Extrication

February 9th, 2012

Extrication
by Robert Scoville
©2012 Robert Scoville

Pat looked out across the immense grandeur and beauty that is the grand canyon. A smile came to his lips, an ear twitching at the sound of crunching metal. He lowered his eyes to track the crumpling shape of his car, the last remnant of his former life. Once the car came to rest at the bottom of the canyon, hopefully even bouncing into the river, his old life would be gone.

Glass and fiberglass fell around and ahead of the car in a spray of tiny shards and small pieces broken off at each of the several crashes against the cliff wall. Pat watched as the twisted hulk hit bottom, rolled over twice and finally stopped. Another roll or two might have put it in the water. He willed the car to make that final flip, but it did not.

He didn’t grimace as another might at the vain expectation left unfulfilled, instead focusing on the victory he’d just won.

“I’m free,” he said. The soft words sparked a feeling so light and radiant that the words rumbled deep within him and came bursting out in a bellow. “I’M FREE!”

The feeling subsiding, Pat found his arms and face lifted upward. He glanced around in near shame, but no one was around. Of course he’d picked this time to drop his car off the cliff because no one was there. He couldn’t start his new life if there were witnesses to the death of the old one.

The words he bellowed echoed off the distant cliffs and came back to him in a rolling wave of exuberant cries, “I’m free!” they all said in turn. Pat’s smile deepened as he walked back to the parking lot.

Of course he had no car anymore, but he did have a bike and some provisions. They’d have to do to get him back to civilization.

Assuming he wanted to return. It was they after all who had turned his former life into such a ruin. Returning to them now would simply reattach him to his old life as though he’d never left it. Sure he had new clothes, a new bike, and a new outlook. Sure he’d thrown away everything he owned, even now his car, but those civilized people didn’t look at life the way he did. They didn’t see who he was, just the role he filled. Old or new, if he returned he’d just fill another role.

He couldn’t go back to his old role; he’d burned too many bridges there, the bridges being figurative and his cubicle more literal. The new him had been lucky to escape those ashes of his old life. Still, he couldn’t go back just to fill another role. That could easily resurrect his old self.

Pat mounted his bike, shouldered his pack and pedaled to the parking lot entrance. His options were: toward humanity or away from it? Right or left? The choice seemed so simple. It would be easy to jump back into the dance as his old self. Ashes though he was, they’d dust him off quickly enough and set him dancing with the rest of them. It would take longer but they’d even forget he’d ever left.

So, right or left? The other path would take him to sights unseen. He’d get lots of exercise, plenty of sun, perhaps a beard, maybe a few stories to tell when at last he returned to civilization, secure in his new self.

The weight of the dilemma surprised him. Pat thought he’d killed his old self already. Sure he had doubts, but they were supposed to die with his car. That should have ended it. Why was he tempted to head away from his new life?

The moment hung in the air until a realization overcame him. He hadn’t left everything behind. From under his shirt he pulled out an old crucifix that he’d worn longer than he could remember.

Pat climbed off his bike and pulled out a small shovel from his pack. He dug a small hole just under the sign at the entrance to the parking lot and dropped the crucifix in it. He knew he wasn’t giving up his faith, just that his faith required him to give up his emblem.

Standing over the hole, head bowed and hands clasped before him in prayer he said, “Here lay one Patrick Grant Henley. He was loved by some, hated by some, and hurt by many. May he rest in peace. Amen.”

He spared one last moment to fill the hole and pack the dirt with his shoe, before climbing on his bike. With his head turned away from civilization he took a deep breath before pressing down on the pedal. As he exhaled the first breath of his new life he said, “Now I’m free.”

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HomeReserve Questionnaire #1

January 29th, 2012

So I’m working toward my Master’s degree and I’ve come upon the time to do my Capstone Project. For this project I am doing a home inventory system for things like food storage, craft supplies or whatever consumable items are used at home. For this project I will need a user group that I can get some input, feedback and eventual software testing out of to help me make the most useful piece of software I can for this project. Without users I can make something that may be awesome for me but useless for anyone else, so users are absolutely wanted.

To that end, here is my First Questionnaire for users. If you want to participate, please send your completed questionnaires to me at: violin_jedi@yahoo.com.br

If my questions aren’t clear enough, feel free to ask me questions in the comments or whatever other means of contacting me you know so I can clarify and get the best feedback possible.

And a thanks to all who do participate!

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On Fuel Cell Criticism

July 25th, 2010

I recently saw a few articles which discussed fuel cell technology. I didn’t realize how advanced our current fuel cell technology is. Apparently, we already have cars and buses (among other things) that run on Hydrogen Fuel Cells. What this basically means is we have cars that you add liquid Hydrogen (I believe it is in the H2 form) as you would gasoline to a conventional car. Energy is extracted from the H2 resulting in engines that run without combustion. The only emission from this process is H2O, water.

So as my mind is whirring on the possibilities (and awesomeness!) of this revelation, the criticism sets in. I don’t think I’ve seen an article yet that didn’t criticize the technology, which I find somewhat suspect, especially since we’d like to use clean renewable energy rather than fossil fuels.

The first criticism is cost. Fine. Any new technology will be substantially more expensive than established technology, due in part to the economy of scale not having taken over yet. Fewer units sold means the units must be more expensive to pay the workers, designers, et. al. to live, eat, pay rent, etc. Of course, were this technology to hit mainstream, the costs would necessarily plummet, though probably not as fast or as low as most of us would like.

The second criticism is related to the first. Cars fueld by H2 must be in reasonable proximity to stations that provide H2, something which conventional gas stations aren’t equipped to provide. That means early adopters are forced to limit their lifestyles/travels to suit the availability of fuel stations. Again, once it hits the mainstream, fuel stations will become more abundant, rendering this objection moot.

