All posts by tabboo@me.com

Spent the last thirty years in marine transportation and logistics management. Also, have been heavily involved in database management, developing several software products for the marine industry. Forcing myself to work on an industry handbook, but spending more of my free time writing science fiction and just goofing off on my boat.

PRELUDE: Chapter 1

Prelude front cover

Part One: The Sally’s Pride

Chapters 1 scenes –  Acquisition, The Good Night, Fight and Flight, The Rescue Team, Arrested Flight, The Rescue Strategy

*Uploaded 4/7/18

Fight and Flight

Mitch hit the warm water and swam immediately for the raft. Tossing the ship’s EPIRB was the best he could do for the one who insisted on remaining. He could only hope they’d come to their senses, grab their life jackets, and follow his example. But Mitch knew he couldn’t help anyone if he didn’t at least ensure his own survival. He’d spent some time on subs with the Navy. He knew what the US had, and pretty well everyone else when it came to submarines. Whatever this was, it wasn’t a sub, but he still knew a threat when he saw one. When no one else got it, and they all refused to act, he still knew he must leave. If they came to their senses and jumped, he’d at least be there ready to pull them to safety.

When Mitch reached the raft, he grabbed a paddle and tried paddling away from the ship towards the perimeter of lights. But with only one person, it seemed useless. Then a strange thing happened. A sudden current was began pushing him away from the ship. Whatever was coming up was displacing the water and pushing him away. But would his raft make it to the edge before he was stranded high and dry? He paddled even faster.

Just as it looked like he’d make the edge, the flow of water slowed. He looked behind him. Whatever it was, the object began surfacing. It was immense! Mitch could still see the Sally’s Pride’s silhouette, but her bow was partially obscured now by the rising hull. As the leviathan rose, it reminded him of a giant dry-dock. No one in the water. They’re still on board! He realized that once the Sally’s Pride was safely in its grasp, the intruder wouldn’t be hanging around. He began paddling again.

He was only a few feet from the edge when the raft’s safety line snagged. The raft stopped. He looked back. The mammoth hull was mostly out of the water now. It was gray-black and and appeared to be saucer-shaped. Christ! This worried Mitch all the more. The Sally’s Pride was almost gone now, somewhere in its hold. He decided to chance climbing out of the raft, and found he could stand. He worked quickly to find the snagged line, unhooked it, and started pushing the raft towards the blue lights that marked the perimeter.

Suddenly those lights went dark. As last-minute fear kicked in, so did his adrenaline; he pushed the raft faster. The water was receding around his ankles. It was all happening too fast, and the raft snagged again. Then Mitch felt new movement beneath his feet. The saucer was beginning to rise. With the perimeter lights out, he could now see the EPIRB flashing about 20 yards away. It was stranded at the very edge of the huge hull, but too far away to retrieve. He knew he must get the raft free.

With all his remaining strength he heaved up one end of the raft and pushed. It immediately teetered and fell over the edge, and Mitch nearly fell over with it, but released his grip. The strange ship was rising steadily now, fighting the suction of the ocean. He regained his wits and glanced one last time at the EPIRB. At least it was active, he consoled himself. Then he jumped.

The drop was farther down than he’d expected, but when he bobbed back to the surface the raft was at least still close. A short swim, and Mitch dragged himself back up and through its canvas door. Both arms were sore, but he when he fell backwards into the raft he laughed, feeling more embarrassment than relief. “Damn,” he thought aloud, “I’m getting soft!”

Outside the flap, a giant, unending wall was rising up out of the water. A moment later the wall ended and began curving back down and towards its center. Almost immediately he felt the raft being sucked back in under the saucer. His adrenaline surged back, but it took a moment before he realized he couldn’t fight the current. As the saucer’s hull lifted out of the sea, the ocean raced back in to fill the void.

He twisted his body to look up. The underside of the saucer now blotted out the sky; its hull still hadn’t even completely cleared the water. The rushing water still drew him toward the center. After what seemed like an eternity to him, the saucer broke free of the water. Without the slightest noise except the water’s flow, it simply accelerated upward.

Mitch stared as it rose out of sight. He figured it would be his first and last good look. Definitely, he thought numbly, not a sub.

His small raft rocked and bounced in the turbulence until the waves settled down into a familiar swell. Mitch slid back inside the door, resting against the inflated tube. Then full realization of all that happened struck him. “They’ll never believe me,” he said to no one in particular.

