Killing Time...

... waiting to escape from Draenor.  What to do, what to do?

Make a million gold, of course.

Technically, that's my second million.  My first million went towards buying two years worth of game time and upgrading all my heirloom items to max level.

For those curious about methodology: six max-level alts, each will a full garrison (five with a full shipyard).  Each garrison includes an Inn (for treasure missions), a Salvage Yard (for extra loot from running garrison missions), a Trading Post (for turning garrison resources into crafting materials), and two profession buildings (typically the character's main profession, plus an enchanting building).

Oh, and the Menagerie, because pet upgrade stones.

The routine: Complete garrison and shipyard missions.  Send followers out on new garrison and shipyard missions.  Collect garrison resources.  Exchange resources for crafting materials.  Visit profession buildings to turn crafting materials into high-level materials or items plus sorcerous elements.  Visit Salvage Yard to see what my followers brought back from their garrison missions.  Vendor anything that had an auction price of less than 500 gold.  Exchange any excess Primal Spirits for Savage Blood.  Do the daily pet battle(s) and then put any leftover salvage items, crafted items, sorcerous elements, Temporal Crystals, and Savage Blood up on the auction house.

Overall, it takes about an hour a day, and each alt pulls in around 2000 gold a day (some more, some less), mostly from garrison and shipyard missions.

I've got a few more things to spend gold on; I'd like to bank another year of game time, for instance, and maybe buy some of the more expensive mounts and pets.  Honestly, though? At this point, I'm just doing it because I enjoy making the numbers go up.

Oh, and so I can blow it all on new neat stuff when Legion finally hits, of course!

Star Wars VII (Spoliers)

Oh, my... the feels.

If you haven't seen it, and you are a Star Wars fan of a certain age (i.e., between the ages of 8 and 80), you will like it.

To answer your question... It a great movie?

No; however... It is a good movie.

A really good movie.

Are their plot holes?  Yeah.  Do they matter?  Not really.  You most likely won't notice them until after you leave the theater, at least.

Yes, you get to see Luke.

Yes, the Big Bad is revealed, and pretty early, actually.

The hero is not who you think it is.  Even if you think you're parsing everything correctly, you'll still wonder.

You'll ask yourself why Chewie took that bet.

You'll appreciate the humor, which flows from the characters and their personalities, not from some bolted-on comic relief character.

You'll wonder at the lack of exposition, and then realize that real people don't do data dumps to make things easier for a viewer, and get a thrill when you think you've finally pieced together all the little bits of information and finally think you understand.

You'll wonder if you're right, or just thinking what the writers want you to think... And you'll decide that it doesn't matter, really.  Because even if you're wrong, it will be exciting to discover what's really going on.

You'll understand what he meant when he said "Anything."

You'll think "Wow, this is kind of like the first Star Wars movie", and you'll be right, but in a way that makes you wonder.

It passes the Bechdel test, not that that really matters, because it isn't contrived - it makes sense, and flows from the story.

You will be left wondering what exactly happened over the past 40 plus years, and hit the closing credits wanting to see the next one NOW, damnit!

And one of these statements is a lie.

You'll have to see the movie to find out which one, though.

Go.  See.  Cheer.


Oh, yeah.  If you're a man of a certain age, at a certain position in life, it absolutely will suddenly get a bit dusty in the theater towards the end.

It's worth it.

To J. J. and the writers, and everyone involved... good job, folks.

Thank you for making this not suck.

The Expanse: Dulcinea

Walter Jon Williams has a few things to say about the new SyFy series, "The Expanse":
I was in Santa Fe last week for the premiere of the first two episodes, which I saw in an actual theater, with popcorn and free booze and TV stars and GRRM and all the goodies you get with a premiere.  And the experience was a double helping of Complete Awesome.  The Expanse is the science fiction series that I, and probably you, have long been waiting for.
For one thing, this series doesn’t condescend to its viewers.  When characters speak in Belter patois, there’s no translator hovering by, there aren’t even subtitles, you just have to go with the scene, and either you get it or you don’t.  You get the political background or you don’t.  You get how the space ships work or you don’t.  The story just happens, it doesn’t stop to give infodumps to the viewers who can’t keep up.  Experienced SF readers should have no problem with any of this.
Honestly? I agree. I watched the first episode of "The Expanse" last week, and... I am hopeful.

Which is saying something, really. This is SyFy we're talking about, after all.

Here's the thing: I've read the series this is based on, and the important thing to remember as you see the spaceships swooping around? This is hard (ish) SF that is primarily character driven. In other words, perfectly suited for a TV series. The world, the politics, the science are all excellent backdrops for the (terrifyingly interesting) lives of the characters.

Assuming they get the characterization right, of course. Keep in mind that in the first episode, we've met a corrupt and cynical Belter detective (Miller), an Earth spacer seemingly allergic to authority and responsibility (Holden), and a UN official condoning torture (Arvarsala). In coming episodes, we will almost certainly meet an amoral sociopath with a history of criminal violence; a genius with a dark history of mass murder; and a political leader who is known as "The Butcher" for his past war crimes.

Note well: these are the good guys. One of the themes of the books are the search for truth as a path to redemption... and the idea that figuring out what they truth is can be hard, if not downright impossible, when nobody is really as good - or as bad - as they seem . The truth of things is often hidden, and sometimes well intentioned people can make horrible choices for what seems like all the right reasons: Loyalty. Honesty. Truth. Justice.

From the looks of it, they're making a good effort with the characters. Establishing the characters will come slowly, though. Part of the limitation that they're working with are the novels themselves. From what I could see in the first episode, they are keeping to the plot of the books fairly tightly.Which is normally a good thing, but...

That's a big but, right there.

The first novel has what are essentially two major plot lines that eventually converge. In the series, they show what appears to be four plot lines, as they seem to be trying to set things up for later and introduce some major characters that don't show up until later on in the books. Which is ok - TV serials are a different medium, after all. There would have to be some adaptations.