The third criticism is somewhat valid… Today, tomorrow and probably all this year. H2 has to come from somewhere. Fuel stations can’t just set out a bucket and collect it as you would rain. Rather H2 is produced. And unlike the cars that run on fuel cells, producing H2 currently carries a cost in fossil fuels, with associated emissions. This is where many people take pause and think “Fuel cells are no better than conventional combustion engines.” Here is where they’re wrong!

Suppose there 140 million cars in the US today (that’s pretty close to the actual number). Many of these cars are from the 1990’s, 80’s, or even earlier. If a new engine came out today that cut emissions in half, doubled performance and even was easy to produce, how fast do you think we’d replace an adequate percentage of cars with these cleaner models? 10 years maybe? 20?

Suppose further that every five years we made similar leaps toward more efficient and cleaner use of fossil fuels, how much lag in the effect on air quality and other consequences would there be? Several years seems likely per each innovation.

Now suppose instead we move to fuel cells. There is a push for fuel stations to be provided with enough saturation to make switching to fuel cell cars viable to the masses and fuel cell cars are mass produced. This transition may even take 10 years or so if we push it.

Even if all that time we are producing H2 by burning fossil fuels, once the switch is complete, we have a real opportunity. If we come up with a cleaner way to produce H2, say with a clean energy source, the public doesn’t have to buy a new car or buy different fuel. The public can do exactly the same things and immediately benefit from the cleaner sources of energy.

The reason is indirection. With combustion engines, we are directly using the fuel to power our cars. But with fuel cells, we are indirectly using the fuel to power our cars. That means the ultimate source of that fuel can change at any time without altering how our cars work or what they run on.

So, today, tomorrow and all this year fuel cells are infeasible for the mass market. But if we can help fuel cells hit the mainstream, then our cars won’t just be indirectly burning fossil fuels (rather than directly), they could be burning wind, water, or solar power. They could be burning nuclear power. They could be burning any sort of power we can figure how to use to produce the fuel cell energy supply. And that would truly help wean us off of fossil fuels.

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I hit a road block a couple weeks back on writing my book. Seems I have a few important things about the world to figure out before I continue plotting and writing my book. Some of the things would even effect how my characters react to situations, so I really need to figure them out before pressing forward.

Due to the road block, I spent some time programming my writing software instead, but started feeling guilty for not writing. So, rather than getting discouraged at not figuring out all the important things yet, I’m writing some short stories to fill my writing time until I figure it all out.

One type of short story is called Flash Fiction. Flash Fiction is a bit ambiguously defined, but I like the definition of: Complete stories at no more than 1,000 words. Short stories have looser length requirements and could even range up to 10,000 words, though they tend more toward 3,000 – 5,000 words in length.

One nice thing about Flash Fiction, is you can write an entire story in a single evening. You can also have several stories in the works at a time, so you write one, revise another, write a third, revise the first, etc. Also, the short length make for excellent blog posts.

One final note. I’m not giving up on my book, just working on other things while I figure out those important details, so I keep in the writing habit and develop my skills for when I finally am ready again.

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New Stories Section

June 25th, 2010

As stated in an earlier post, I have 2 major projects right now, aside from family, work, and home responsibilities. The first is a program that will help me with my writing projects. Hopefully, as this software matures, it will also help others with their writing projects. My plan is to make the project open source when I have something reasonable ready for release. I’m a long way from that point, but I hope to have something usable within a month or so.

The second project is a book (which may actually be a trilogy). I’ve been trying to work out the details of the fantasy world, characters, and plot. It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Some days I can’t write at all, or develop my programming project. Those days are pretty tough. Even on days when I can write I can’t always work on the book. On those days I’m trying to write some short stories.

I’m not worried about getting the short stories published, so I’ll be posting them when I feel they’re about as done as I’m going to make them (then only the ones that are any good). To that end, I opened a “Stories” tab on my header, into which all my short stories will be dumped when I post them. And so the category won’t be empty, I posted some of my older stories written while I was yet in school.

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The Race

June 25th, 2010

The Race
by Robert Scoville
©2007 Robert Scoville

“The odds are three to one, against.” The old man chewed his cigar, switching it from the left to the right side of his mouth. “That’s as high as anyone’ll go.” A lump of ash fell from the cigar, landing halfway down the royal-purple suit the man wore. “Better place your bets now, kid, or move on. I got other business too.”

“Put thirty on Windsor,” I told him. His wry glance told me I’d regret my choice. I pulled out my wallet. Inside I had a driver’s license, a picture of my sister and her kid, and two crisp twenty Real notes. I handed the orange and yellow bills over to the man. “Just thirty,” I said. He gave me a wounded look as he pulled out the red bill labeled “10 Reais” and handed it over. I waited; everyone knew you had to wait for a receipt. The man grinned, his cigar hanging narrowly by the edge of his mouth. I tried to look innocent. The man’s crumbling smile indicated I wasn’t doing a good job of it. But I got my receipt.

Finding a place to stand was hard; so many people were crowded into this little back room. It reeked of cheap kashasa; men carried large green jugs of the stuff, drinking deeply and staggering afterwards. Others had already collapsed to the floor, vomit, urine, and feces adding their stench to the ambiance. I chose my steps carefully. The faint lighting and considerable crowd made seeing the floor difficult at best. Most of the men were at least a head taller and twice as thick as me.

Finally I wedged myself between two large men, the gap barely wide enough for me to breathe in. I didn’t care. I was small; so long as I didn’t press too hard into either of them, they wouldn’t even notice me. The barricade dividing the track from the patrons reached barely above my waist, but a barbed cage protruding from the top of the wall, overhanging the track ensured no fool drunk would disrupt the race.