The Rescue Team

Petty Officer 3rd Class John Peters received an EPIRB alert message on his screen at the Rescue Coordination Center in New Orleans. Each unit has its own unique vessel ID number assigned, so he was able to quickly identify the ship in trouble as the Sally’s Pride. With only a few more clicks, he could view her specs, call sign, emergency contact information, and her exact position.

Peters tried twice unsuccessfully to reach the vessel’s satellite phone, then dutifully notified his superior on duty. Following the established protocols, his supervisor told him to notify USCG-Marine Safety Office Miami and the station at Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. Peters contacted both, forwarding them the data from his console.

Then he closed the pop-up window on his computer and returned to the streaming EPIRB data on the original display. An odd figure caught his eye: the altitude now showed over 500 feet above sea level. That’s screwed up, Peters thought. And he immediately wondered if the longitude and latitude were wrong as well.

The duty officer was still nearby, so Peters called him over. But when they both looked back at the screen, the reading showed sea level again: it had probably just been a fluke. Or maybe, he thought, he just needed a break and a cup of coffee. He wouldn’t remember the anomaly again until much later.

Arrested Flight

 What the hell? Amid the confusion in the C-40’s cockpit, Lieutenant Commander Fitz Richards stared at the instrument panel: engines and all the controls dead – everything dark except for some emergency lights. But his greatest shock was that they were level, and the plane’s altitude hadn’t changed. Manual override controls seemed to work, but nothing he did with them appeared to make any difference. Outside, the clouds seemed to swirl confusedly around the plane. They clearly weren’t moving, just idly floating – suspended. How? By what? God? They ought to be in a nose-dive, full stall. They should be falling.

His co-pilot, Fred Lucas, tried vainly to get the radio to work, and had already passed word to the rear to brace for impact. Now, minutes later, nothing made sense. Fitz saw some thunderheads flashing brightly and silently about a hundred miles to the south. There was always a beauty to it…but his engines were silent too. And that was a cause for great concern.

Major John Cantor entered the cockpit, forehead creased, looking concerned yet dutifully calm. “What’s going on?”

Hah! Fitz didn’t have a clue. “Major,” he confessed with a tired grin, “unless we’re dead or dreaming, we’ve just stopped. No power, no controls – something like a EMP attack. We’ve lost airspeed. Hell, we should be falling like a rock! But we’re not. And I don’t have any answers. We’re just sitting up here, floating.” And on that note, Fitz suddenly felt dizzy. Cantor begin to stumble forward, then collapse, unconscious, and Fitz felt his own consciousness slipping into darkness. What the hell?

It would be hours before anyone aboard awoke to understand what had gone wrong.

The Rescue Strategy

It had taken little over four hours for help to locate Mitch. By then he was half-asleep on the floor of the raft, and barely heard the sound of the Coast Guard chopper until a diver was in the water. Toward the east he could see the sky growing lighter. It was nearly dawn.

Mitch knew the routine, having been well-trained himself for such extractions. He simply followed the diver’s instructions, secured himself in the harness, and let them haul him up. He noticed the diver’s eyes narrow when he explained he was alone, but there was nothing else to be said. The Coast Guard team spent another 20 minutes sweeping the area for signs of anyone else, then decided to head back to Roosevelt Roads.

Mitch had spent some time thinking about what he should say. If he told them what actually happened, they’d assume he was either delusional or crazy. Still…for a whole ship to disappear without any trace on a clear night – they’d at least suspect foul play.

A Coastie gave him a set of ear protectors against the deafening noise of the copter’s engine, and Mitch leaned back and closed his eyes, determined no one would bother him. Unavoidably, his thoughts returned to Mike, Alex, and his friends. He wished again he could have convinced them to leave, but knew he’d done all he could, short of force. Whatever happened now, God help them – no one else could. And the only choice left to him was to move forward. Go home, find a new job, and get on with his life. Why? How the hell could this happen?

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PREFACE to PRELUDE

Below find my first stab at writing a preface for my novel PRELUDE. Not so amazingly, I hadn’t even thought about writing one until reading Mary Ann de Stefano’s highly informative article on the Florida Writers Association website – http://floridawriters.net/front-matter-matters/

I greatly welcome any comment or critiques anyone has to offer on its content, style, grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It will help me to improve it. Thank you!

Magic Hour 0177

Preface

My family has always been drawn to the sea, in one way or another, and though I never had the chance to meet many of my forebears, that draw has always influenced my choices in life. It led me to a life of working with ships, and to owning boats. And while working for ships is akin to a kind of slavery – ship movements will dictate to all your working and sleeping hours – leaving the shore on one’s own boat is utter soul-quenching freedom.