It does mean that if you haven't read the books, the first episode can be confusing. Who's that girl on the Scopuli? What's with the blue stuff flying around in the engine room? Who is this Miller guy? Why are you flip flopping between him and the crew on a tramp ice freighter? What's the deal with the Indian woman on earth? Why does everyone on Ceres seem so angry?

Trust me. Stick with it. It all comes together... maybe not quickly, but it will; and in much the same way that four different chunks of uranium might be brought together enthusiastically, the plot lines will give a very satisfying bang when they finally converge. In fact, depending on how closely they adhere to the novels, Marvin the Martian's catchphrase may be quite rightly invoked.

The first episode is online.  Watch it, keep with it. I think - I hope - that it will be as good as it looks.

Fingers crossed.

The Wolf

Cobb on The Wolf:
The Wolf is always with us and it doesn't matter which guise he takes, what manner of attack he plans or fulfills. What matters is what we are prepared to do when he visits his hungers upon us.
Go.  RTWT.

In Which Curmudgeonhood Is Expressed

Yesterday evening was interesting. Came home to dinner (pot pie) prepared by Eldest Daughter, which was quite good. Afterwards, I told her to get her shoes on, and that we were going to stop by the church, then head up to the Tractor Supply Store with a stop off at Walmart.

The mention of the TSS was a ruse, of course. While the place is absolutely fascinating for me (So. Much. Neat. STUFF!), it's anathema for her teenaged mind. Who in the world could possibly get excited over trailer hitches, galvanized tin tubs and fence hardware? Aside from her Old Man, I mean. The TSS is located near Walmart, though, so heading in that direction wasn't a total falsehood... and, if we ended up with some extra time at the end of the trip, I was absolutely going to stop there, anyways.

Because Neat Stuff!

The TSS wasn't our intended destination, though. First was a pit stop at the church, which has a nice, big, and (most importantly) empty parking lot.

Yep. Driving lessons!

She was thrilled. Spent about half an hour letting her toodle around the lot, just helping her get a feel for driving the car. We practiced turning, backing up, pulling into parking spots, making use of turn signals, using high/low beams on the headlights, the critical difference between the brake and the gad, and stopping without causing Dad to bang his head off the windshield. Essential skills, in other words.

I'm pretty sure I only got loud once or twice. In my defense, while the parking lot is nice and big, and was very empty, it also has a rather large drop off on one side. I made sure to keep her well clear of that part of the lot, but one of the "No, that's not the brake, kiddo" moments came as we were oriented to go straight off the edge of the lot and down the hill on the other side.

I think, in those circumstances, a loud "BREAKS! STOP!" (or two, or three... maybe four) was not only allowed, but called for.

Afterwards, we did head to Walmart to look for a set of cheap speakers for my workbench. What I has in mind was something I could plug into the wall, dock my iPhone into, and enjoy some tunes while I'm puttering about.

I mean, that's got to be a pretty common thing that people want, yeah?

Apparently not.

Walmart had an array of (a) unbelievably cheap, battery powered speakers that used Bluetooth, and (b) unbelievably expensive, battery powered speakers that used Bluetooth. Some of which would let you dock an iPhone, but - and no, I am not kidding - would only play music via Bluetooth.

As far as I'm concerned, Bluetooth is a ravenous, phone battery devouring monster of a wireless network. YMMV, but turning off Bluetooth on my phone seems to have helped my battery life considerably. I might want to spend a couple of hours puttering, after all - that's what a workshop is for. Having my phone cut out after 45 minutes because it had to stream music over a wireless connection was a no-go.

Not to mention the whole battery powered speaker thing. I mean, really? Yeah, I understand - that makes them portable. In my situation, though, I know exactly what battery-powered Bluetooth speakers would would mean:

  • Head down to the workshop Saturday afternoon, puttering in mind.
  • Turn on Bluetooth on my phone.
  • Watch the battery percentage on my phone start dropping like a stone.
  • Try to turn on the oh-so-portable battery powered Bluetooth speaker.
  • Realize the speaker batteries were dead as a doornail.
  • Hunt for good batteries.
  • Find dead batteries that somehow, inexplicably, migrated into the good battery box.
  • Finally locate good batteries.
  • Replace the batteries in the speaker, get it powered up.
  • Realize that my phone was now dead, because Bluetooth.
  • Curse modern life, swear off technology, move out west and raise yaks.

Now, as the lovely Mrs. Robb isn't all that into yaks, the end game here is not someplace that I really want to end up. So I flagged down a pleasant clerk in the electronics section, and explained that I was looking for something simple - an inexpensive AC-powered speaker that I could hook my iPhone up to, avoiding Bluetooth. Ideally, one with a dock, so the phone could charge while it was playing.

I may have ranted a little bit. Just a smidgen. A little touch of curmudgeonhood. "I mean... I mean... all I want is a speaker. That plugs into the wall. That I can plug my phone into. No. NO BLUETOOTH."

In the end, what I ended up with was... this. Yes, Dancing Water Speakers. Think of is as an analog equalizer display using LED lights and little water streams. Kitschy as all get out, but dead cheap, and if they came with a little show, well, who cares? Cheap. USB powered, but with a wall adapter. I could plug 'em in, hook up the phone with the stereo cable, and listen to music. Wouldn't charge the phone while I was playing, but since I wouldn't be using Bluetooth, eh - I could live with that.

Got home, plugged 'em in, hooked 'em up... and the lovely Mrs. Robb was enchanted by them. Absolutely cheesy, but she thought it was cool. Me?


They were kind of neat, but the whole "dancing water" thing was run by a little impeller in the speaker enclosure that was... loud. Not horribly loud, but noticeable. Whenever it kicked up the water, you'd hear a little "ksssh!"

I played Jethro Tull's "Fire at Midnight", and... well, here's what it sounded like:
I believe in fi[ksssh!]res at mid[ksssh!]night [ksssh!]
when the do[ksssh!]gs have all been fe[ksssh!]d.
A gol[ksssh!]den toddy on the man[ksssh!]tle ---
a bro[ksssh!]ken gun ben[ksssh!]eath the bed.[ksssh!]
Bleah. Probably not an issue if you were someone who was going to play everything at full volume. For me, though, it was annoying, and not something that I thought I could get used to.