The energy of the crowd was overbearing. I wished they would sound the bell and release the rats. The cheeses were prepared, attached to the little mechanical arms that circled the track, always out of reach. At least four of the rats were there, but I couldn’t see in all of the cages. Windsor’s cage was still empty, that much I knew. I wondered how much longer it would take. I glanced at my wrist and saw my subtle tan line where my watch usually was. Hoping nobody saw my slip, I stood erect and motionless, watching the track.

A spot light flashed on directly above the track, shining intensely down on the track. The heat it produced struck me like a wave and rippled off the track. Sweat began glistening on my face and rolling down my cheeks. The acrid smell of alcohol, vomit and worse was now joined by a slight tinge of cheddar. The room grew silent.

A bell pealed. Eight small doors shot open, revealing a thin rat in each. No sooner had the doors opened than the crowd exploded in cheers, shouts and curses. The cheese wielding arms took off around the track, rats chasing closely after them. Their thin bodies, bred for speed and starved to desperation, deftly rounded each curve and endured each straightaway. Windsor held second place for the first three turns, then fell to third as a smaller rat overtook him. At least, I assumed it was a him. What kind of a name would Windsor be for a female rat?

On the third lap, Windsor overtook the second place rat and made good headway at overtaking the rat for first. I prayed silently that he would make it. Three to one isn’t the worst set of odds for winning, but it did pay well. The bell sounded again as the first place rat began its final lap. Windsor was still second, but only a nose behind the leader. My muscles tensed and I found my hands firmly gripping the railing. Two curves left. My heart pounded in my ears, resounding over the deafening cries of the mob. One curve left. Windsor was still second. I tried to breathe calmly. The final straightaway. Please, please! I probably screamed it, but even my thoughts were drowned out by the roar of the crowd.

Shots fired across the track in the crowd. Yelling turned to screams as inebriated patrons ran and stumbled away from a dozen uniformed policemen. Some of the larger men confronted the officers but were tazered or beaten with nightsticks. I stood in shock while the cops made their way around the track. Windsor had won.

There was a back way out. Everybody knew that, probably even the cops. It’d be blocked off. Maybe there’d even be an armored car backed into the doorway so escapees can just run right into the trailer and wait to be taken to jail. No, I couldn’t go out that way.

Chaos was in my favor, I decided, and my size. I crouched down, making myself as small as I could and awaited the cops. They came, driving the mob toward the back door, beating anyone to the floor who raised a hand to fight. Those who’d passed out were ignored. I half-shut my eyes and tried to mimic a drunken snooze. The officers passed by me. When the closest was only ten feet away, I leaped to my feet and sprinted for the door.

Voices commanded me to stop; footfalls echoed behind me. I got to the door. A cop grabbed my shoulder from behind. I dropped to the ground. He overran me tripping on my hunched body. With him sprawled on the floor, along with the filth and the booze, I dashed out the door.

The cool summer night shocked my system after that hot, sweat and filth filled air of the race room. I ran as fast as I could. There was shouting for a while. Then there was only the pattering of my feet on cobblestone pavement and my heart pounding and my heavy breathing. What luck I had. Windsor won and I’d escaped the police. Too bad I’d never collect on that bet money.

After a few minutes, the adrenaline wore off and I began to feel very cold. Holding my arms, I began the long, backstreet, trek home.

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Insomnia

June 25th, 2010

Insomnia
by Robert Scoville
©2007 Robert Scoville

Sleepless again. I lay in bed, eyes pressed closed, but they want to open. I relent and look over at the clock. The dull red light faintly burns two thirty-seven into my searching eyes. Only two minutes. How much longer had it felt? The soft sound of my roommate breathing touches my ears. I think of him, resting peacefully on the lower bunk. My legs itch. I try not to move, not to shake the bed. I can’t stay here.

As smoothly as I can, I lift myself out of my sheets and drop to the floor. My legs absorb the fall so much I end up crouching. I glance at my roommate to make sure he’s still sleeping. Good, he is. Rising again, I take two silent steps to the door. Why do we always close it? Oh yeah, because the guys in the other room stay up later. I put my ear to the door, trying to hear any sound from the hallway. Nothing. They must all be in bed.

I open the door. It creaks a little and I cringe. My roommate shifts a little in his bed. I hold my breath, heart pounding in my chest. The dull red glow now reads two thirty-eight. I wait until it says two thirty-nine. Then I step into the hallway.

The hallway opens up into a larger room. All is dark save the pale blue light of the moon shining through the sliding glass door. I approach it, careful not to step on anything. These guys rarely put things where they belong. This time it’s just a few out of place blankets and pillows to climb over. I get to the door and slide it open. It makes a low rumbling sound. Cool air rushes over me.

I step out onto the balcony. Stretched from corner to corner is a large twine hammock. Another reminder. I step over it to get to the railing. The cement cools my feet, distracting my mind and I look.

The city is beautiful at night, buildings and streets reflecting the moon and the stars, air crisp and cool, sharpening the view. Down the street, I see a light on in a room on the third story. I wonder who lives there and what they’re doing up. There’s a picture on a mantle. Shadows move across the wall, but the angle is to high. I stand on the ledge to get a higher view. I reach out, holding to the wall for support. I still can’t see.

There is a noise. I look around. People are walking from the other end of the street. I get down off my perch, and step back. I watch them as they pass. I hear conversation. The cool air heightens my hearing, but distant noise of cars makes what they’re saying unintelligible. Where are they going, I wonder. I watch them to the other end of the street until they turn the corner. I look back to the window. The light is still on.

It must be late. I creep back into my room. The clock now reads two fifty-five. My eyes begin to droop. My heart is still racing as I climb back onto the top bunk, careful not to shake it. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Why do my legs itch again? I try to ignore them. Now my palm itches… and my back. I grumble and scratch those and other places that insist on itching.

I lay back down, breathing evenly, my heart racing, a dull thud-thud-thud of blood echoes in my ears. I think of the window. There were shadows. Who in their right mind would be awake at three a.m? I glance at the clock. Okay, not quite three a.m., but it’s not really my fault.

