at two thousand miles per hour. Inertia dampened, Aldous felt as if he were standing still. At eighty thousand feet, the car’s program stopped his ascent and hurtled him forward. Sorrow took the place of his fading fear. He’d thought he had time, time for a normal life. If that word described anything about his relationship with a human. His great eyebrows twisted and tangled together again in concern. Mari was safe from the initial assault. He had to believe that their precautions sufficed to preserve their chosen few from the first assault. But if he and his colleagues failed, their efforts were futile.

Half an hour later, above a peak in Alaska’s Brooks Range, the car halted and dropped toward a snow-covered peak. Just before smashing into the mountainside, a thousand square feet disappeared and Aldous’ car sank into the hole. A roof reformed overhead as his car settled to the ground.

“Status,” Aldous said as he left the car, his voice echoing in the cavernous space.

Light suffused the cave glowing from the rock walls revealing six desks at which sat three men and two women. Peter, Harold, and Weston occupied the three on the right, Rita and Carly the two on the left. Carly waved at Aldous as he strode to the empty desk. In his vision, a scene unfolded. Into a star flecked view a ship appeared. Aldous’ stomach clenched at the ship’s distinctive curved lines. Clordan. They’d suspected, of course. If they spotted the signs, the Clordan might too. Sparks fled from the ship, heading at Aldous. Within seconds they expanded into missiles. The picture winked out. A notation showed the time. Two hours ago.

“How they found the sentinel is a mystery,” Carly said, her head shake sending her hair in long black curls swaying. “Lucky for us, the sentinel got the jump drone away before it bit the dust.”

Lucky indeed, if they’d had to rely on the EM signal, they wouldn’t have known the Clordan had arrived until it was all over. Aldous plunked into the chair before the empty desk. With a wave of his hand, the display above the desk lit, showing the solar system from above the plane of the ecliptic. A bright red star marked the sentinel’s former position. Marked in green, their weapons assets sparked in the darkness. Scattered evenly in a sphere centered on the sun and roughly the diameter of the asteroid belt, those thirty assets were poised to swarm to the Clordan ship. They had been scattered because no one knew from which direction the Clordan would arrive. But they had also counted on surprise, assuming the first contact would be a lone unit, something they could handle before the entire planet was destroyed. With surprise, odds were good they could contain the damage. Their sentinel’s destruction shot that theory in the head. There had been no surprise, and the Clordan ship had disappeared. It would reappear in a matter of minutes and destroy Earth.

Cotton in his mouth, Aldous tapped into the network looking for the status on his assigned sector. He knew what was coming next. His unit checked out, active and ready. A quick glance showed that was true for his group and the other four Tempests.

“We should bug out,” Weston said. “It’s a loss.”

His logic was impeccable. Upon detecting signs of sentience, the Clordan sent a lone ship to cleanse the infection. They adjusted their methods to the inhabitants’ technological sophistication. In Earth’s case that would consist of anti matter weapons delivered to every concentration of a thousand or more humans. Some would survive the initial blasts, but the follow on dust-triggered perma winter would take care of those. And the Clordan would leave behind spy drones patiently waiting to discover if any humans clawed their way back to using the EM spectrum or artificial lighting. At which point the Clordan would schedule another visit. Aldous and his people hadn’t developed an ability to predict a Clordan ship’s jump point.  What they had done before and once again in Earth’s system was to scatter weapons ready to pounce on the Clordan ship and destroy it when it appeared.  

Unfortunately, the Clordan always unleashed their weapons before they were themselves destroyed. So Aldous and his compatriots constructed underground bunkers in which a critical mass could be saved, removed to another planet, and instructed how to form a civilization without giving themselves away to the Clordan in the future. Unless the Clordan knew Aldous and his people had been to a planet, in which case the first strike was much more thorough. Because the Clordan had discovered Aldous’ people, when the Clordan next appeared in Sol’s system, Aldous and his people wouldn’t have enough time to prevent Earth’s total annihilation. Logically, their best course of action was to recall their assets, cut their losses and abandon humanity to its fate.

