Old stuff…

I was looking over older work I started and didn’t carry forward. I don’t think I posted this piece yet. I’ve written what I regard as firm if not hard science fiction, but I wrote a first chapter for a fantasy piece. Try not to laugh… I wonder if anybody thinks this is worth expanding or should I just post it as a short?

Strictly Business


Chapter 1


    The rumors spread among the elves before first coffee break.

    “Something big is going down on the top floor.” All along the production lines heads went together and exchanged whispers. The rumors spread down the lines faster than the build flowed. Part runners carried it back to the fabricators and loading docks. From there the drivers all stopped and gossiped with all the security trolls at the gates and portals. The story ran back down through all the suppliers before lunch time.

    “Big Juju,” the e-mails were titled flowing between witches in middle management.

    “Can’t read a thing past the twelfth floor,” the seers and wizards lamented. It wasn’t a glass ceiling, it was unobtainium – impervious to sixth sense and second sight.

    “Big cuts,” the old hands said at the signs with hard-won wisdom. Most of them had been through this before when things turned down. Some had narrowly escaped previous lay-offs having just enough service or were simply in the right department by blind luck.

    “I remember in ’34 when Cloaks and Robes went to Taiwan,” one veteran said. “It didn’t matter how much seniority you had,  the entire department went down like a field of wheat,” he explained with a scything motion of his hand.

    The apprentices were horrified. “Nobody got to transfer?”

    “Nope. They declared their skills un-transferable and laid the lot off. But those were just little bumps. This is big.”

* * *

    The ax-man, Axel, was from Resources – you couldn’t very well call them Human Resources after all. As one of the minor races of Ogres he could pass as human with a loose shirt, if he didn’t smile. The Great Ogres didn’t have the temperament for lay-offs unless you wanted the cut personnel dismembered and eaten.

    He checked his list, switched his translator to Elfish and stepped inside the conference room. The door wasn’t obviously a portal, but it had that disquieting strangeness that said he was in another continuum. The light played funny to his eyes, everything unnaturally sharp and cloyingly pretty. Probably Fairy space even though the table was full of elves. The irritating little suckers were everywhere across the Universes that they could find a job and send the money home to their families.

    The murmur of conversation died instantly. He pulled the emblem of his office off his shoulder and laid the ancient blade on the table to free his hands, distaining to sit down as this would be quick and brutal. Two Orcs with training collars followed at his heel, and the shadowy presence behind them stood just inside the door in case anyone went postal. It seemed like excessive caution given his massive arms and the fact his heritage symbol of office was three and a half stone of cold iron beaten to a razor edge. The stains on it were from an earlier era that didn’t understand job banks and unemployment insurance. Still, being let go would always be a hardship to which some could react emotionally.

    “As you are all aware,” Axel spoke, “sales of high end accessories such as magic wands have plummeted. Our set costs have increased dramatically. Due to the unrest in human markets, silver alone has doubled in the last decade. Before you please find an information packet.” They looked down at the table where they had materialized in that instant when everyone was looking elsewhere.

    “The vast majority of you will find it is a severance package. A few of you will find an offer to follow the Earth based production to Mexico as a manager or instructor. If you decide to take that offer you have seventy-two hours to contact Resources and bind yourselves to our service. Details of moving allowance and conditions in our Mexican plant’s area are in the packet. Please do not open them to find out which group you are in while on company property. Doing so will void and transform the offer packets in a particularly nasty way.

    “You will not need to return to your work area. Your personal items are boxed and will be returned to you at the gate. Beings using company transport will unbind their authorization and destroy any spell linking them to its use. Commercial transport home will be provided. I’m sure you are all law-abiding and adult beings, but any effort to leave malignant spells, Trojans, or change passwords from home will be dealt with…” The hooded figure behind the Orcs removed the compulsion not to look at him momentarily and lifted its head. The pool of black in the hood swept the assembled group, giving them each a sense that they were examined and cataloged.           There was not a glimmer of eyeball reflected in the black depths, but everyone was sure of a presence. Nobody knew what the thing in the robe was, and nobody wanted to find out. Word on the street was the company could take care of itself with any entity or reality.

    Axel shifted the broad blade back to his shoulder, checked his PDA for the time, he was doing fine, and moved on.