My heart is quiet finally. The only sound is of my roommate’s breathing. His nose whistles as he exhales. It’s a tiny high pitch sound. There it is again. And again! Blast, can’t I think of anything besides his breathing? Oh, now my legs itch again.

I get out of bed and leave the room, less carefully. I go back to the balcony and look for that third story window. I find it, but the light is out. Well… at least someone is getting some sleep. I wait a while, ten, fifteen minutes? Hoping someone else will walk down the street or turn on a light. That would at least give me something interesting to look at.

The city is so beautiful at night. The stars, the moonlight, the distant sounds. The stillness. Everything is still, except for a faint distant buzz. Like me. I would be sleeping if it weren’t for the buzz in my head. Thoughts, feelings, questions, pondering, all keeping me awake. A cloud passes a little over the top of a building and blocks a piece of the moon.

Good, finally something to look at.

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Happily Ever After

June 25th, 2010

Happily Ever After
by Robert Scoville
© 2007 Robert Scoville

A cool morning breeze brushed across Tania’s face, gently pulling a few strands of loose hair back behind her ears. Tugging her shawl around her, she pursed her lips and stared fixedly toward the eastern sky. In the distance, several birds, black against the lightening horizon, had taken flight. She watched them a moment, then looked down to her right hand where she held tightly to a note. The paper was worn and ragged, from being folded, wrinkled, and dampened a hundred times. Lifting the note up, Tania read it softly. “Princess Tania,” her eyes vaguely passed over the words as she repeated them. “Please excuse my absence and the quickness of my departure. Regretfully, I received word that the Princess of Evrain has been captured and my services are needed to accomplish her safe return. I would have given you this message in person, but the thought of disturbing the visage of your sleeping perfection was unbearable. I expect that I shall not be gone more than a week. You may look for me in the east on the seventh dawn. Yours Humbly, Fynn Kenley.”

The Princess of Evrain, She thought. Is she the one who keeps getting captured by witches or dragons? Or maybe she’s one of those sleeping beauties. If he thinks he can run around, kissing princesses! Her hands trembled as her face flushed. Slamming her hands down on the window sill, she let out an exasperated groan. Who does he think he is? Running off like that? If he ever hopes to marry me and live happily ever after, this saving of other women has to STOP! Looking down, she uncurled her fists and straightened the note again. I just wish he were back.

Princess. To Fynn, she already was one. No matter how many times she had told him she was a farmer’s daughter, he always came back to calling her that. Princess. Of course, she would be one when they were married. And she did look the part. Her face was perfectly smooth, almost defying age. She had silky mahogany colored hair and eyes like emeralds. Her posture was always perfect and she carried herself in a way that looked majestic, no matter what she wore. Today though, she wore a fine white silk dress with gold trim and a matching shawl. It was one of a score of dresses that had been made for her since her arrival.

The sun began to peek over the horizon. The pinks that had filled the sky gave way to oranges and yellows. Tania looked down and saw only clouds and stone, shining in the morning sun. From this window that was all she could ever see below her. The stones were almost as white as the clouds they sat on, stacked in neat arrangements and ornately carved. Beneath the clouds were miles of sky. Miles of sky! The distance struck her. She panicked. Backing away from the window, she struggled for breath. Dizziness swallowed her and she began to feel sick. She staggered for her bed, almost missing and hitting the bedposts. She lay there several minutes, waiting for the throbbing in her head to subside. Just breathe, just breath, just…

She wasn’t always afraid of heights. Or at least she didn’t think so. When she first arrived at Arella Castle she had longed for a sight of the ground. Some servants told her the best view of green earth was from the tallest towers on the west wing. So, one afternoon, she climbed the many stairs to the parapet of the tallest tower. After stepping out of the stairwell, she only remembered a brief glimpse of green, then blacking out and waking up in her bed with Fynn sitting worriedly over her. Though she begged, he refused to tell her what happened or how she’d gotten there. All he would say was “Promise me you won’t go up there alone ever again. Promise me… please.” And she did. Since then, she tried desperately not to think of heights, or hang too far out windows.

Her head and stomach began to settle. She sat up tentatively. Now I’ve probably missed him. The note! She ran to the window. Below there was a tiny white piece of paper, fluttering about as it fell. No! She watched it, willing the wind to bring it back. But it only fell further.

“How is my dulcet darling?”

She spun, eyes wide in shock. Then a smile washed across her face and she ran. “Oh, Fynn, Fynn, my darling!” She threw herself into him. He grunted softly as he caught her, but his muscular figure hardly shifted as he absorbed her into an embrace.

“Were you watching?” he asked.

“Yes, my dear. But I got sick and had to lay down.”

“You shouldn’t worry about how high we are sweetheart.” Fynn said gently. “Even if you fell from the window, and waited a whole minute to scream, Fleta would catch you before you came within a mile of the ground. She’s…”

“Please,” Tania interrupted, putting her forefinger to his lips to silence him. “Enough talk of heights. I can’t think about that right now.”

“As you wish, my honeysuckle.” He gave her a dashing smile, white teeth gleaming brilliantly in the reflected sunlight.

“So,” Tania hesitated. “Tell me of your adventures since you left me.”

Fynn gave her a pained look. “My sweet, I could never leave you. I carried with me a lock of your hair to keep me company. And each day was filled with longing for the hour where you would again fill my arms the way you fill my heart.”

She smiled pleasantly at him. “I’m glad you weren’t alone on your journey then. But, you haven’t told me what this journey was. What happened to Evrain’s princess?”

“Well,” he began. “The king’s eldest daughter was taken by a dragon.” He paused as she shivered visibly. “It was only a young green dragon, nothing like the ancient red one I saved you from, beloved. But it had flown far and it took half the week to get to its nest. Twas a pitiful creature though. It had little real fight in it. But the princess was quite grateful to be rescued.”