So, down to the workbench, for some puttering! A screwdriver, a pair of wire cutters, and some electrical tape... and I now have a couple of Non-Dancing Water Speakers. At some point, I'll get some rigid plastic and make a new top for them, so I can ditch the heavy and now completely useless water-filled LED light show attached to the top of the speakers. For the time being, though - eh. They were cheap, I made them do what I wanted, and I can haz music when I'm working.

I'll call it a win.

Operation : Workbench (Part II)

With the workbench done, I was left wondering what to do with that pile of lumber.  I woke up far to early (i.e., before noon) on Saturday, and decided that since we didn't really have anything going on that day, I might as well continue with building my workshop.  After doing a bit of research on line, and making a cup of coffee, I got to it.

I really wanted to reclaim that space (for the couch, for a desk, for shelves... really, for anything except a pile of lumber scraps!)  I already had an idea that I wanted to do an overhead lumber rack, and a friend in Texas suggested just the thing.  First step was moving the lumber out of the way, and moving the sawhorses up to the garage, where the lovely Mrs. Robb needed them in order to work on one of her projects.

No pictures of the assembly, unfortunately.  I blame myself for starting out before finishing my cup of coffee.  Longer wood sections are intended to go across the top of the 1x6's, shorter sections across the strips underneath.  Overall, it's pretty stable - I was able to do a quick chin-up on each of the U-sections after they were installed - but I'll probably get up there and put some 3" screws through just to make sure.

That would be more for peace of mind than anything, really.  As you can see, the finished overhead lumber rack is quite capable of doing the job!

Here's a picture from the side, showing the storage of the shorter sections of scrap lumber.

Now it's starting to look like a real work area.  Getting the desk in was a nice surprise.  When I measured, it was 46" long, but the space where I wanted to put it turned out to be 45" wide.  However!  The way I built the longer support box left a gap in the side of the box!  You can see that clearly here:

So I really had 46 1/2" to work with!  I had to pull the desk drawers and tilt the desk in sideways, but once I did that, it fit into the gap nicely.  There was even enough space to allow the drawer closest to the work bench to open fully. I honestly wish I could say that I planned it this way, but really, it was just dumb luck on my part.  I was originally planning to put the desk under the lumber rack, and just happened to notice that it would fit in the back corner.

Once the lumber rack was done, and the desk and couch placed, I realized that the workbench was looking kind of... plain.  It lacked a certain je ne sais quoi.  It needed something...

Pegboard.  I mean, what's a basement workbench without pegboard?

So, I made another trip to the hardware store to pick up some pegboard and supplies.  Only two trips?  Not bad at all for a weekend project, really.  I had them cut two sheets of pegboard down to 4'x4' sections, which (a) made it easy to load into the car, and (b) made it easy to mount.  I didn't want to mess around with having to drill into the cinderblock walls, so I dropped down a couple of furring strips where I wanted to mount each piece, and...

There we go!  Pegboard achieved and mounted.  The lower sections are screwed into the backboard of the counter, and help keep them nice and stable.

I put up a third section of pegboard on the back wall, because you can never have too much storage.   That leaves me with one extra section that I can mount elsewhere if it turns out that I can use some additional wall storage.  As a bonus, my workshop now smells right... the smell of sawdust, concrete, and pegboard is just right, exactly what I remember from being in my Dad's basement workshop when I was a kid.

The finished (for now) product!  The rug gives my pup a place to hang out when he doesn't want to climb up on the couch.  I am sure that I'll fiddle with the placement of tools and such on the pegboard until it feels right.  I've got a couple of boxes of tools that my father-in-law picked up from yard sales to help be rebuild my collection after the fire.  I need to sort through those, and figure out what's generally useful (and worth putting close at hand on the pegboard) vs. what can be chucked into a box and squirreled away out of sight.

Later this week, I'm going to take the time and put some shelves in the support boxes, turning them into something more like real cabinets.  That will let me have enough under-counter storage that I can get most of the power tools and larger items tucked away where they won't be cluttering up the work surface.  Maybe even get some hinges and latches, and put doors on them.

I also want to put a support in under the main length of the counter.  If you look closely, you can see that it's slightly bowed.  I'm thinking that I might build a long, narrow box to fit underneath - something that will support the counter, but set back a foot or so from the edge so that getting right up against the counter isn't uncomfortable.

All that's for the next phase, though.  For now, I'm a happy camper with my new workbench!

Operation : Workbench (Part I)

Building a basement workbench has been on my to do list long before we moved into the new house. There's a little extension off the basement under the sun room that's about 14" by 16" - perfect for a workshop-slash-man cave. I've had it kind of set up for a while (i.e., I had an old desk I could chuck tools on), but long term, that really wasn't going to cut it.  What I wanted was a real workbench, some extra storage, and a change to organize everything a make the space my own, instead of a random jumble of "where did I put that whingding?"

This weekend, I finally got the time to make that happen!

The focus of the workshop, of course, is the work bench.  Because of a contractor mistake, we ended up with two kitchen countertops - one without and eating ledge (which is what was initially shipped to us), and one with an eating ledge (which is what our contract called for, and which was installed). The first countertop was propped up against a wall in the garage, and... our builders did not want it back, and didn't really care what we did with it.

Seriously.  As far as I could tell, the cost of shipping it back to their home offices in Ohio, storing it in a warehouse, and keeping it there until someone wanted the exact same configuration and finish as we selected was just not worth the trouble.  So when we pointed out the error to them,  they ate the cost, shipped us a new counter top, and wrote off the old one.

Which left us with an extra counter top.  As soon as I realized that, I realized that I wanted to - nay, needed to - use it to build my basement work bench.

It was, as they say, a moral imperative.

With that in mind, on Friday night, I ventured into the realm of workshop construction.

Step one was to build a couple of support boxes for the countertop.  I had originally thought about getting some used kitchen cabinets to use for this, but (a) even used kitchen cabinets can be more expensive then a couple of 2x4's, and (b) I wanted to do it now, when I had the time, instead of three months from now when I finally found the right cabinets cheap enough.