Rita, Harold, and Peter logged their assent. Acid churned his stomach, and Aldous wished he could calm this human body. Her eyes locked on Aldous’, Rita hesitated. “It’s the right thing to do,” she said. “I know you—

“You know nothing,” Aldous said, fuming. “We can’t abandon these people.”

Eyebrow raised, Peter chimed in. “You mean you can’t abandon those people.” Suspicion pinching his face, Peter continued. “Merrick told me you were too involved. I laughed at him. ‘Not our Aldous,’ I said. ‘Aldous knows better than that.’ But he was right, wasn’t he?”

Sweat prickling his forehead from a sudden heat, Aldous swept away his desk’s display with an angry gesture. He wouldn’t give up; he couldn’t give up. They had to help him. Peter didn’t speak for his group, and he hadn’t consulted the other four groups. Breathing hard, Aldous’ eyes flicked to the others. Harold and Rita were with Peter and Weston. Carly was on the fence. If he persuaded her, she might bring the others along. Aldous closed his eyes and brought his breathing under control. An angry outburst wouldn’t convince anyone. When he opened his eyes, he caught and held Carly’s gaze. “Remember Otozon V?”

Carly’s mouth lifted in a half smile.

“You were at Otozon?” Peter said, his head swiveling between Carly and Aldous.

“You know it’s not hopeless,” Aldous said to Carly, ignoring Peter. “We proved that at Otozon.”

Harold scoffed. “No one has yet replicated that victory. It was a one off. You guessed the Clordan ship’s entry point. You got lucky.”

Carly’s smile faded.

“It wasn’t luck,” Aldous said. “Carly, you know that because we did it together. And look!” With a gesture, a miniature holo of Earth’s system popped up about the desk. “Remind you of anything?”

Carly peered at the model. Her forehead creased as she concentrated. She gasped and straightened.

“Yes,” Aldous said, “I didn’t see it either until a few days ago.”

“What do you see, Carly?” Peter asked.

Carly pointed at the holo. “That geometry. Eight planets, four of which are gas or ice giants in the outer system and the inhabited planet, third from the star, with a sizeable moon. Same as Otozon.”

“And?” Weston said.

“That’s how we knew where the Clordan ship would appear when it attacked the third world,” Aldous said in triumph. “And how we’ll know where it will appear when it prepares to destroy Earth.”

“We tried to tell Central,” Carly said in dismay. “We showed scientists at Central our calculations and tried to convince them to research our method to generalize it beyond the one system configuration, but no one listened. They said it was luck and buried our work.” She turned to Weston, pleading. “Aldous is right. We can’t abandon Earth, not when we know how to save it.”

Weston’s lips firmed into a line and his eyes hardened. “I didn’t want to do this, but you’ve left me no choice, Aldous. Tell Carly and the rest what really is driving your decision.”

Aldous couldn’t breathe. Fear gripped his thoughts and held them. How had he found out?

Into the silence Weston said, “I don’t wonder at your reluctance, Aldous.” Eyes fixed on Aldous, Weston continued, “Aldous here used his host body to impregnate a female human.”

Hearing it said aloud, Aldous flinched. Carly recoiled, covering her mouth as if she’d discovered Aldous carried a deadly contagious disease.

It was one of the fundamental rules of their service. When embodied in another species, never use that body to procreate. The resulting attachments were too strong. They warped an agent’s judgment, prevented the agent from making hard decisions. And it was true. When he had met Marianne, he had intended never to let her into his heart and when she wormed her way in anyway he vowed to have no children, but this body’s pull was powerful and Mari had so wanted a child. And this was never supposed to happen. He was meant to live out a full life in this body before the Clordan showed up. He had been on his way to meet Mari for their first ultrasound when he had received the text.

When he found his voice, Aldous pleaded. “Yes, you’re right. I violated one of our principal directives and with my whole being I want to save Mari and our child, but that doesn’t change the fact that I know where the Clordan ship will appear and we can save Earth.” 

Peter shook his head in sorrow. “I’ll tell you what your entanglement does change. It changes whether you would exaggerate or out right lie about your ability to determine where that ship will appear.”