“She was, was she?” Tania’s eyes narrowed at him. “How did she go about showing it?”

“Oh, she. Uh… Well, you see… She…” Fynn cleared his throat and looked around.

“Yes?” Tania prompted.

“She, uh… Kind of… danced.” That last word he said almost to quietly to be heard.

“She – danced?” She gave him a quizzical look.

“Yes, it was quite a lovely dance too, though I imagine if you learned it, it would be lovelier.”

“Nice. And how did you appreciate this dancing?”

“Well, I found it, uh… Unexpected.” He pulled at his collar, as if to relieve pressure about his neck, but two buttons already lay undone.

“She couldn’t have expressed her thanks in terms of gold? Or maybe cattle?”

“Nonsense, my dear. We have no need for gold here. And cattle? Who would care for them?”

“Oh, never mind then. Is that what took you so long then? Her – dancing?”

He turned red. Or did the lighting just change? “Well, she only danced the one evening. The journey to the dragon’s nest and back is what took the week.”

“I see.” Her smile sweetened again. “Fynn, my dear. Isn’t there anyone else they can call when there’s trouble?”

“They who?”

“You know… Kings, princesses, damsels. The whole lot of them. Isn’t there another knight in shining armor that can come to the rescue?”

“I suppose there are others, but… Why? I’m quite good at it.”

“Yes you are, my dear, but – couldn’t you take some time off?”

“Well,” he thought a moment. “In the last month I’ve faced dragons, sorcerers, witches, evil stepmothers and broken several enchantments. That’s pretty much the whole assortment. Why, I even helped find a farm girl who’d lost a glass slipper. It should take at least another week for a crisis to come up.”

“Yes, well, I suppose you’re right. But – if something does come up?”

“I don’t know who else to send them too. Besides, my dear, why shouldn’t I help them?”

“Darling, we are to be married in only five weeks. There’s still so much to do and I’m only a farmer’s daughter. I don’t know what is expected or how to do it. Couldn’t you stay here and help me see to the arrangements for our wedding?”

“Yes my dear, I shall do my best. I’ll ask Linette to help you see to what I cannot.” He gave her another dashing smile. Tania hoped he didn’t give that dancing princess girl that same smile when she was “thanking” him.

“Thank you.” She said. “Well, you must be very hungry, battling dragons and such, won’t you have breakfast with me?”

“That would be delightful.” He turned to lead her out. His shoulder length blond hair tossed as he spun. Tania positively tingled from his beauty. He had to be the most handsome man she had ever seen. And in only five weeks, he’d be hers… That is, if he can stop saving women long enough to marry me.

He led her down the hallways from her bedchamber to the stairs that led to the dining hall. As they went, Tania began thinking of all the arrangements that had to be made for the wedding: Her dress still needed to be made, the guests needed to be invited, there was the feast to plan, the priest to hire, and on and on.

Tania shook herself. There was a commotion in the entrance corridor. “Lord Prince! Lord Prince!” was all she could make out, but there was a lot of shouting. Fynn hurried off to see what was the matter. Tania chased after him. They came to the doorway and were met by four men, one disheveled, battered and dirty, and three servants struggling to hold him.

“Lord Prince! Please. There is trouble in Niall. Ogres Lord. They came from the mountains.” His breath was loud and ragged, but he still managed to shake two of the servants off and take a step forward. The look in his eyes was one of desperation and terror. Guards came rushing around the corner, clubs and shields at the ready. “Lord, please! Help us!”

Fynn took a slight step forward and raised his hand, signaling his servants and guards to stand down. The one servant who managed to keep hold of the man released him and stepped back. “Tell me,” Fynn said. “Who are you? What is an ogre, and why do you need my help with them?”

Tania kept back, listening to the conversation. The man introduced himself as Boden, from some place she’d never heard of. She agonized as he told of twenty gigantic, hideous creatures wielding trees as clubs, smashing and burning villages, taking food and gold and leaving only death in their wake. He fled with his village, seeking refuge or help, and found neither. They finally took shelter in a cave, that had an opening too small for ogres. But the ogres set watch so they couldn’t leave to get provisions. This was when he volunteered to run off and seek help. The ogres almost caught him but he got lucky.

“This sounds a dire situation indeed.” Fynn said. “How long can your people survive before they need provisions?”

“I’m afraid we are out, my Lord. We’ve no food, no water. Each day that passes means the lives of my people.” Boden’s head was bowed and his voice was pleading. “Please lord, we cannot fight them.”

Fynn glanced at Tania. Her eyes begged him not to go. He looked pleadingly back at her. An eternity seemed to pass. Boden looked back and forth between them. Finally, she sighed. “Go,” she said quietly.

“Boden,” Fynn said.

“Lord?”

“I will need an hour to make preparations to leave. You will lead me to this cave of your’s. There we will take care these… Ogres?”

“Yes, Lord. Thank you, my Lord. But Lord, how many will accompany us?” Boden asked.

“I will go alone with you as my guide,” was the response.

“But, Lord? There are twenty of them! They are mighty! I will be of little use.”

“That will not be a problem Boden.” Fynn smiled at him. The smile seemed to calm him. His breathing quieted for the first time. “Trust me. I have never been defeated.”

With that, Fynn marched off toward the stables. Tania followed after him. “Please, you only just arrived. We haven’t even had breakfast yet! Can’t this wait?”

“You heard his tale,” Fynn replied. “I’m sorry, love. I have to go. We’ll have dinner when I return.” Coming to the large door to the stables, Fynn opened it and went in.

“Oh! – I’m coming with you!” she cried.

“No!” Fynn called back. “I will not have you endanger yourself! What if you fell off the pegasus? What if an ogre got you? Or something worse?” He turned to face her. His eyes glistened. “No, Tania. I won’t have it.”