But before having the freedom of owning my very first boat, I enjoyed the delicious freedom of escaping into books…classic sea stories, adventures, and finally the joy of classic science fiction. This last discovery wasn’t bound by the oceans of Earth, or by the humdrum world around me. Now there was the promise ships could sail to the stars, and every day life could begin a new adventure, as scientific advances redefined the world around me. I experienced sheer delight in exploring the joys and dangers these new tales dangled before me. I wanted to see the future. And I wanted (most of) it to be real.

Unfortunately, I also come from a long line of cynics. I’ve been cynical in my professional and personal life, yet when it comes to worldview, I see a different picture. I see the hopefulness of the future I dreamt of when reading all those exciting SciFi tales. I still nurture and preserve my optimism. 

Yet the most common trope in science fiction and fantasy today is dystopia. These apocalyptic futures no doubt reflect a newer generation’s feeling their parents have really screwed things up. In reality, it would take many more years of substantial screwing up to even begin delivering those apocalyptic visions. Importantly – thankfully – there is always a ying to offset the yang of misfortunate tides. Plus, regardless of how dysfunctional modern times may seem, it is easy to document how much very better human society is on the whole, when compared to any times past.  

So when I undertook to write this novel, I unabashedly wanted it to reflect reality in a positive light. I believe the stakes feel more dramatic when the science is real – actually feasible.

People are basically both good and bad, with varying degrees of both within each person. So while we may have entire groups of people who will sign off and accept the worst kind of brutality and destruction, we still have equally measured groups who will fight such brutality and aspire to produce gentility, growth, and fairness in the world. And amazingly, as a society, these people will mix, change sides, learn to be better, and sometimes learn to be worse than their best selves.

Over the long term though, with occasional stumbles, human society slowly learns how to be their better selves. And while I doubt that will ever be universally achieved (I am still a cynic), that clearly must remain everyone’s long term goal.

And that is why demanding reality is so important. Ergo that’s why I love science, which helps bring truth to reality. While I am no mathematician, scientist, or technical expert, I read and drink up the latest in the theories of everything. I respect the process and the incredible people whose minds make these great new discoveries in truth. And while there is so much absolutely fun science fiction out in the world that wink-winks at actual scientific fact in order to move characters most impossibly through time and space, I prefer to keep mine at least grounded in current theories. 

Human society invents. And inventions are still the best catalyst for positive change. However, when people are unable to differentiate between what is real science and what is false, they can be misled by the opportunists (especially those political types)  to adopt a skewed vision of reality that can lead society toward those apocalyptic speed bumps we might otherwise avoid. 

Facing reality, demanding real science instead of a politically induced stupor, is the best weapon humanity has against dystopia.

I began writing PRELUDE to satisfy one ‘what if’ that piqued my curiosity, and which seems rarely (never?) addressed in any invasion tale I’ve read. So I combined my love of ships with my love of science, reality, and science fiction, and I’ve set sail to put my own spin on the classic invasion yarn.

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PRELUDE: Chapter 1

Prelude front cover

Part One: The Sally’s Pride

Chapters 1 scenes – Acquisition, The Good Night, Fight and Flight, The Rescue Team, Arrested Flight, The Rescue Strategy

*Uploaded 3/26/18

General H’Saichat – (pronounced: Say-Shåht)  the military commander of K’Laadian survey expedition

Khreseea – (pronounced: Kres-ee-ah) an exo-sociologist and Mission Specialist of K’Laadian survey expedition, specialty – study of Earth16

Acquisition

General H’Saichat marveled. A spectacular planet! It stood brightly against the darkness of the void. A million, million stars crowded behind it, pale in comparison, and this planet shone like a welcoming beacon. He’d studied the records – lush, green! A generous scattering of seas and lakes. An abundance of water! An abundance of life too – Sapients! Prime technology! It certainly looked ripe. All the requirements!

“Tact-one view.” H’Saichat’s voice broke the silence.

The walls of the observation room changed instantly. The blue planet was gone. A deep starless and murky darkness took its place. Two wide, angular chairs faced the broad concave wall that wrapped deceptively and almost undetectably into the other walls, ceiling and floor. And there was only General H’Saichat and mission specialist, exo-sociologist Khreseea, alone, sitting and observing. The room’s dim, milky deck seemed brighter…a distraction, and now a reminder.

H’Saichat frowned in disapproval, his large eyes narrowing. “Brighten the target.”