“We can’t trust you now, Aldous,” Rita said.

Lead in his stomach, Aldous turned to Carly. “Tell them, Carly. Tell them—”

“I thought I knew you, Aldous,” Carly said in horror. “I never thought you capable of….”

“Enough,” Weston said. “I’ve communicated our recommendation and the other Tempests have agreed. We’re jumping our assets to the base at Ceres. We’ll travel there as well, transfer from these human forms and leave.”

And there it was. Without his team’s help, Aldous’ chances of success were vanishingly small. Remaining behind meant almost certain death. But what awaited him if he left? When he’d taken this assignment, he had understood it meant living his life out on an alien world. He had already severed ties with the world of his birth. Nothing was left there for him. His life was here on Earth. That was a consequence of the prohibition he’d violated, but it couldn’t be helped now. The love of his life was here. His family was here. Death with them was preferable to life without them. Resolve transformed his face to stone. He would save Earth or die trying. “I’m staying,” Aldous said.

“Don’t, Aldous,” Carly said, pleading. “You can’t save her. ”

“You don’t know that, Carly,” Aldous said.

“Yes, I do,” Carly said, pleading. “What does adding your death to hers accomplish?”

Aldous turned to Weston. “Please Weston, leave the assets. Let me at least try to save the humans.”

Weston shook his head. “You know how valuable they are,” Weston said, his voice heavy with regret. “Headquarters will need them elsewhere.”

Carly took her lip in her teeth, and indecision wrinkled her forehead. Then her face cleared, and she squared her shoulders. “I told you Weston,” she said. “He’s right. Aldous may have compromised his objectivity, but I haven’t compromised mine. We have a chance to save Earth. And regardless of Aldous’ actions,” her nose wrinkled with disgust, “we can’t let his indiscretion sway us from our mission.”

Fists clenched, Aldous held his breath. Carly’s unexpected aid was welcome, but he was unsure if it would be enough to persuade Weston. A decision to stay and fight would itself violate their protocols. If they were unsuccessful, Weston would suffer.

“I think we should give it a shot,” Peter said. “That victory at Otozon was one of the few bright spots we’ve had in the last thirty years.” He shrugged. “We won’t improve unless we do something different and different means going outside the regs.”

Lips compressed, Weston considered Aldous for a long moment. Finally, he sighed. “I don’t like it, but Peter’s right we need to change tactics and Carly vouches for you so….” He turned to his desk and raised a communication holo, contacting the other Tempests. “We have new information. We believe we can predict the Clordan entry point. I strongly recommend we stay and fight.” He glanced at Aldous with a faint smile. “Let’s nail these bastards.”

Aldous let out his held breath and sagged against his desk. Relief gave way to determination. “Help me here, Carly.”

Together they focused on the calculations while Weston and the others coordinated jumping the assets to near earth orbit. Powered by compact fusion reactors, the weapons platforms boasted a particle beam weapon and one antimatter missile. If they correctly calculated the Clordan jump point, they could amass all twenty platforms at that point to greet the Clordan ship.

Aldous’ fingers flew across his virtual keyboard. They’d wasted too much time arguing. Any second now the Clordan ship would appear. They had to know where. Carly swept a hand across her desk. Her calculations flashed into Aldous’ display. He integrated her results. There! Half way between Earth and its moon. That’s where it’d be. He threw the coordinates to Weston. Weston twisted his hand and twenty-five platforms popped up in Aldous’ display. In a globe, the platforms surrounded the point where—

The Clordan ship emerged from alt space. And loosed a dozen missiles at Earth. Platforms directed their energy weapons at the missiles and fired missiles of their own at the Clordan ship.

“They’re preparing to jump!” Weston shouted.

Aldous gripped the edge of his desk, muscles on his forearms popping out. He riveted his eyes on Clordan missile tracks. One, two, three flashes signaled the destruction of those deadly weapons. If even one escaped, it would devastate Earth. Another. Three more to go. A lightening flash and expanding gas ball signaled the end of the Clordan ship.