    The next department on his list was so small they didn’t have a conference room. In fact it was so small it only had head count for one full time and one part time employee. He was supposed to lay off a minimum of thirty percent of every department regardless of profit level. A closer look at the sheets showed all their goods were outsourced to Guatemala since the Pennsylvania shut down of ’27. The whole department was simply an added value operation and didn’t make sense. They didn’t have any materials budget, not even packaging, so what were they adding? Inspection was in Guatemala too.

    The department showed as being in existence from the second year of the company. That’s when the big expansion had happened. A shame things were going the other way now – but that’s business. He couldn’t see any justification for the operation.

    He shifted his ax to the other shoulder. The damn thing was awkward and got heavy after awhile, but there were certain forms to follow and they were traditions. He left the Orcs and the presence at the door. He wouldn’t need them for one elderly human.

    The room was so small he felt a tad claustrophobic. There was no receptionist and no desks. The lady in the rocking chair was just having a cup of herbal tea while dwarfs scurried to take some skids of hex signs out. It was 09:17 and not any proper coffee break period. If that’s how slack they ran things here, it made it easier to break the bad news.

    He wasn’t sure if it was a magic window or a big flat screen monitor, but behind her a large rectangle showed a scene of fenced fields and black and white cows standing around chewing like cattle are wont to do. There were woods behind and a barn in the distance. Given that both employees here were human, and that the sky was an absolutely shocking blue, it must be an Earth view. It was an extravagance for any but highest executive office. His work space certainly had nothing that nice. The printout indicated he should speak with her in English or German.

    “Mrs. Ayers? I’m from Resources. I’d like to speak with your assistant also if he is available.”

    “Oh, my son Billy. I’m sorry but he’s not available right now. He’s in his Junior year at Harvard. He’ll be back in a couple years and will take a break before he goes into graduate school if you’d like to meet him then.”

    “Hmm…I hadn’t noticed the name is the same. That’s most irregular also, but I suppose it doesn’t matter after today. I’ll have some papers for you to pass on to him. He has been an apprentice even though he is your son?”

    “That’s the way it works, father to daughter, mother to son.  He is my apprentice for life. It’s spelled out in my terms of employment that he is salaried regardless of actual time on site. After all I expect he will take over some day. He wants to have a real education, but this is where the family’s bread and butter has always been. Just a moment please,” she requested.

    The boss dwarf gave a high sign and the dwarfs ran in with three new skids. That they stood idle until she ordered them was a huge waste of productive time. All the skids were stacked cunningly so that each sign was visible to her. She started rocking the chair a little and spoke in a highlands German. Her voice had a regular cadence of memorized lines, but not that tonal quality of a chant. The translator whispered in his ear that it could not provide him the incantation because it was proprietary intellectual property and subject to nondisclosure agreements. She picked up a well worn leather bible in German and flipped it open where one of several bookmarks hung out. There was no telling where the spell ran seamlessly into reading instead of memory. The colorful art on the skids seemed to move subtly for an instant, the colors shifting like 3D post card with a lenticular overlay, and then it was as before and she closed her bible and made a mark in an open ledger on the side.

    “What exactly do you do?” he asked puzzled.

    “Why, I put the power in the signs,” Mrs. Ayers said, as if he were a little simple. “The English do love them, yust fer pretty” she explained lapsing into an accent intermittently, “but there are still plenty who want the real thing, not just a tourist doodad to take home from vacation. I put the seed there and hide it from those that don’t have the eye. Not like that,” she said, pointing at a huge Wheel of Fortune hanging on the wall behind her. When he looked right at it the swirled design moved like a vortex sucking him in, and he gasped at the power, jerking his eyes away disoriented for a moment.

    “That was painted by my great – grandfather and he said the words over it. It has been working for the company every since I vust hired.”

    “Are you Amish?” he asked, confused. He knew a little bit about human culture, and noticed her simple dress and linen cap pinned on her gathered up hair.

    “Oh no. The Amish and the other plain people don’t hold with old ways. None of the preachers like a pow-wow woman like me. They look down their nose at us. Why one time I stopped the blood flowing on the preacher man neighbor when he slipped with the ax and he come running all the way from his place and cursed me to let it go. That’s gratitude for you. As if I’d take a chicken or anything from him. We don’t take money for pow-wow you know,” she informed him. “I yust done it fer good, or a little pay-in-kind.”

