Friday, July 3, 2015

Some thoughts on bullying

This'll be a bit more off-topic than I usually get here, but I just saw something on YouTube that kind of hit close to home.


I was bullied almost every day in elementary and junior high, just because I wore glasses, was physically weaker than almost everyone else, and didn't care about sports ... and as a result I was never able to fit in no matter how hard I tried. I was much more interested in reading and writing and sci-fi movies and TV shows, so that made me a "nerd" and a target of relentless bullying. It was only occasionally physical, most of the time it was just constant verbal harassment and threats and insults. And when you're only six or seven or eight years old, that hits as hard as any punch. Add to that the fact of the bullies being physically stronger than you, and that leads to constant fear of being pounded into the floor if you try to fight back.

For a while I did what I was always told to do: tell the teacher when someone wouldn't leave me alone. Most of the time, that made no difference at all. The teachers would just shrug and say, "I have to catch them in the act before I can do anything." The problem was, they almost never caught the bullies in the act. Those little fuckers were masters of avoiding being caught. They had that shit down to an art. So they almost never got caught, and my grades suffered because I was too busy being distracted by kids hurling insults at me, or threatening to beat me up or stab me in the back with a pencil, or throwing things at me. All because I wasn't exactly like them. That made me a target, and once they found out that they could get under my skin, they never let up. It would sometimes get to the point where the sheer frustration and rage would make me start crying, and then those evil bastards would zero in on that and step the bullying up a few more notches.

So, telling the teachers what was going on didn't work most of the time. And a few times, the teacher actually accused me of lying. When I tried to follow the rules and do the right thing, one teacher actually said, "Stop telling me things that aren't true." Another time, a girl was picking on me without letup. Nothing I said convinced her to stop, and I'd always been taught that it was wrong to hit a girl. So I walked over to the teacher, told him what was going on, and asked him to make her leave me alone. What did he do? He yelled across the entire classroom at her and told her to stop picking on me. As you can probably guess, this resulted in every other kid in the class pointing at me and laughing their asses off. All it did was make me an even bigger target.

Eventually I realized there was no point in trying to get teachers to stop what was happening. They would either just not believe me, or their actions would make things even worse. After that, I tried to do another thing I was told all the time -- "just ignore them." Which didn't work at all, either. The more I tried to ignore them, the more determined they became to break me.

Another thing I was told fairly often was to just fight back. If some kid won't leave you alone, just knock him onto his ass. In fact, when my family was packing up to move out of that town, one of the reasons we left being the constant bullying I had to endure, one of my parents' neighbors asked me why we were leaving. I started to explain that one of the reasons was most of the school picking on me. He interrupted and told me that was a bunch of bullshit and I should just kick their asses.

Well, on the very rare occasions when I finally snapped and tried to fight back, that was the moment the teachers would finally turn around and look at the kids and see what was happening. They'd see me retaliating against a bully, without seeing the bully's actions that prompted it, and punish me for instigating something or "responding inappropriately." Which would not only show the bullies that they could get away with their constant abuse, but that their victim would be punished for defending himself.

Leaving that aside for a moment, there was a whole other problem. It was usually me against a dozen or more bigger, stronger kids in the class. I knew even when I was a little kid that the only way fighting back against them could've ended was with me being beaten within a quarter-inch of my life. So ... telling the teachers only made it worse. Trying to ignore it only made it worse. And fighting back only made it worse.

I pretty much had a complete breakdown near the end of eighth grade. I shudder to think what might've happened if I'd had access to a gun when I was that age. I certainly spent enough time thinking up extremely violent revenge fantasies. But guess what? Acting on those impulses would've only made things worse. So I was screwed no matter what.

And it never ended until my family moved to a different town, a town which turned out to be a pisshole in its own right, but it was still a step up from the one I grew up in, and I didn't have to put up with bullying from the other kids anymore. There, the bullying came from certain members of the school's staff, so it was kind of like ... I was in a different toilet, but it was still the same old shit.

And it continues into adulthood. Since the pisshole town I lived in is populated mostly by the meanest, most abusive excuses for human beings you could have the misfortune to encounter (they're not all bad; a small handful of the people in that town are very close friends, and there's probably a few dozen out of the whole population who are decent people ... but the rest, I learned over the next twenty years after landing my first job, if they were on fire I wouldn't even piss on 'em to put the fire out), the bullying just took on different forms from different sources. For the most part, it was the customers I had to deal with every day -- rude, condescending, snappy, entitlement-whores who would flip out over the slightest thing no matter how friendly and polite I was, and I didn't dare say anything in my own defense out of fear of losing my job. As much as I hated working in those places, I had to pay my rent and put food on the table. Those bastards knew that -- they knew none of us could push back too much -- and they took advantage of it every chance they got.