Nothing appeared to change. He remembered, looked up and pointed. A small yellow oblong smudge appeared in the center of the darkness on the ceiling. Pointed at one end, blunt at the other, it crept slowly toward their rear. A thin blue circle appeared around the smudge. “Rotate targeted image to main screen.” The whole image slid down from the ceiling to the wall before them. Dizzying and exasperating.

H’Saichat pivoted to face his companion. “I hope these subjects fulfill your requirements. You can see this is a considerably more troublesome task than Tact-Two’s mission. Commander Leedthra advises they haven’t even finished cleaning away the salts and chemicals from your first extraction. It’ll take eight additional days to clean his craft and prepare for departure. I do not see the value of this method.”

Khreseea nodded and smiled politely. Confidently. Her small, black nose twitched slightly. “These subjects are most important to our overall goal. I can assure you this extra effort has its purpose. So while I am sympathetic to Commander Leedthra’s extra burden, if all goes as well as we hope, this effort will greatly reduce everyone’s burden later. I’m sure you see the value in that.”

Khreseea’s practiced, smooth, melodic voice only irritated H’Saichat more. Condescending intellectual. But she was their Mission Specialist, had been given equal authority, and was well supported by the ruling council. He nodded perfunctorily and turned toward the main wall. “Add Tact-Two target view, main screen.”

A large aircraft in mid-flight appeared on the left side of the main viewing wall. They looked down on it from a vantage point somewhere behind its tail. Below and behind it dull white clouds seemed to race away.

Satisfied, H’Saichat took a deep breath. “Control, Tact-One and Tact-Two in ready position. Proceed acquisition as each target clears Earth16 satellites.” And that was that. With a large furred hand, H’Saichat rubbed the base of the horns on his forehead. They always ached when he had to stifle his frustration.

The Good Night

Seas were calm and the night dark. The half-moon hung in an overcast sky, no more than a dim promise behind the clouds. Alone, the Sally’s Pride, a sleek, white 182-foot research vessel, sliced cleanly through the waves at her own steady pace, rising and falling gently in the low swells. The sound of her engines, an ever-constant hum almost undetectable on board, was silent to the expanse of ocean. Only the wash of her props disturbed the peace of the warm Caribbean night.

Up on the bridge, the autopilot was doing all the work. Captain Mike Caulfield only needed to keep watch – so when Maggie’s assistant, Tracy, joined him, her presence was welcome. In addition to her deep blue eyes, Tracy had a well-rounded figure, a sweet oval face, and soft, thick honey-blonde hair. Moreover, behind her beautiful façade was a PhD in physics and sharp, dedicated mind Mike had rarely seen in such a young woman. “Beautiful night,” Mike observed – for her benefit. Beautiful, he thought again to himself.

Tracy smiled warmly. “Yes…and nice to enjoy it without having to get up early.” She gazed out at the dark horizon. Sally’s Pride and her passengers were at the end of a long test voyage with the Navy’s new multiband sonar; the days had been long, and to the disappointment of other team members, both Maggie and Dr. Mayhew were early risers. Everyone’s day had started early.

“Five AM’s not so bad,” Mike smiled. “We do it all the time underway.”

“Well, it’s not university time,” Tracy rejoined. “But at least the bugs, modifications, adjustments, fine-tuning – they’re all done now. We can finally sleep in!”

“You could’ve gotten off at Pont-à-Pierre with Dr. Mayhew and the rest. They couldn’t wait to fly home.”

“And I don’t blame them, but Dr. Kestler – Maggie – wanted to stay for the cruise back to Norfolk. Didn’t seem right for us to leave without her, and the forecasts were great. So why not? It’s a chance to just enjoy myself. My parents have a boat, and took me out sailing on weekends and vacations until I hit high school. I always loved it. Karen too…she was on the rowing team in college.”

“Why’d you stop sailing?”

“Schoolwork, study, scholarships…I ran out of time. There was too much to do.” Tracy looked away. “I missed it.”

“So, looking forward to getting home?” Mike asked.

“Some,” Tracy smiled, “but we’ll spend a few days back at the university first – just a little catch-up and organizing. But I promised I’d see my parents before returning to the project. You know where you’re going next?”

“Not sure yet…rumors are we’ll load some new equipment and may do some underwater survey work for an American outfit. Map the floor to run some fiber-optic cables. Too bad we can’t rent them your gear. But if we put into a yard, I’ll probably take time off and let somebody else have the headache of refitting her.” Mike’s dark eyes turned back to the chart plotter.