    “But it says here you get two stone of fairy gold a lunar for your services,” Axel insisted.

    “Ah, but the government in my human country has decreed that gold is not legal money.”

    “So, what do they use for money?” he asked dubious.

    “They use numbered engravings of dead politicians.”

    “Engraved on what?”

    “Well, paper. On what else do you print engravings?” she asked like he was daft.

    It was madness. Art as money? Maybe fine originals, but numbered prints? He had wasted too much time here already, so he let it go.

    “So what business did you have with me today?” Mrs. Ayers  asked politely as another crew of dwarfs rushed in to carry the goods away.

    “Are you aware things have been going very poorly for the company for the last several quarters?” He was getting the feeling Mrs. Ayers was at a disconnect with anything outside the sturdy Oak door he’d just entered.

    “Oh my no,” she said with honest surprise. “I’m wondering why Harold didn’t say anything to me. Goodness, let me take a look here.” She grabbed both arms of the rocker and twisted it around. She lifted the screen on a very nice Tough Book computer and started reading.

     His first thought was why does she need an expensive Panasonic built like a bank vault? The worst he could see happening here was if she spilled her tea on it. But that paled at the anger he felt rising as she expected him to patiently wait for her to catch up on her mail. Employees didn’t treat him like that. Normally they were afraid of him, terrified even.

    “Achk – der it is,” she exclaimed. “Harold….”

    “You mean Mr. Griffin the Owner?” he corrected with proper reverence.

    “Yah, I yust forget to check my e-mails. Harold told me tings was bad a couple monts ago but I never seen it.” When she was upset her English suffered quickly. “Tings be very bad when dat don suck enough luck to keep us going,” she said nodding sage agreement. ‘Dat’ was apparently the wheel of fortune spinning away on the wall. It appeared to be painted on planks of barn wood, the sort architects and designers would pay a fortune for if weathered to a beautiful silvery silk texture. “I vill quick like maken dis right donchu vurry. You yust outen der light as you go and I’ll sit in der dark a bit vit my bible and have a good talk at der problem.”

    “Thank you for the thought, but that’s why I’m here Mrs. Ayers. We are cutting back, and considering the size and relative importance of this department there is no rational way to make a fractional cut. I’m terminating it altogether. Axel pointed to an envelope that had suddenly materialized beside the computer. “You will find all the details in the packet.”

    “Vell – Harold knows about this?” she asked stunned.

    “Everything Resources does is with the full authority of the executive suite and the board of directors,” he assured her. “Do you need a hand with packing up? Perhaps a cardboard box for any personal items?”

    “Everything you see is mine but the laptop,” she said showing a little anger for the first time. “Even der floor.” The look in her eye made him wonder if he should have kept the Orcs with him after all. He sensed a gathering power like the feel of a storm building up. “To my house you send, and be careful der is not a mark on it, especially the wheel,” she pointed at the vortex on the wall, “or I say some words – things dat shouldn’t be said – over your name,” she warned, hand gathering something he couldn’t see out of the air.

    His hair was standing straight off his arms with electric potential, and he stood frozen like a rabbit before a fox, knowing the slightest move would bring disaster. She looked at him like she was considering something further, and then dismissed it spilling her hand open reluctantly. The room itself seemed to expand a little, like it breathed a sigh of relief. She stomped out the door and between the Orcs without a glance at them. The hooded figure behind the Orcs scurried out of her path and cowered flat against the wall, whimpering.

    Axel shook his head in disbelief, hair flat again, too accustomed to fearlessness to retain a healthy dread with her out of his sight. He shifted the damn chopper on his shoulder again and checked his PDA. Crystals and Pyramids were waiting in conference room twelve and he was late because he spent so much time letting that old woman go on and on. He hurried down the hall.


* * *


    A week later he was busier than ever. He was trying to keep up with the pink slips, but the whole company was headed south worse this week than the whole of last year. Something was sucking the luck out of it like a spider draining a fat bug. His full attention was focused on his desk and trying to get the papers sorted for a busy day when he noticed two hairy ham-like fists on either side of his antique Rolodex.

    Allowing his gaze to climb the attached hairy columns upward there were two white cuffs folded back as far as the massive arms would allow. The white shirt sleeves continued. Floating above these supports was the ugly glaring face of his boss. Behind him was his boss, and oh crap…behind him was the big boss.