There were also a few managers in my previous job who were bullies. A couple of them had a habit of yelling at their employees on the sales floor, right in front of other employees and customers. One of them did that to several employees and they all turned her in to the store management. Nothing was ever done about it. The reason she was eventually fired was someone caught her smoking pot in her truck in the employee parking lot. At least they finally gave her the ol' heave-ho ... but it still angers me that she was tossed because someone caught her sparkin' up a doob, and not because she was a raging asshole who thought it was okay to scream at and berate the people under her where everyone else could see it.

So, once again ... different toilet, same old shit.

I finally got so sick of all the crap barraging me day after day after day there that I snapped and walked out in the middle of a shift. After thinking long and hard about it, I decided to get far, far away from that cesspool of a town, and moved 1,300 miles away to a city where the climate is much dryer and hotter and not severely depression-inducing. This place is the exact opposite in both climate and in population, at least as far as I've experienced so far. The people I've met have mostly been friendly and easygoing, and the rudeness I've encountered has been the exception, not the rule.

After moving, and applying for jobs for eight months, I finally got hired for a job that only pays $5/hour and is destroying my car. Spent two years applying for better jobs, and have never even landed another interview. Still, it's barely paying the rent so far. But I learned recently that one of the company's local higher-ups likes to yell and berate employees right in front of everyone else. And y'know what? If he ever does that to me, I'm out of there, and damn the consequences. After putting up with that shit for almost my entire life, I've had enough. There are some things I simply won't tolerate anymore.

So. Maybe ignoring it works for some people. Maybe fighting back works for some people. I don't know. In my case, nothing worked, and my family had to move to another town to get me away from the kid bullies. And then I finally had to move to a different state to get away from the adult bullies. This many miles away from them, in all likelihood I'll never have to see any of those fucking scumbags ever again. I've finally escaped them. But that doesn't change what I had to endure as I was growing up and, later, trying to make a living. It doesn't change the toll all of that bullying took. It doesn't take away the pain that's still with me to this very day. As much as I manage to "forget" about it, every now and then something comes along and reminds me, and all the misery and frustration and rage comes back full force.

As stated in the video above, bullying has a lasting effect. In some cases, like mine, a permanent effect. Some things you can't just "get over," even when it's something that happened decades ago. Obviously I was never pushed to the point where I decided to take my own life ... but there were moments when (the bullying combined with other things in my life that made me absolutely miserable) it crossed my mind, and sometimes I shudder to think what might've happened if one of those kids had pushed me that one step too far.

The bullying happened over thirty years ago. And then I see a video like the one above, and see that nothing has really changed. Little kids can be so vicious, so ... predatory. And when the adults who are in a position to stop it just shrug it off or punish the victim, it can lead to disaster. And when it does, they say things like, "How could this happen?"

The victims know goddamned well how it happens. And it will continue until those who are in a position to do something about it stop turning a blind eye and actually step in.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Far across the sky

For anyone who hasn't already checked out my serialized story, Elsewhere, I thought I'd post an excerpt to see if it can catch anyone's interest. The scene is from one of the later chapters, but contains a brief recap of the general situation and how it all started.

Elsewhere spun off from a certain event in Chaser, which has been submitted for final proofreading, and features several characters who appeared in that novel.

***

"You've not said much at all." Zuri turned to smile at the medieval kid.

He stared at the table, hunched over with his arms crossed over his chest as if trying to withdraw into his own body, and finally shrugged. "I--I don't...don't know what to say."

"Still adjusting to everything that's happened?" Seth tried to keep his smile in place. He was still having trouble getting used to all this, himself. Especially his and Marissa's separation from Boiler. Having to get through each day without knowing whether she's okay or not, and whether we'll ever see her again....

He pushed those thoughts out of his mind for the thousandth time since that first rift had cut off an entire section of the Io station and zapped it to who knew where.

The kid twitched his shoulders again.

Zuri smiled and touched his shoulder. "Perhaps start with your name?"

"I'm...Graham." His eyes flicked toward her hand, but returned immediately to the table.

"Nice to meet you. I'm Seth, and this is Marissa."

"Hello." Marissa smiled.

"H...hello." Graham took a quick glance around before going back to staring at the table. "I still don't understand what's happening. It's like a nightmare I can't wake up from."

"Well, we're not completely sure, either." Luana sipped her drink and then drummed her fingers on the side of the tumbler. "It's hard to explain, but we've all been pulled from various times and places, and ended up here."

