Colonial Authority: Chapter 2 – Bug Out

**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**

After sleeping and eating a freeze-dried meal, Timmel and Jove descended into the caverns, going deeper than before. Chess and Lyle maintained the uplink to stream the remote Enviros telemetry real time as they continued their deeper explorations. Lyle sat back in his butterfly sling chair, taking a break from monitoring the data. “Hell of a life we got, hey?”

“It’s better than being just another number in the system back home.”

“That all depends on where you think home is. I haven’t called anywhere home for a while.”

“You got a point, I guess.”

“This is frontier living.”

“The Enviros have some grand plans for this place,” Chess commented. “And we’re their chauffeurs. At least we get to see it right?”

“I suppose. If we don’t decide to follow the frontier to the next hell hole.”

“Not me. I’m headin’ back home,” Chess revealed. “A research group needs a pilot.”

“For what planet?”

“Earth.”

“No shit?”

“Apparently, some rich guy has a crazy idea about terraforming Earth to fix all the environmental issues.”

Lyle shook his head. “How ironic is that?”

“Anyway, the pay’s better. Besides, I haven’t been to Earth since I was a little kid. My dad took me on one of those natural wonder package tours, places so beautiful they hurt my eyes.”

“Jove was telling me before the mission brief that they expect to begin construction of domed cities here within a few local years.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“Now, he thinks the discovery of a natural source of oxygen is very promising.”

“I hope they know what they’re doing.” Chess sighed, and then stood up, stretching before he started to check on Ave and Dar’s progress.

“Hang on,” Lyle said as he responded to a signal from the platform. “Lyle here.”

“Lyle, are you with Chess?”

“We’re right here, monitoring the data stream.”

“Is anyone else there?”

“Dar and Ave are setting up the power generator, about ten meters from us,” Chess said.

“What’s up?”

“The storm’s getting worse and its  center is headed your way.”

“Do we need to scrub the mission?”

“If you try staying much longer, you’ll be stranded for a long while.”

“What’s a long while?” Lyle asked.

“This storm’s already going on four months, so, how the hell would I know?”

Chess looked at Lyle, receiving a shrug. “Okay then. So that settles is. We recall the Enviros, button this up and go back home.”

“It’s a shame. We’re receiving some really good data.”

“Look, I just carry the nerds to and from the rocks,” Chess said. “I’ve survived this long because when someone tells me to bug out, I listen.”

“We’re signaling Timmel and Jove, now. Pity we have to, the remote relays are working so well. You did a nice job setting things up, guys. We’re even receiving still pics, quite detailed.”

“We aim to please,” Lyle said.

“The wind is getting worse by the minute.”

“Looks like its beers in the bar tonight after all.” Lyle stood and began gathering his gear together to don his pressure suit again.

“I could use one right about now.”

“After that ride down, I could have used something a lot stronger. I swear if I wasn’t the best pilot in the service, we’d have bought it.”

“Hey, I made it here before you,” Chess countered, as he continued to suit up.

“Well I’ll allow that you’re the second best pilot in the service, but the storm got worse by the time I was coming through.”

“I see how it is,” Chess said with a laugh. “Punching through this mess ain’t going to be any better.”

“I hear that.”

Timmel and Jove had just reached a vast chamber and detected not only the sounds of water but also the evidence of increased humidity. They had just set up their instruments to detect a wider range of possible organic compounds when they received the abort signal. They signaled their individual acknowledgements of the recall order and quickly left their deployed sensors before beginning the climb.

“We found fresh water!” Timmel called up the telemetry pipeline, knowing the voice over data would be received at the command center on the orbital research platform.

“Are you two sure?” A voice came back through their internal communications link.

“Positive. Heard the echoes of dripping and sensors confirmed it.”

“Okay, yes we see that. Great job, Timmel and Jove. The mission wasn’t a complete failure after all. Sensors are showing a substantial amount of subsurface water, actually a lot of water, maybe a lake or river. Establishing temporary colonies in the caverns may be an option after all.”

Timmel smiled as he and Jove exchanged a gloved handshake.

“Wait!” Jove said as he consulted his right cuff that contained fifteen different life sign sensors.

“What?”

“I don’t know, an echo, maybe. I’m picking up movement, though.”

“I got that a couple of times, too. Every time I did, it turned out to be nothing.”

“It’s nothing, I guess,” Jove decided. “Do you see the oxygen levels?”

“Yeah,” Timmel said. “Nearly breathable if it weren’t for the concentration of di-hydrogen sulfide.”

“So the place smells like a fart!”

“A killer one.”

“Store our data so they know who found it, and let’s get to the surface.”

“Yeah, why let the remote observers get all the credit.”

“Exactly.”

“We’re the ones who risked our lives,” Timmel said.

They ascended while Chess, Lyle, Ave and Dar were finishing making everything as stable and self-functioning as possible for any future missions.

“We found water and the levels of oxygen increased the deeper we went,” Jove told Chess and Lyle as he arrived.

“Weren’t you lookin’ for that?” Chess asked in response.

Lyle forced the issue nudging Jove off to the side. Chess took Timmel by his pressure suit’s sleeve. “I don’t think you understand the urgency of the recall.”

“The storm must have intensified and it’s coming this way.”

“Okay, maybe you do understand,” Chess said. “Lyle and I decided we’re bugging out!”

“It’s your call.”

“Well, we don’t have enough supplies and up top they don’t know how soon they can send anything to us.”

“Understood. Jove and I are ready. We answered a couple of the major questions, I think.”

“Let’s go, then.” Chess commanded.

By remote command the Pumas’ hatches opened, allowing them immediate entry. Once aboard, the hatches sealed and the occupants strapped in. “Purge!” both Chess and Lyle said simultaneously over the intercom.

“It’s urgent then,” Ave said while he watched as the interior air was blown out of the vehicle and replaced with fresh air from reserve tanks.

“The storm has grown,” Chess explained. “At its center it’s over two hundred knots gusting to two-fifty. Before we set out, they were thinking that was going to pass to the north of us, but now I guess it’s moving toward us.”

“The pod can’t handle that,” Ave warned.

“It was all I could do to land it in a hundred twenty knot winds.”

“So we’re screwed,” Ave said.

“Not if we can get out ahead of the storm,” Timmel said.

“The hover pod is designed to compensate for drift and external forces,” Chess pointed out.

“With all due respect for your piloting abilities, no one can control a pod in winds in excess of two hundred fifty knots. That far exceeds design limitations.”

“Well let’s hope I don’t have to be the first to disprove that,” Chess said.

“Talk to me, Chess,” Lyle said.

“I’m here.”

“This shit’s bad.”

“I see it.”

“Are we nuts for thinking we can get through this?”

“Weren’t you just telling me how good you are?”

“I’m the real deal, my man, but I’m no fool. I mean, the center of this storm hasn’t even arrived yet and it’s already making my Puma walk sideways.”

“It’s the same here. We don’t have a lot of time.”

“So, remind me again, why are we doing this?”

“‘Cause no one else can,” Chess replied.

“It’s more like no one else will.”

“We signed on to do this.”

“I used to take stupid dares when I was a kid. I guess I never outgrew that.”

“We both have that problem.”

“This is where we leave you, my friend,” Lyle said.

“Looks like I got the head start. Pod just ahead.”

“See you up top.”

“I’ll hold a seat for you at the bar.”