    “Axel my boy,” the deep voice rumbled, deceptively pleasant, “did you perchance deliver a lay-off notice to a nice older lady by the name of Mrs. Ayers? In a quiet little room off in the back of the production facilities with a bunch of dwarfs running skids in and out instead of a fork lift?”

    “Yes, I wondered about the dwarfs actually. It didn’t seem very efficient. Why were they doing it that way?”

    “Because Mrs. Ayers didn’t like the smell of the propane lift truck and the electric whine of the battery operated ones disturbed her. If she had asked we would have gladly run them in on the bloody backs of snow white unicorns and sacrificed them for fresh ones if the load was too much for them to bear twice.” He waited to see if Axel could smell which way this was going.

    “That’s…remarkable you’d defer to an employee’s taste in matters so much,” he smiled. “I take it Mrs. Ayers had some special relationship to the company of which I wasn’t appraised?”

    “You might put it that way. More a personal relationship to the owner. That’s how she was recruited.” The man at the rear looked down upset at those words. “When the personal relationship faded nobody was put forward to manage Mrs. Ayers even though the company depended on her services. She’s an eccentric sort of person like a scientific researcher or an artist you can’t count on to attend meetings or read e-mails. They have to be managed. But none of that is your fault. The real problem is Resources was never supposed to be involved in managing her. You aren’t supposed to even have a file on her. The Resource managers are not even supposed to visit that department, it was a rule passed on verbally to each one, so what happened that you ended up there with a lay-off notice?”

    “I suppose because the last head of Resources dropped dead of a heart attack.” (The sort triggered by a wooden stake, but it wasn’t polite to mention that.) “He didn’t get a chance to pass on any company secrets if there wasn’t hard copy of it. The new software we have generates cross files to correct if one department has something missing so everybody has full up to date files. I imagine payroll has to have something on her to pay her. So that’s where the file came from, and auto-copied through the system, I’m guessing.”

    Axels boss closed his eyes for a moment in pain. “So…No point in blaming you. We  screwed up. But it’s still going to be up to you to fix this cluster…” He stopped and took a deep breath. “We can’t go back to keeping you out of the loop on Mrs. Ayers. When Harold tried to call her she told him – ‘Your man fired me, let him come convince me I should want to come back.’ So like it or not you are our only hope to recover her services. Here is the rest of her file, the hard copy one with everything in it. This is the only copy and only three other people in the firm have access to all of it. Read it. We’ll see to it the software doesn’t keep spreading information where it shouldn’t go.”

    He opened the file. Just reading the first page was a revelation, and they quietly let him read. He could see why it was embarrassing to say out loud. The hex signs were just an arrangement. The whole thing was a sham to make her feel she was keeping the spirit of her discipline’s rules. The first few years her compensation had been over generous, clearly a case of the owner’s girl friend kept on the payroll, but now the tail was wagging the dog, and they were the party hostage to her skills. And he’d thought their business was based on their fine products. Apparently their whole business model was a sham. “What am I authorized to offer?” Axel asked.

    “Anything. If she wants to hack your silly head off with your frigging ax for a wall mount you can assume we will take excellent care of your heirs and thank you for your services. Better that than your loved ones die of hunger with you in poverty, right?”

    Axel wasn’t sure about that.

    “We’re rewarding her for mismanaging the company’s luck? That doesn’t seem fair to all the little people who suffered.”

     The principle stockholder, owner in every way that mattered spoke from the rear. “The little people would have never had a job at all if she hadn’t been working for us. This isn’t about them at all. Don’t screw this up or all the rest of the little people are down the tubes along with us.” The other two men nodded solemn agreement and they all turned and walked away.



* * *



    “I’m really sorry about what happened,” Axel told her. He could see black horse-buggies out the window in the cute little town. Mixed with tourist cars packing the restaurant parking lot across the road. It smelled funny in this reality and he was glad he was just a visitor. For some reason when he looked at the horses he got twitchy all over. He’d come through the portal Mrs. Ayers used to come to work and was happy he didn’t have to step outside. Besides the off smell the sky looked creepy and unnatural. He was even less comfortable than in the Fairies domains. He took another sip of the tea even though it was nasty. It wasn’t very hard to sound sincere because he was.