Tracy watched him. Sturdy and handsome – exactly her father’s description of whom she should date – not some bony geek. But most men she knew were bony geeks. Occupational hazard. She’d accepted that.

Tracy stepped out onto the starboard wing to enjoy the light breeze and the stillness. Maybe Mike would take the hint and follow her out. This was one of her two favorite spots for viewing the horizon; her other favorite was the fantail. She enjoyed watching the ship’s churning white wake and the endless sea falling away behind them. She heard Mike’s footstep on the steel deck behind her, but she as she turned, she caught a glimpse of faint blue light out in the water. It seemed odd, and she tried to make it out. A thin, glimmering streak. “What’s that?” she asked, and pointed.

Mike cast his gaze in the direction she’d indicated, and saw it immediately. “Not sure. Could be sea sparkle – it’s a kind of bacteria. They glow blue when disturbed…though, I’ve never seen them out here before. Usually only when they’re concentrated up in a bay, or when they light up a vessel’s wake, but…” He paused, looking more closely.

This luminescence was bright, and formed a continuous thin line, running fore and aft, about two hundred feet out. Moreover, it seemed to curve around forward of the bow. But when Mike looked aft, it seemed to be curving around the stern too – still a single line, not just random patches. It looked brighter, more distinct, and entirely strange.

“Hang on,” Mike turned and headed back into the bridge. But even as he entered, he saw through the forward windows that the blue glow seemed to encircle them. A quick glance through the aft windows confirmed it – Very strange.

As he stared into the water, Tracy stepped back into the pilothouse. A buzzer went off – the ship’s depth alarm. Mike hurried to the panel, checked the sounder, and turned off the alarm. The display read 650 feet – Clearly an error – Mike knew there were at least 1000 feet of water under the Sally’s Pride. The range alarm shouldn’t have tripped unless there was a notable change. Even more odd, the digital back-up sounder also showed a shoaling depth of 640 feet. What the hell…?

***

Mitch, Alex, Karen, and Maggie were down on the mess deck playing rummy, with Maggie’s grandson Matthew kibitzing. As was common on such workboats, the galley and dining area were combined into one compartment. The mess deck on the Sally’s Pride was a little larger than most, because it was designed to handle more equipment and crew. It was a large, comfortable compartment almost the full width of the ship. A large L-shaped bench with a dining table lined the starboard side, with the weather-deck hatch forward. Aft and port was a smaller L-bench and table set-up. A chill and freeze locker also lined the aft walls. The galley’s work counter hugged the forward port-side bulkheads, and there was freestanding serving counter and steam-line separating the galley from the eating areas. Along the centerline, one passage led forward towards the berthing areas, upper deck, and the bridge. An aft passageway led to storerooms and access to the engine compartment.

Such card games were common enough; it could get boring on long trips. But now that the sonar tests were completed and most of the crew had disembarked, it was quiet and everyone was more at ease; the Sally’s Pride could cruise to Norfolk in relative peace.

“Gin,” said Alex, laying his cards open on the table.

“You’re damned lucky tonight, Chief,” Mitch lamented, while Karen laughed.

“Talent, just talent,” beamed Alex. He and Mitch had probably played this game a thousand times over the past four years – not a lot to do in your spare time at sea. Mitch lost more than he won, but didn’t seem to care. It was the camaraderie that mattered. They worked well together on board – Mitch usually chief or 1st mate, Alex usually chief engineer.

“Can I play?” asked Matthew, but he looked away from them immediately to see Maggie shaking her head.

“No, you just finish your ice cream, young man. Then it’s bed for you.”

“Besides which, lad, you need a stake to get into this game,” Alex grinned. “You wait until tomorrow, and we’ll teach you how it’s played.” Matthew surveyed the faces in the room and knew he wasn’t going to play tonight. With a small grumble, he shoved his spoon deep into his bowl and grudgingly returned to its sweet, cold solace.

“So,” Mitch asked, looking at Maggie. “Now your project’s all done, what do you think the Navy will use it for?”

“That’s for other people to decide. We only do the science,” Maggie demurred. Karen laughed. “Yeah! It’s not like it’s a nuclear bomb or something.” Mitch nodded acceptingly, though as an ex-SEAL he could think of a few uses the Navy might have that Maggie’s team wouldn’t foresee.

When the lights suddenly died, the pitch darkness startled everyone. There was one porthole in the galley area, but the meager starlight didn’t help.

“Aaagh! What happened?” Karen shouted, startled. “I can’t see anything, can’t see my hands!” More alarming to Alex and Mitch, the steady vibration and hum of the ship’s engines had ceased – unnerving to any seaman. They felt the Sally’s Pride as she inexorably slowed – a dead ship at the mercy of the seas and current.