“We got our pod next to us, too. So, I guess it’s brews for two on you if you lose.”

“I’ll take that action,” Chess said.

Static was the reply.

“I can’t find him anymore,” Ave looked up from the screen. “Maybe he’s behind the mountains.”

“He’ll make it. All joking aside, he’s the best pilot I know. He always comes through.”

“What about us?” Ave asked.

“I’m better than the best, I guess.”

“Machismo aside, we are going to make it off this sandblasted rock, right?” Ave asked.

“Yeah, no problem. Just a bit of a storm we got to punch through.”

The Puma creaked and moaned. “At least the pod’s still here and chirping away. The way home is right there.” He pointed to the flashing dot on screen map for emphasis.

“Storm front is damned close,” Ave observed.

“Yeah, no time for the usual safety protocols, guys. We’re going to use the Chess modification to the checklist. We’ll leave this damned Puma running. I’ll remotely direct it away from our blast zone so there are no unexpected explosions during our lift off and ascent.”

“Good idea,” Ave said.

“We all exit through one hatch tethered together. We blow the pod’s outer hatch. We’ve only got twenty seconds to get inside. Once we purge, climb up and strap-in. We fire the main and it’s straight up, hopefully straight. There are no second chances.”

“Has this ever been tried?” Timmel asked.

“I don’t know. Anyone who’s failed obviously didn’t make it to the debrief.”

“How do you know it will work, then?”

“‘Cause it has to.”

“Alrighty, then,” Ave said, then drew a deep breath..

“It’s a good plan,” Chess said, as he pulled in as close as possible to the pod and prepared to open the hatch. “Hook up the safety line.”

“It’s pucker time.” Ave squirmed in his seat, preparing to disembark.

“Watch the blow out from the pod’s hatch, approach from the side. On three, out my hatch. Ready?”

“Ready!”

“One, two, three!” Each of them in turn exited from the Puma through the pilot’s hatch.

Chess led them toward the pod’s hatch stepping aside as it blew outward, caught by its hydraulics it slowly started its twenty-second closing cycle.

“Get in!” Chess commanded and he clutched the door as if he could slow it from closing.

“Go, go, go!”

First Ave, and then Timmel scrambled through the hatch. Chess dove through the ever-narrowing opening. Moments later, the hatch sealed behind him. “Hold-on for the purge!”

Each of them gripped onto anything that they could cling to until the purge ceased. Chess was first to detach the tether that had secured him to the others. He ascended the ladder and upon reaching the flight controls he slid into his seat and strapped in for what he knew would an extreme ride against the odds.

“Strap in! There’s no countdown.” Chess remotely directed the Puma away. “If you two want to live, don’t say a word.”

“You got it, Chess.”

“We’re in your hands,” Timmel added.

“Don’t remind me!”

All thrusters fully charged and the reactor online, Chess fired the main engine, executing the emergency launch. The small pod shuttered as the g-forces combined with the wind turbulence diverting it from its preprogrammed trajectory. The pod buffeted as it push away from the surface. Chess compensated for the wind, glancing at radar and the anemometer. “Holy crap!”

Ave glanced at the reading, and then quickly looked away, “I hope Lyle’s in a better situation.”

“What does that mean?” Timmel asked.

“I thought I asked you to be quiet.”

“Well,” Ave said, “Wow!”

“Huge differential.” Chess’ hands trembled as he gripped the controls.

“Hull integrity forty-seven point five percent,” the onboard alarm warned.

“Can you kill that for me, Ave?”

“Sure boss.”

“Hull integrity thirty-nine…”

“Sorry,” Ave apologized.

“We’re almost through it.” Chess checked the coordinates against positioning. “Damn, I’m good. Only thirty-four klicks down range.” He made some quick course adjustments.

“Ceiling in about five, four, three, two and…break,” the pod erupted from the clouds, emerging into the stratosphere of Pravda. Through the windows, they could see the sprawl of the intense storm below and its swirling pattern about the storm’s center.

“Chess, hull integrity is spotty, at twenty-two in some places,” Ave announced, concern in his voice as he stared at Chess to appraise the Chief’s reaction.

“Twenty-five is bare minimum for entering space,” Timmel warned. “A rupture might cause a reactor implosion. Of course, we’d be dead before that –”

“How’s seal integrity?” Chess interrupted to ask.

“Forward and aft at thirty-seven percent and thirty-five percent respectively. Starboard and port at…” Ave paused. “Chess, we’ll be pushing it if we commit.”

“What are the readings?”

“Twenty-five percent and twenty-four percent respectively.”

“Borderline.”

“The point’s moot. The hull is below minimum.”

“What are you suggesting we do, Timmel? Do you want us to go back down into that soup? Even if I could pull a miracle rabbit out of my ass and land this thing in three hundred knot winds. We’d not survive the night with this hull integrity.”

“I’m just informing you of the facts.”

“We have to go for it,” Ave defended Chess.

“Chess, Lyle here. I see you on the scope.”

“We both made it, Lyle.”

“Well we’re beat up pretty bad.”

“Hull integrity is twenty-two here.”

“Nineteen and a half here.”

“Wow!” Ave expressed.
“Yeah, it’s what it is. We’re reinforcing the weak spots, but all we have is duct tape and some rods to prop against the walls.”

“I hear ya,” Chess responded, checking his screen for the proximity readings.

“We’re unanimous to go for it. It’s not like there’s another option.”

“Good luck, my friend.”

“If I don’t make it…”

“Don’t tell me you’re reneging on our bet.”

“There are always margins of error, right?”

“Yeah, Lyle, we’ll both be fine.”

“I never fly by the damned book, anyway.”

Chess watched on the scope as his friend climbed out of the atmosphere, hoping for the best.

“They can’t make it,” Timmel said solemnly, as if pronouncing a death sentence. “Their hull is too thin now. We’ll not make it either.”

“Then we all die together right?” Ave shrugged.

“How about the seals?”

“In tact and holding, no further deterioration.”

Immediately ahead of them, there was a bright flash, the signature of a fusion reactor implosion.

Chess sat back. “Lyle!” he called over the radio, but he did not expect response. The others sat in sober silence contemplating the truth, that likely they would suffer the same fate.

“Raise the interior pressure.” Chess commanded.

“What good will that do?” Ave asked.

“I remember reading something about it artificially making the hull stronger.”

“It can, but only in a very narrow range of values,” Timmel admitted. “If it’s too high it will blow the seals.”

“The platform is in range.” Ave maneuvered a viewer closer to his eyes. “I got long range visual.”

“Hull integrity?”

“Holding at twenty-two percent. Interior pressure now at one-oh-five.”

“Raise it to one fifteen.”

“That’s dangerous, not just for the hull but our ears.” Timmel voiced his concerns.

“What’s to hear if we’re dead?” Chess asked rhetorically as they ascended beyond the last vestiges of atmosphere. “Today, we defy all odds, gents.”

“Hull holding, platform has a lock on us, switching to onboard guidance,” Ave reported, and then checked his harness, ensuring it was locked.

“Control, Seven Xray Bravo One requesting confirmation of visual.”

“Seven Xray Bravo One, we have you on long range.”

“Roger that, advising you our hull is weak. Request no tractor, repeat, no tractor.”

“Roger, Seven Xray Bravo One. Tractor is off. You call the ball, Chess.”