"Sorcery?"

"I don't think so," Roger said. "Probably some sort of natural phenomenon."

"Or," Kamala said, "if someone's causing it to happen, it's a kind of technology beyond anything we've ever seen."

"Which isn't exactly reassuring," Otto said with a chuckle.

"Well," Shakira said, "if it's natural, there's probably nothing we can do to stop it. But if it's something someone is doing intentionally--"

"The device--or whatever they're using--should have an off switch."

"Exactly."

Otto grinned. "Hope we can find out what's going on before another planet blows up and takes us with it."

"Keep on finding those rays of sunshine." She nudged his shoulder.

Graham glanced from one of them to another, and finally hunched farther over the table. "I didn't understand any of that."

"Well, let's take it slowly," Kamala said, and he locked his suddenly wide eyes on her. "Do you know where we are?"

"A while ago someone said we were in the sky." He trembled and shook his head. "How can we be in the sky?"

A large screen on the far wall came to life and Astra's voice spoke from a nearby comm panel. "If you'll focus your attention on the viewscreen, I will attempt to explain."

Graham's eyes opened even wider as he stared at the monitor. An image of a meadow surrounded by trees appeared and Astra continued narrating as the angle changed.

"This is a simulation of Earth's surface. The image will move as if we are rising into the air."

The ground descended slowly and the angle changed to a downward view of the meadow and the treetops surrounding it. The virtual camera continued rising until the curvature of the planet became noticeable. It ascended through the clouds until the whole planet filled the screen, and then the planet began to dwindle.

"This point is above the atmosphere," Astra said.

"Above the air," Seth clarified for Graham. "We call it space. Since there's no air in space, we can't breathe in it. We have to stay inside ships like this one."

The camera continued pulling back until the moon appeared, increased the speed of the zoom-out, and passed Mars.

"That was..." Graham shook his head again. "Was that the moon?"

"Yep." Seth smiled. "And the next one was Mars."

Zuri stared at the video with her head cocked and a smile growing gradually larger. Several others, including the ones who looked like they'd stepped out of the Old West, also stared at it with varying degrees of shock and wonder as the camera passed through the asteroid belt.

"The number and proximity of the asteroids is exaggerated," Astra intoned. "They are far enough apart that they cannot be seen from one another without telescopes. In various media, they are often shown much closer together than they really are."

The pull-back continued past Jupiter.

"That's where a lot of us came from," Seth said, pointing at the gas giant. "We were living on a space station orbiting one of its moons. The station's crew were building a jumpgate and a ship like this one. Well, not nearly as advanced as this one. More like an 'ancestor' to this ship."

"We'll probably have to explain what jumpgates are," Marissa said.

"Oh, right. I didn't think." Seth chuckled and tossed a lopsided grin at her.

"I can cover that later," Astra said. "First things first."

The zoom-out continued past Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, then increased its speed and passed through several nebulae and past other stars until, finally, the Milky Way filled the screen.

"The simulation's speed misrepresents the distances between stars. Do you understand what a mile is?"

Graham nodded twitchily. One of the cowboys muttered, "Yep."

"One light-year equals approximately six trillion miles. The Milky Way galaxy is one hundred thousand light-years across."

"That's..." The cowboy aimed a blank stare at the screen. "Uh, that's a lot."

"Sure is," another drawled.

"So..." Graham pointed at the image of the galaxy. "We're somewhere in that?"

"That is one possibility." The pull-back resumed and the Milky way receded, and then more galaxies appeared. "There are more galaxies in the universe. What you're seeing now is called the Local Group." The zoom-out continued. "And the Local Group is part of what was once called the Virgo Supercluster."

Graham, the cowboys, and several others stared slack-jawed at the images as the zoom-out continued.

"What you're seeing now is called the Laniakea Supercluster. It contains the groups once known as the Virgo, Hydra-Centaurus, and Pavo-Indus Superclusters."

The virtual camera kept zooming out until Seth couldn't count the number of galaxies, and continued even past that point.

"It's possible that we've been transported to another galaxy," Astra continued. "We do not know even approximately where we are in the universe."

Zuri glanced at Graham and rubbed his back slowly. "And how big is the...universe?"

"The observable universe is nearly thirteen-point-seven billion light-years across."

"And we could be anywhere in it? Even on the far side?"

"Correct. I need more information before I can begin to work out our exact location."

Graham slumped forward and moaned softly. Zuri patted his shoulders and glanced over at Seth and the others.

"You said we all came here from different times?"