Another missile down. Two left.  Something hammered at Aldous’ chest. A flash. One left.

“It’s almost to the atmosphere,” Carly said. Once in the atmosphere, the chances of destroying it cratered.

“C’mon,” Aldous muttered

“Directing all assets at that missile,” Weston said.

The missile inched toward the atmosphere.

A flash. Aldous pounded the desk and threw up his arms in victory. “Yes!” he shouted.

Peter flashed a huge grin and grabbed Rita in a big hug, twirling her around. Even Harold slapped Weston on the back and pumped a fist.

Weston slumped into his chair and shook his head. “I never thought I’d see the day. An entire planet, a whole population saved. Just like at Otozon.”

“Which means,” Carly said, “we’d best get started.”

Aldous nodded, his euphoria fading. Carly was right. After Otozon, they’d had to evacuate the entire population to a new planet hidden from the Clordan. It was an enormous undertaking. And for him personally, it would be complicated.

“I’ll jump back to headquarters and start the process,” Weston said. He stepped to Aldous’ side and gripped his shoulder. “I’m sorry I doubted you, Aldous.” He clapped Aldous’ back. “You did outstanding work, you and Carly.”

Later, Aldous steered his car into the garage, shut off the engine and stared at the dashboard, twisting his hands on the steering wheel. Mari would return from the shelter any minute now.  Exhilaration from his victory had faded. He ran his tongue across dry lips. She’d have a lot of questions. He really needed to be in the house to greet her, but his hand wouldn’t move to the door handle. Mari didn’t know about him, about where he came from and why he was here. He had told her he was an important government official who had arranged for her evacuation to a special shelter in the event of a nuclear attack. She didn’t know her life on Earth was finished and the stars awaited. She didn’t know he had been born and raised to maturity in what to her would be a misshapen octopus. But he had to tell her. An anvil in his stomach, Aldous opened the door and dragged himself from the car.

Twenty minutes later, another car pulled into the garage.

“Honey? Aldous?” Mari said as she threw her keys on the kitchen counter. Aldous appeared and opened his arms. Mari stepped into his hug and squeezed. After a moment, she leaned back and searched his face. “That was strange. From your message, I thought this was the real thing and I might not see you again.” She pulled him back into her embrace. “I’m so glad they said it was a test. But please don’t scare me like that again. I don’t think I could survive it.”

“I’m glad too, sweetie,” Aldous said. “I couldn’t live without you.” Aldous released her, took her by the hand and led her to the living room. Seated next to her on the couch, Aldous held her hand and stared into her eyes, struggling to find the words that would change her life forever.

Eyebrows contorted in puzzlement, Mari cocked her head. “What is it? It was a drill, right? Everything’s okay now?”

Aldous fought through the dread and took a deep breath. “Mari, darling, I have something I need to tell you.”

A Battle of Wills

The other day, The Lovely Marianne and I hosted our son Andrew and his three children, Luke (5), Nora (3) and Brita (1). (That’s Nora on the right in the banner picture.) They had come for dinner, but it wasn’t quite ready when they arrived so Luke and Nora set about playing with some of the toys we keep on hand for such occasions. On this occasion, Luke and Nora wanted to play with Legos so they hauled the bin out from under a guest bed and went to work. At one point, Nora had added some Legos to a couple of containers and brought them down the hall from the bedroom where Luke was playing and in which the Lego bin was located.

Dinner was soon ready and Andrew asked Nora to put the Legos in the containers back into the Lego bin. This required Nora to move the containers from the piano room and down the hall.

Nora refused.

“No,” Nora said. Well, she’s three and more than a little headstrong, so this was not an unexpected response. At this point this was merely a routine refusal to do as she was asked. Andrew repeated his request a number of times. On Nora’s fourth refusal, Andrew introduced a consequence. “No desert if you don’t take them back to the bin.”

With desert on the line, Nora clearly was sorely tempted to do as she was asked. But, remember the part about her being headstrong? She had already put down her marker and she wasn’t going to abase herself. She’s also smart and saw a way to have desert and still save face.