“I have a warning light,” Ave reached toward the panel and flicked his finger against it, hoping it was an error. “We have a leak in two of four seals.” He reported from the environmental control display.

“Control, Seven Xray Bravo One is coming in hot. Request emergency protocols. Seals and not in tact.”

“Roger, understood. Fire crews alerted. Will begin bay door close when you pass the outer marker. Maintain approach speed.”

“Roger, Control.” Chess turned to address the other two of the crew. “Get in the tub.”

“This is highly unusual and risky at best.”

“Do you want to fly this bitch, Timmel?”

“No sir.”

“Then get in the damned tub and shut the fuck up!”

“Come on.” Ave unbuckled and climbed down into the protected escape tub. “Don’t complain about my body odor and bad breath. It’s a tight fit in there.”

As the pod continued on approach, Chess made a visual of the landing bay. “Control, Seven Xray Bravo One, I see the beacons. Platform’s just ahead,” Chess announced.

“Passing outer marker.”

“Roger, that. Call the ball.”

“Control, this is Seven Xray Bravo One, I have the ball, am I cleared for final?”

“Seven Xray Bravo One, it’s all yours.”

“Tail hook down!”

“Emergency Cables deployed and locked.”

“Roger, Control.”

“Welcome home, Chess.”

The pod passed the outer lock as the receiving bay doors were already closing. Chess dipped the stick, forcing the pod’s tail hook down, snagging one of four possible cables, throwing Chess forward in his seat. The restraints were tested as the pod slipped through foam intended to minimize sparks as it lost momentum and came to an abrupt halt.
This time, there was no fire. The emergency escape tub was not put to the test.
“Outer door sealed, bay pressure at sixty-five percent.” Ave read the external environment screen as he returned to his seat.

“Sorry for that back there, Chess.” Timmel apologized.

“Forget it. My nerves were frayed. We were all dealing with the pressure.”

“Thanks, Chess. That was some flying.”

“Making it to and from the rock is what I do. We made it one more time.”

“Making paradise from chaos is what I do.” Timmel gathered his gear together and prepared to exit.

“I guess we’ll see how that goes.”

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Colonial Authority: Chapter 1 – The Caverns

Author’s introduction: I began writing Colonial Authority on June 6, 2007. At the time I was out of work. It was a rough period for my family, but I had a severance package and a little money set aside. No one starved. Other than looking for work, I had a lot of time on my hands, which felt like an incredible gift for the writer inside of me and, of course, my latest muse.

As if often the case, the story started out to be something other than it eventually became. I wanted to write a birthday story dedicated to a friend, Cristina (no ‘h”). Like the main character in this story she is a front vocalist for a rock band and she is Italian. But, then, the story grew and it evolved into two novels.

I wrote this at night, days off or in my spare time during the summer and continuing well into the fall of 2007. After I found a job, I was barely getting by as a car salesperson. The creative process kept me relatively sane as my family burned through my severance and savings. Eventually the car dealership downsized before going out of business. It was one of the first casualties of the major economic downturn that some have since called the Great Recession. By then, I had a lead on another job that I would work until just before writing the first draft of Fried Windows, my first novel with my present publisher, Pandamoon.

In 2012, I published The Attributes, of which this is one part, on Amazon for Kindle only. It has since been modified here and there but it was not professionally edited. I’ve gone through it as a revision and am offering it here in installments as a sample of my science fiction storytelling. As such, it is much more akin to what I was writing when I composed The Wolfcat Chronicles, which will begin with the first episode published in Early 2018. The Attributes serves as a kind of capstone for all my fantasy and sci-fi plot threads, though it does not spoil any of the many stories that lead into this strange world. It takes place in a distant future. The Earth has been abandoned in lieu of new worlds, the colonies on other planets in the solar system and now into another star system. Pravda is the first world to be chosen for the full terraforming treatment.

Enjoy it. And please, let me know what you think.

E

***

Silicon beads swirling in the wind tore at the thick shielding on the hover pod’s hull. Ave waited, hoping for a lull in the wind, knowing it was unlikely. The present storm had gone on for more than three and a half local months.

“Are we ready to go?” Chess asked as he looked at the others, receiving nods. He deployed the Puma, waiting for the control panel light’s confirmation of surface contact. Once completed, he pointed to the door. “Okay guys, this is not a drill.”

“Ready, Chief.” Ave positioned himself as close to the door as possible.

“We have a minute – max for egress. Once outside we board the Puma as quickly as possible. Suits and respirators at all times, even inside the Puma.”

“Understood, Let’s do this!”

“Apparently, the mission’s importance trumps safety considerations.”

“Our suits aren’t made to stand up to this crap,” Timmel said, but receiving no immediate feedback, he looked to Ave, pointing to the side of his helmet directly over his ear.

“Can you hear me?” Ave asked.

Timmel shrugged.

Ave reached for the controls mounted on Timmel’s pressure suit, flicking back the reset switch cover on the wrist and activated the button. “Can you hear me, now?”

“Five by,” Timmel responded. “I was saying these suits aren’t made for this storm.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.” Ave turned his back on the engineer. “Damned Enviros,” he muttered.

“Hey,” Timmel complained. “So, I suck at electronics.”

“Cut it,” Chess ordered. He forced the hatch release down and armed it. “Ave and I have done this drill a hundred times. Follow our lead.”

“Understood.” Timmel acknowledged as he and Ave gripped the wall handles.

“Give me a countdown.”

“On my mark.” Ave glanced at his chronometer, commencing. “And that’s five, four, three, two…”

“Blow!” Chess shouted.

Once outside the pod, both he and Ave threw their shoulders into the hatch, keeping it from closing until Timmel stepped through and immediately suffered the storm’s abrasive violence. Struggling to attach a safety tether to the outer hull of the pod, the gale forced him to step back a few paces. He hooked another tether onto the hatch door and fastened the other end to the pod’s hull, effectively holding it open so the others could release it. Then turning he aimed a high-pressure discharge gun in the Puma’s direction, shooting another line with a magnetic latch on its end.

“Okay, Chess. We have a temp rope guide.”

Remotely, Chess commanded the Puma’s magnetic arm to acquire and anchor the safety line while Timmel assisted Ave in keeping the door open. They waited for Chess to step through the hatch, the last of the crew to make it outside.

“Okay!” Timmel severed the taut tether and the hatch’s hydraulics took over, continuing to close. “Go, go, go!”

As Chess and Ave scrambled away from the hatch, each of them grasped the safety line that Timmel had anchored to the Puma. First one and then the other climbed through the vehicle’s door and maneuvered around inside, Timmel taking one of the back seats, while Ave reached back through the pilot’s hatch and helping Chess climb inside.

“Good job, Timmel,” Chess said as he and Ave settled into the swivel, bucket-style seats and closed the hatch behind him, sealing the Puma’s cabin.

“Not bad for a damned Enviro, hey?” Timmel directed to Ave, patting the co-pilot’s helmet.

“I guess I deserved that,” Ave allowed.

“Apology accepted.”

“The bitch is buttoned-up. Purge all the sand,” Chess directed.

“Already on it, Chief.” Timmel leaned forward, reaching past Ave to press the button on the environmental panel, creating a few seconds delay while he strapped in.

“Stiff breeze out there.” Ave finished strapping in, and braced for the five seconds of extreme suction.

