Bought my rights back to Family Law series.

Unfortunately when I got Secrets in the Stars back and republished it Amazon dropped all the reviews.

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It’ Always Something = UP on Amazon.

Came back from supper and it’s up – at least in the US.

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Cover for new book –


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Status report :

April #8 – “It’s Always Something” is done. I might have a cover as soon as tonight and can publish it. Still should make it this month!
I put a disclaimer on it advising people to start with the earlier books. Not because I want the sales so much as it is hard 8 books in to not make the whole book backstory. It’s basically a serial at this point. You aren’t going to know the characters and details, so a lot of it will be lost to somebody trying to read it as a stand alone.
“Secrets in the Stars” was republished this morning (8/25). It’s still in review so I’m not 100% sure it will republish without any problems.

I expect the paper version of Family Law to go back up soon and #3 and perhaps #2 soon.

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Chapter one of “It’s Always Something” – April series #8 raw unedited.

I estimate I’m about a month out with this. It needs to be gone over – to readers – and a cover made.

Chapter 1


Kurt Bowman wasn’t in a very good mood. He was still upset from his job interview yesterday. They claimed to be hiring for a number of government subsidized housing projects, big enough to go to multiple contractors. He’d expected to be hired since they’d called him in for a face to face interview. Instead the man had asked all sorts of strange stupid questions about his personal life, and intimated he was tainted by having worked high iron on Mitsubishi 3. He simply pointed out he had never become a Home citizen, and then made the mistake of saying the process was very easy, if he’d wished to do so. How that was offensive he was at a loss to understand, but the man bristled like an affronted cat.

The fellow persisted in wanting to know why he took a job there. When Karl laughed and told the man that for a little better than a million dollars a year most folks would work for the Devil himself, a mask of disapproval had descended over the man’s face, and he knew the interview was over. How was he supposed to guess the man was a religious nutter? He obviously took the expression literally instead of the hyperbole Kurt intended.

Then on top of it all he’d looked at Kurt’s long sleeves and asked if he had any tats. Long sleeves were just expected in North America now. For something like a job interview you might as well come in bare chested as wear a short sleeved shirt. If the fellow had such a bad opinion of iron workers, high or low, he shouldn’t have to lower himself to hire any. The question was way out of line.

The man was just looking to find fault by that point. He’d asked the man what that had to do with his ability to do iron work, rather than answer. There was nothing left to recover at that point by trying to answer factually, and he knew it. He finally stood and abruptly terminated the interview himself, rather than take anymore pointless abuse for a job he wasn’t going to get. Kurt probably should have tried to end it on a gentler note, but he hadn’t. Too late to worry about it now.

Then on the way home he was driving his rental in manual mode, because there was no auto-control way out in the sticks where he’d found a cheaper room. He was upset and not paying attention. The car data link informed him he’d averaged more than ten kilometers an hour over the limit for this country road and an auto-ticket would be mailed to the address he’d given for the rental agreement. They couldn’t provide auto-control but they sure found the bandwidth to monitor his speed and issue tickets. That would be another thousand dollars, and if he didn’t pay it in thirty days they’d charge it straight to the same account the car was charged to, plus a generous ‘service’ fee.

Kurt had felt pretty well heeled when he came home. The third ring of Mitsubishi 3 was done then, and they were laying construction people off. He had two tours under his belt and had saved well over half his pay even after sending his sister money regularly to help her along. She lived with two other young women in an efficiency apartment, and they were fortunate to have it. That’s why he wasn’t staying with her. They were already jammed in and didn’t need a male roomie. When they talked while he was still on M3, she’d been describing for some months how the influx of people from the north was driving up housing prices. That was part of why Kurt decided to come home. With the migration south, right on the warm gulf coast was about the only place anybody was doing construction. There were quite a few huge condo complexes going up around Mobile, and he figured he could get a job putting the framework up. That might have been a miscalculation.

He wasn’t feeling so flush now. The cost of most things was three or four times what he remembered them being when he’d lifted to M3. He hadn’t paid a lot of attention to prices before, because he’s done a year of college and then lifted to Home while he was still living with his parents. His folks had died of the flu and left him and his sister very little, mostly keepsakes like photos, not cash. Food was even worse than stuff like clothing, and he’d gotten spoiled eating at the construction workers cafeteria on M3. They hadn’t had a lot of things toward the last when he was there. No fresh hamburger to make your own, and very seldom whole cuts of anything for supper, but it was still take all you want scrambled eggs from freeze dried, and stuff like pancakes.

The North American news sites argued the cost of living wasn’t much higher, because there were other offsetting expenses that were now lower. Yeah, you could get a very reasonable place to sleep in Winnipeg, and farmland in Wisconsin was suddenly affordable. Last year’s phone that did things undreamed of ten years ago was dirt cheap, but it made lousy filling for a sandwich.

A couple of the guys laid off from the construction crew stayed on at lower paying jobs, rather than come back to Earth. He could understand the fellow from Estonia staying. Europe was a mess even without the flu, and he had no family. But Kurt didn’t feel the same as the guys calling Earth the Slum Ball and making fun of him for returning. Well, he hadn’t then; he was wavering now.

He liked Home OK, but it was very limited. There wasn’t any serious night life for a young guy. The number of peers with who you could date or party with was really limited. Homies and beam dogs didn’t mix much. The only live music was pretty tame stuff. Kurt favored music than would rumble through the deck halfway around a ring. And there hadn’t been any beer for months.

Kurt liked Mobile, and had fond memories of going to school here. He felt he could probably help his sister, and he still had Uncle Don alive even if his mom and dad were gone. If there were any distant Bowmans with which the family had lost contact, his mom and dad never mentioned them. Uncle Don and his wife hadn’t seemed that thrilled to see him however. He’d cut his visit with them short, based on his uncle’s put-upon face, although not as sharply as his interview with the recruiter. Uncle Don hadn’t seemed friendly at all until he announced he better be going. Then he seemed relieved Kurt hadn’t asked him for any help or a place to stay. He didn’t tell his sister how badly that hurt.