Alex was first to get up. He quickly grabbed a flashlight from the catch-all space behind the bench back. “Everybody sit tight. Let me see what’s going on,” he instructed. “Mitch, got your radio on?”

“Yeah.” Mitch thumbed the button in the dark to call the bridge on the ship’s com channel. No sound – not even static. He hit transmit twice again – still nothing. “Battery must’ve died. I’ll go up.”

Alex’s flashlight snapped on. The beam of his light seemed incredibly bright, but granted others relief from the dark. He found another flashlight for Mitch. “I’ll check the engines and get the auxiliary power back on line. Will you women mind sitting tight?”

Maggie stood. “If you don’t mind,” she said, “I’ll go up to the bridge with you.”

“Can I go too?” Matthew put in excitedly.

“No, you stay down here,” said Maggie. “We don’t want to distract the fellas too much while they’re trying to get the power back on-line.”

“I’ll stay with him,” offered Karen.

“I’ll open the starboard hatch,” Mitch offered, “…let in a little light until we get power back.” Matthew didn’t see why he’d be a distraction, and sulked as everyone else departed.

***

Mike had tried the ship’s com, but still got no response – it was dead too. His eyes had already adjusted to the darkness on the bridge, and the night sky was still lighter than inside. But now he noticed that the blue luminescence outside was clearly brighter than before… and now not so far off as it had been.

“Captain, all okay up there… what happened?” Mitch’s voice preceded him up the narrow stairwell to the bridge.

“We’re fine,” Mike called back, “but the coms are down.” Mitch and Maggie joined him and Tracy on the bridge, their eyes readjusting to the low light and shadows after negotiating the pitch-black passageway.

“Alex is getting the auxiliary power. He should have it soon,” Mitch reported.

“Good,” said Mike, “couldn’t reach anyone on the coms…. I don’t know what happened. Everything just suddenly died.”

“Strange. Batteries should have carried something,” Maggie thought aloud.

Should have,” said Mike.

“You know,” added Mitch, “I changed my battery this afternoon. It should have been good, but it was dead too.” Mitch was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable about the coincidences. Mitch didn’t place a lot of stock in coincidence.

Suddenly, some small red lights flickered on in the console. Alex had cranked up the auxiliary generator, and there was a collective sigh of relief on the bridge. Mike immediately tried the com again, but to no avail. He couldn’t reach Alex to ask about the engines.

Mitch glanced outside. “What is that?”

“Don’t know…a little strange,” Mike responded. “I think just sea sparkle. We were looking at it when the depth alarm went off. Then the power died.”

“The depth alarm?” Mitch asked, his blue eyes questioning.

“Yeah. It was showing 540 feet. In fact, both went off. I was about to check the settings when the power died.” As he spoke, Mike tried to bring the depth recorders back up, but nothing registered on either screen. “I think these are fried too,” he concluded. “What could do that?”

Maggie spoke. “Well, if there was a surge before the power went off, any electronics could be fried.”

“What about our equipment?” piped in Tracy. “They were off-line and might still be good.”

“Good idea – try it,” agreed Maggie. Tracy immediately moved to their project’s makeshift work area to the rear of the bridge. She flipped two switches and pressed the power-on button to begin the boot-up. She was relieved to see the keyboard and dials all lit light up instantly, and she waited for the software to illuminate the screen.

Mitch began getting restless. The blue luminescence was obviously getting brighter…and looked unnatural. He walked out on the port wing and followed the blue line with his eyes. It clearly ran around far forward of the bow and then back down the port side, then wrapped around the stern. Not random patches of bio-luminescence…just a single bright line, encircling them, getting closer. Something’s not right. Mitch had learned the hard way in the Navy that when something didn’t look right, it could be dangerous.

Tracy shouted out, “Got it. I think we’ve drifted over a shelf. It’s only 320 feet here, and shoaling.”

“That can’t be,” said Mike. “There shouldn’t be anything under 500 feet for miles. We’re on course – I know where we are.”

“Almost 310 feet now,” Tracy reported, sure Mike had to be wrong. If Tracy knew anything, it was this equipment.

Mitch stepped back onto the bridge, and took in their conversation. He knew as well as Mike it couldn’t be shoaling – not here. His instincts and training suddenly clicked in, “That’s not shoaling, and those blue lights aren’t bacteria. Something is down there. Those lights are closing in, and whatever’s down there is coming up. I think we’ve got to leave. We need to leave now!” Mitch’s voice was firm and clear, and it sounded like an order. Everyone froze and stared at him.