Kamala nodded. "For those of us on the Io station, the year was 2070."

Graham lifted his head abruptly to stare at her, as did the cowboys.

"And for me and Otto," Shakira said, "it was 2047."

"Early in 2047," Otto added. "First week of February." He glanced at the cowboys and raised an eyebrow.

"1871."

Graham let out another soft moan. "992."

Whoa. Seth looked slowly around the room and found one of the aliens who'd been on the sleeper ship just before it exploded. "And for you?"

"As measured by the human calendar," she said in a lilting tone, "4718."

And now I'm feeling light-headed. Seth shook his head and took a deep breath. "Say, Astra, do your media files contain any historical information? Something that can bring everyone up to speed on things like space travel?"

"Yes. I will select appropriate vids and display them on the screen."

"Thanks. Seems like a productive way to pass the time until we reach our next destination." He wondered for a moment if giving people from the past detailed information on the future was a good idea. Then he shrugged it off. It probably didn't matter by this point.

And if they couldn't find their way back home, it would never matter.


Friday, June 12, 2015

Much better ...

I'm getting addicted to this game. O_o

Finally got the Stargazer variant to "stick" yesterday. Dunno what was going on, but at least it worked. Then I ranked up to Tier 4 and had to choose another ship.

Anyway, here's a shot of the ship, captain, and bridge crew, followed by a few more of the ship.













































Played through the Doomsday Machine mission yesterday, and I just have to say ... fuck that mission. I've never been blown up as many times in any game, ever, as I was during that one.

Anyway. Made it to Tier 4, and ended up choosing a Galaxy class ship despite hating the way it looks. Luckily, one of the variants is at least ... tolerable. Not one of my favorites, but I disliked it less than the others. Still kind of goofy-looking, but ... eh, what can ya do? So here's the USS Normandy.























So ... that happened. Really need to cut down the time I spend on this game so I can get some things done. Especially writing. Need to finish one of my current works in progress and see if I can get it into the Kindle Scout program.

Speaking of writing, Chaser appears to finally be approaching the end of the publication process. After two and a half years, it got an editor who sent me his notes a week or so ago, I did the rewrite and sent it back, and now he's submitting it for the final proofreading. So, looks like it's almost a done deal now. Yay for that, at least.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Posts 24 & 25

Here are the last two posts from my one-hour slot in the Lucky Stars launch party back in March.

Post #24

One more giveaway before I turn things over to the next hour’s host. :D The prize is an ebook compilation of the first twelve volumes of my ongoing serialized story, Elsewhere. This story spun off from an event in one of my previous novels, triggered by the appearance of one of the space-time rifts that have popped up in “Mission” and Game Over and some of my other stories. The maintenance crew of the space station at the Io starship construction yard find themselves flung through a rift to an unknown part of the universe, where they must fight to survive and try to find out where they are and how to get home. Yet more action, humor, and romance among several couples in this ongoing story.


So, the contest. If you had an opportunity to travel to a faraway land, or an alternate reality, or another planet … would you? If a faerie offered to take you to an enchanted forest, or you had a chance at a trip to Mars, or the Doctor appeared and took you onboard the TARDIS and offered to show you “all of time and space, everything that ever happened or ever will” … even if it came with the risk of never seeing home again … would you go?


That’s a tough one for me. Prior to two years ago, when I was trapped in a town where I was miserable, I probably would’ve said yes. But now that I’m living in a place where I actually want to be … I’d like to think I’d go for it, but I’d want to have at least a good chance of coming back to my friends and the city I’ve made my home. Either way, I’d need to think long and hard about it.

Post #25

And now it’s time to step aside and make room for the next host. I’d like to thank Solera Winters for inviting me into this project and giving me all the opportunities that came with getting a story into the Lucky Stars Box Set. And I want to thank everyone for joining in. I hope everyone had a great time.

Places where I can be found:



Thank you all again, and enjoy the rest of the party. :D 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

WTF, STO?

So I reached Tier 3 in Star Trek Online this morning and was able to get a new ship. I chose a heavy cruiser and picked the Stargazer variant because it looked pretty badass, despite my feelings about the design aesthetic. Had some sort of bug right off the bat, of course. The new ship didn't show up on the list when I tried to transfer to it. Finally found it in the overflow bag in my inventory. I'm kind of at a loss as to how a starship would fit into a bag, but at least it didn't disappear completely.

I named it the USS Nuclear Wessel, by the way. XD























So that's what it looked like on the customization screen. But here we come to another problem. Dunno if it's a bug or what, but after I boarded the ship, suddenly it had reverted to the default skin, which I think is kind of repulsive.






