Rather than wait and stew on it Kurt paid the ticket online. It wasn’t like he’d save anything for waiting to get the paper copy in the mail. Then, when he called his sister to tell her about the job interview, she told him the county didn’t usually mail the notices out until the last day anyhow. They wanted the late fee if you were foolish enough to forget about it or try to ignore it.

He got no more interviews for a week. He wasn’t getting any online responses, not even the usual hungry recruiters asking him if he could do something he wasn’t even remotely qualified to do, so he decided to actually visit a few of the larger construction companies and ask if they had something for him to do, even if it was a step down from iron work.

The first three places refused to even talk to him. They had to remotely unlock the door to their reception area, and they looked out at him and refused. Then leaving the last place the police had pulled him over with two cruisers. They spread him on the trunk with guns pointed at him, wanded him, and searched the car. When he’s explained why he was visiting the businesses the one cop had cursed angrily at the waste of his time, and told the older cop there was a group of newcomers downtown who’d got past all the checkpoints, and stalked back to his cruiser to go on that call, leaving the older cop behind.

“Newcomers?” Kurt asked, not sure what the man was talking about.

“You know,” the cop insisted, even though Kurt plainly didn’t. “Migrants. You can’t cover every little farm road and side street. Sometimes a bunch of them, usually just a single family, filter through and don’t get taken to the camp. They’re bad for business and scare folks they look so rough. They’re pretty easy to spot since they have been walking for weeks and not exactly staying in the Holiday Inn.

“They’re what they are, no matter what you call them,” Kurt said, disgusted.

The old cop had the decency to look a little embarrassed. “Some politician decided that sounded nicer, so the chief tells us that what to call them at morning roll call. If it makes them happy I’ll call them anything they want. God only knows that’s the easiest part of this job.”

“Yeah I can see that,” Kurt said, with little conviction. Maybe if I got a job I could learn to do that, he realized. “Anyway…as I was saying, that all I wanted to do this morning. Talk to somebody about getting a job.”

“You can’t do that now,” the older cop told him. “It isn’t against the law,” he said, as soon as he saw the look that flashed on Kurt’s face. “But it’s been years since you could go door to door without an appointment and ask after a job or try to sell stuff to a business. Going to residences is even worse. People assume you are either scouting them out to come back and burgle the place or rob them. Or you might be working a con to fall down and claim you are going to sue them to force a small settlement.

“Mr. Bowman, nobody hires off the street. In fact most places only hire through other agencies, because there is less chance of being sued for discrimination. They only hire on the agency’s recommendation and never see you or read your full history before, so they can show innocence of any possible bias. Even the county hires our police recruits through a third party.”

The cop didn’t seem in a big rush to leave. It was a pleasant day and they were pulled well off on a street that wasn’t busy with fast traffic. He was standing thumbs hooked in his equipment belt, and actually looked concerned. So Kurt told him the story of how he’d had a face to face interview and how badly it had gone.

The cop sighed. “It’s always something. Let me call the fellow who put us on to you and ask a couple questions,” the cop offered. He held his phone square to his face like you have to do to make a video call. It was quickly obvious the cop needed to reassure the business man he wasn’t suspected of wrong doing, first thing.

“I’m standing outside with a phone, not at a desk as you can see. I’ve already ran this fellow against criminal records, he’s clean. But would you run this guy’s name against your available personnel sources for me, and see what sort of return you get? Thank you, I appreciate it.”

“OK, OK, why is that significant? No this is just for my information, don’t consider it an official inquiry. That’s not my area of law enforcement at all…OK. Yeah thanks,” and he terminated the call.

“The agency that interviewed you has your file marked as ‘turned down’. This guy claims that is a code for unsuitable. If it had said declined or just not hired it would indicate you should be considered again. I’m sorry, don’t blame me for bringing bad news, but I wouldn’t waste any more time pursuing big companies around Mobile for your usual line of work. And if you get a lawyer and try to sue I’ll deny I ever said anything to you. I don’t need to sit off duty for days waiting to repeat hearsay for a trial. I’m just doing you a favor to keep you from wasting a lot of time beating your head against a wall you didn’t know was there.”

“No, I don’t intend to make any trouble for you,” Kurt promised. “I appreciate the help. So I’m basically blackballed from any iron work?”

“That’s kind of old fashioned, people don’t use that expression much now, but yeah, that’s what I’m hearing,” the cop said.

“Thanks,” Kurt said, disheartened. “I won’t keep pounding on doors, making trouble for you.”

“If you run out of money, don’t try sleeping out on the street,” the cop warned. “We round up anybody that isn’t in a shelter and take them to one, if they are locals, or to a migrant camp well outside town. They placed it out too far to be able to walk in and back in a day, so you don’t want to get stuck out there.”

Kurt was horrified by the suggestion he might sink so low. “I have funds,” he assured the cop. “I’m not homeless.”

“That’s good. Then best of luck to you finding something. I don’t expect to run into you again.” Whether that was sincere or a veiled warning Kurt wasn’t sure, but the cop walked off to his cruiser, and Kurt got back in his car quickly rather than stand there alone on the shoulder like a fool.

* * *

“How can you possibly grow this to have the right texture and flavor?” April asked. She took another generous bite of tenderloin. It was pale pink in the middle and charred on the outside, but hot all the way through. The little cup of steak sauce with it was built on a butter base with mustard, thyme, garlic, salt and a dash of Cajun seasoning, but no tomato. It was an heirloom recipe from Dr. Ames’ grandmother. No surprise anyone nicknamed Jelly would come from a family of cooks and appreciative eaters. The fact April was ignoring the sauce didn’t bother him at all. He took it as a good sign the beef stood alone just fine with only a little salt and pepper.

“I’ll tell you if you’ll agree to strict nondisclosure,” Ames offered. “I intend to keep the process secret as long as possible. Heather is agreeable to allowing me to keep the production in physical isolation with very few people knowing the entire process. She offered to start issuing patents, but I figure the Earthies wouldn’t respect them even if she does. But if you’re going to invest in it I understand why you’d need more details.”

April chewed and swallowed. She looked at the hunk of meat in wonder, and perhaps resented a little bit needing to stop eating and speak with Jelly.