“I can’t carry both of them,” Nora said. That was plainly not true as she had transported both containers originally from the bedroom. “You take one.” And there it was. A compromise was on the table. But Andrew is strong willed as well.

“No.” Andrew was calm, but unyielding. “Please take them both back or no desert.”

This upset Nora because she thought she had offered a reasonable resolution and couldn’t understand why her Dad wasn’t cooperating. Andrew came back to the table. With Nora seemingly inconsolable, lamenting her loss, I stepped in to try to help. I coaxed Nora to transport both containers half way down the hall by asking her to move the containers in stages. But halfway down the hall she realized what I was trying to do. There she stopped and wouldn’t budge.

“You take one!” she insisted when I tried to entice her to the Legos bin, just a few steps away. I ignored her and asked her to take one of the containers to the bin which she promptly did because that had been her offer all along.

“Now take the other one, please.” I had thought that by asking her to take them one at a time, she might comply and now that she was half way there, I was reasonably confident of success. But she recognized my subterfuge.

“No, you take it!”

I reiterated my request.

“No,” she repeated. “You take it.”

I tried two more times, but was met with the same refusal. At that point I gave up. “Okay, I guess you won’t have desert.”

Thinking about that incident, I wondered what was going on her head. Here she was half her task complete and the rest within a few steps of completion. Pick up the last container, walk ten feet down the hall and sweet, sweet desert was hers. But she refused. Well, she’s three and who knows what’s happening in her head. It’s a foreign land where adults are strangers. Or is it?

It didn’t take me too long to recall instances when I had exhibited the same stubborn refusal to do what I knew I should do. Something easy that would bring its own reward. So, what was I thinking in that moment? Stubborn, pig headed refusal is what I was thinking. I really haven’t learned much from when I was in Nora’s shoes. Maybe I understand Nora better than I’d thought.

Well, the Nora situation was soon resolved when TLM took up the challenge. She asked Nora to transport the remaining container to the Lego box. Nora immediately recognized the opportunity. Desert was within reach and she didn’t have to humiliate herself by giving in to someone whom she had previously refused to obey. Dignity thus preserved, she promptly picked up the container and trotted down the hall to the Lego bin and desert was hers.

But she made me pay. With a world class scowl she pointed at me. “I don’t like Grandpa. I’m sitting by Grandma not Dad or Grandpa.”

“Next time,” I told TLM, “I get to be the good cop.”

Almost a Christmas to Remember

At this joyous season, my thoughts turn to family, friends, and death. Okay, near death, very near death.

True story. Many years ago just before Christmas, I want to say it was 1991 our dishwasher quit. At that time, a quitting dishwasher was a tragedy. We were in the middle of what we identified to our children as the “austerity budget” years. Years in which we experienced the follow on events from a bad career choice I had made. A repairman was out of the question. But good news, a new dishwasher was ready and waiting for us on the moon; we just had to get there. Of course washing dishes by hand was always an option, The Lovely Marianne and I have hand washed our share, but I’ve always loved my dishwashers. It’s my favorite appliance, I take great pleasure in loading in dirty dishes, turning the thing on and removing clean dishes a short while later. I know, I’m easily pleased, but it’s the little things in life that are most satisfying.

I was, therefore, loathe to give it up. So it was that I partly dismantled the dishwasher to investigate the cause of its demise. Eventually, I determined the problem was a defective switch. In those pre-internet days, I had to phone around to find an appliance parts store with the proper part. Having done so, I left work early on Christmas Eve to retrieve the part. My goal was to repair the dishwasher before Christmas. I arrived home at noon or so and set to work. Our son James, ten at the time, was watching me in the kitchen and it was about to get interesting.

I had the panel off and had removed the old switch.

This was the old switch. At least, I remember it looking like this.

I grabbed the switch by the block and extracted it. So far so good. I took the new switch which looked like this

This was the new switch. Well, not exactly, but it did have the metal prongs arranged similarly.

Looks different, I know, but I was assured that it would fit. At this point James said, “Dad, do you need to flip the circuit breaker?”