I beamed back to the spacedock, returned to the customization screen, and there was the badass variant I'd selected. Returned to my ship, and it was the default again. Spindly-looking fucking thing. Blecch.

At that point I gave up and just continued with the next mission. Maybe I'd find a way to make the customization stick, or maybe it's a bug that'll be fixed.

Then I began the mission, and a dialog box popped up with a report from one of the bridge crew. While I was reading it, a half-dozen enemy ships suddenly started blasting me, and my ship exploded after about twenty seconds of me trying to fight back.

Seriously ... is this game going out of its way to piss me off? I don't want to hate it because for the most part it's fun and I'm a Star Trek fan, so I want to like it. But when there's so much about it that just angers me, I'm not going to subject myself to all that frustration much longer. Sooner or later, I'll have to pull the ripcord just for the sake of my blood pressure.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Posts 21 - 23

Here's several more short posts from the Lucky Stars launch party.

Post #21

Here’s another one of mycurrent works-in-progress, picking up exactly where “Enemy of my Enemy” ended, with Jack and Arcee investigating the reappearance of their old enemy Airachnid and discovering that she might not be who they think she is. More romance, more humor, characters goofing around and having fun while recovering from wounds … and hints of a potentially galaxy-ending evil looming on the horizon.






















Post #22

One question writers get a lot is, “Where do you get your ideas?” The only answer I can think of is, “Anywhere and everywhere.” Anything I see while going about my daily business could spark an idea for a character, a bit of dialogue, or a whole novel. For a specific example, when it comes to writing action, a huge inspiration for me has been the work of the late, great Monty Oum. Among other things, for the last several years he choreographed fight scenes and did a lot of the motion-capture for the animation on the web series Red vs. Blue.

Before I found his work in that series, I tended to gloss over a lot of the action, or not let it play out the way it should. After I saw some of the choreography in the episodes of the last few seasons, it was like a whole new world opened up in front of me. I realized I could make action scenes a lot more dynamic, and some of the moves the characters pulled off inspired me to try similar things with my own characters. There’s a lot of that in the Freelancers one-shot I mentioned earlier, as well as the rest of my writing from the past few years.

Here’s just one example of what I’m talking about.


Addendum: Speaking of Monty Oum ... I'm still bummed out that he's gone. His work was amazing and really did inspire me to step up my game as far as action sequences go. As I mentioned in the post above, seeing his work got me to think in ways I hadn't even considered before, and made me want to try to do something new and creative with those scenes.


Post #23

Real quick, here’s another video partly just for fun and partly inspiration for humorous scenes like the video-game scene in “Mission to Bellatrix.” This one is an off-road race with some absolutely hilarious moments.


Monday, June 8, 2015

Beam me up ...

What with all the distractions of the last couple of weeks, and the depression and periodic meltdowns, I didn't get any writing done aside from working on the edits on Chaser. Piled on top of everything else was my work schedule, which sometimes has me doing a late or closing shift, then doubling back and opening the next morning, so fairly often I'd get home very late, play around on the computer to unwind for an hour or so, then go to bed.

One of the games I'm currently playing is Star Trek Online. For me, the main selling point was that it's free to play, though there are certain add-ons you have to pay for, which just isn't going to happen unless my financial situation changes drastically. But if by some unfathomable, reality-twisting development I suddenly get filthy-rich, I'll probably splurge a bit on the TOS-movie era uniforms and a few other things. Maybe even go all-in and pay the $300 for the lifetime subscription, if I ever have that much money to just throw away on something.

Currently I'm at level 16. Started off with an old Miranda-class ship which I named after the MSV Sulaco in my Freelancers story. I've always thought that was a really cool ship design. In fact, the TOS-movie version of the Enterprise is my favorite out of the entire franchise. The Constitution-class refit is just beautiful.























Once I leveled up to Tier 2, I was able to get a new ship. So which class did I choose? The Constitution-refit, of course. Or maybe it's a retro-fit? The best Trek starship design with 25-century systems, including the modern phaser array in the place of the TOS phaser banks.

I named this one after the EIS Mae Jemison in my book Game Over and the story "Mission to Bellatrix."

























I'd love it if I could just keep upgrading this ship as I continue to level up, but as far as I know, Tier 3 and above are TNG era-only ships. Which kind of bums me out. I really, really dislike the design aesthetic of the ships in TNG and the other Treks. Not sure if I can pin down why, exactly. I just never cared for the way the ships look. Especially the Enterprise-D. Even when I was a little kid watching the show, it bugged the hell out of me.