    “Things have changed,” she said quite calmly. Now that she was less excited her English reverted to standard. “I’m widowed, and now that he is grown I’m willing to allow my son to start growing into being the head of household. I need to start planning to retire and hand the reins over to the new generation. My son said it was time for me to adopt a much more modern approach to business. He will have his MBA soon and I think it is timely the family has such a modern talent and pays close attention to its wisdom. So I don’t think I want to come back to the company in the same capacity I held previously.” Axel cringed to hear that because it proclaimed his personal doom.

He couldn’t suck another breath in, and his blood roared in his ears.

    “I think we could dispense with the sign work, or maybe find a needy young practitioner to do that rote work. I think though, we should be able to come to a different arrangement about the real work of managing the company’s luck, and still follow proper forms.” Axel felt a fresh surge of hope cut through the gloom, sucking in air again.

    Axel nodded enthusiastic agreement and swallowed some more vile tea and pride.

    “My boy is still very much my apprentice in matters of craft, but he’s the next generation who will have to pay more attention to matters of business than our generation did. I never paid much mind to such matters because we were farmers and what we did on the side was for ourselves and our neighbors. We were happy if we could help, and if we got a chicken or a bowl of eggs now and again we were happy.”

    ” Now even the simple folk can’t make it farming, hard as they are willing to work, so you see them serving the English sit down meals, making furniture and other things that were never their way of life. My father wasn’t bound to the simple life, but he couldn’t make a living by farming, even using tractors and machinery. We tried market farming, and self-pick. We still ended up with the restaurant you see across the street there and selling the farm off lot at a time for houses. You talk to my boy and whatever arrangement you can make with him will be fine. He’s going to have to live with it a lot longer than me, and he has a fine head for such matters. At least he gets good marks from his professors in matters of business and economics.”

    “Thank You Mrs. Ayers, I’ll do that. When will he be available?”

    “He just started back on a new semester, he won’t be home until the winter break. About three and a half months, and he’ll be home for a couple weeks and should have plenty of time to work things out with you.”

    Axel smiled, careful to keep his incisors from poking out, and took another sip of tea while he contemplated what shape the company would be in after three and a half months. He had to be careful how he expressed himself.

    “Gee Willikers,” his translator found the mildest euphemism in its list, if a bit dated. “I just know my bosses would be just terribly upset with me if I didn’t wrap things up a lot sooner than that. Is there any way I could speak with your son sooner?”

     “If you’re set on meeting him sooner the only thing I can suggest is going up to Boston and visiting him there. He has much too busy a schedule of classes to be running home for even a couple days.”

    “I’ll arrange to do that,” he heard himself say with a sort of detached horror. He looked out the window at the alien sky, and one of the horsed swung it’s head up and seemed to be looking straight across the way at him. It had to be coincidence. “I’ll have to consult some of my people. If it’s better to come back through your portal can I bother you to allow that?”

    “Sure, it’s no bother at all if you need it. Here, I’ll write down my boy’s contact information and you drop me some e-mail if you are coming back through. I’ve gotten much better about checking them,” she promised him.

    “I feel bad because we Deutsch do things different. I didn’t think it was different from dealing with the English or the alternates for some reason. I suppose I was living in a Fairy Tale, but that’s all right, I learned my lesson. From now on it’s like Daddy told me and I ignored to my sorrow. Friends are for nice, and family is forever, but business is business, and you have to keep it that way.”

Posted in Ramblings | 4 Comments

A Chapter from the next April series book. (rough)

Chapter 2


Jonathan Hughes was almost done for the day. The Kings County Farmer’s Cooperative Number Three was under a hiring freeze, so he was doing the job of near two men. He couldn’t put the extra hours on his time report, but the work still had to be done. If he didn’t want to be paid for the official hours and carry the rest on his own there were plenty of folks waiting to take his job on those terms. He was fifty seven years old and glad they hadn’t already forced him out for a younger man.

He’d outlasted the previous three owners of the land and survived the transition to government control of the farm as well as consolidation with other private tracts. The land was about the last agricultural land this close to LA. If they hadn’t enacted very strict anti-urbanization laws about twenty years ago, he was sure the fields would all be condos and subdivisions right now. It slowed it down, but he had no doubt the population pressure would have it paved over and built up in another two decades. He wouldn’t be here or working for the Coop in twenty years so that wasn’t his concern.