“What?” Maggie was momentarily confused.

“Now!” repeated Mitch. “Listen, I don’t know what it is, but when something knocks out your power and communications, and starts closing in on you, you don’t wait to see what it wants. You get out of Dodge.” He looked Mike straight in the eye. “Mike, unless we can fire this ship up and make a run for it, I’m launching the rafts. Everyone needs to get ready…I’m not waiting.” And he didn’t. He strode back out the port hatch and started down the steps to the boat deck.

***

Alex emerged onto the mess deck to find Matthew standing by the open starboard hatch, staring out. Karen was standing outside on deck. “What is that?” Karen asked. Alex looked out and could see a glowing band of water. “I don’t know, he said. “Has anyone come down from the bridge?

Karen shook her head and looked back at the lights. “No.”

“Stay here, I’ll go up and see what’s going on.”

“Do we have the engines back?” asked Karen.

“Not yet! Just hang tight and I’ll be back.”

***

Mitch tripped the manual release on the port life raft, and gave it an extra shove to send it into the sea. The hydrostatic release mechanism would open the fiberglass clamshell and the raft would inflate within minutes. He moved quickly around the rear of the house and to the starboard side. He released that raft and sent it over the side as well. Before he even heard a splash, he heard a startled scream below him. He knew the voice.

“Karen?”

“Mitch?” Karen responded. “What’s happening? What fell?”

“Hold on,” Mitch shouted, “I’m coming down.” He hurried forward, spun 180 degrees and jogged down the ladder back toward the galley. Karen and Matthew stood outside the galley’s hatch looking a little frightened.

“I’ve launched the life rafts. There are vests just inside under the bench,” he pointed. “Put them on quickly and be ready to jump.”

Karen looked helplessly confused now – the boy even more so. “Listen, I’m going back up for everyone else, but get ready,” Mitch told them and dashed off. He reckoned there was no time to repeat instructions, and wasn’t sure how wise it was for him even to go back up.

***

Alex arrived on the bridge out of breath and still sweaty from the engine room. Everyone was crowded around Maggie’s work station, completely oblivious to his arrival. He took a moment to catch his breath before walking over. “I don’t think I can do anything with the main engines for a while,” he said. “The control panels are both useless.”

Mike turned and faced him, unsurprised, “Same thing up here… think you can manually start them?”

Behind Mike, Alex heard Tracy say, “Two-forty.” Mike turned back to look at the sonar screen.

“I think so, but it will take a little time,” Alex replied. “What’s everybody looking at, and what are those lights in the water?”

“I’m seeing a little definition on the image there. Go to standard hi-def mapping,” Maggie instructed. The overall image on the screen was still fuzzy, but there appeared to be a deep pie-shaped trench between two ridges. “There, do you see it? Maybe a gully. Ping the ridge, then the center.”

Tracy moved the cursor to the right edge of the image and clicked. “70.105 meters” she read aloud. She slid the cursor to the center of the gully and clicked again, “96.965 meters.” Curious, she tried once more just inside the edge of the gully: “96.651 meters”.

“That’s strange,” said Maggie, “It’s a sheer drop-off…close to 90 feet, and levels off.”

“This whole thing is strange,” Tracy added, concern registering in her eyes. “All our readings were perfect – checked out again and again. Could whatever fried the other electronics have thrown this off too? The readings are obviously drifting.”

“Mike, do you ever encounter any submarine activity out here?” Maggie asked. “I’d hate to guess, but a strong EMP or an ELF discharge could have taken out our electronics.”

“ELF?” Mike asked, though he was vaguely familiar with the term.

“Extremely low frequencies. The navy uses them in their HAARP system for communications,” Maggie replied. “ But it can play havoc with anything electrical. It might explain what happened…maybe our skewed readings.”

“You think that’s a sub down there?” asked Mike.

“Well, we’ve got some really odd imaging, but it could just be a faulty interpretation of a sub,” Maggie opined.

“That’s no sub,” came another voice. Mitch was standing in the starboard doorway. “And that light show isn’t some bacteria! Look around us. Those lights are from whatever is down there. It stopped us, took out our radios, and if it surfaces under us, it could capsize us, or hole and sink us. We shouldn’t be here. I’ve already deployed the rafts.”