But I'm already running into enemy ships that just hand me my ass because the Jemison is woefully underpowered in comparison, even with upgraded weapons and consoles and whatnot. So I'll be forced to get a new ship with a hull design that I just find really off-putting, just to get through battles in one piece.

Anyhoo, here's my current player character, named after a character who appeared in Freelancers (and a slightly different version of her, who appeared in Wrong Place, Right Time).




She's seven feet tall, so the way she towers over most of the other characters is kind of amusing.

For me, the uniforms used in The Wrath of Khan onward are the best in the franchise (after TNG, they just kept getting more bland as the years passed). But having said that, I think this particular uniform looks fucking badass.

As for the game itself ... eh, I like the overall storyline so far, but the dialog and voice acting are, in many cases, terrible. And the graphics ... holy shit. The space scenes and the ships are gorgeous, but the graphics and animation with planetside scenes are kind of wretched. I've played games released in 1999 and earlier that had better graphics, and STO is only, what, five years old?

And what I've experienced of ground combat is absolutely infuriating. The character refuses to move where I direct her, or fire her weapon when I try to shoot at an enemy. Most of the time she doesn't even move at all, while an enemy is stabbing her with a gigantic fucking knife. Last night I ended up rage-quitting one of the Forge [Edit: Forge? Foundry. It's the Foundry. Goddamn it. *headdesk*] missions because I kept getting wasted, respawning on the far end of the ship, and having to run back across the ship to fight the same group of enemies only to immediately get whacked again. It'd be great if the ground combat system could be completely revamped, but that's probably too big a change. But seriously ... it's the only thing about the game I'd straight-up call garbage.

Back to graphics for a moment ... recently I started having another problem. When a character pops up on the screen with a dialog box, the character's face is always covered with blank white pixels. O_o And similar glitches happen when I'm running around on a planet's surface. In the away-team selection screen, all the characters' faces disappear completely. And in the space scenes, if there's a lot of stuff on the screen like a planet and an asteroid field, parts of the ship are blotted out by solid black pixels. I've played around with all the graphics settings and it made no difference at all. I don't know what the hell's going on with that, but it's annoying.

But overall, it's not a bad game, so far at least. The positives outweigh the negatives. I'm not sure I'd be willing to pay for it if it were for sale, but as a free-to-play game, it's pretty good. From what I've heard about where the storyline goes, I'm interested in sticking with it, even though I'm just a casual player. I'd like to see where it goes ....


Journey into the Unknown

Speaking of Lucky Stars, here's another little excerpt from my story in the anthology, for anyone who hasn't picked it up yet. The snippet of the scene lays out the team's mission and the mystery they're investigating. This is one of seven stories by seven different authors, and the whole set can be picked up for 99 cents.