Since we already had a bunch of random length of 2x4's left over from construction (yeah, we dumpster-dived to save a bunch of wood they were simply going to trash!), I really only needed a few extra to let me make the longer sections.

So, here in pictures, I give you Operation : Workbench!

Doing the main framing for the first support box. This was the trickiest bit - if I screwed up the smaller support box, I could slap together another one without too much trouble.  Mucking up this one would mean another trip to the hardware store.

Ready for assembly.  Internal supports added because I want to turn add supports for shelves,  and then turn these into cabinets with real doors.

Putting it all together!  That's a pretty box, and it's even a good approximation of plumb, level and square.  Constructed from 2x4's and 10d nails. Cuts made using a pencil, carpenter's triangle, and a mitre saw.  Surprisingly low tech.

We had some salvaged 2x2's last year that turned out to be exactly the right height to use for the smaller support box, because they came from a former neighbor's workbench.  Serendipity!

Smaller support box assembled.  No, it's not pretty, but hey - it's a work bench.  It'll do.  I'm thinking that once I get an internal shelf in, I'll use this for storing paint, stain, and the like.  We have a lot of excess paint that the builders left us sitting under the basement stairs right now. It will be nice to get them out of the way.

Support boxes placed, and countertop installed, thanks to the timely assistance of the lovely Mrs. Robb and Eldest Daughter! Which makes a nice end to a evening's work.  Except... I need to find a better place for the couch.  Yes, I have an old couch in my workshop - it's my dog's bed.  Keeps him happy, because I GET TO SLEEPS ON TEH COUCH?  YOU ARE TEH BEST HOOMIN EVAR!

Now, here's where I wanted to put the couch: on the opposite wall from the work bench.  Problem is, there's a mess of lumber scraps there, though, as any fool can plainly see.

Remember when I said we went dumpster-diving to save wood the builders were just going to throw out?  The majority of that pile is made up of 4' to 6' long pieces of of stained oak trim.  You can't really see it in the picture, but there's also four SIXTEEN FOOT lengths of stained oak trim there as well, along with a couple of nice, heavy lengths of 2x6 and 2x8.

On top of that, I have two 30-gallon tubs filled with smaller (2" to 6") oak scraps, and a 4' by 8' by 4' high pile of 2x4 scraps, 2x6 scraps, and plywood sections sitting out in the barn.  And all of that, honestly, was only the better half of what was left over from construction.  I really could have built my entire workbench from oak scraps, if I wanted to... but I have projects for that stuff in mind, and really, why waste good oak?

What I needed to do was find some way to get that lumber out of the way...

Donald Obama vs. Barack Trump

Just this morning I realized how similar these two really are.

"Here's a problem!  I'm going to solve it!  Because I'm AMAZING!  The solution is perfect!  You want details?  How dare you question my brilliance!  You have concerns?  That makes you a bunch of slack-jawed, un-American {racists, idiots}!"

Well, OK.  The final insult is different.

The Trolling of the Cups

OK, folks.  Most of you know that I'm a Christian.  I mean, I've got "theologian" right there in the title of the blog, right?  In particular, as far as the sphere of Christianity goes, I am a fundamentalist (gasp!) Baptist (double gasp!) evangelical (swoon!).  I'm a Sunday school teacher.  I do a Bible study weekly up at a local veteran's center.

I bring that up to point out that (a) my faith is important to me, and (b) as a teacher, I do quite a bit of reading about it.  Online, I follow a bunch of blogs and news sources that focus on religion in general and Christianity in particular.  Lots of theology and apologetics.  Folks talking about putting faith in practice.  Discussions about current events and how they relate to living as a Christian, and so on.

Now, a few days ago, some pastor in Arizona got all bent out of shape over Starbucks using red cups for Christmas.  This is, apparently, an extension of the War on Christmas!!1!11eleventy1!!, and as a Good Christian, I am of course supposed to be Stupidly Outraged, or something.

Yeah... about that.

Mind you, this video seems to have gone viral, albeit in a strange way.  You see, while I've been hearing about it a lot on the Book of Faces recently, it has all been from a certain segment of people - those friends of mine who are generally antagonistic to the Christian faith. [1] 

From what I can see online, that seems to be the only reason this whole red cup thing gained any sort of notice whatsoever.  All the top results from a search on "red cup starbucks" returns...  mainstream media articles talking about the video and how Christians are outraged.

Actual instances of outraged Christians?  Zip.

Remember all those online sources I read?  I have yet to see a single person discuss the horror of red cups at Starbucks.

My Christian friends on Facebook?  Not a peep, really, except for "Wait, what's this red cup thing now?"

Please understand - we generally have far more important things to talk about.  Abortion?  Oh, yeah.  Racism?  Sure.  Culture issues?  You betcha.  Apologetics?  Absolutely.  Reaching the lost?  Top o' the list.  ISIS, Israel, and the future of Christians in the Middle East?  Yup.  Challenges in marriage, in raising kids, in working and living in the modern world?  Tons.

Red cups?  Please.

Oh, I'm sure there are some Christians out there sweating over red cups, because Reasons, and because there are enough people in the world you can always find someone who's outraged about something.  On the other hand, I'm also confident that 99.999% of Christians don't really care in the least what color cups Starbucks is using, just as long as they come filled with something resembling a hot, caffeinated version of a liquid candy bar.

Seriously, guys.  All those articles about this?  About how "Christians are OUTRAGED!"?

Dude.  It's clickbait, man.  You've been trolled.  Hard.

[1] Yes, I have a wide variety of friends.  That we have differing opinions, some significant, does not mean that I love them any less.

Prospero and Cara Have a Chat

Goal: 11,670 words.

Achieved: 4,235 words.

A conversation that takes place later on in the story, where we learn a little more about magic, the Empire, and the Legion.

Prospero pursed his lips and thought for a moment.  “Say you show some inclination, some talent, when you’re young.  There are tests for that, you know.  Anyplace that isn’t a complete backwater has its administrators, its priests, its guards.  They’re trained to look for certain things.”