“Of course,” April agreed, readily. “I’d do that much for friendship, not just business. I think you’re right, the Chinese especially, would have factories set up cranking this stuff out in a couple months if you let it be public knowledge. And you’d never see so much as a plastic Yuan coin for it. I just don’t understand how you can grow this without…the cow.”

“Tissue culture is nothing new. Even growing it to a certain shape is not unheard of. We can grow some complex organs easier than bulk muscle tissue. I can grow chicken chunks, nuggets, pretty easily. People will buy those. But with beef it’s hard to market it in small pieces. They don’t sell very well, even for kabobs.  The shape and texture are not what people expect,” Ames lamented. April took the opportunity to slice off another bite while he was talking.

“There are difficulties both in getting a large mass without vascularization to oxygenate it and to provide nutrients…”

“Where do you get the nutrients?” April asked around a full mouth.

“The first experiments used Bovine blood fractions, the same as a cow. Obviously that’s not cost effective,” Ames said, “even on Earth. I was just useful to prove the concept in a laboratory setting. But you can create bacteria to produce the proper nutrients by altering them genetically. So far we’ve been able to get everything we need from combining five separate cultures, blended and filtered.

“You process those cultures, add electrolytes, add a few extracts we obtain from food plants like glucose, and introduce it as a nutrient bath. The culture is started on a platinum plate and grows from it along a grid of very thin tubes with microscopic orifices which release the nutrients. It’s also done at higher than normal pressure, and with additives in the mix which have no function but to increase its oxygen carrying capacity.”

“But doesn’t it have a bunch of holes through it then?” April asked, making a repeated gesture with her straight fingers. “I don’t see a grid of holes in my steak.”

“The tubes are very thin, Think of a ultra fine hypodermic needle. One of the ways they tenderize natural beef is to stab it repeatedly with fine needles,” he said, copying her gesture. “You won’t see holes from that process either. But when the culture is mature you slide it off the grid of needles and it appears a solid mass. Electro-stimulation hastens growth and is a factor in giving it the proper grain.

“Then you sterilize the apparatus and start a new one. It takes about two weeks to grow a quarter kilo filet. My next generation tank will grow three hundred sixty at a time.

“Just like Gunny had ‘trodes on each one, making his fingers grow faster inside the clamshell when they grew him a new hand?” April guessed.

“Very much so, but I’d avoid bringing that up when marketing the product,” Ames suggested.

“I know, people are squeamish. Don’t worry. Even if I invest, I know better than to interfere with things for which I have no talent, like selling,” April promised.

Ames nodded appreciatively. For all of his professionalism he was squeamish, but he’d rather not admit it to April. Ames let her eat. The steak was selling itself better than anything he could say.

April was chewing, but thoughtfully, looking off in the air trying to visualize something.

“Why do you have to keep starting and stopping?” she finally asked. “A batch process is always less efficient than a continuous production. Just grow the meat and trim it off. As long as you keep monitoring, and your nutrient bath stays clean and doesn’t spoil, it could run a long time.”

“The tissue will degrade once it grows past the ends of the needles,” Ames explained. “It needs the oxygen and nutrients continuously. Just like tissue in a cow needs constant circulation.”

“Oh…” April appraised the height of the filet on her plate. “Have the needles six or seven centimeters long. When the steak has grown out near the ends have the needles retract five centimeters and slice it off. Then push them back out to full length.”

Ames looked distressed. “You’d have to anchor the remainder of the culture to the base…or hold it in place with a sort of fork temporarily, while the needles come back out. I can think of several ways to do that, actually. What made you think of that?” he asked, a little irritated.

April borrowed a phrase from her good friend Barak. “I’m not sure. It just seemed obvious.” The look of consternation on Ames face didn’t make her enjoy the steak any less at all.

* * *

After discussing it with his sister, Kurt wasn’t at all sure what to do. She had some practical suggestions about stretching his money out, but they all assumed he’d eventually get some sort of job and have income, even if greatly reduced. There were shortages that had no easy to see reason, and one of them right now was work boots. He’d paid almost two thousand bucks for a pair assuming he’d need them. Now it looked like it might have been wasted money, unless he could resell them. It was always something…

He brought up moving to another area with an influx of refugees, to his sister, and she had a fit about the word, warning him it was just as bad as his sick joke about working for the Devil. The official word was that all these people were not refugees, even saying migrants was starting to be frowned upon as the cop had clued him in on early. What would they call them next? They sure weren’t on vacation.

His sister warned if he said anything about refugees in a new job interview he’d likely end up on another list of disapproved people. Saying refugees, she assured him, labeled you as anti-government. He felt like he couldn’t say anything safely. What did they think these people were? Tourists? He might move to say, Atlanta, and get banned there for accidentally speaking some forbidden truth.

Kurt had lost track of what was acceptable to say publicly from being away working on M3. You had to be immersed in Earth culture to keep track. The faster you got with the latest acceptable phrase the better. Nobody on Home had lists of words that made them gasp in horror and shun you if you didn’t know the current code. His sister had also confirmed what the cop said, that black-balled was also a long forbidden usage. He’d just rolled his eyes when she informed him it was racist. How did anyone come up with this crap? It was amazing they could sell black paint still, and not have to label it ‘darkest grey’ or some other euphemism.

All the time he was away working construction on M3 he’d neglected to follow the news from North America or even Mobile. His sister sent him a text almost daily, but she spoke about her roomies and work. Neither of them had ever been interested in politics on any scale. He didn’t identify with any party, and suddenly he found people wanting to know if he was a ‘Patriot’ or a ‘Saint’ before they’d talk to him about football or share a beer. He found that insane.

He’d always thought of M3 as just that, a Mitsubishi property on which he was working construction. He was a little hazy on the parent company versus a subsidiary corporation. That all seemed as pointlessly complicated as calling refugees newcomers. But that sort of nit picking seemed to be what kept lawyers in big money. Calling it ‘Home’ also seemed a conceit and a bit silly to him too, like they were trying to be folksy. But suddenly he was feeling so isolated and alienated in his old hometown that Home seemed more like home…so he found himself setting his news reader to find out what was happening back there. It was stupid and irritating to find most search and direct access was blocked to both official sites and services hosted there, such as ‘What’s Happening’.