Chess chuckled. “At this morning’s briefing, they promised me this is one of the calmer days of the past month. They claim the initial seeding of the upper atmosphere has begun to calm the winds.”

“You couldn’t prove it by me,” Timmel commented. “That’s the strongest wind I’ve ever felt. I’m not so sure this rock qualifies as Earth like.”

“A hundred seventeen knots,” Chess read from the Puma’s anemometer, “Gusts to one twenty-five … excuse me, one-forty.”

“It’s getting worse. We have to find cover for the Puma, rock outcroppings or a cave that’s out of this wind,” Timmel explained.

“Understood.” Chess clicked a magnetic release switch as the Puma’s tethers dropped away from its hull. “The real question is whether there will be a pod to return to.”

Ave growled in the background. “What? Did you misunderstand the meaning of the word suicide that was stamped on top of mission on our orders?”

“Guess I didn’t see that, not that it matters much. They need to know whether the caverns that the droids discovered can be made into temporary shelters for colonists,” Chess explained.

“The first hundred are already on their way,” Timmel revealed. “Arrival early next spring with more to follow. They stay on one of the platforms until they have a place ready for them down here.”

“Are they nuts?” Ave protested.

“Do they have a choice?” Chess asked. “This is the next best thing we’ve got to Mother Earth. Terraforming this bitch is the only answer.”

“That will be problematic,” Timmel stated. “Despite today’s weather, this environment is workable, though. It’s just going to take a few years to complete the process.”

“On Earth storms didn’t linger for months or have this kind of punch,” Ave offered.

“Earth’s mature. This planet is about two and a half billion years younger.”

“So it’s a baby throwing an extended tantrum.” Ave swiveled his seat to make eye contact with the environmental engineer.

“Not a bad analogy. Pravda needs some maturing. There’s still a lot of volcanic activity and poisonous gasses released into the atmosphere. The initial colonists will have to live in caverns.” Timmel indicated a direction that seemed the same light brown as every other direction. “Our internal navigation is fixed on the last known coordinates of the droids. The caverns they reported finding seem the most promising yet.”

“So, this is the promised land?” Ave visually searched the horizon for any indication of daylight, and then returned his attentions to the instruments.

“That’s what they say.” Timmel chuckled. “Apart from the uber intensity of the sandstorms, this is really a lot like Earth.”

“It looks nothing like the travel brochure,” Ave joked.

“When the terraforming is completed Pravda will resemble the more arid regions of Earth. Longer-range, say in about eighty or so years, we’ll be irrigating and harvesting vegetation grown in the local soil. There’ll be cities without domes connected by rail and highways. Millions of people will relocate here to relieve the population pressure from the other colonies. All of that begins with us. We’re here to determine whether there is ample subsurface water in the caverns. We know there are aquifers. Our readings indicate the presence of at least three on this continent, but we need confirmation of an ample fresh water source to establish our first colony.”

“How in the hell are we supposed to do any of that while working in this soup?”

“That’s definitely the challenge. Visibility is zero,” Timmel confirmed.

“My point exactly. And we’re here to conduct a survey? How do we do that, by Braille?”

“Breaker, Team One, Team Two leader here,” the radio squawked.

“Team One here, on ground and moving. How ya lookin’ Lyle?”

“Lookin’ for you Chess. Where you at?”

“The positioning satellite tells me I’m a klick to your east.”

“Okay. Where’d you say my east was again?”

“There’s a strong magnetic field, Lyle. It screws-up instruments. Recalibrate your handhelds. Then lock in on our beacon.”

After a few moments, Lyle responded, “Okay, there you are. Uh, Chess how are we supposed accomplish anything? This is the worst I’ve ever seen.”

“We establish shelter and a camp in the caverns, just like they told us. Let the Enviros do their thing and await further instructions.”

“And hope this is as bad as it gets?”

“It’s worse when there are rain clouds that mingle with the sand. It’s like being pelted with wet concrete at a hundred knots,” Timmel pointed out.

“Well, that’s something to look forward to.”

“It’s not that bad,” Jove, the Team Two Enviro allowed.

“Well, don’t I feel all better, now?” Ave reacted with sarcasm.

“Lose it,” Chess warned. “This is what we do, Ave.”

“Mars was a kitten compared to this!” Lyle said. “Oh, shit! I just lost a thruster.”

“Cycle the power and purge it,” Chess suggested. “Your intake is clogged.”

Following a few moments of silence, Lyle reported, “Back online. Nice trick, Chess.”

“I’ve been down here in it a few times.”

“I served my penance on Titan. Methane ice storms there. Can’t say it was better or worse. Hell is hell as far as I can tell.”

“Sorry, I resurrected any of those memories,” Chess said.

“I’m over it, sort of – just never thawed out since.”

“There are mountains three klicks to the east of me. It looks like you’re closer, Lyle.”

“Got ‘em on the range finder,” Lyle said. “Gotta go around a ridge line, though. You’ll probably get there quicker.”

“I see the ridgeline on radar. You see the pass?”

“Yeah, we’re on it.”

“Droids found caverns. I don’t know how that happened. It looks like nothing but a wall of rock ahead.”

“They claim there’s a notch in there somewhere,” Lyle said.

“Yeah, well when we find it, we fabricate an airlock at the cavern’s entrance and we’re golden. That’s the official plan, minus all the unforeseen stuff, of course.”

“Yeah, they never seem to figure in enough time for all the ‘everything else’.”

“Turn East South-east,” Ave said. “I got a beacon.”

“No kidding,” Lyle said. “There is it. “Thanks for the help, guys.”

“I don’t know how much more abuse the Puma can take,” Ave complained. “The skin’s wearing bad.”

“Without this Puma your suit would last about twenty minutes,” Timmel said.

“Thanks for the safety tip,” Ave groused. “I’ll keep that in mind if we breakdown.”

“The local atmosphere is about ten percent oxygen but there’s a cocktail of poisons that would kill us in four to five minutes— rather painfully, I might add,” Jove stated.

“So, once the suit goes, I’m not far behind,” Ave said. “Gotcha. Just, I don’t recall reading that in the travel brochure, either.”

Chess used the Puma’s filtered radar to isolate the Doppler effect of the fast-moving sand from the stationary formations of the mountains ahead. “Okay, there’s the notch and I have an echo behind it, an alcove, kind of narrow, but I think the Puma will make it in.”

“There’s good news,” Lyle said.

“We’re almost there,” Chess said. “Are you still dawdling, Lyle?”

“I’m blind in one eye and can’t see out of the other. I hate navigating by radar alone, especially on the ground. Anything smaller than a hundred-pound boulder is invisible.”

“Good news, we detect caverns behind the notch.”

“Tracking on you, Chess. Show me the way.”

“When we get there, Ave and Dar can set up camp, while Jove and I explore the caverns,” Timmel said.

“Who died and made you boss?” Ave asked.

“Once we stop, Timmel’s in charge,” Chess explained. “All orders come from him or up top.”

“Great, just great.”

“If there is any wind shear near those mountains it may be swirling and worse than what we are experiencing out here in the open,” Dar said.

“Now you tell me,” Ave groused.

“Hey, it’s worth a shot,” Lyle said.

“I think so,” Chess agreed.

 

The alcove proved to be a relative haven, greatly diminishing winds, which was welcomed as Chess parked the Puma as close to the mountain as possible.

“Do we wait for Lyle and the others?” Timmel asked.