“I’m coming. And you can’t stop me.” She turned her face up in the smuggest expression she could manage. “Even if you lock me in my room, I’m still coming.”

“Dearest,” Fynn said soothingly. “You know I couldn’t do that. But if you insist on following me, I’ll have you locked out of the stables. No mount, no leaving – no danger.”

“That’s not fair!” she protested. “Why can’t I go? I promise to stay out of the way. I just want to see you.”

“We will see each other… when I get back. I won’t be long this time.” Fynn smiled again and began saddling a silver-dapple pegasus. Tania gave up arguing and returned to her room to sulk. An hour passed and Linette came to tell Tania the Prince was ready to depart.

“Oh, go away!” Tania sobbed.

“My Lady,” Linette said. “What is the matter? Are you afraid for Prince Fynn? You needn’t be. He is the strongest, brightest, quickest fighter in all the land.”

“That’s just it,” Tania cried. “He’s always proving that; running off and saving other people… Other women. We haven’t had two days together since I got here. And… Oh Linette! I love him!”

“Well, of course you do child.” Linette said . “You are going to marry him, aren’t you?”

“Am I? How can I marry him when we don’t even know each other?” Her eyes were glistening, tears streaming down her cheeks. Her voice was hoarse. “How can he marry me? Does he even love me?”

“Yes, child. He loves you. There, there. Don’t cry.”

“Then why does he keep running off? Why can’t he stay here? Why can’t I go with him? This isn’t how it’s supposed to be!”

“My dear, what do you mean? Go with him? How is it supposed to be?”

“You know,” Tania said. “Like the story books. The beautiful girl or princess is taken by a horrible witch or dragon or spell or something and the knight in shining armor comes to the rescue and saves her. He takes her home to his castle and they live happily ever after.”

“Those must be wonderful stories,” Linette said. “I wish I could read so I could learn them.”

“Oh, Linette,” Tania said. “Don’t you understand? I’m that girl. I was carried off by a dragon and given up for dead. Then Prince Fynn came along. He slew the dragon and carried me home to his castle. Now, we’re to be married, just like the stories. But Linette, that’s where it all went wrong!”

“How do you mean, dear?” Linette asked.

“Well, the stories say the prince or knight in shining armor saves only the one girl. He loves only her. They live happily ever after, the end! But, Fynn keeps on saving girls! Where’s our ending? He’s kissed those sleeping beauties more times than he’s kissed me!”

“Oh dear, how awful!” Linette exclaimed. “But, Tania that’s just his job. It’s what he does.”

“How is it his job?” Tania said. “Don’t you think it’s strange that that Evrainian princess keeps getting captured by dragons? What if another prince saved her? Would they live happily ever after without her ever getting captured again? I think he’s getting in the way.”

“Now don’t be silly.”

“He’s just shopping around for a princess he likes better.” Fresh tears appeared in her eyes.

“Tania!” Linette eyes her sharply. “I was Fynn’s nurse-maid when he was a babe, and I’d say I still know him as well as anyone could. I’ve never seen him care about someone so much as he does for you.”

“Really?” Tania asked.

“Really. That’s why he doesn’t want you going with him. He wants you safe. And you would do well to not worry so much. Besides, Fynn’s not taking off this time to save a girl; he’s going to save a village. Don’t you think that’s different?”

“Well, I suppose.”

“Well, then. Shall we go down and give our fine prince a decent farewell?” Linette asked.

“Yes. I’ll be along in a minute.” Tania said. Linette got up to leave. Tania watched her walk out of the room. Then she pulled out a piece of paper scribbled some words quickly and sealed it. Tucking the letter in her dress she rushed to see Fynn before he left. After Fynn’s departure, she gave the letter to Linette with strict instruction to give it only to Fynn when he returned.

Standing again at her window, she looked out toward the eastern horizon. No hills broke the broad curve that divided earth from sky. Fynn left to the south-west, so she couldn’t see him in the distance, but she knew he was still close. Too early. Just wait a little longer. Some minutes passed and she decided it was time. Just breathe, just breathe, just… She closed her eyes and climbed onto the window sill. Deny me a mount, will you? Her breath caught and she hesitated. Nausea pulled at the edge of her mind. Fleta will… She moved her foot forward. Oh, what am I doing?

“My Lady? What are you…” It was Linette. Tania turned and saw her. As she opened her eyes, that nauseating sense of height overwhelmed her and she collapsed backward, out the window. “My Lady!” was all she heard.

Terror and nausea flooded her mind and she screamed. The air whipped by as she fell faster and faster. Her life flashed before her. They weren’t images exactly, more like words in a book. She flipped to the last page. “The End,” it said. No! Happily ever after! It can’t just say “The End!” She screamed more loudly.

She was still muttering something about “happily ever after” when her nausea subsided. Finding herself laying on something soft, she opened her eyes. Under her, she saw the pristine white mane of Fleta, the pegasus. Around her large feathery wings beat vigorously. Beneath them, still immeasurably far away, was the green landscape, full of countryside and forests. Fleta’s wings beat harder and they started to rise. Tania saw the castle above her, too small for words; she must have fallen a long ways. Fleta began heading back towards it when Tania felt another wave of nausea hit her.

“No, Fleta,” Tania said, fighting to keep her mind. “We can’t go back to the castle yet.” Fleta gave her a questioning glance, then tossed her head to give Tania the reins. “Good girl. Do you know which way the mountains are?” Fleta nodded her head to the side. “Okay. Let’s go then. Don’t worry. They know where I’m going. It’ll be okay.”

Fleta turned again and carried Tania away from Arella Castle toward the distant mountains. Tania squeezed her eyes shut and gripped the reins tightly the whole way, trying not to pass out.