It took all of about two minutes to bypass and see whatever he wanted through foreign proxies. Any grade school kid knew how to do it. He made sure the only identifier would be the coffee shop he was sitting in at the moment. If they wanted to know who was interested in Home badly enough they could pull the security video from the store. It all had to be forwarded to the government now, but there was a limit how much they could actually filter and review.

Some of the ads in What’s Happening did have some code words. The rowdier side of society, especially the beam dogs and temporary workers, tried to avoid offending some of the older more conservative people in their ads. That didn’t seem as silly a word game to him as the Earth version for some reason. He was removed from that recently enough that he could still read the hidden messages, and smile.

The ad that caught his eye however was in the clear.

– Experienced space workers needed –

A Lunar partnership with both Home and Central backers intends to assemble and position an auxiliary un-spun habitat in proximity to Mitsubishi 3. The primary phase of the project will aim to provide housing for two hundred. The initial phase is expected to last a year and a half, the first six months being entirely at the Central Kingdom on the moon. Expansion past the first phase is dependent on market conditions for housing, materials and other economic factors.

Build standards will be the same as current Mitsubishi requirements or better. Workers need to be adaptable however, because innovative use of lunar materials will be an economic necessity for the successfully completion of the project.

Full literacy in standard English is a must. Ability to use and maintain hard suits or moon suits a must. Ability to vacuum weld, vacuum bond, handle and use explosive fasteners, instant soldering nuts, zero G counter-force tools, and helmet talk are pluses. Programming, use, and design for 3D fabricators desired. Post fab repair of 3D constructs and composites a plus.

Preference to hire and salary are heavily based on verifiable hours of vacuum suit work, specialized training, extra languages, and pilot tickets. Power and data electricians, pipefitters, and airlock mechanics paid a premium.

Paid on job training for vacuum work / zero G procedures, are available to certified Emergency Medical Technicians, Nurse Practitioners, computer / controller repair technicians, and electric vehicle repair and maintenance technicians.

 Chefs / kitchen bosses, prep cooks, and a pastry maker needed. Ability to manage others, cook multiple cuisines and improvise menus to available supply a must.

A computerized veracity interview and an investigation of previous ability to integrate to the workplace will be conducted.

Contact / resumes : Jeffery Singh, Project Administrator, Home 1467 or Central 0002, Subject JOB.

Details : WW5.HomeWebS.SinghTechnologies/projects/M3

That sounded very interesting to Kurt since things in Mobile weren’t working out as he’d planned. Unfortunately, he’d had a guaranteed shuttle voucher to bring him home, but no lift ticket to return since he wasn’t employed anymore. From what he’d heard it was pretty tough to get a seat now. Maybe Mr. Singh would have some advice. Kurt still had an active account at the System Trade Bank. That was a Singh business too. It might not be a good idea to draw attention to himself by sending messages in the clear to Home right now, but he could leave a private message through the internal message system at the bank. They did things differently on Home. If he tried to contact an Earth bank executive through the customer message board, he had no doubt they’d just delete it. On Home he had every confidence they wouldn’t freak out and slavishly follow the rules.

Kurt logged on and was happy to see he had six point seven, three, two Solars. They’d just posted  point zero, three, two Solars monthly interest. Thank goodness he hadn’t changed it all to dollars. His Great Southern Bank account charged him. They couldn’t even change Solars for him. It wasn’t legal now, and he’d needed to transfer funds through Hong Kong. They’d have exchanged it for him through Germany, but the swap through EuroMarks would have cost a half percent even though he didn’t hold them in anything but the fleeting legal sense of the computer transfer.

He thought carefully how to state his question. Better to keep it short for now going through this unorthodox channel. He outlined his dilemma and reasons for keeping a low profile and invited Singh to ask his previous employers about his service. On Home they’d talk to him without being scared they’d be sued if they dare say anything negative about him. He wasn’t worried about anything they could say anyway. He’d worked his butt off for them.

* * *

Gunny leaned back in his chair and his eyes did the quick scan thing that April had come to recognize. He always picked the chair against the wall if he could. Nobody had tried to kill her in like…forever. But she was still happy to have Gunny around for when she went to other habs. He was sort of on call now –  she still paid him a retainer. He couldn’t help being ON if he was with her, even though they were just having supper and he wasn’t officially playing body guard.

Home was a lot safer now beyond the moon. Their enemies didn’t have the easy access from Earth they had in LEO. Both China and the United States of North America were pretty messed up internally, and had limited lift capacity. Any Norte Americano who came all the way to Home now stood out and was watched carefully. The Europeans still insisted in official propaganda that Home somehow had something to do with the Great Influenza epidemic. However they were never specific in their accusations, just subtle innuendo, and they didn’t seem to allow that to keep European companies from doing business with Home. They certainly had no official sanctions in place like North America. In fact, the Europeans and the Australians, as well as the Japanese, all picked up a little coin repackaging or outright smuggling Home products into North America, and most likely China too. Jeff made sure he picked up a little cut of all that action, and that was all paid to the company he shared with April and Heather. So if the Americans wanted to pay through the nose to keep up appearances she’d be happy to take their money.

April provided housing for Gunny. She had a rather large private cubic for Home, and he had his private room and tiny bath set off with temporary partitions. Housing was so expensive now she should probably just provide that for his services, and skip the cash retainer, but April would feel like a cheapskate to reduce his income even though he had other work now. It wasn’t that much to carry.

April had steady income from both the businesses she held in common with Jeff and Heather, and a bunch of little businesses her brother willed her. Neither did she have any really expensive vices or hobbies, other than being a coffee snob. She still had a chunk of cash Eddie had given her when she’d gone down to Earth. She felt safer to hold that in reserve rather than invest it with what she held in common with Jeff and Heather. That would be complicated. They after all both had other things they held apart and neither of them had increased their common holdings..

Gunny was a real asset to have on site. Passive insurance you might say. A sort of security system. The possibility Gunny might be home reduced the possibility anyone would consider trying to invade their space, either covertly in a black operation, or a full frontal assault.