The field he looked over had been in almonds until forty years ago. He remembered passing them on the way to school. Old Mr. Gant who he’d worked for out of high school had told him stories about the same fields being in tomatoes, and had unbelievable tales of migrants hand picking them in the fields. Funny how none of those changes had ever seemed important enough to be in his history lessons.

Last year the field had been in beans and it was planted in rye right now. It was so short it didn’t look like the rye when he was a kid. You’d have to run a roller over it to make it lodge. The last couple years had been iffy for frost. He’d seen hot years and cold, and two serious droughts in his career. If it didn’t fully mature for grain it would serve for silage at a good price, as well as keep down the weeds for the spring planting. The weeds were all herbicide resistant now, but the government planting manual said they had to be used. The rye really helped as long as you didn’t say that was a reason for planting it. Jon would have spent the money on fertilizer, but then he didn’t have stock in any herbicide companies.

The sun was near the horizon and he was done repairing the piping for the irrigation. A bright line across the southern sky caught his eye and he looked. It was unusual to see a meteor so bright against the steel blue sky even this near dusk, and then there was another and another…

The streaks from the east were joined by others lower on the horizon to the southwest. They all converged on an unseen point well below the horizon. LA? Jon wondered, but no, it was angled too far to the west. He wasn’t sure where it was aimed. The huge ‘V’ of bright points all vanished over the horizon to a meeting point he couldn’t see, then a flare of light spread a silvery cloud that expanded and changed colors. Even this far away it had lightning visible flashing around the edges, low and to the left of the sunset.

Fewer, but more substantial tracks pierced the odd cloud and lit it up with flares from underneath. Jon stood mouth hanging open shocked at the scale of it spanning a quarter of his horizon, all in silence. The birds he hadn’t been aware of consciously hearing reminded him of their presence by their sudden silence, making the familiar scene of the field eerie and alien by the changes.

The whole sequence repeated on almost as grand a scale and then a flare lit up fully half the horizon bright enough to dazzle his vision and make him look down. If he hadn’t been sheltered behind the curve of the Earth he’d have been blinded. As the multicolored fireball lifted above his horizon, cooling as he watched, a faint rumble from the initial bombardment finally reached him through the ground, a noise he’d have shrugged off as a minor natural earth tremor another time.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket to call his wife, but there was no connection showing. When he looked across the field to the pump house the light outside that showed it had power was dark. That’s when he realized how bad it was. If the power was out this far north, LA was certainly down. If what he understood about atomic bombs was right it would be down hard for weeks at least, or even months, maybe longer given how screwed up all the supply and repair had gotten lately. About that time the ground wave from the big bomb passed through, so strong it made him catch his balance.

Hell, he had a hard time keeping simple farm machinery in repair. What would the power companies do if their high tech gear was all badly damaged? If the pump house across the field was down he’d bet anything all the pumps and valves and aqueduct controls to feed LA were dead junk.

No water in LA and it would revert to desert so fast the city people would be astonished. No power was almost as bad given how city people lived. No traffic controls, no elevators, no refrigeration in the stores, no bank processing. It would be a unholy mess. He’d known for a long time that if things fell apart in LA most folks would stay there until it was far too late to try to leave. But the few that knew better would still be a mob spreading out from the city.

He’d made a few half-hearted preparations, hoping he never needed them, but it came down to using them now or never, because in a few hours they’d be useless. He let out a big sigh. He was too old for this crap and having to be a refugee. But he didn’t want to be here when the mob came north. He walked to his truck and didn’t lock up the pipe shed or put the gear away. That was all valueless now. Stuff from a previous life.

He held his breath briefly, anxious, but the truck started, which meant he might be alive in a week. Apparently the EMP wasn’t that bad this far away. If the last weapon that pounded Vandenberg had detonated sixty miles up all of southern California would have had the older legacy systems fried, including his truck ignition, but Jonathan had no idea about all that.