“Right behind you,” Lyle said over the coms link as his Puma loped into the alcove, settled on its legs and parked beside Chess and the others. Jointly they directed the others to offload the sealed cases containing sensors and other delicate instruments as well as the airlock kit that would be necessary for them to accomplish their mission.

Team one was Ave and Dar who established artificial lighting inside the threshold of the cavern. Team two was Chess and Lyle who began assembling an airlock and air purification system. Timmel and Jove took a portable sampler, data recorder and flashlights as they descended into the network of caverns. From the readings, they confirmed previous reports from the droids that deeper into the caverns the air quality improved dramatically.

When everything was unpacked Chess and Lyle deployed a communication mast, anchoring it to the rocks just outside the cavern. Lyle searched for a satellite link to relay the signal via a particle beam to the orbiting platform.

“There you are,” Chess said as Timmel and Jove reappeared from the lower chambers of the cavern. “How’s the air down there?”

“Better, not breathable, but it is better the lower we go into the caverns.”

“Is that normal?”

“It’s unusual,” Timmel admitted. “Jove and I have a couple of working theories. At least it confirms the telemetry the droids relayed before the wind and sand destroyed them. We found the redundant archive and downloaded the memory into our data recorders. We also accessed the recorders they positioned and retrieved the data to present.”

“Are they still functional?” Lyle asked.

“Their batteries are low. We tried to restart the internal reactors, but apparently, they depleted their duel cells. The reactors are cold.”

“So, the answer’s no,” Chess said.

“Yeah, we’d have to recharge the fuel cells and maybe repack the reactors with new rods. It’d be a minor overhaul, if we had the equipment.”

“How far have you explored?”

“Four-hundred meters down. It’s odd. The caverns seem dry and not all that cold,” Jove responded.

“A dry heat source?” Chess suggested.

“Nothing we’ve found, And, so far there’s no water,” Timmel said.

“Any indication of life?”

“None,” Timmel said. “Of course, we haven’t expected to find any, except maybe something microbial, single cells…of course we haven’t done much testing in the oceans yet. At a similar point in Earth’s development, life on the land might have been difficult to find.”

“Earth had more water, right?” Ave stated as he joined the others.

“Yes, still does,” Timmel answered. “But like Pravda, most of it is in the oceans. There’s some water locked up in polar ice caps here. The tidal effects of the two moons help create weather patterns like what we’ve just experienced, more violent than anything we’ve seen in any extra-terrestrial ecosystem.  We’re all learning at this point.”

“What if we don’t figure it out,” Ave said.

“We don’t have a choice,” Timmel responded.

“What?” Ave asked in response to Chess’ silent, visual chastisement.

“We’ve also discovered peroxide in some rock formations,” Jove said.

“Where would that come from?” Chess asked.

“We don’t know yet, but if there is some reactive process in the planet’s chemistry, it could explain why there’s more oxygen in the air as you descend into the caverns,” Jove said. “And the oxygen in the atmosphere despite the lack of vegetation.”

“It’s a significant discovery, then?” Dar asked.

“Our assumptions about this planet have been in error,” Jove said. “Actually, many times over our theories have needed adjustment.”

“Data transfer complete,” Timmel announced.

“Mine too.” Jove began disconnecting his portable equipment.

“Time to seal and pressurize the airlock,” Chess announced.

“I’ll break open the mess packs,” Ave offered.

“Dar, go ahead and unpack the sleepers.”

“I’m tired enough that it could be continued on the next two men.”

“Getting this suit off is my present priority. I’ve needed to scratch an itch for the last hour.” Ave revealed.

TO BE CONTINUED

 

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Becoming Thuperman Coming FEB 2017

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So, I can’t tell anyone the exact date of release just yet because BECOMING THUPERMAN has not yet passed through the critical milestone of substantive  edits. But I can say that the final sub edits were submitted yesterday to Pandamoon Publishing and copy edits should begin in the next couple of days. Copy edits usually take a week, then proof reading and a final-final read through. All that should take about a week and a half. Also the book will be on Pre-order very soon. You do the math.

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During the substantive phase of editing for BECOMING THUPERMAN, Jessica Reino, my editor, served as a sounding board for fleshing out some ideas that became part of the mystery element of the book. It was through this collaboration, something that is a hallmark feature of the Pandamoon Publishing creative community, that the story became much stronger than what was presented in draft.

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My best friend and publicist, Christine Gabriel is releasing CRIMSON MOON, the next installment in the Crimson Chronicles on the same day as BECOMING THUPERMAN. She is nearly done with her book’s editing. So we are definitely on target to release two book in one day at Pandamoon Publishing. Both Christine and I are Alpha Pandas, part of the initial class of authors signed. We’ve seen lots of change and growth over the past four or so years since we were signed. And I can say the quality of stories and the finished product has never wavered. Our publisher continues to attract great talent and product incredible reads.

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CRIMSON MOON continues the mystery and intrigue surrounding a strange Midwestern forest and its paranormal inhabitants that began in CRIMSON FOREST, Christine Gabriel’s bestselling, award-winning, debut novel.

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BECOMING THUPERMAN is about two 8-year-olds, a boy and girl, who share vivid imaginations and burgeoning superpowers. Over the course of a week of one summer their world changes dramatically. The pair become little league baseball pitchers and an effective crime fighting duo, while puzzling through a mystery that will continue into the next book of the series and beyond.

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BECOMING THUPERMAN is an urban fantasy that takes place mainly in the real world portion of the special universe introduced in FRIED WINDOWS. Although the characters are unique to this series (for the moment, at least) readers may expect some overlap of characters as both series continue. And in my next series, WOLFCATS, which debuts in the fall of this year from Pandamoon Publishing, is more of an epic fantasy. It begins to tell the historical past of the Inworld, the fantasy universe described in FRIED WINDOWS.

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The other book coming out this month from Pandamoon, HELLO WORLD by Alexandra Tauber & Tiffany Rose is launching on February 21st. It is about crusading hackers in a not so distant future that is dominated by computer technology.

Lots of other stuff coming soon as well. In my next blog post we’ll mention some of those books and feature a few of the recent Pandamoon Publishing releases from the genres of sci-fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense/Thrillers and Women Fiction/Romance.

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It’s been a while…but it’s all good!

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I haven’t posted to my blog for some time. There are reasons. They might come off as excuses so we’ll not go there. I’ve been busy doing things other than posting to my blog, obviously.

Anyway, some of what I’ve been up to is helping other people become famous. That’s a work in progress, of course. Interestingly, the process of doing publicity stuff for other people sort of contributes to the overall credibility of my writing platform. I kind of like that. You gain from helping others.

There’s plenty of news to catch up on. Foremost, I’m branching out on social media. I’ve had accounts on the various platforms for quite a while but have focuses mainly on Facebook and Twitter. You might notice I have multiple accounts on Facebook. That kind of just happened. When I started out I actually created both accounts by accident. Long story that isn’t interesting to tell. I used a moniker from an IRC chat server so that account was mainly used for people I had connected with from that part of my past. Some of the other social media accounts use the same moniker, though. SO, if you see my picture attached to an account under the user name “elgonewolf”, that is me.