Now, I don’t know where a ten year old gets that from. James was and is uncommonly bright so his question didn’t surprise me. But he was ten and I was the wise experienced adult. I haven’t the foggiest what went through my mind, but whatever it was convinced me that I, the grown up in the room, knew best and so, “No,” I said. “We don’t need to do that.”

Picture the scene then. It’s Christmas Eve. The Lovely Marianne is bustling in the kitchen preparing for the day stepping around me as I sat on the floor in front of the dishwasher. Diana (6) , Catherine (4), and Andrew (3) were running through the house chasing each other and making excited Christmas racket. In the midst of this holiday jollity I extended my hand to install the new switch.

Bang! Sparks everywhere! I dropped the switch and snatched my hand back. A cloud of choking smoke hung in the air. James yelped. “What happened?” he and TLM asked in unison.

I retrieved the new switch from where I’d dropped it. Look at the picture of the new switch again. See that bottom prong on the left side? Half that prong had melted.

Yes, when I went to install the switch it had arced with a live wire which was live because I hadn’t listened to James. “I think I’d better flip the breaker,” I said.

That was a close one. Fortunately, I had gripped the switch with only two fingers on the insulated middle part. Any contact with metal on that switch and BAM! there I would have been dead on the floor.

Surrounded by my family.

On Christmas Eve.

That would have been a Christmas to Remember.

As it was, I followed James’ advice, flipped the breaker and replaced the switch. Restored to operation, that dishwasher served us loyally for another ten years and that Christmas Eve faded into the background of other uneventful celebrations. Well, except for James who trots it out now and then as a reminder that I should always listen to his advice.

Bad Villains

The other night The Lovely Marianne and I were ridding ourselves of a few unwanted hours of consciousness in front of the television. (I kid. TLM was, as is her wont, on her laptop working on family history while keeping a half an eye on the mindless entertainment. I on the other hand was firmly glued to the box.) I won’t mention the show on the off chance someone reading this still thinks I’m a decent human being. In any event, in the course of the shoot ’em up, one of the good guys needed immediate access to the bad guys’ inner sanctum. Said sanctum was locked of course and the lock in question controlled by a keypad. You have to know the code to enter.

Unless.

Well, unless you have something with which to destroy the keypad. Heavily armed good guy had just the thing-a wicked looking gun. (I’m not a gun guy so the make, model and specs were beyond me. But it looked wicked.) A few bursts from the wicked looking gun, the keypad exploded and the inner sanctum doors sprang open. I paused the show to complain. “Can you believe that?” I asked TLM. This is not unusual behavior for me. I not infrequently stop a show to make observations and complaints. Mostly complaints. TLM, a woman of infinite patience, takes these interruptions in stride. “What dear?” she asked. “That!” I said pointing at the screen. “All they had to do to get into the inner sanctum was blow up the lock. I ask you what sense does that make?” She didn’t react because she knows by now. Ignore the crazy man and he’ll settle down.

Later, as I thought about this travesty, I was reminded of something my law school classmates reported to have been a sort of mantra for Professor Deem. A former Los Angeles County prosecutor, Deem taught the large section First Year Criminal Law class. (I was in the small section. Deprived of Professor Deems’ entertaining style, I was instructed by the much more cerebral Professor Durham. I know he was more intellectual because I never understood what was going on in class.) Professor Deem’s mantra? Criminals are stupid. And indeed it seemed like a basic security precaution not to allow such easy access to your inner sanctum.

Which led me further to contemplate a hilarious (at least to me) post I came across a number of years ago. The Top 100 Things I’d Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord That list is in essence a catalogue of stupid things bad guys do in fiction (particularly in movies and on television) formulated as an enumeration of things not to do. So I consulted the list and sure enough there it was. “No. 96 My door mechanisms will be designed so that blasting the control panel on the outside seals the door and blasting the control panel on the inside opens the door, not vice versa.”