His worth as a home security system was all the more true since Jan Hagen had leaked the video of Gunny being kidnapped by the North Americans last year. It made the rounds of Home and then inevitably, like anything let loose on the net, found its way to Earth sites. It was rather amusing, at least to her, Gunny found it less so. He found it an affront to his dignity and didn’t seem to get that others found it frightening

The Americans had a corrupt data base, nothing new there, their government and military nets were a rats nest of old mismatched hardware and software, that translated between incompatible systems. Their agencies were too stubborn or broke to abandon and consolidate them. They’d told the American military post on ISSII that Gunny was still a deserter, after he’d been honorably discharged by Presidential decree.

They were a bit over zealous to Taser him from behind in the international zone of ISSII and carry him away to their interest section. That irritated Jan Hagen, Head of Security for ISSII. Jan was on the short list April kept of people who you don’t irritate or count favors owed back and forth too closely. Jan Oppositional Disorder was a defect she’d seen too many display that proved fatal. She’d seen Chinese officers take a space walk out the airlock without the encumbrance of a suit for provoking Jan only slightly more than the North Americans had by grabbing Gunny.

The video didn’t capture them Tasing Gunny from behind. It started with a security camera view in the officer’s cabin where they’d thrown the unconscious Gunny as an improvised brig. He was sprawled limp on the bunk in his shorts, having been stripped and searched before they cuffed him hand and foot and tossed him there. He woke up slowly and rolled over examining his prison and his frown growing slowly worse until he was showing teeth. He sat up and swung his legs off the bunk, set his mouth in a hard line, tucked his arms in front of him and spread them wide suddenly, snapping the cuff chain in a single clean jerk. The camera caught a full frontal shot of his chest with muscles taut and defined. He looked like the drawings of muscle groups in an anatomy textbook. However, what April always marveled at was his collection of scars, and she’d watched the video several times, In fact she’d watched it through three times in a row when Jon Davis, Home’s head of security first obtained a copy and shared it with her. April really enjoyed seeing Gunny snap that chain.

The officer assigned to watch Gunny could be heard trying to tell his superior on com that they might have a little problem. He was being too professional and matter-of-fact about it and made no impression on the man how dire the situation was at all. A little terror in the voice might not have been misplaced. He got blown off, which delayed an effective response.

Gunny shuffled over with ankle cuffs still on and used the toilet in the officer’s cabin, back mercifully to the camera. He tested the ankle cuffs, but pulling one up and one down apparently hurt his shins too badly to tolerate. In the end he used his hands to help in breaking the chain across the corner of the desk. He pawed through the desk looking for assets, but they’d thought to clean it out.

The bunk was secured along the bulkhead on the long side but the edge away was held up by two short lengths of tubing tacked to the deck at the corners. Gunny grabbed the edge of the bunk in the middle and heaved up on it. It bent and the corner supports leaned in, but it held. Gunny stopped trying, stood back and glowered at it in thought. After a moment he stomped on the peak he’d created and drove it back down and toward the deck a bit, inverted to a Vee now.

Foiled, he changed his tactics, grabbing the corner and wrenching it back and forth. The edge rail and end posts went back and forth between alternate parallelogram shapes until the weld in the deck broke with a crack and the whole framework came loose from the deck and bulkhead.

Gunny ignored the locked hatch to the corridor. He’d never even tried it to see if it was locked. He instead attacked the bare bulkhead into the next cabin with the folded up bunk rails as a battering ram. That was where the fellow monitoring the video camera had been stationed, conveniently close so he could respond and go into Gunny’s cell if need arose.

He didn’t need to respond. Gunny was coming to him.

The video then switched to the feed from the adjoining room. The watch stander could be heard  urgently requesting a security response. The bulkhead bulged with a loud thud and got a crease drawn on it from the other side. There’s an inexplicable pause, followed by a flurry of blows that formed a irregular bulge in the bulkhead, which grew with each blow. The metal was surprisingly strong and flexed back and forth a lot before the bunk frame finally tore a rip in the sheet metal. The end of the bunk frame was stuck briefly in the new hole and swung back and forth as Gunny worked it loose and pried the hole wider.

By now two more North Americans had joined the duty guard on the wide angle camera feed. They all three held Tasers held in front of them, but stayed back as far as possible from the widening breech. Gunny’s bare foot appeared, kicking the edge of the opening to fold the metal back. The hole was only about a quarter meter across, but the one guard saw a shot and fired through the gap. He connected because the foot retracts and there’s a moment of silence.

One of the new fellows ordered the duty guard to go around to the prisoner’s room and recuff him. The guard refused the direct order in profane terms and invited the fellow to do it himself. About that time the effect of the Taser wore off and Gunny can be heard through the opening describing in loud detail what he’s going to do with the man’s Taser when he gets through the wall. It’s unlikely it will fit, but then none of them believed you could rip your way through a bulkhead like this either.

Gunny’s hand reappeared holding the leg ripped off the bunk frame and used it as a mallet to widen the hole. None of the men chose to shoot this time at the small target a moving hand presented.

With the opening big enough Gunny did a clean dive through it, only getting a few small cuts since the edges are all peeled away from his side. He threw the piece of pipe at one of them, knocking his aim off. The other two got a clean shot at him and took him down again.

This time they cuff his hands behind him, managing to get three pairs around his wrists and two around his ankles with another stretched between the sets.

“Get medical down here to sedate this…guy,” the one in charge demanded. He still had wires on Gunny and appeared ready to shock him again if he came to.

“Dear God..are all the Homies like this brute?” the other guard asked. It was interesting, because April had never heard anyone call them Homies before. But once the video circulated it was a common expression now, just a few months later.

Gunny tonight was nothing like he was in the video. He was relaxed as he ever got, leaning against the wall, scanning the room occasionally like he was on a timer, and content with his thoughts, not reading or listening to anything. He didn’t look like the enraged ogre in the video at all. He was however slowly squeezing and relaxing his grip on an exercise ball. He’d been doing that with his right hand ever since he’d lost it on an Earth mission and been forced to have it re-grown last year. April noticed that he’d switched to working the ball with both hands recently. His skin on the new hand looked just like the other one now, and his nails had grown thick again after looking thin and delicate. In the video you could see his right hand was still pale and hairless, but that hadn’t seemed to impair him significantly ripping a hole in the bulkhead.