As I have mentioned previously in this blog, having a name like Elgon can be a challenge. And I have, at times, used “elgone’ as a user name, kind of as a joke because that is often the best rendering of my name’s pronunciation that most people can manage, until they know me for a while and know me well enough that I have corrected them on the pronunciation. It isn’t hard. L-GUN. But over the year many have called me L-GONE.

The “wolf” ending to the moniker comes from the IRC chat where each of us pretended to be members of a wolf pack. Once initiated, you were allowed to tag on wolf to your username. There were a couple of hundred of us on that server. And for a few months we had fun creating adventures. There were a lot of former D&D people in the mix, as you might expect.

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I bring all of that up because something special and related to it is coming next fall (2017). You see, I kept copious notes and records of all the adventures I created in those months. I mean, I am a writer. During a 13 week period in the summer of 2000 I generated the basic kernel of a plot and write 400 or so pages of story that was based on those notes. After seven additional years of revisions, additions, deletions, and such, THE WOLFCAT CHRONICLES began taking shape.

WOLFCATS was written from the middle out. One of the best ways I’ve ever found for overcoming writer’s block is to just start writing. Where I start is somewhere in the middle of a story. Sometimes that’s a climax. Then the process of writing the story becomes more like assembling a huge jigsaw puzzle. You have the first few pieces together and you just need to fill in the details by finding the other pieces that connect – like how did the characters get into the situation they are in. I do a lot of that with conversations between my characters. Now, not all those conversations make it into a book. Some are just day-to day things that may be nice to know stuff and provide oodles of background for the character’s development but it may not be relevant to the story. In other words, I ended up with a lot of unused background story. Some of it was beneficial later on in the process of creating the rest of the series.

With WOLFCATS the middle part of the story  composed between May and July 2000 eventually evolved, over the next four and a half years, to span 5 books. Concurrently I was writing parts of ONE OVER X that are still unpublished. And, I was helping a friend with a children’s book. I’ve always had lots of trouble writing an ending that doesn’t lead to something else. That why I write serials. And so, even as I was bringing the original storyline of WOLFACTS to a conclusion I was already beginning to tell the next part of the story. In what became an extended series of chapters that I decided were anticlimactic to the original storyline, the characters we leading me into a much more complicated and intriguing set of circumstances that also connected in some rather warped ways with ONE OVER X.

I continued writing about my characters in a separate book (book 6). It became clear that I had a lot more story left to tell than would fit into one book. And so I wrote another book. Half way through that one I realized that I needed a hell of a lot more information about my characters, their origins and relationships.

I had just finished a collaborative editing of the aforementioned children’s book and my publisher at the time suggested that I might try writing a children’s book of my own. I told him I write hard sci-fi and fantasy. He reminded me that J.R.R. Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS is prefaced by THE HOBBIT, a book originally intended to be a story about Middle Earth for his children.

With my notes about the characters and their background stories from the original 5 books of the WOLFCATS, I began writing a nice little children’s story about the two main characters of THE WOLFCAT CHRONICLES when they were young. Within a few writing sessions it became clear that what was emerging was not a children’s story at all. Instead it was the missing material I needed to complete the conclusion of the series. And so, As I concurrently wrote final book and a half of the story I was also composing  what became the first two books of WOLFCATS, for first of which will be officially published in late 2017.

Currently I’m waiting for my substantive edits to come back for BECOMING THUPERMAN, which is my next book, to be published in February 2017. BT is the story of two kids and one week of their summer vacation. Besides playing baseball in the city park and riding their bikes everywhere they avoid a neighborhood dog with a bad attitude that guards reputed haunted house of the neighborhood. BT is being kids and the adventure of creating a new world for each day while, in the process, they discover that they have superpowers and the world in which they live is not entirely as “Normal” as the name of their city might indicate. Oh yeah, and there is an old maid who may or may not be a witch and her brother with whom she lives who looks like he might not be among the living.

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A Review of “Fates Past” by Jason Huebinger

Jennly Reads

Everyone Has Regrets

Skeletons in their closets.

What if you had to relive them? Face them head on, come to terms and make peace with these personal demons and regrets. Could you? Would you?

These are the situations that face boyfriend and girlfriend Carrie and Cameron. While on their way to New Orleans for a weekend getaway something strange occurs and the road they are on doesn’t appear to be the one they should be traveling. While unable to catch their bearings due to malfunctioning electronics and unaware to gauge the time as all clocks only show 00:00, Cameron and Carrie travel on this “road to nowhere” until they reach an inn. The kindly innkeeper provides them with a room for the evening and the strange occurrences continue. While Cameron continues to hear a growling that Carrie cannot; Carrie is plagued by an incessant high pitched beeping and the cry…

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Update on Ballad of Best Buy Bonnie

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(Refer to previous post regarding a refund problem Best Buy’s Geek Squad)

And so the saga comes to a conclusion, a full six weeks after it began. It turns out I was right to an extent. The alleged refund was never fully processed.  Had I not called to complain, yet again  – this time to a customer service rep named Amanda – I would still be waiting in vain.

Amanda accomplished what Bonnie and the others before her did not, could not or would not. Not only did she define “business cycle” as a monthly billing period which is, for them, 28 days, but also she scratched beneath the superficial to determine that my refund was stuck in some kind of limbo. She redirected it to the proper processing channel and, this afternoon, the money appeared back in my account – five days, 3 business days, after she initiated the action. It is, however, a full 41 days since the story began.

Why was it necessary for Best Buy to treat me so poorly that they have now lost a customer for life? Clearly I was not important enough – or my refund amount was so token – that no one before Amanda wanted to bother investigating what happened to my refund. And the bottom line is that Best Bu’s bottom line is more important to them than fixing a heinous situation that allows something that this to happen.

Kudos to Amanda, but I reiterate that I will never order anything online again from Best Buy or Geek Squad and advise everyone reading this to seriously consider doing the same. The stores seem to be different. Refunds are processed in a more timely manner. And, though I have issues with the length of lines at the checkouts and the overall lack of urgency toward remedying it – before I complain – I have had decent customer service in the store. If I buy anything from Best Buy in the future, it will be at a local store. Lesson learned.

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Best Buy Bonnie – Or The Ballad of Wrong

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I’ve learned a few things over the years. As a retail manager I began to understand that the customer is not always right but that doesn’t matter anyway because the customer believe he or she is always right. In the balance, if you fail to take care of the customer you lose. Some of the companies I’ve worked for got that, others did not. And those that found a way to say NO to a customer are no longer in business. That is the bottom line, isn’t it? Doing whatever you must to stay in business – or on a personal level, remaining employed.

I have examples of what to do and what not to do, but this blog isn’t about that. It is about one strange situation from which I have, apparently, learned a lot more lessons than those with whom I have been dealing. Foremost lesson: don’t buy anything online from a big box retailer that does not understand why people use online ordering.

Every retailer wants to cash in on a share of the Internet business but few are willing to change their policies enough to accommodate the special demands of online customers. And that is one huge reason why so many brick and mortar businesses are going out of business. Only those willing to adapt survive against the 800-pound gorillas of the world who operate on razor-thin margins an extremely high volumes.

It is ironic that the very reason people would go to a storefront over ordering online – having direct personal contact with store personnel – is also the source of a store’s greatest potential failure. Unless a store is willing to do everything in its power to serve  customers needs it will lose that customer.