It’s fun to peruse the list and identify stupid things fictional bad guys do to ensure or at least hasten their downfall. But there was one stupid thing I failed to locate on the list. Have you noticed that almost no one on television or in the movies protects their phones? It’s as if it never occurred to them to require a password or heaven forbid biometric identification on their phones. If you pick one up it’s Christmas! Data? Photos? Texts? Right there ready to provide needed clues. Grrr.

Now, I get it. Fictional people are smart or stupid as needed to move the story along. And I’ve been guilty of the same offence in my work. A beta reader and my editor both complained about Genia Calliot acting like an idiot (or at least very rashly) in Dawn’s Reach. I did my best to remedy that by explaining why she would act that way. I’m not sure how well that worked out. The best writers make a character’s smart or stupid decisions believable.

Do you think my irritation at the cluelessness I see on television will change my habits? No, that would be smart. I’m going back to that same well again, ready to watch the next episode in the show as soon as I’ve finished this blog post. That’s a dumb decision. Which makes me wonder. I think I’m being written by a terrible author.

Aliens Among Us

So, here’s something. One of the founders of Israel’s space effort has announced that aliens are real and have made agreements with the United States Government. I find this and other claims by, for example, people associated with the To The Stars Academy, to be fascinating on so many levels. On the one hand, I’m skeptical of claims that aliens have visited us, that we are in communication with them, that we have functioning (or non functioning for that matter) alien technology, etc. On the other hand some of those making the claims have significant backgrounds in fields not known for tolerating flights of fancy. This leaves me with an unanswerable question: should I believe them or not?

In considering my options, I have to account for their motives and behavior.

First do they themselves believe their own pronouncements? If so it seems to me there are three possibilities. One they are mentally unstable unable to separate fantasy from reality. Two they could have observed or experienced something they misinterpreted as evidence of aliens, alien technology, or alien interaction with humans. Or, three, their claims are the truth. Aliens exist, have communicated with us, reached agreements, with us, and (willingly or not ) shared technology.

Second do they themselves not believe their own pronouncements? If they are inventing these claims from whole cloth, what is their motive? It could be personal, they’re experimenting to see how gullible the rest of us are. It could be they are forced or convinced to make these claims by a body (such as a government, corporation, or other organization) pursing its own agenda. The first possibility feels unlikely given the stature of some of these individuals. I have no way to evaluate the second. I can’t think of any way false claims like these could benefit the government of other institution.

As with so many things in life, I’m left with a conundrum. Fortunately, it is a conundrum of the best kind: an inconsequential one. At this moment it makes no difference to me one way or the other. My behavior won’t change either way. One thing I firmly believe, however is that

Giving Thanks

Tis the season. Thanksgiving marks the start of the holidays. The Lovely Marianne and I spent a wonderful day with family.

Before you are concerned this photo is from 2019 NOT 2020. Inexplicably, we took no pictures this year. Most of the people pictured were not present.

In keeping with the Thanksgiving spirit, last week I and TLM and millions of others expressed out thanks on social media for seven days. But today, I add to that list because of something near and dear to my…well not my heart or my head but to quite a different area of my body. Today I’m thankful for

Yep, Colonoscopies

I had my latest one this week. I’m certain that’s more than you ever wanted to know, but I have a particular reason for being grateful for this particular procedure. The colonoscopy was first developed and performed in the fall of 1969. But in the first years colonoscopies met with significant resistance with many doctors of the opinion that they were unnecessary and unduly dangerous. So it was that by 1975 colonoscopies were not widely used as a tool to screen for colon cancer when my dad was diagnosed.

That’s my dad on the right. I’m the handsome one in the center leaning into mom (and yes, smart alecks, that is hair). The young girl who looks like she wants you dead is my sister Lorna. My brother Lyle is on the left. I think this is 1973 and I was 17.

I was in Italy at the time (see my previous blog post). Dad died in 1976 a year after the cancer was discovered. He was 57.