Cara nodded.  “That’s how I ended up in the Empire school.  Padre Sanda said he thought I would do well there, and that if I passed the entrance exam, they would teach me and give me a job.”  She paused for a moment, looking off into the distance, then shook her head.  “My parents were excited for me.  It wasn’t until later that I realized what kind of job it would be.”

“A lifetime under examination.  Yes.”  Prospero looked down, and idly scratched lines in the dirt with the stick.  “The Empire tolerates magic, and even encourage it.  It will use it - but will not trust it.  Or those who practice it.  Not entirely, at any rate.”  He stopped for a second, and tapped his stick.  “They don’t worry quite so much if you’re a ayloshea - a world magi.  That type of magic is tied to a particular part of the Real.  So long as those folks get Empire training, and take work that’s approved, they’re fine.”

He bent over and wiped away his scratchings.  “If you’ve got a certain kind of talent, though… that’s scary.  That’s a problem.  If you can change the Real.  If you can enter the Far Lands and change it instead of letting it change you.  If you can make things that are not be, and things that are be not…”

“If you’re a lamoshea,” she whispered. 

“If you’re a magi.”  He nodded.  “Then, it’s a different school.  It’s education, sure.  But it’s also magical training, and it’s military training, and it’s hard training, because you will be going into the Legion.”  He hesitated for a moment.  “Your class at the Empire school.  How many graduated?”

She snorted.  “We all did.  Eventually.  Some of us did it on time, some of us took longer.  The worse ones got the lousy postings out of school.  I heard Maga Krstol got sent to some Heaven-forsaken hinterland where they needed help learning how to raise goats.”

Prospero gave her a slight smile.  “There were a dozen of us who made it.  Out of four times as many that started.”

She frowned.  “What happened to the rest?”

He looked at her.  “Hard training.”  When she still looked puzzled, he sighed.  “We lost some as part of Legion exercises, but most didn’t make it through the advanced magi training.  When you push against Creation, and try to change it… if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can push back.  Hard.”  He looked her in the eyes.  “And the only way to learn how, is to learn by doing.  You push, and you’re careful, and you pray to God that you do it right, so that you don’t end up… gone.  Vanished.”  He looked up, stared into the night.  “That happened once.  Two set themselves on fire.  One drowned himself on dry land.  One…”  He shuddered slightly, looked at Cara.  Her mouth was open, as if to speak, but she said nothing.

“He pushed too hard.  Creation pushed back.”  He shrugged.  “Hard training.”

He shook his head, looked at her, and continued.  “Sometimes, though, someone doesn’t get identified early on.  Maybe there’s nobody around them that knows what to look for.  Maybe there’s somebody, but they’re just bad at that part their job.  If they’re a witch or a warlock, they might end up not ever knowing.  They just… have a particular things that work better for them.  Tending horses.  A green thumb.  They never get lost.”

She nodded.  “Right.  Folks with a knack.  The Empire doesn’t really even care about them, do they?  They’re too old.  They didn’t stretch their skills when they were younger, so when they get older, they can do one thing. Sometimes.”

He pursed his lips, nodded.  “It happens that way with magi, too.  Or with those who would have been magi, if they were trained when they were young.  Only… their knacks tend to be stranger.  More worrisome.  More dangerous to themselves, and the ones around them.”

“Scary”, she said, eyes wide.

“Yes.  When the Empire finds those types, they get conscripted, if they can be of service.  Or killed, if they can’t.”  He chuckled briefly.  “It’s a life sentence, either way.”

She put her hand to her mouth. “That’s…”

One corner of Prospero’s mouth twisted into the shadow of a smile.  “A bit morbid?  Perhaps.  You’ll hear more of it.  There’s not a Legionaire alive who doesn’t like to laugh at death, loudly and often.”

He gestured at where the men were setting up camp.  “I went through the Legion magi school.  These men… well, they got conscripted.”  He nodded as he saw the realization wash over her.

“They all have certain talents”, said Prospero.  “The Twins… they’re good at finding ways through things.  A forest, a city.  Put a door or a lock in their way, and if there’s a way around it, they’ll find it.  It doesn’t even really matter if it’s something they want to open.  It’s enough that it’s just there.”

She opened her mouth, hesitated, then spoke. “Those don’t sound too scary.”

Prospero raised his eyebrows.  “Doesn’t it?  If you think about it a bit, there are a lot of places that we try to keep the wrong people out of.  Banks.  Vaults.  Buildings.  The Far Lands.  Government offices.  Legion posts.”  His brows furrowed.  “More places than you’d think, at first.  All of them secured for good reasons.”  He shrugged.  “All of which might as well be sitting out in the open if those those two living incarnations of chaos wander by and decide they’d like to take a peek.”

Cara sat back, looking thoughtful.  “Huh.  Yes.  I think I see what you mean.”

He nodded.  “Exactly.  Bear and Valish are talented in their own ways as well.  Ways that make them useful to the Empire.  Thankfully, they’re both good men, and loyal.  They were more than willing to join, especially knowing that they would be able to serve the Empress.”  He smiled.  “They’re all good men, in that regard.”

Cara hesitated for a moment, then said, “And… First?  Kellan?  He has a talent, as well?”

Prospero was silent for a moment.

One Chapter Down...

Goal: 10,000 words.

Achieved: 3,160 words.

Though I might try to bang out another small scene or two later tonight.

“We’ll get him seen to, First.  We might as well bunk you all in the infirmary for now, unless you will need more permanent quarters…?” Adem said, cocking his head.

Kellan knew the officer was fishing for information.  “I expect the infirmary will be fine,” he replied.  “Valish can get seen to, we’ll roll the Twins into bed, and as soon as everyone is back in shape, well.  We’ll be moving on.”

As he spoke, Bear and the Twins moved across the shimmer of the gate, and emerged into the courtyard.  Daleb and Kosheb stopped mid-song and gasped at the change in temperature, and shook themselves like a pair of wet dogs coming in from the rain.  Bear grunted, and gently nudged them off to the left.