Best Buy has lost me as a customer, at least as far as online purchases go. It is very likely that I will think twice (if not more) about casting a shadow upon the threshold of any of their physical locations. And that is a very bad thing for  both of us. I know that. I’m not so sure they do. Negative word of mouth travels at the speed of sound – at least – and possibly the speed of light if the disgruntled customer is connected to the Internet and active on social media. For the record, I have nearly 5000 friends on Facebook. I have over 23,000 followers on Twitter. I’m a published author and publicist. I’m not the best choice for someone to piss off. Just saying.

Here’s the condensed version of what happened. A year ago,I bought a MS Surface Pro 3 and a package of software from a guy in Texas whose name is Zach – something or the other. He decided shortly after trying to run a version of Linux from a flash drive on the device that it was not right for him. He bought MS Office with the computer. He never installed it because he discovered Linux would not work as he wanted it to on the computer. He advertised it online and sold it to me. Unfortunately, everything in his purchase, in Best Buy’s system, was linked to his name by its serial numbers.

I installed MS Office, registered it with Microsoft and used it for almost a year before it began to alert me that I needed to renew my subscription. The alert contained  a link to Best Buy’s Geek Squad website offering me a $10 discount if I renewed through them. (It actually amounts to about $6 and change after applicable taxes are applied as buying directly from MS costs exactly $69.99). The $59.99 became $63.74 after the additional charges. Still, it looked like a slightly better deal. I provided my billing information and debit card number. Transaction complete, right? Wait until the expiration date, the charge would be applied to my account and I could continue to use my MS Office seamlessly. A print out was recommended that explained everything – except it started out “Thank You Zach”!

Okay, so it got my name wrong. With a name like Elgon I’m kind of used to that sort of thing. But when the appointed date of the renewal came and my MS Office stopped working and prompted me to renew it, I did exactly what the print out told me to do, call the Geek Squad.

I’m not sure why it was highly recommended to print out the confirmation. There was nothing but the Geek Squad’s phone number on it – nothing giving any real evidence of a purchase. Fortunately, I kept the card from the original software license. That was the only link I had to give over the phone that linked me to the actual transaction. As far as Best Buy was concerned, Zach renewed his subscription. And, as far as MS was concerned, the product installed on my computer had never been renewed.

After spending an hour or so on the phone with the first Geek Squad person I contacted about the problem, I was directed to a Geek Squad Tech Support person to see if there was anything they could do. After explaining everything to him (which took another fifteen minutes for questions and answers – during which I was asked several times what my relationship was to this Zach guy – I was directed to place the order for renewal directly with Microsoft, mainly because I have drafts of novels, personal financial records and irreplaceable historical family pictures stored on One Drive. He told me if I tried buying a “clean” license from Best Buy with a discount I might lose access to that. So, not an option. He also assured me I’d receive a full refund back to my card from Best Buy for the $63.74 I paid and that would take from 7 to 10 business days.

The secondary thing big box retailers don’t get about dealing with online customers is that their major competitor may state the same refund policy but in practice it is much shorter – like 3 or 4 days max. But whatever. I’d wait for the refund to appear on my bank account, figuring it would show up in a couple of days as a pending transaction, just as always happens with refunds from the 800-pound online gorilla. When this did not happen, I called Geek Squad again. Had to explain everything to yet another associate who, yet again, was asking me what my relationship was to Zach. I was getting better at the storytelling, though. This time it only took 35 minutes. However, it took another ten minutes to find the record of my purchase’s existence. That was only marginally referenced in Best Buy’s computer by the original product serial number and, of course, was still associated with Zach, not me, even though my card number was referenced as having paid for the renewal. At this point I asked for a confirmation number that would help find the refund. Again, I was assured everything was fine and I’d be receiving a refund to my card within 7 to 10 working days.

Seven working days have passed and still no indication that anything is in process. I called my bank and have been assured that they have no record of anything in transit and they told me that I’d need to contact Best Buy to confirm that it was actually sent to them. And so I called Best Buy again. Told my story to one person who couldn’t help me confirm anything. I asked for a supervisor and was routed “cold”, as the lady referred to it, to someone in charge of appliance problems not computers. She transferred me to another person, who assured me he was the right person to talk to. At least he took down my information and created a record in their system so others could find me by my phone number or email address. Again, I had to explain I wasn’t Zach, had never been Zach and was not related to Zach except for the purchase of stuff he’d originally obtained from Best Buy.

Before we could resolve anything at all, the phone connect we had died. It was full of interference from someone else talking to a customer who has bigger problems than I did – yes, I could hear what they were saying better than what the person I was supposed to be connected with was telling me. Finally, I lost contact altogether.

Another call to yet another associate to whom I explained everything again, in about 25 minutes, this time around, and he put me on hold for fifteen minutes before connecting me via a conference call, to Bonnie who allegedly handles billing and refund problems. After correcting some of the misinformation the other guy gave to her, she at least confirmed that my information was now in their system. She then cited line and verse what the first person I ever talked to told me about one to two billing cycles. She couldn’t confirm what a billing cycle was, though, saying it depended on my bank and that I was actually dealing with two billing cycles, Best Buy’s and my bank’s and that it might be another week or two before I receive my refund, just because of these billing cycles. I told her THAT was unacceptable but she said there was nothing she could do for me. I told her I’d make her famous as Best Buy Bonnie. I’m not sure she took me seriously. And I’m unequally certain whether Best Buy takes me, or any other customer, seriously.

And I’m still waiting on a refund that no one, Bonnie included, can absolutely guarantee will show up in my account – and not this guy named Zach, whose information including his credit card number, was still attached to the transaction on 4/26, when the refund was allegedly initiated. I’m not sure why no one can confirm anything anymore. I suspect it has something to do with credit card fraud. But what should be a pretty simple refund has turned into a source of great personal aggravation.

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Book Review: 122 Rules by Deek Rhew

Cheri Champagne's Blog

122 Rules (122 Series #1)122 Rules by Deek Rhew
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Deek Rhew is a master when it comes to humour. Not only is this a great mystery, thriller/suspense novel, but Rhew adds his own flavour of levity that had me laughing throughout.

This was an effortless read. The engrossing plot kept me eagerly reading until the end. Rhew created a cleverly-written and well-timed novel. I genuinely can’t wait until I get to read the next in the series!

Kudos, Deek Rhew, on a spectacular book!

I received an ARC from the publisher, but I’ve already pre-ordered my own finished copy.

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How Dying Changed My Life

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On May 4, 1995 I died seven times. That’s what the surgical notes revealed. I might not know any of that except my health insurance required that I obtain the full transcript and forward it to them – so that they could later tell me what they considered unnecessary and therefore were not going to cover. But that’s another story for another blog.

Shortly after returning home to Connecticut from a trip to Florida to visit my parents, I came down with the symptoms of what I believed to be the flu. After running a high fever for an entire weekend, my wife insisted I see my doctor. Since I had been diagnosed with a heart murmur my primary care physician was a cardiologist. After doing some blood work I was admitted to the hospital for treatment of a both a strep and a staph infection in my blood. It was the beginning of a month long ordeal.

The blood borne infection pretty much destroyed my mitral valve requiring open heart surgery to replace it and repair a fistula – a hole inside my heart between the ventricles. The procedure took seventeen hours to complete and, as previously stated, I died seven times before finally being revived.

As an aside, if you can prevent the need for open heart surgery by exercise and eating properly, do so. It’s no fun waking up in a recovery room with cotton mouth from being on with the distinct sensation of a four-ton boulder resting on your lungs.