“Here’s what we know so far,” Ralissa said to everyone gathered around the circular console at the rear of the flight deck. “Fifty-one years ago, the Galactic Expeditions deep-space explorer ship EIS George Vancouver vanished while surveying the trinary star system known to Terrans as Beta Persei, or Algol, ninety-three light-years from Earth.”
She touched a button on one of the control panels and the old ship appeared in the holofield. It was one of GalEx’s earlier efforts, back when they focused more on function than form. Basically a three-hundred-meter pole with four centrifuges along its length housing crew quarters, labs, and so on, with a command module at one end and the main engine pods at the other.
Kolya remembered skimming through history textbooks in school mentioning the Vancouver and its sister ships. She wished she’d paid more attention back then, but she’d been focused on her budding supermodel career and hadn’t expected she’d ever need to know any of that stuff.
“The last transmission from the Vancouver stated an intent to investigate what the captain called an ‘anomaly,’ accompanied by scans taken minutes before the ship’s disappearance,” Ralissa continued, turning toward Cora. “Those readings matched scans conducted by a number of other ships over the last few centuries, including yours.”
“The space-time rift we used to get here from wherever we were?” Cora glanced around at her crew. “You think it’s the same thing?”
“Yes. The rifts have been popping in and out of existence for as long as my species has been spacefaring, and we’ve found records on long-deserted worlds of their occurrence even farther back. Almost all of them have been short-lived, lasting only hours or minutes, sometimes mere seconds, but a few remained stable.”
Grishnag nodded. “One of those stable rifts was how humans reached my former homeworld and relocated my people to Earth so they could conduct mining operations without harming the local population.”
“Yes. We’ve never figured out what causes them.” Ralissa glanced around at everyone. “According to our records, the Vancouver appeared near one of our colonies in the star system Terrans call Alpha Orionis, or Betelgeuese, six hundred-forty light-years from Earth.” She paused to let that sink in before adding, “Nearly seven hundred years ago.”
Whoa. Kolya took a quick look around the room and figured the wide eyes and gaping mouths on the Mae Jemison crew looked pretty much like the expression she had, herself.
“That turned out to be our first encounter with humanity, though of course we had no idea at the time,” Ralissa said with a chuckle. “A ship was sent out to try to make contact, but the Vancouver turned around and reentered the rift, giving our ship barely enough time for a thorough scan plus a few vids and still images. Then the rift vanished.”
“I’ve been searching archive records from the past thousand years,” Lorkis added. “Haven’t found any indications of the ship appearing anywhere else, but I haven’t gone through all the data yet.”
“As far as we know,” Ralissa said, “this is the first time the Vancouver has popped back up since its initial disappearance. We’re guessing another rift appeared long enough for it to come through.  All we know for sure is that the ship’s transponder beacon suddenly started broadcasting again and its navigation system reconnected with the jumpgate network.”
She leaned over and swiped a finger across a touchscreen. The ship in the holofield blipped out and was replaced by a massive blue-white star.
“And that’s where it reappeared. Gamma Orionis, also known as Bellatrix. Two hundred-fifty light-years from Earth, but still close enough that we haven’t done much with it aside from detailed surveys, some mining here and there, and setting up a few research outposts.” Ralissa smiled. “There’s actually some fascinating stuff we’ve found there, but we’ll get to that in a moment.”
“And this is what a shonari scout ship found when it investigated the ping on the jumpgate network.” Lorkis nudged the touchscreen and the image changed to a barren wasteland of a planet with the Vancouver transiting the hemisphere facing the ship’s camera.
“Here’s where things get interesting.” Ralissa braced her hands on the console and stared at the image. “The Vancouver appears to be in a decaying orbit. Our scout ship informed GalEx as soon as they identified the Vancouver, and since it’ll enter the atmosphere in less than a week, they needed to get someone there as quickly as possible. My government worked out a deal with them and picked my team. We’d just finished a job, we’re close enough to get there in a few days – before GalEx could put together their own expedition – and having a couple of Terrans on the team didn’t hurt, either. Cora’s ship was the first one ready to depart without a destination already determined, so she and her crew were hired to transport us to Bellatrix.”
“We’re happy to help out.” Cora grinned. “I’ve never been to Gamma Orionis, since it’s farther out than Terrans had explored before my ship vanished, and it still is.”
“So we’ll be the first people from Earth to take a look around, then.” Dylan glanced at the other females as he slipped his arm around Cora’s waist. “The first of any of our species, in fact.”
“I think you’ve got quite an adventure ahead of you, then.” Lorkis beamed and waved his upper-left hand at the planet. “Gamma Orionis isn’t old enough for planets to have formed and developed breathable atmospheres or indigenous life, but there it is, anyway.”
Ralissa leaned closer to the projection and shook her head slowly. “That’s Gamma Orionis b. From what we’ve found during our surveys, it has a breathable atmosphere and once had an ecosystem and a few dozen outposts all over the planet. Long ago, at least. The species that once lived there isn’t known to us, and may be extinct – but it looks like they were advanced enough in planetary engineering to shape the environment to suit their needs. But something devastated the surface thousands of years ago and left only ruins.”
“That’s scary,” Kolya muttered. “And kind of depressing.”
“It gets even better,” Lorkis said. “We’ve seen that pattern over a large area surrounding Earth. There’s an area of roughly two hundred light-years around your world – though in a few directions it stretches out a bit farther – where remains of advanced civilizations have been found, but no living specimens.”
“Huh. I wonder what happened?” Kolya stared at the planet in the holofield. The land near the equator was clearly desert, and much of the rest simply looked like … dirt.

Launch Party posts 18 - 20

Okay, back to the Lucky Stars launch party. The next few posts were pretty short, so I'm putting three of them in this entry.

Post #18


Here’s another project I’m working on. On YouTube, I’m posting a series of videos in which I discuss writing in general and my novels and stories in particular, using Mass Effect 2 as a springboard for said discussion. I’m planning to continue the series, if only my computer would stop overheating and shutting down every time I start recording a video. :P


Post #19


Here’s a thing I had a huge amount of fun with, a one-shot Freelancers story focusing on Valeria Terakkis, the turian elite operative mentioned in a previous post. This was written after a friend asked me to teach her how to write action scenes, so I started coming up with ideas and had to start writing them down. This story is also a sneak peek at a subplot I’m planning to introduce in Freelancers at a later date.