*     *     *

Fynn was only gone for half a day this time. He returned to the frightened tales of Princess Tania’s fall from the window. Fleta was gone so they supposed she was safe, but she hadn’t returned. In the chaos, Linette forgot to give Fynn Tania’s letter. By the time she remembered Fleta had returned, alone. She only remembered then because she was washing her uniform from that day and found it in her pocket.

The letter was short, but Fynn read it several times. His eyes raced over the letters time and time again. “What does it say, my Lord?” Linette finally asked.

“It says ‘My Dear Prince Fynn, Our story needs its happily ever after. Since it didn’t work out right last time, I’m starting over. I’ll be in the mountains. I’m sure I’ll run into trouble since that’s where it all seems to come from. If you truly love me, as I love you, please come for me. Fleta will know where I am. Forever yours, Princess Tania.’”

Linette’s eyes were wide. “She’s gone to the mountains?”

“That’s what it says,” Fynn said. “What does she mean by ‘happily ever after?’”

“She said it’s like the story books.” Linette said. “You saved her from the dragon and now she wants to live happily ever after.”

“What? She’s not happy?” Fynn looked confused.

“No, well, yes. I mean, she is happy, my Lord, but she wants it to be like the stories.”

“But, this isn’t a story! What does she expect?”

“How can you be so sure? I think she expects you to save her again, marry her and stop saving other girls.”

“But if I don’t save them, who will?” he asked.

“Other princes. There must be as many princes out there as there are princesses.”

“But, what if they can’t save them?” he protested.

“Oh, you great fool! I beg your pardon my Lord, but you are a great fool! How often do you run off to save the same princess from the same distress? While, here you have the most beautiful woman at home, who loves you. You love her too, you know! You’ve done your part so stop running around with other women. Let some other prince save them. Maybe you’re just getting in the way. Maybe they keep getting in trouble so their prince can save them and they can live happily ever after like you were supposed to.”

Fynn looked at her. “You mean I was only supposed to save Tania?”

“I don’t know, but maybe, yeah.” Linette said. “Now you need to save her again and finally have your happily ever after.”

Fynn stared wordlessly at her for a moment, then turned and ran to Fleta. “Take me to Tania,” he said when he got there. Fleta flew him to the mountains. It was in an especially dark and misty area where Fleta set down. “You mean you brought her here?” Fleta only gave him a shrug with her wings.

Ahead of him, shadows moved. He heard shrieks, and growls. He drew his sword. It glowed brightly in the dank mist. “Hang on Tania. I’m coming.” Here it goes, he thought. He stepped forward. An enormous bear with bird-like wings and a beak sprang from the shadows, claws slashing and beak stabbing. Ready for it, Fynn dodged the attack and sliced with his blade. He connected and the bear-creature fell to the earth. He took another few steps and was attacked by a creature that was all bones and sinew. He hacked it to pieces, but it kept moving until he’d ground it into the mud.

Every few steps, he was attacked by some previously unheard of creature. He defeated every one of them. As he went, his love for Tania grew. Maybe this is just a story, he decided. Maybe this is just some “land far away” in a magical “once upon a time.” Come to think of it, I’m not even sure what year it is. This must be near the end of their story. Each turn of his blade dropped another foe, no matter how widely he swung it. Every step took him closer to Tania. And he would save her.

He came to a clearing. Tania was seated in the middle. Bound and gagged. Of course! He thought. They’re always bound and gagged or sleeping or something in stories. That makes it the hero’s job to untie or wake them… And I’m the hero! A pity she’s not sleeping. I would have liked to kiss her. He ran for her. Her eyes went wide. She jerked her head to the right. He looked. Stupid! He cursed himself. There’s always the master villain at the end! He turned his sword just in time. The creature had large bat-like wings, powerful lion’s feet, a dragon’s tail and three heads.

The creature attacked; each head striking from a different angle. Fynn deflected one with his sword and another with his shield. The third found his shoulder and bit down hard. He yelled in pain. Yes! He thought. The best endings always come at a price! “Ouch,” was an after thought. He swung his blade, now glowing incandescently, and lopped off the head that bit him. The creature staggered back; its turn for pain.

Extending its wings, the creature took to the sky, the eyes of the remaining heads glowing red. One of the heads began to spit fire. Fynn ran for shelter. Tania cowered where she sat. Tania! Fynn turned and whistled. Fleta was there in an instant. Fynn mounted her and they soared in pursuit of the creature. Fleta darted in and out of the monster’s fireballs, until they got close enough for Fynn to make another attack.

His blade shown as he swung it again at the creature. A wing dropped from its side, and the creature fell to the ground. Fleta followed, Fynn on her back. The creature was close to Tania. Tania! Fynn leaped from Fleta to the rear of the monster. Slicing again with his sword, the tail fell from the monster’s body. It turned to face him. The eyes were glowing red. My shield! Where is it?

A fireball flew at him and he caught it full in the chest. It burned through his clothing and he fell back to the ground. Why do I always have to lose my shield? Pulling himself to his feet, he saw the monster was now between him and his sword. My sword too, apparently. Now what do I do? The creature lunged and Fynn jumped, landing on its back. Turning around, he began strangling one of the remaining heads. The monster thrashed, bucking and beating him with its remaining wing.

The claw on the wing found his back and he fell off, writhing in pain from the fresh wound. The creature reared for another lunge. He saw a metallic glint beside him. Good – time for the climactic finish! The creature roared as it charged. “I HAVE NEVER BEEN DEFEATED!” Fynn yelled. Reaching out his hand, he grabbed the blade and swung.

The world went quiet. Both Fynn and the monster froze. Then the two heads fell to the ground, and their body slowly slumped in a heap. Fynn stood erect, bleeding from his back and shoulder and blackened in front. He dropped his sword and hurried to Tania. He untied her but her eyes were closed and she wasn’t moving. He could hear her breathing though, so he bent down and kissed her. She opened her eyes and smiled. “I knew you would come,” she said. “And I wasn’t sleeping.”