It was a dark green 2069 GM Brazil hybrid diesel and belonged to the Coop. It was no coincidence he’d watched and waited until the same year and color truck came up for sale locally and bought the same vehicle for himself. He drove the company truck back to the fenced equipment yard and parked beside his own vehicle. There was the supervisors car parked right by the entry, not in his assigned space, and some sort of emergency light shining in the office window. It was darker now with the sun completely down, and he welcomed the dusk to cover him switching plates with the Coop vehicle. That accomplished Jon went in the office where his supervisor was talking earnestly on the Coop radio net to somebody. The man waved at him, distracted, and didn’t stop talking. From what he could hear of the conversation he simply wanted to what was going on and the fellow on the other end was probably as clueless as he was. He grabbed a note pad off the desk and scribbled:

I no longer work for the Coop, effective immediately. Jonathan Hughes 10/11/2090

He put it down with his fob for the company truck on top of the pad. That was also his key that unlocked the field gates and other areas to which he had access, and he walked out. As he was driving out the gate he saw his boss in his rear view mirror. He finally came out the door, with the pad in his hand, in time to see Jonathan driving away down the access road. Too late, and there was really nothing to talk about. The man would have simply argued he needed to stay there and lend his support until things were normal again. Jon had his doubts the man would see another paycheck for a long time, and any return to actual normal might take years.

It wasn’t like the produced a variety of products that could support people the way an old fashioned family farm could. Nothing of any particular use like grain or oil seed was even stored on the property. They all got transported straight from the field to silos and storage far away. In a week they’d all be as hungry as the city folk if they couldn’t shop at the local market.

Very few people even had a personal garden, certainly not Coop workers. If you lived in company housing like the Hughes did you had a company ground crew do your little patch of yard weekly, and nobody was encouraged to even put a few flowers around their door. It just made extra work for the yard crew. Mostly they mowed your stuff right along with the grass. They didn’t have seed and supplies to fend for themselves come spring even if they could last until then, and without fresh deliveries of diesel fuel, which seemed unlikely, they couldn’t plant and harvest a full growing season even though they had the equipment.

The reason he switched plates with the Coop truck was law enforcement scanned plates continually. If he left the county in his personal truck he knew he’s be pulled over before he was a hundred kilometers from home and interrogated about his intentions. There weren’t officially internal passports, but if you didn’t have a destination that could be checked you could end up sitting in the local lockup for a few days. That seemed a bad idea right now.

They didn’t pull over agency vehicles. He knew that from experience, because he’d driven as far as south of Bakersfield and north of Modesto for parts and supplies and never been pulled over. His boss was OK, but a little dense. He had no doubt the man would never notice the plate switch. If things went as badly as he imagined they could get the truck might be sitting where he parked it a year from now and nobody the wiser.

He stopped at the Coop garage and topped his tanks off. Nobody was there and normally there was a second shift in the repair shop. The fuel was gravity fed from an above ground tank and needed no power. This was the first really serious illegal thing he’d done, stealing fuel. The plates were a minor matter in comparison. If they’d closed the gate and locked the place up it would have been messier, since he left his fob with his boss, but he knew the man would think of that first thing. It was just how his officious mind worked. He’d been mentally prepared to drive through the gate if he needed to get fuel, and had bolt cutters under the seat to unlock the nozzle, but he was glad to avoid all that.

The thought occurred to him that he might get supplies for the truck from the repair shop, but it was dark and he didn’t know where things were stored. He could delay and get caught in the act, fumbling around, looting the place. Jon quickly dropped the idea, not even checking to see if the building was locked up, and headed home.

His wife, Jenny, was familiar with his concerns they might have to leave the Coop some day, if not visibly enthusiastic about the idea.  She was aware he’d buried some things near the family vacation home they still owned north of Sacramento. His younger brother owned half of that still, but he didn’t expect to see the man and his family there for one simple reason. They lived in San Diego and he couldn’t see them making the journey with no advance warning at all that it was time to bug out.

When he arrived home he backed up right to the front door. No point in trying to be subtle now, he wanted to be on the road before every fool and his dog figured out what was going down. When he opened up the door there was soft luggage and cloth shopping bags filled and tied shut in a line all down the hall. There was a camping lantern filling the kitchen with light and his wife was still packing things from the pantry. It was a tremendous relief he wasn’t going to have to persuade her.

“I have most of the kitchen stuff done. Can you take these plastic bags and grab all the good blankets and some sheets from the bedroom? I already have your clothes and shoes in a couple bags there,” she said, pointing down the hall.