“Here, now, ala-ala. Off it is, to sit,” he said, nudging them with his shield.  Now that they were closer, Adem could see that their broad faces were flushed, their shocks of brown hair matted with sweat.  Brothers, he thought.  Relatives, at least.  Each had the same broad lips and flattened nose, set under wide, bloodshot brown eyes.  As he watched, their mouths opened and closed, and the one to his right gulped.

“Don’ feel good, Ber,” he said.  “Spinin!”

Bear placed an oversized hand on his shoulder, and gently turned him to the left.  “Which is why it is off with you, to sit,” he rumbled.  “The both of you, now, it is.  To sit, and to be waiting.  The Captain comes.”

“Ah, ah!” said the one on the left as leaned on his companion and they shuffled off.  “The Cap’n comin’!  Ber, you tell the Cap’n we did good, right?”  He patted at the arm Bear was using to steer him.  “You know we did good, right, Ber?”

Now clear of the gate, Bear lowered the two gently to the ground.  “The Captain is knowing you did good,” he said in a slow, even voice.  “I will be reminding him, for the sake of you.”  As he spoke, the two leaned on each other, nodding once, twice before their heads sunk to their chests and they began to snore softly.

Bear turned to Adem and Kellan, came to attention, and saluted.  Kellan returned the salute, and motioned to the Twins.  “At ease, Bear.  Have a seat and keep those two from falling over.”  He gestured at Adem. “Centurion Adem has said we’ll be bunking down in the infirmary, so you’ll be able to keep an eye on these two while they sleep it off.”

Bear nodded and slowly lowered himself next to the Twins.  As Kellan finished speaking, an older man in a plain set of brown cotton pants and a matching shirt strode over to meet them. He carried a large leather valise in his left hand. His hair was more grey than black, and cut short, as was his beard.  Bright eyes adorned with crow’s feet moved between the men and the gate, taking in the scene.

Adem nodded at him.  “Magi Dell.  Thank you for being prompt.”  He gestured at the standing stones, just as the last two men were approaching.  “Here come the last two.  Once they’re through and their Captain confirms all present and accounted for, close it.”

Dell nodded.  “Yes, sir.  The Commander has asked me to let you know that he will see their CO in two hours.  Said that should be enough time for them to get settled, get something to eat, and get cleaned up.”  He turned to the gate and stepped off to the side, the put down his valise.  As he opened it and began withdrawing various items, the last two men stepped through the gate.

Both Adem and Kellan came to attention and saluted.  “Captain,” said Adem.  “Welcome to Fregyr.”

The redhead in denim nodded, and returned the salute.  “At ease,” he said, “and thank you.”  His voice was a pleasant baritone, though touched with weariness. “Valish, go give Bear a hand with the twins.  First, report.”  Valish nodded, and limped over towards his fellows.

“Sir.  All present and accounted for.  The Twins have already fallen asleep, and Bear is looking out for them.  Centurion Adem has offered us room to bunk down in the infirmary.  Commanding officer will meet with you in two hours.”

“Good,” said the Captain.  “Centurion... Adem?”

“Yes, sir?”

“All present and accounted for.  Though you have ears, you already knew that.”  He gestured behind him.  “The gate can be closed at your convenience.  I wouldn’t recommend keeping it open any longer than you have to.”

“Magi Dell,” said Adem.  “Whenever you’re ready.”

Dell nodded.  “If you would move out of the way, then…” he said.  As they stepped off to join the other men, he began muttering in a sing-song voice, gesturing at the gate.

Prospero motioned to Bear, who rose.  “First, lend a hand with the the principes.  Centurion, if you can show us to the infirmary, a bed and a meal sounds good.”  He paused, and suddenly yawned.  “No, I lie.  A bed and a meal sounds wonderful.”

Cautionary Tale

How much does your social media presence really reveal about you?  Sure, you're cautious.  You would never intentionally disclose some information.  It's a connected world, though.  Can you begin to guess how much information you might inadvertently be revealing?

From a comment posted over at Bayou Renaissance Man:
I served in the RAAF from 1970-1991, the latter half of my time was coalface hands-on Sigint, Opint and Comint, Watkins-Johnson, RACAL, and PRC-(insert your own digits) were my closest workmates, both here in Australia and at Little Sai Wan, on the island part of Hong Kong...
Were I in the job today, modern Social Media is my first 'stop', its Cornucopia of intel is a wish beyond my wildest dreams!...
An example.
I typed my 14 year old Granddaughters first and last names onto the net.
I do not know any of her passwords, none at all.
In one four hour session, I got the following info.
Her school, favourite Boy Bands, favourite books - past and present, her and her friends after school activities, times and locations and who she hangs out with, home street name, description of house, though no number, when Dad's car is in driveway, therefore indicating when he is at home, two car family, one car garage.
Her bedroom décor, single window placement on ground floor,(no screen or bars of any kind), colour of bedroom light, what design of pyjamas she wears, and how she has decorated her bedroom.
Everything of the last nine lines I got from observing her Skype background images, as she leaves the screen to do stuff in her bedroom, so giving comprehensive access to her surroundings.

Because I Didn't Have Enough To Worry About

The word of the day is “autoamputation.” It means a limb—usually a toe—has decided to slowly amputate itself... 
The process can take years. There’s no treatment other than hacking off the toe at the start in order to save pain and time. No one has any idea why it happens. 

Fires at Midnight

Busy day today - work, contractor putting in underground downspouts, church, then what may be the last campfire of the year as a date night with the lovely Mrs. Robb.

All of which is to say... No update on the Sweepers today; which puts me at negative 3600 words.  Tomorrow is hapkido, which makes for a late night... So, by Friday, I will owe about 7200 words.

Man. "Butt in the seat and writing" is hard.

Still... There is a story to tell, and a world to explore.  I want to finish up the first chapter, at least.  Introduce you to the Twins, Bear, Valish, and the Captain.  After that, I might skip around a bit.  There are some scenes from later in the story rattling around in my head that I want to get down that develop the characters a bit and explain the worlds the Sweepers inhabit.  The connecting bits will get filled in later, as time allows.