Fast forward twenty years. The procedure that was thought dangerous and unnecessary in 1975 was considered safe and essential in 1996 when I turned forty. Because of the history of colon cancer in my family, my doctor told me I needed to have the procedure done starting at age forty. So, I dutifully downed the prep endured a day of intestinal distress and reported to the hospital. Afterward, I was told they found several polyps and later the pathologist identified them as pre-cancerous. Which means that but for the invention and widespread use of colonoscopies I wouldn’t be typing this blog entry. I may not have made it as long as my dad did.

So, yes, I am thankful for colonoscopies. I just wish progress had run a few years faster.

Death in Venice

Well, it wasn’t Venice; it was Pordenone. And it wasn’t death; it was a close encounter. But A Close Encounter in Pordenone doesn’t capture the attention like Death in Venice. Plus it’s not the title of a semi well-known German Novella and Italian Art Film, so there’s that.

Now that I have your attention, let me spin you a tale, one of danger, pride, and ambition, but also of nimble mind, courage and, ultimately, salvation.

Many years ago, I found myself at nineteen years of age in Italy. Armed with a two month intensive immersion in Italian, I was serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. A day after arriving at the Venice airport (hah! see there is a Venice connection), I was shipped off to Pordenone.

Pordenone is a smallish town located a few miles from Venice.

You can see Pordenone just above the green A28 sign.

I was assigned to work with a more experienced missionary named Kevin Call. Kevin was a great guy (he had the right first name anyway) and the day I arrived at our apartment two days after I had landed in Italy, he took me out to meet people and talk to them. Well, he talked to them; I struggled to identify a word or two and when I attempted to employ my vast knowledge of Italian it sounded like this “I Elder Bates to speak to you if you to want to.” Yes, as you can imagine there were lots of curious looks and requests to Kevin Call to translate.

Anyway, our apartment was located on Via Galileo Galilei in the town of Pordenone.

This is not a contemporary photo from when I was there, but I’m pretty sure these were the apartments.

We didn’t have a car. We traveled on bikes (in bicicletta) as they say. And that fact is important to the story. It is also important to know that when we went out speaking to people we stayed out until 9:00 pm or so. That first night I was out was in mid September. Which means it was dark by the time we were ready to turn in. Remember that: it was dark.

It is also important to know that I wore a dark suit and rode a black bicycle.

That’s me on the right with my trusty early 1900’s era bike. Dark suit. Black bike with no headlight. But a really cool tie.

Not shown in the picture above is one other piece of clothing I had on that first night: a black overcoat.

One more visual is necessary for the story.

This was the road we traveled to arrive at our apartment. From here we had to turn left to get to our street.

You can see above the street we rode on to our apartment. As noted, we had turn left to get to our place. Please observe how many street lights line the road.

Okay, now it’s night. I’m following Kevin Call to our apartment and since it’s my first night in the city I have absolutely no clue where I’m going. Following Kevin Call; that’s what I’m doing. Now picture the above road at night. In my black suit and black overcoat I’m on my black bike (with no headlight) riding along the right side of the road.

I’m tooling along watching Kevin in front of me. Without any warning, Kevin darts off to the left to make the turn to our apartment. Now, I’m in a strange town, in a foreign country. I have no clue where I’m at and if I lose Kevin Call, I am completely lost. I don’t know my address and even if I did no one would understand me if I tried to ask for directions. So, I have to follow him. Fortunately the truck oncoming in the left lane looks like it’s far enough away that I can make it across. I glance back and see another oncoming truck in the right lane, but I can avoid that one as well.

I quickly then dart to the center of the road. I look up. The oncoming truck was travelling much faster than I thought. I couldn’t make it across.

My first thought is to zip back to the other side of the road. But there’s a truck coming up behind me. No time to get back. My best bet is to ride the center line and pray.

The drivers of both trucks lay on their horns. The trucks arrive at the same time. Blinding lights and blaring horns. My overcoat whips around me. The wind of their passing causes me to wobble. Then they’re gone.

Kevin Call later tells me he was sure I was dead. I was sure I was dead. But no, thanks to the drivers’ skill, my luck and divine intervention, I lived another day. Needless to say that is one of my more vivid memories of my time in Italy. I have a few more and Kevin Call is involved in one of them. But that’s a story for another day.