Valeria walked away from her previous job partly because she didn’t agree with things certain fellow operatives did on their missions, and partly because she’s kind of afraid of what she’s capable of, herself. But when her husband and her parents and siblings are kidnapped by an old enemy using them to get to her, she willingly unleashes the monster inside her, and it’s not long before the villain realizes he’s made a terrible mistake.

Post #20


And related to the previous post … As a “lesson” in writing action, I took the whole story linked in the previous post, put it in a blog entry, and added tons of contextual comments into it – advice on how to go about writing action. One specific bit of advice: show your character analyzing her environment, working out her strategy, and using objects within her reach whenever necessary. Basically, “if it’s not nailed down, it’s a weapon, and if she can pry it loose, it’s not nailed down.” :D 

Free-flowing negativity

Ugh. Just have to do some venting ....

Things here kind of went down the toilet over the last couple of weeks. Financial situation continuing to deteriorate, still stuck in the $5/hour part-time job despite all my efforts, Wrong Place, Right Time appears to have failed right out of the gate with sales not even getting into the double digits, I was nearly in a car crash last week (guy launched out of a parking lot, almost hit me head-on, and I think I missed him by maybe a quarter of an inch), and just a few days ago I was apparently almost run over while walking across the parking lot at work but didn't even notice since I had so much on my mind (a CSR told me what happened after I got back into the building).

And, to top it all off, a few days ago I took the car to a shop to have leaks in the two rear tires patched. They could patch one, but the other had four nails in it and couldn't be fixed. BAM -- $70 to replace the tire, and now I'm not sure I'll be able to pay the rent next month. Also, they said the other tire will continue leaking, but slowly, though they patched it as well as they could. And the tread on the two front tires is almost completely worn off. That's what a year and a half on a $5/hour delivery job did to my car. And since I just don't have any money to fix the other three tires, all I can do is hope they don't explode in the next few weeks.

So here's another reason it infuriates me that the company only pays $5/hour when drivers are out on deliveries, despite the minimum wage being over $8/hour. The tips from customers don't come out of the company's pocket, so they have no fucking right to pay less than minimum wage, yet they get away with it. And this kind of job destroys cars. A year and a half to wear the tread almost completely off the two front tires. When I got the car (to replace an old car that completely fell apart only two weeks after I was hired, and would've cost far more to fix everything than to just get another car), it ran perfectly. A year and a half later, here are all the things wrong with it aside from the tires:

It's burning oil. I have to put a quart in every single week. And since I have no money to get it fixed, there's nothing I can do about it.

Blue smoke pours out of the exhaust pipe. And there's nothing I can do about it.

The "service engine" light came on a few months after I got the car, and there hasn't been anything I can do about it because no money. And there still isn't. And if I can't get the engine serviced before next April, the car won't pass the emissions test, and I won't be able to keep my job. And since, after two years of applying for better jobs, I haven't even gotten an interview, once I lose this job, it's all over. No one will even talk to me about anything that pays more than $5/hour, so I've finally just given up on that.

If I accelerate too quickly, the engine stalls. If I decelerate too quickly, the engine stalls. If I run the A/C for a few minutes, the engine stalls. And there's nothing I can do about it.

The engine could blow up at any moment, and there's nothing I can do about it. All I can do is hope it'll last a little while longer.

I haven't even left the city since I moved here, but thanks to that job, I've put 30,000 miles on the car in a year and a half. The company should pay at least straight minimum wage because all that wear-and-tear on the car happened because of that job. But no, they pay $5/hour instead, and that just doesn't leave me with the hundreds and hundreds of dollars I'll need to keep the car running so I can keep doing the job that's ruining the car. It's fucking disgusting.

Anyway. Just had to get that off my chest. The only bit of good news I got recently was that Chaser had finally been assigned an editor, and I got his edits a little under a week ago. I got the rewrite done a few days ago and sent it back. I'm hoping the book goes through the rest of the process quickly and is published soon, because right now it's my only shot at making some extra money. And it's been in the process for two and a half years, so I'm hoping it's nearing actual publication.

I'll need to get started on the sequel soon, but first I'm trying to finish Project: Phoenix ASAP so I can polish it and get it into the Kindle Scout program. That $1,500 advance would save my ass right now. So I'm trying to focus on that. Once it's done, I need to get back to Game Over and expand it into a full novel, followed by expanding Mission to Bellatrix into a full novel as well. Assuming I can hang on long enough to get those done ....

Meanwhile, I'll continue putting up the posts from the launch party. Just got derailed by RL stuff over the last couple of weeks.