I survived, of course. It sucked spending my 39th birthday in a cardiac care ward but it was preferable to how things  turned out otherwise, had my wife not insisted I go to the doctor.

What changed in my life from before to after the surgery was my general outlook on life. I was a workaholic retail manager, pretty much married to my job. Prior to the illness I believed I was on the fast track to being promoted to general store manager and all the time I spent away form my family was more than justified because of how much I was being compensated in stock options and such. I was going to wealthy, after all. After a month in the hospital and three months of recovery, my status at work changed – though not officially.

I was still a salaried manager. While I was on medical leave I was compensated with regular checks, same as if I was working. Despite having to fight with my health insurance to cover my hospitalization and treatment, all but $7000 of the nearly $130,000 in bills was eventually paid. It could have been a lot worse. But, even after returning to work without any medical restrictions, every time someone from upper management came to visit my store, the first thing they asked me about was my health. Over time, it became clear they were never going to promote me into a higher stress position. And I’m certain they thought they had my best interests at heart.

Still, there were other changes as well, mostly with my relationships with my kids who I had all but ignored for the eight years I had been working as a retail manager. I valued my time at home and spent it with my son and two daughters. However, something else happened while I was sick. I had vivid dreams that lingered well after my recovery.

Although I had been playing at writing for some time – one and off since junior high school, really – I had never taken it all that seriously. I suppose that in the back of my mind I thought about publishing a book one day. I’d finished a manuscript at one point during college and considered submitting it to publishers. I’m glad I didn’t because it really sucked. At the time I thought it was an achievement, though. And maybe it was in a sense. I mean, after that I knew I could write something of considerable length and complexity. Afterwards, while I was military, I served as unit historian and wrote and published an award winning 400+ page unit history. So, I knew I had it in me to publish things. It was just I’d never done anything with my fiction stories.

I submitted a few things of a technical nature to computer technology periodicals. Some things were posted online. I had become a self-taught computer technician and some people sought my advice on things.

Before the illness I had begun digitizing the material I had composed on typewritten pages. I continued doing that while recovering from the surgery. So I had a few hundred pages of stuff formatted so that I could edit and revise with my computer serving as a word processor. But even after I returned to work I set aside at least three or four hours a day for writing and/or revising. In the process those fever generated vivid dreams I had carried around in my head since the illness began to erupt onto the virtual pages of  my computer screen.

Those hours were stolen from my wife, of course. Nightly she would ask me when I was coming to bed. She never understood the obsession that I’d developed and eventually it ended our relationship.

I can’t say whether I’d been a writer had I never fallen ill in the Spring of 1995. I have had the writing bug for most of my life. But I doubt I would have ever finished One Over X, my first novel. You see, I was comfortable with a practical life founded on going to work every day. I made enough money that it was easy to forego pursuing any dreams left over from my youth. I never envisioned how much my life could change, or that I would eventually become a author.

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Ironing Out the Wrinkles in a Plot

In some ways publishing Fried Windows in May of last year created a few paradoxes for the main character Brent. WARNING: If you haven’t read the book, you might want to before continuing on. I’m about to reveal some things about the plot.

There are some relationships Brent and characters in my other novels, particularly Andy Hunter, Terry Harper, Lee Anders Johnston and Caroline Henderson from One Over X (two of six books published) and The Power of X (as yet unpublished). There is also a loose connection between the mother  in Becoming Thuperman and Terry Harper – as they attended high school together. Brent meets Terry Harper while he attends Purdue University where the latter is pursuing aa doctorate in applied physics and eventually becomes a professor before taking a tenured position at the University of Texas.

Brent and Lee Anders Johnston hale from neighboring towns in rural Ohio. Both were musicians in their teen years. Brent actually played bass for a brief while in a band that Lee led. Lee was best friends with the lead guitar from Brent’s garage band – which is how they met. Ironically, as they were both the sons of farmers, their fathers knew one another, though not very well.

After the disintegration of Brent’s garage band over an issue about performing a Rock Opera Brent wrote for his senior English project – a piece on Beowulf – Brent and Lee perform an acoustic set at the Christmas party of a friend of Brent. It is the last time Brent and Lee perform together for nearly twenty years, though the two of them conspired during their connection to compose a few songs that will end up reuniting them in later years – and reinvigorating Lee’s career as a professional musician.

Lee departs Rock as his vehicle of musical  expression and begins playing Blues with a couple of musicians while he attends Purdue University – where he studies Engineering and meets Terry Harper, his professor of physics. In Lee’s Junior year at Purdue his folks sell their farm in Ohio and retire to Texas. Lee transfers to the University of Texas. The following year, Terry Harper is offered a tenured position at UT, based on his recently published best seller on astral physics the university. And, so Lee and Terry reconnect at UT and the Lee changes his major to physics.

While in Austin and immersed in the vibrant artistic community, Lee joins a country band called Faction. At a bar in Austin he meets Caroline Henderson, the daughter of Joseph Henderson, CEO of HENCO. They share a few dates before establishing a relationship.

When Lee is offered a research job in Colorado, three of the original members of the band follow him there. They form the nucleus of a new Faction that lands a recording contract. Lee and Caroline have a long distance relationship until she completes college.

To pursue his musical career,  Lee quits his job and accompanies the band to Memphis where they record their first album.  Then, against her father’s protests, Caroline joins Lee and goes on tour with Faction, actually performing with the band as a background singer.

So, where is Andy Hunter is all this? Anyone who has read One Over X, knows that both Andy and Lee have a relationship in another version of reality, where both work for Henco. Lee works at a product assembly facility while Andy is a coder for the instructions loaded into the devices the company makes. The company’s CEO is Caroline Henderson who took up the reins when her father, Joseph Henderson passed away – never knowing she is to the Andy who was born of an unwed mother who used to work for the Hendersons.

In the other world, the one where Caroline and Andy grew up as siblings, Andy studies applied physics at UT Austin and becomes enamored with Dr. Harper to the point that he begins writing a boot about him. In the process he attempts to create a device based on Harper’s hypotheses that can cancel out the effects of the electromagnetic fields of the Earth – theoretically opening portals to every other dimension.

The powers that be – as in the Universal Powers That Be – are not amused with Andy’s devise of how it throws a significant distortion into the over all matrix of fabricated reality – the shell they created as the distracting illusion of life. With it Andy can, pretty much, go wherever he wants – as long at he knows his destination. Therein lies the rub.  Andy knows that the device can do but doesn’t understand it’s potential. And in the process of exploring it he becomes genetically altered to be more like an extraterrestrial ancestor of humanity than a man.

Brent is a transplanted straddler, born into the world to correct the problems Andy will eventually cause. He gets sidetracked with his own issues and adventures but, moreover, he is intended to defeat Andy’s modification to the design. Brent is naturally drawn toward the people he needs to connect with in order to fix things. Yet he is uncooperative in dealing directly with any of his new found friends.  As a result, Andy changes many things both for Earth and Anter’x, a directly connect world – via wormholes – on the other side of the galaxy. There the wolfcats thrive – for a while anyway, along with a primordial ancestor of humanity called the Hovdin and a race called Sabatin that enslaved the Hovdin for a time.

In The Attributes, a two book set that I wrote a while back, all the timelines and plot lines are resolved. Imagine that! Me crop 2

 

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