“Of course, I did. I’m your prince, after all.” He smiled back at her. That dashing, beautiful smile. “I understand now,” he said. “I’m sorry it took so long.” She melted in his arms and they embraced. Fynn winced as she squeezed his wounds too tightly. “Easy! Wounds still hurt in stories!” She let go and hugged him more gently, careful to avoid the burns too. After several minutes, Fleta started grunting and whickering. “Yes, well… She’s right. Let’s go home Tania.”

So, the Prince took Tania home to his castle in the clouds upon Fleta, the white pegasus…

 

And they lived Happily Ever After… Finally.

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Two New Projects

June 3rd, 2010

I’ve been busy of late, working on a number of things. First, I have my work and family that take up most of my time. Next, I’m in graduate school. Finally, I have a house with a yard that desperately needs care, which results in too many mandatory projects.

But, in the evening, when the kids are in bed, the homework is done (or being procrastinated), and the sun is setting, I have a couple hours to do – whatever. Okay, there’s dishes, cleaning and other stuff indoors, but that usually doesn’t happen while the kids sleep since they’re pretty light sleepers at indeterminate points in their cycle.

So with those couple of hours per day, I have two projects I’m working on. Neither one is really new, but I’m taking a fresh start on both of them.

The first project is a novel I’m calling “Bloodseal” for now. It’s about a high school kid named Braeden, who discovers he’s the living vessel for an old and powerful demon. He then must decide whom he can trust, pick sides in a war, and find the secret to controlling his newfound power before he loses himself to the demon.

The second project is for all those times when I sit down at the computer to write, but for one reason or another just can’t do it. It is a software development project. The software I hope to create is writing software. There are so many features I see writing software out there having, and many of them are good features, but what I haven’t seen (at least not inexpensively or without other complications), is a specific list of features I’ll be putting in my software. I’ll be writing it in Java, so hopefully I can find many plugins to do the hard work.

Some things I’d like this software to do:

  • Run on Windows, Linux, or Mac (I use Linux primarily at home)
  • Basic text editing and formatting (like Wordpad)
  • Tree oriented document structure
  • Full screen editing (bye bye distractions)
  • Skin-able backgrounds to get you in the mood to write (ie. not the same blue and gray windows you look at while doing technical work)
  • Version control (this includes tagging versions of documents as part of drafts)
  • Form inputs: ability to define forms, ability to easily use them to manage story data
  • Hot web interfaces to dictionaries, thesauruses, encyclopedias, search engines, etc.
  • Storyboard/Timelines
  • Other features as time and energy permit

So, that’s what I’m up to. I’ll likely be posting more about these projects in the future.

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I don’t understand the immigration debate/issue. It seems to me in a world of issues that come in so many shades of gray, this one is clearly black and white (no, not a racist remark). The way I see it, immigration is actually two issues:

1) National security. The first and most important thing in national security is securing the borders. That means patrolling it with such forces as the coast guard, border patrols, etc. For the most part, this should be sufficient. In parts of the border where patrolling isn’t enough of a deterrent to illegal border crossing, building walls, fences, etc. should be employed. That way, we can track the comings of anyone across the border.

This doesn’t mean of course that we don’t want people crossing the border. We just want to know who, when, where, etc. plus have control so if there is someone crossing we don’t want to (ie. drug lords, murderers, terrorists, etc.) we can actually stop them.

2) Immigration itself. From everything I can glean from the debate as it stands today, nobody is saying we don’t want people coming here. Sure, Republicans stress they don’t want them coming illegally, and Democrats call them racists for it (something I really, really don’t understand), but no one is saying they shouldn’t be here, just that they shouldn’t be here illegally.

Immigration reform then presents really only two problems. First, those that are already here illegally. What do we do with them? Do we simply give them amnesty, thereby supposedly rewarding bad (and illegal) behavior? Do we throw them out but let them come back legally somehow? Do we “send them to the back of the line” but put them on a path to legal status?

Second, what to do about actual immigration laws. I’m no legal expert, but I’d say here is where we need to do the most work (aside from securing the borders). We obviously need a sane and reasonable set of immigration laws. These may include such things as quotas (though I doubt we care that much), or at least provisions for quotas in the future should we need them. They should include reasonable requirements that people can actually satisfy without having to marry a citizen, prove the marriage is anything but a legal maneuver, and manage not to have that spouse die for 5-10 years. The process should probably include provisions of legal, productive activity (or at least good faith efforts toward such), and swearing loyalty to the country. This really shouldn’t take more than a couple years to prove the person is law abiding, desiring to work, as loyal as the next guy, etc. Again, I don’t know how that law would work but we need it.

Back to the first issue. Given that our laws are insane right now (and broadly unenforced when it comes to Latinos coming from Mexico), I don’t think it’s right to punish those that have come here illegally, just for the sake of pretending to uphold the law. As Democrats are fond of pointing out, most of these are hard working, law abiding (except for the immigration thing) people who just want a better life. I don’t think granting some variety of an amnesty-like thing to these people is rewarding bad behavior. I’m in favor of it. Of course, “reform” can’t include only this, otherwise we’re left with the same problem, using the amnesty “solution” every 15-20 years.

If we secure our borders, discouraging illegal immigration, give those already here a path to citizenship (not just meaningless hurtles), and provide reasonable immigration laws that will encourage legal immigration, then we might just solve our problem once and for all. And as a benefit, we would stem the flow of drugs and drug related violence that’s swamping our southern border.

It doesn’t seem like such a complicated issue. I’m sure the exact wording of the law will need to be delicate, but I’m sure we can all agree on the principles, assuming of course we actually WANT to solve it (More on that later).

In short, we have a great house and people want in. Let’s just close the windows and open the doors!

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