“Thank you, thank you for all the time you saved,” Jon said, hugging her.

“Of course,” she said, giving him a quick pat on the back with both hands and disengaging. “Hugs latter when we are safe. No time to waste now. Tell me about it on the road.”

Jon didn’t speed. He actually had to go a little faster than he’d have liked to not draw attention to them for going too slow. The truck would have gotten a little better mileage slower.

He related his view of the battle standing in the field to his wife as he drove. She related finding a functioning radio station after the big ground wave and being surprised they were calling it an earthquake and saying nothing at all to suggest hostile military action.

“That’s crazy,” Jonathan said. “The whole sky was lit up with reentry vehicles coming in from both directions. Nobody could mistake it for what it was.”

“How many people stand out in an open field like you and see the sky?” Jenny asked. “It was well after dinner and most shift workers would be inside after dinner. For that matter how many city dwellers have a good view of the sky down near the horizon? It’s all blocked with other buildings and signs and crap. And once the power was out the net would go down and those few people who caught it on their phone couldn’t post it for their friends to all see.”

“What is the point of hiding it?” Jon said. “It’s going to come out eventually.”

“Huh! The same point as what we’re doing,” his wife said. “They’re buying a few hours to set up and deal with it before the mob gets ugly. We’ll be at the cabin, God willing. I imagine they are trying to get all kinds of emergency power set up, at least for things like hospitals and police stations. They’ll be trying to call up National Guard units with no effective net or phone systems to reach them. Begging Vancouver for help just like they’ve been trying to get for the Gulf states back east. What we need to do we just may accomplish. I don’t give them much chance at all to get a handle on it. People are loath to go out in the night with no lights, They expect them to come back on. They always have before. But tomorrow morning a few people will start wondering if they shouldn’t be running for somewhere safer. By tomorrow night it’s going to be a mess.”

They rode in silence awhile through the night. There was almost no other traffic.

“There isn’t anything they could say to make it better,” Jon decided.

“Nope. Once people figure out the power and water aren’t coming back on for days, they will realize they have half a tank of gas or forgot to plug the car in to charge after work…and they have half a bag of corn chips and a couple past the best use date cans of beans dip, and the pizza place sure as hell isn’t delivering. Well, they’re going to go crazy.”

“I’m sorry, I thought maybe you didn’t get it the last couple years. I thought I might have to convince you to evacuate when I got home,” Jon admitted.

“I got it. I was just never comfortable talking about it. I’ve been the one to tell Cindy several times over the last couple years that if things ever got really bad to come to the chalet. Even if they have to walk there. I’m not sure our son-in-law gets it either, but I think Cindy does.

Jon grinned, as bad as things were. He never called the cabin the chalet. The stupid thing was as dated as could be by the architecture. The stupid thing looked like an old Dairy Queen from his youth. When his parents were alive it was considered stylish.

“LA is going to be a jungle,” he decided, dreading the vision.

“Not for long,” Jenny said. “The fire hydrants won’t work either.”

Nobody stopped them. The local police were too busy with other matters to stop an agency registered truck driving legally and carefully down the expressway through their jurisdiction. If they were a problem they would be somebody else’s problem soon.

Posted in Ramblings | 8 Comments

I’m putting another short up on Amazon.

About four old widows who can’t give back a time machine…


Posted in Ramblings | 12 Comments

Amazon pulled lending for Family Law

Sorry if this hurt anyone. My previous publisher failed to clear it off the Kobo site. It’s for sale but Amazon pulled it for lending until the link to that sale site is dead.

Posted in Ramblings | 2 Comments

Some books in KDP Select – EDITED

I have all my book rights back, so I enrolled all my shorts and the first book of each series in Select. It’ll be interesting to see how much they are borrowed.

Had such a good response I added them all.


Posted in Ramblings | 3 Comments

Something different – A short.

Just published a short story to Amazon.
“Adverse Possession”
Just a fun read unrelated to any other books or shorts. Set on Mars.
It will take a few hours to propagate through their system.



Posted in Ramblings | 9 Comments

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.

Posted in Ramblings | 8 Comments

It’ Always Something = UP on Amazon.

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


Posted in Ramblings | 16 Comments

Cover for new book –


Posted in Ramblings | 13 Comments

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.

Posted in Ramblings | 15 Comments