Wait... What Time Is It?

Ten thirty already?  Sheesh.  You get what you get, tonight.

Goal: 5k words.

Achieved: 2300 words.  (Well, actually, 3000, but the first 700 don't count.)

“Jens.”  Adem motioned for his aide, who placed his firing rod in the brazier and trotted over.  “Find Magi Dell.  He should be with the commander.  Let him know that the gate closing will happen immediately, and he should attend.”  Jens saluted, and trotted off towards the main entry to the courtyard.

“First Mate Orelley - fall out, but remain with me.”  At those words, Kellan sighed and relaxed slightly.  He turned to face the gate, peering into it along with the centurion.

“Ah, there we go,” he said after a moment.  “I can hear them.”

Adem cocked his head, listening.  There was a distant sound from the gate, almost imperceptible.  As it grew, he could make out the tune of a Legion cadence.  The words, though, eluded him, until he was able to make out a group of figures stumbling through the heat shimmer of the gate.

Adem frowned slightly.  “That is not a cadence I recognize, First,” he commented.  “Was that something about a hedgehog?”

Kellan grimaced.  “Yes, sir.  That would be the Twins.  Principes Daleb and Kosheb.”  He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  “About three days ago, we ran into a small shedeem hunting part in the Far Lands.  They were friendly enough, but claimed that we had disrupted their hunt with our, um, ‘foul stench’, and issued a challenge.  I think they were hoping we would back down and pay a ransom.  The Captain took the challenge, and the Twins went up against their hunt leader in a, um.  Contest.”  He sighed.  “A drinking contest.”

Adem blinked.  “Seriously?  First, you are not pulling my leg?”

Kellan grinned.  “We cheated, of course.  They expect it, after all - it’s the only way they get a good contest.  Plus, the Captain always has a trick or two up his sleeve.  Stuffed the Twins to the gills with something foul that soaked up most of the alcohol.  Even with that, two on one, it was a close thing.”  He sighed.  “As soon as the hunt leader passed out, we left in a hurry.  So sorry, got to be off.  They were impressed enough that they let us go without protesting.”

“Of course,” he added thoughtfully, “most of them were already so drunk they couldn’t stand, so it wasn’t much of a daring escape.”

“Those two are going to be hurting once they get through the gate and all that arukh drink hits them at once,” Adem pointed out.  “Should we send for a physician?”

Kellan waved his hand.  “No, no.  Bear checked ‘em out, said they’ll be fine.  Though with any luck, they’ll just pass out once they get here.  It looks like Bear is herding them in the right direction, at least.”

They could make out five figures approaching through the gate now.  Two were out in front, dressed as Kellan in Legion leathers.  They were staggering and singing at the top of their lungs, obviously trying to march together, and just as obviously failing.  Behind them came a mountain of a man, carrying an oversized scutum.  His dark skin was topped by a shock of white hair and a disapproving fown.  As they marched, he used his shield to prod the two in front of him, or corral them so that they continued to move in a straight line.

Just behind him were two more.  A short, broad fellow with red hair and a red beard trimmed close walked slowly.  Unlike the others, he was wearing a denim shirt and pants, with a scout’s vest as an overgarment.  The final man was slightly taller, and carried the only weapon that Adem could see, a short bow slung over his shoulder.  He was leaning on the redhead, limping slightly.

Kellan muttered something under his breath, and turned to Adem.  “My apologies, sir.  A physician might be called for.  Valish twisted his ankle yesterday.  Nothing serious, but once they’re through, I know the Captain will want it seen to.”

Take Two

It was a cool fall afternoon, but the air was still in the courtyard of Fregyr Keep.  Soldiers moved purposefully across the hard cobblestones of the court, their boots occasionally making a dull thud as they trod on the iron spikes driven between the stones.  Their actions were tense and purposeful as each man sought out his station.  Mixed cohorts of archers and musketeers filed onto the battlements surrounding the yard.  Men checked each other’s armor and equipment, making sure that chain hauberks were settled properly.  Junior centurions kept a watchful eye on the proceedings, barking out the occasional order or stepping in to correct those problems that inevitably reared their heads when you tried to get ten score military men to perform a complex evolution.  Senior cannoneers argued with each other, gesturing expansively as they directed their loaders to make minute adjustments to the artillery pieces they serviced.

All attention was focused inward, on the standing stones at the center of the courtyard.  Stones that normally stood silent, but now seemed to shimmer slightly, as if they were trying to hide behind a heat mirage.

Stones that had woken up.  Or been awakened.

At one end of the courtyard, senior centurion Aras Adem stood silently by one of the larger cannons, counting time silently as the bustle of activity wound down and men settled into their final positions.  His ades, legionnaires Jens and Varys, stood by, busy stoking the charcoal brazier that held their firing rods.  One by one, senior centurions strode purposefully over to Centurion Adem to report their men ready.

As the last centurion reported his men in position, Adem dismissed him, he grunted.

“Three minutes.  Not bad.  Not good, either.”  He turned to check his men, saw that they already had their firing rods ready at hand.  “Remind me to order a drill again next week.  We should be able to manage this in two.”

“Aye, sir,” said Jens.  “Still have a minute, though.  Takes at least four for something to make it through from the Far Lands.”

Adem frowned.  “That we know of.  One of the Mazi might make it faster.  We don’t know.”  He turned and stared at the standing stones for a moment before muttering under his breath, “And I hope we never find out.”  Adem had studied Legion history as he moved through the ranks.He knew that the damage that a true Mazikeen could do to the Real was immense.  Even on Abshya itself, heart of the Empire.  Of course, there, the great Gate to the Far Lands was not hidden away inside a keep like almost every other standing stones.  Instead, it was in the middle of an immense plain.  Ringed by bunkers bristling with coherent energy weapons, railguns, and soul cannon, the Empress had stated flatly that any adrukh who so much as stepped foot on her world would be exterminated in the Real.

So far, at least, that assertion had not been tested.