“I’d think your hand has to be back to full strength by now,” April commented.

Gunny brought the blue ball up, like Hamlet examining Yorick’s skull. “I want to keep my grip at its best in both hands. It’s useful in my line of work. Anyway, it’s relaxing.”

April frowned…”Wasn’t it a red ball recently? Just a few days ago? What did you do, wear the other one out?”

Gunny looked embarrassed for a fleeting moment. A rarity as he had no shame. “The blue is the next grade of resistance. I wasn’t paying attention and stuck my thumb through the old red one.”

April tried to imagine how much force that took, and decided to drop it. Gunny was already embarrassed so it was only polite to drop it. It was nice that he didn’t evade her with a ‘little’ lie.

“You didn’t get dessert,” April observed. It wasn’t a question, but Gunny knew that was her intent.

“I picked up a few kilos. I know… I needed to,” He added, before April could say it. He’d lost weight and stopped working out while they’d been on short rations. That was really bad for a security professional. “But I fear the last couple kilos weren’t muscle,” Gunny said, laying his hand on a flat stomach that looked hard and fit to April’s eye. He also didn’t have as many gene mods as April. The faster metabolism being one of them. The ones a security professional needed came first. But that was for him to decide and very personal. They weren’t cheap either, and the ones that didn’t involve aging…well, you could get them later on easy enough if you could spare the money and time.

“I could stand to work out a little more,” April admitted rather than argue with him.

“Yes, you could,” Gunny agreed. “In your spare time,” he added to soften it.

They laughed together at that often shared phrase.

Posted in Ramblings | 28 Comments

A small snippet of HooDoo – rough and unedited.

It’s been a long time since I posted any of this book. I let it go for weeks at a time but I’ve taken it up again. You may remember the main character attended the reading of his father’s will. He was charged will making a pilgrimage to his father’s land and heritage as a condition of a larger inheritance. He has to deal with being taking out i n the wilderness without cell phone or a truck full of camping equipment. Tough for what is basically a city boy. It is at Chapter 6 and 17k words.

Uncle drove the skewers into the ground, to suspend the meat above the fire. When it was done the fire had burnt down to coals and he briefly laid the skewer he selected across the coals to sear it a little more. That left a little wood ash on it, but David tried it himself and it was delicious. Of course he had a pretty good appetite.

David had just a few swallows of water left, and he finished it off after the rabbit. He hadn’t seen Uncle drink in a long time, but the man hadn’t cautioned him to make his water last longer. Uncle did cut a twig from a nearby bush. After peeling back a bit of thin red bark he frayed the end into an improvised brush with his thumb nail and brushed his teeth. David did the same but found it wasn’t as easy to fray the end as it looked.

Uncle dumped the rest of the wood on the fire and the rabbit bones on top. David laid down well back from it. It wasn’t as hot as in the day, but there was no chill at all. Sleep came easier than it ever did at home.

The next day they walked fairly far before David asked if they had any water ahead of them. He was still making urine, but he didn’t want to get dehydrated.

“Tomorrow,” Uncle promised. “You wouldn’t want to drink the water near here. However, I’ll show you something to help.” He stopped and broke off pieces of a prickly pear. There were less of them here but still a patch now and then.

David would have wanted heavy gloves to handle the fruit or leaf, but Uncle handled them deftly with the hem of his robe, and rendered them safe quickly with his knife. The moist insides did satisfy him, and Uncle had some too. Despite watching how Uncle handled them he still ended up with a few needles in him.

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A very small snippet of April 8.

Raw and unedited as always.

“Perhaps you should look into how oil drilling platforms work things,” Jeff suggested. “That seems closer to the model of what we’re going to do.”

“The middle administration, yeah, but the legal situation is completely different. A platform attached to the sea bed is under law of the nearest country even if outside the legal limit. We’ll be a ship under way all the time. That has to have a different command structure,” Li insisted. “You might also consider how you want the vessel renamed. I assume you do not wish to retain a Chinese name. You’ll find some are still superstitious about that, but I doubt our Australians will worry about it.”

All this is exactly why we need your help,” Jeff admitted. “Carry on and let me know when we can drop a test flight. I’m really looking forward to it.”

“Thank you. I’ll keep sending you updates,” Li promised, disconnected, and immediately made a different call over a new concern.

“Chen? Li here. I just got through speaking with Singh. He wasn’t totally explicit, but he gave me the impression he wishes to drop on the first landing with new untested equipment. This is just totally irresponsible for him to risk himself. No way do I want to confront him on it, but if that’s what he really meant we have to find some way to dissuade him.”

“I’m not sure how to do that,” Chen admitted. “I work for him, as do you.” he reminded Li.

“He’s a minor investor on this venture isn’t he? Leak the possibility to the other investors and they’ll have a fit that their golden goose is going to play test pilot,” Li suggested.

“Maybe, if I can do it and not get caught, or act like I didn’t think it would be any big deal to reveal…Yeah that’s the way to do it. He’d believe it was an innocent act easier, because that’s how he thinks. He’ll put all the blame on the other investors for not being reasonable, by his measure.”

“I knew you’d figure out how to handle it,” Li said. “Thanks.”

Posted in Ramblings | 19 Comments

A short unedited snippet of April #8

April scanned down the list of shows and articles her bots retrieved from Earth sources. She hadn’t checked them in a couple days. Over time she’d edited the bots until they did a pretty good job of discarding things like documentaries that mentioned specific dates. Fiction was also a waste of her time usually, although a lot of anti-spacer propaganda was presented as fiction. Still, it didn’t often tell her anything new.

She almost didn’t examine one story, until she saw the key word count was just off scale. Looking at the title was usually sufficient to delete a good two thirds of the bot’s other catches. On rare occasion she read the first paragraph or watched the first couple minutes of a video on fast forward before deleting it.

This wasn’t fiction, it was a public channel on health issues. British supposedly, but sent to a lot of English speaking markets including India and North America. The ‘expert’ being interviewed was dressed in a white lab coat, and a very expensive tie, which would establish his credentials with most of his viewers. They refrained from overdoing his image with an obsolete stethoscope. For the deeper thinkers they went to the trouble of saying he was a molecular biologist, but said nothing about his career history except that he was a researcher associated with a Scottish hospital.

He was seated behind an improbably neat desk, which was another authority conferring image, and the man interviewing him was seated in a shell chair that pivoted. April found it distracting that he did move it back and forth. He had on a proper suit and tie, and had his legs crossed at the knee displaying a shiny hard leather lace up shoe only an Earthie would wear. They were both turned to the camera a little so they had to turn their heads toward each other.

April glanced at the text generated from voice recognition. It had quite a few more error marks than she was used to seeing. She went back to the video at the beginning and found out why the program struggled so, the man had a strong local accent. In fact it was so thick she went back to the text, even with the odd error it was necessary to ignore. She scrolled past the first few minutes of pleasantries until they started saying something of substance as far as her interest.

“So, Dr. Carson, you were called as an expert witness for the crown because you understand the underlying basis of these so called life extension therapies?” the interviewer asked.

“Yes, I’m not a therapist, John. I deal with the numbers on a much more abstract level. I can look at a lab report and tell you much more about a fellow than staring at him all day sitting in his skivvies on an examination table. Appearances deceive and doctors sometimes fall into false conclusions just like lay people. Last century we had a hard time knocking the silly idea from doctor’s heads that a ‘glowing’ tan was a sign of health. It’s really a warning marker for skin cancer and when you see one it’s time to ask where they got it, to see if they’ve been exposed to tropical disease and all sorts of nasty things associated with impoverished third worlders like TB and parasites.”

“Mine was picked up golfing in Spain,” John said, “looking at the back of his hand a little embarrassed like he’d never seen it before.

“And I assume you have the good sense to keep up the prophylactics that suppress Melanoma,” Dr. Carson said. “The thing is, if I were looking for markers for that, or any number of problems it wouldn’t be apparent to me if you’d had life extension therapy or not. A person so modified doesn’t suddenly display an amazing spectrum of vibrant health. They are still subject to infection, injury and if they lose a finger or a hand to amputation they still have to have the same treatments to stimulate growth.”

“But they do look younger don’t they?” the newsman asked.

“Yes, which is all that matters to some vain people,” Carson said disapprovingly. “I have no idea if the treatments do damage to your mental health when applied to older persons. They may escape the sort of catastrophic side effects that the Germans saddled some of their young folks with trying to create prodigies. Many of those youngsters are now in mental hospitals as adults.”

“Yes, the ‘Wiz Kids’. John agreed. “That was pretty well documented at the time.”

“I’m not a psychologist,” Dr. Carson disclaimed, “but it must be hard to assess if an adult has an alteration in his personality from LET, since they have to be well outside the norm and a risk taker of questionable judgment, to seek this therapy as an adult.”

“Kiss my butt, Doctor,” April muttered at the screen.

“Indeed, that was the whole question of the case at law in which I consulted. If it was within the reasonable freedom of choice for our subjects to seek such therapy. Not that we’d offer it here,” he said a bit indignantly. “But people travel to Italy and the Balkans, Laos and Japan. They have different standards for medical procedures, or China even, where I’m not sure they believe in any standards except that they’ll take your money. Should we admit such people back into our county, and resume responsibility for their health in our care system, in their now altered state?”

“Well, we know the court decided no,” the newsman said. “I wonder though, doesn’t the fact they look younger reflect that they are healthier in some way?”

“Bah! It’s a scam,” Dr. Carson said. “Those terrible gene modified pets they made, the PermaPups, and the others, the kittens that never matured. Does anybody think they were healthier for looking young? They looked young right up until a couple days before they died, then…” he made a graphic flopping motion with his hand.

“The truth is we have no evidence that these so called life extensions actually extends life,” Carson insisted. “It’s all theory and supposition and you are betting your health now against a possible longer life. Nobody is going to know if there is any increased life span until we see these people reach their eighties, nineties and see how many survive, and what the tradeoffs will be. Will they have more or less dementia? Will they still look pretty good and just suddenly die one day? We don’t know. The biggest thing that people falsely think is that it’s rejuvenation. Even the advocates of it don’t say that, but if people have this false expectation we don’t see it corrected either. I think the court came to entirely the correct decision to protect the public and our limited care capacity.”

The rest of it was pretty much repetition. She cut the critical block out of the video to share with a few close friends. It was good to see how the Earth governments were suppressing the treatments. It amazed April that it worked. Nobody ever mentioned that when all the data on how her generation benefited or not from LET was gathered, one thing was certain. None of the people who didn’t try it would be alive.

The other very amusing thing was that April had seen lots people with and without Life Extension Therapy, and witnessed them making the transition. She could tell from a glance at someone’s face if they’d had the full range of genetic modifications or not. The newsman John was heavily gene mod and a flaming hypocrite.

Posted in Ramblings | 25 Comments

A very short snippet from April #8

Raw and unedited as always – I’m not spoiling major scenes…

“You have to buy it right now if you want it,” Myat told Huian

“Myat, you have dealt with all sorts of people. Not just your clients, but I assume all sorts of business people. Do you go to market or do your servants all take care of that?” Huian asked.

“No, no, I can remember when I was little going with my mother and a servant to the market. She had a servant to carry the things to the car, but she dealt with the merchants herself. Not out in the zei picking things off of ground cloths like a peasant. The sort of custom she supported received her in a cool private room and the senior merchant offered refreshment and would have his man fetch little samples of what she wanted. Especially spices. She might ask a hundred kilo bag of rice and expect the quality to remain the same as previous purchases, but spices she wanted to see a sample from the lot she was buying. She always dressed to the hilt. One of her best outfits and enough gold to stagger a horse. When she finally took me along, after much begging, she insisted I dress well and borrowed jewelry for me, even if I was only nine years old. She said the merchants treated you better the more money you appeared to have. It’s one of my earliest memories of her trying to teach me something important. I…I’m babbling. What is the point of this?” Myat asked. 