From the battlements behind him, a horn sounded, followed by a cry.  “Movement in the gate!”

Adem stepped forward, drew and checked his flintlock pistol in his left hand.  “COHORT, ATTENTION!” he bellowed.  With a clatter, every man in the courtyard came to attention.  After a moment of silence, Adem’s voice voice rang off the close walls of the courtyard.  “COHORT, ATTEND THE GATE!!  Observers, report!”

Above him, a young scout with a spyglass peered over the battlements at the standing stones.  As he adjusted his glass, he called out his reports.

“One figure, sir.  Man, or at least it looks like a man.  I can… wait… yes.  Wearing legion colors.  Not moving too quickly.  Looks tired.”

At the mention of colors, Adem could feel a infinitesimal reduction in the tension of the men arrayed around him.  Almost as if the cohort had - as one man - released a held breath.  A lone figure was good.  Every man there knew that Legion protocol called for a single representative to exit the gate and coordinate exit of additional forces.

Still, it could be a trick.  The adrukh of the Far Lands were nothing if not crafty.  Even if the approaching visitor was who he appeared to be, some of the smaller spirits might try to take advange of a moment’s inattention and slip through.  That happened regularly around the commerce gates, of course.  Couldn’t be helped.  Adem was determined that particular manner  of incursion, however minor, was not going to happen on his watch.

He drew a deep breath, and raised his right hand in a fist as his voice rang out.  “COHORT, READY!”

With a clatter, every man in the courtyard moved to prepare their weapons.  Archers readied their bows, broadhead iron arrows laid and ready to fire.  Musketeers went to one knee, braced their gun and sighted them upon the standing stones.  Cannoneers took their red-hot firing rods and held them carefully above the firing ports of their artillery, ready to unload tons of iron balls and stone shot at whatever exited the gate, if needed.

Adem stepped forward to stand between the cannon and the standing stones, his hand upraised and fist clenched, and watched the gate.  After a moment, he could make out the indistinct figure of a man, as if through heavy fog at a great distance.  Moment by moment, the figure appeared to move closer.  It became more distinct, until Adem could see what the scout had reported: a lone man in Legion leathers, head down, trudging towards them wearily.

With a final step, the man stumbled across the threshold of the standing stones, a looked up, blinking.  His hair was brown with dust, and his face tan and lined.  He carried no weapon, but an iron medallion with a raised sigil dangled from a fine chain around his neck.

Adem raised his pistol, and aimed at the medallion.

The visitor glanced around and took in the sight of two hundred men aiming various weapons at him, seemingly nonplussed.  Taking a deep breath, he straightened himself, and somehow managed to march the last few steps toward Adem crisply, where he came to attention and snapped a vigorous salute.  When he spoke, his voice was low and even, but with an edge of weariness.

“First Mate Kellan Orelley of the Thirteenth Legion, reporting under orders, sir.”

Adem opened his upraised hand.  Behind him, Jens called out, “Cohort, remain ready.”  After a moment, Adem slowly lowered his hand, and returned the salute.

“By whose authority do you report?” Adem asked.

“Under the authority of Empress Katarina the Last,” he responded. “May Heaven bless her reign.”

Adem nodded almost imperceptibly.  “And may Hell tremble at her Name.”

With that, Adem broke his salute, and the visitor did likewise.  Adem called out, “Cohort, the visitor is recognized!  Cohort, at ready ease!”  

There was a susurration as the legionaires around the courtyard relaxed from the ready.  Unlike the rest of the men, Jens and Varys kept their attention entirely on Adem and the visitor.  They had standaing orders from Adem in these situations: If this was some sort of adrukh trick, they were to do their duty, fire the cannon, and drink to his memory.

Adem stepped forward and murmured, “At ease.”  As Kellan relaxed, he said, “First Mate?  You’re a bit far from the sea, sailor.”

Kellan allowed the corner of his mouth to turn upward, just a hint.  “The unit started in the navy, sir.  Been years since then, but they’ve kept the ranks.  Tradition.”

Adem chuckled.  “Tradition, indeed.  You look like rode hard and put away wet, First.”  He raised an eyebrow, inviting a reponse.

Kellan’s small smile disappeared.  “The last few days have not been entirely uneventful, sir,” he responded, his voice carefully neutral.

Adem looked at him for a moment, then shook his head.  “They rarely are, First.  They rarely are.  You have orders?”

Kellan nodded, and reached into his jacket to pull out a bundle of papers bound with wire and sealed with wax.  Handing them to Adem, he said, “Sir?  The others will be close behind me.  They were supposed to wait five minutes before following, but... “ He inclined his head towards the standing stones.  “You know that time doesn’t always work out smoothly when you’re moving between the Real and the Far Lands.”

“We’ll clear out the courtyard in a moment,” Adem said.  He hesitated for a moment, then sighed, “I hate that I have to ask this, but… First, how many men should we expect?  We received a dispatch though the HQ in Canedella telling us you would be arriving, but they didn’t bother to tell us how many men we would be dealing with.  Just that a contingent of the Thirteenth Legion would be coming through from the Far Lands, and that we should render assistance, per your orders.”

Kellan nodded.  “Additional details are in the orders, sir.  Our Captain requests a meeting with your CO at his convenience, as there are specifics he wishes to discuss with him in person.  As for men, there are six of us, all told.”

Adem harumphed.  “Six hundred?  Hmm.  Well, we can house you for a while at least, if we double up on…”

Kellan cleared his throat quietly.  “Sir, beg your pardon.  Not six hundred.  Six.”

Adem blinked once, twice, and spoke slowly.  “You mean… six in the advance party?”

Kellan shook his head.  “No, sir.  Six total.  We are… a small unit.  We’re all that’s coming.”

Adem shook his head bemusedly, then turned around.  His voice rang out in the courtyard.  “COHORT, STAND DOWN! Centurions, muster the men in the outer keep for review and training!”

Even before he finished, the legionnaires had started to shuffle along the battlements.  The cool air was filled with the low murmur of military men critiquing one another, or their commanders, or the weather, or whatever struck their fancy.