“You know how to shop and how to bargain. What do you think when somebody says you have to buy it right now, and puts the hurry-up on you?” Huian asked.

Myat laughed. “My mother would say run! Hold your purse tight and run for your life!”

“Indeed. I’ll forward this information to Jeffry Singh. I’m sure he will present it to the group he’s organized to buy a ship. But the man is young, not stupid. And most of his partners are older and even more conservative. I can already hear what he’ll say: ‘If the market has crashed so bad they have a three year old vessel for sale at near scrap prices, maybe next month they’ll have one newer on the block.’ And that might be right,” Huian decided.

“I can see why the urgency is alarming. But my broker friend usually deals in vessels that need to be scrapped as older and obsolete. There may be some other modern vessels like this come on the market if shipping doesn’t recover soon. Just not necessarily through him. This ship is decent enough that someone may buy it to reflag and put into service, instead of cut it up for scrap. As always, the official predictions say this is a seasonal lull and the economy is sound. There are always a few who are easy to convince because they believe what they want to happen. Some optimist may grab it. You can commit as much of the funds I’ve sent you as is needful, if there’s a shortfall,” Myat offered.

“You’ve mostly convinced me,” Huian said. “I will present this neutrally. I’m a bit afraid of my own enthusiasm. We’ll see what the others without emotional attachments say.”

“That’s fair,” Myat decided. “I’m attaching a file with all the ship specs and photos and a history of it’s very short life. Let me know what sort of feedback you get. “Of course,” Huian agreed. “I have it. Two Terabyte and a little. Good Bye dear.” 

Posted in Ramblings | 10 Comments

A short snippet from April #8 – rough

Kurt had to go past the clinic to a lower rent area to find a salon. Getting his hair buzzed off helmet short took  a couple minutes and was cheaper than styling. He used five of the new bits to pay and tipped the fellow an extra bit. He seemed happy with that since he’d turned down the other offered services.

The clinic wasn’t busy at all. The nurse practitioner seemed to be the receptionist too, and said she’d start doing his tests so the doctor could see him when done with his current patient. The tests seemed to be mostly remote scanning with one finger prick.

Doctor Lee came in after a couple minutes and sat reading the screen from the testing for a good ten minutes before proceeding. He asked Kurt if he’s just had a large meal, and suggested he might have some gene modes if he was going to eat like that as a habit. Otherwise he’d probably be seeing him to restore pancreatic function.

 Kurt was young and flexible, but the doc still had him test his grip and strength at extension. He did reflex and hearing tests and a vision test, checking for color perception too. The medical he’d had before when hired for Mitsubishi hadn’t been anywhere near as thorough. Kurt said as much to him. 


He had Kurt strip and dimmed the lights, examining him with a hand held scanner that illuminated a few square centimeters at a time. He was very thorough, requiring him to lift his arms to scan his arm pits and his private areas, even scanning between his toes.

“Were you looking for skin cancer doc?” Kurt wondered.

“Yes, you’ve been on Earth and in fairly tropic latitudes. You’ve had sunlight exposure now and as a child. Some of the pollution there also accelerates the process to develop skin cancer. I can detect in scan several years before it may show up to the unaided eye or a blood test. Also I’m checking for other common Earth diseases, parasites, fungal infections and unhealed injuries. You have your hair nice and short, but we once did a physical on a fellow three days out from Earth who had a tick hidden in his thick hair. He had no idea, and they are filthy things. Are you aware you had an infection of Charleston fever recently?” Doctor Lee asked.

“I have no idea what that is,” Kurt admitted.

“It’s a bacterium, similar to Lyme disease, other Borrelia, Bourbon disease, Colorado fever, Heartland virus, Spotted fever, Malaria, Yellow fever, Zika, Dengue, or West Nile in its mode of transmission. It isn’t definitively linked to ticks or mosquitoes, yet. But I personally expect it will be. The filthy things are a huge vector for both viral and bacteriological diseases.” Lee frowned. “Or protozoan parasites. That’s what Malaria is. Damned filthy bugs spread everything. Probably stuff we don’t suspect yet.

“Charleston has a very low morbidity. That’s why it took such a long time to be recognized. When people die from stuff it gets our attention faster. You probably thought you had a cold. You have a high level of the antibodies but not an active infection so you’ll be fine. You have antibodies for a lot more serious stuff. You’ve had three kinds of flu, chickenpox, and seven typed rhino viruses,” Lee revealed. “I don’t see indications you’ve ever had Mumps, TB or Diphtheria, and we’ve seen evidence of just about everything but Smallpox come through here.”

“You make me wonder how I ever survived Earth,” Kurt said.

“A lot of people don’t,” Lee agreed. “I may visit again if relations improve in the future, but you can be assured I will be very cautious where I go and what activities I enjoy.”

“Why does Mr. Singh pay for such a detailed physical?” Kurt wondered.

“You have it backward,” Lee informed him. “Mitsubishi detailed exactly what they wanted to pay for in my instructions. Jeff Singh just said use your professional discretion and do whatever you think is best and necessary.”

“You know, if he respects a beam dog’s experience with their job like he does doctors I may like working for the man,” Kurt decided.

“Well, I’m done, and you pass. There is no medical reason why you can’t work for him,” Lee said. “You are typically healthy for an active young man of your age.” That isn’t to say you wouldn’t benefit from a number of small changes in diet and habits. I can see you don’t have an unhealthy taste for alcohol, or narcotics. You are also likely shorting yourself an hour or so of sleep a night. If you want a copy of your physical and a risk assessment, ask my assistant and she’ll transfer it to your pad, send it to your com account or print it out for a bit. It will have some of those recommendations attached. Of course you would benefit from life extension therapies, but they would preclude you visiting many places on Earth again.”

“I’m starting to wonder if I care about that,” Kurt admitted, standing to leave. “Thanks Doc.”

“You’re welcome. Try to keep your helmet on straight,” Lee joked. “It makes a hell of a mess for us to fix when you guys try to breath vacuum.”

“Yeah, I’ll keep that in mind,” Kurt promised.

Posted in Ramblings | 15 Comments