Everyone stared at Mitch for a moment, then Mike spoke. “Mitch, we can’t abandon ship. The vessel’s fully seaworthy. Alex can get the engines running again, and we can probably repair the radio. Besides, if there is a sub down there, and it accidentally knocked us out, it’s probably coming up to help. Or maybe surfacing because some of its own systems got hit too.”

Even in the dim red light, Mitch could make out the disbelief on their faces. He knew there was a rational argument behind what Mike said. Staying, waiting: that would be the easiest decision. But not for Mitch – the whole situation tugged at his gut. He could almost feel the ring of blue lights tightening around the Sally’s Pride. Something was wrong, and it was not a sub. And finally, as his SEAL training had taught him long ago, once you’ve made your decision, you have to act.

“I’m getting off this ship,” Mitch announced. “And you should too. If anyone else wants to come with me, grab a vest and come now. If I’m wrong, then I’ll paddle back, and you can ride me all you like about it from here to Norfolk…but I’m leaving!” And he did. He paused a moment outside to pull the EPIRB[1] off the bulkhead and fling it over the side, then took off down the steps. At least, he thought, its beacon would bring help.

“What? This is crazy,” said Alex, staring in disbelief where Mitch had just left.

“Shouldn’t you stop him?” Tracy cried to Mike, thoroughly alarmed.

Mike stared at the empty hatchway for a moment, then made his decision., “No. He’s already launched the lifeboats and can take care of himself. Alex, go down check on Karen and the boy. And keep an eye on Mitch to see he makes it to the raft okay. He’ll stay close, and we can pick him up after we get power back… And Alex, grab them a couple of life vests, just to be safe.”

Whew! Alex dutifully headed outside. He knew how headstrong Mitch was, and was damned glad Mike hadn’t asked him to stop Mitch. You don’t fool with Mitch once he’s made up his mind. As Alex headed down the steps, he saw Mitch talking to Karen and Matthew. A moment later, Mitch grabbed a life vest, stepped up onto the gunwale and jumped off.

When Alex reached Karen and Matthew, they were clearly distressed and full of questions, both standing there with life jackets in their hands. The best thing, Alex thought, was to send them up to the bridge with the others. He stayed on deck to watch Mitch swim to the lifeboat, now maybe some sixty yards away.

When Karen and Matthew reached the bridge, everyone was still huddled around Maggie’s sonar. “One-fifty,” Tracy read out., “It’s still rising, if this reading is right.” But Maggie was still looking at the pings as Tracy highlighted the now fan-shaped gully they’d seen. The height variance between the ledge and the bottom of the gully remained exactly 26.8603 meters. “Label a few more points in and along the edges of the gully,” she said.

Tracy complied. The floor of the gully was clearly level, but as the ledges merged, the variance steadily grew, They’re symmetrical, higher toward the center. This was all too consistent, Maggie realized, to be an error. Not natural! Not a gully. Not shoaling – and it’s rising under us. For the first time now, she began to worry, and to think of Mitch.

“Tracy, bring up the multi-band interphase, full high-def, and broaden the scope,” Maggie said. “Let’s get a serious look and see if the image stays consistent.” And there it is! Maggie stared. The broader image resolved itself into a smooth object with a well-defined curve. It was truly immense, and clearly extended beyond the range of their transducer. Flanking either side of the gully, she could distinguish two other pie-shaped outlines which also extended out from the center. And the gully itself was clearly not natural.

Except for the colors, the sonar detail was near photo-perfect. Moreover, inside the gully Maggie could now see smaller structures in more detail. One looked precisely like a large boat cradle.

“What is it?” Tracy asked.

“How big is it?” Mike asked. All were absorbed – fascinated – by the new image.

Tracy quickly drew two tangents, one edge to edge on the wide end and another at the narrow end of the pie shape. “In feet, about 320 wide. At least 90 to 100 feet wide at the narrow fan end. Deep, around 98 feet. What is it?” she asked.

“That gully,” Maggie announced appreciatively, “is a cargo hold. Those are the hold dimensions. My guess is those other fan shapes are hatch covers. Mike, these images and readings aren’t flukes. This whole thing’s got to be around 1000 feet wide, well over a thousand feet long, and over a hundred feet tall. I’m no sailor, but I was a Navy brat. I grew up around ships. And I’m pretty sure we don’t have anything like this. And I’d bet neither do the Russians or Chinese.”

“So what is it doing?” Mike asked.

“I’m not sure I want to wait to find out. I think Mitch is right. Listen – see the center of that hold? It looks like a boat cradle – and I think that’s where we’re headed if we don’t get out of here right now.”

Mike stared at her for a moment, then glanced back down at the screen. Christ on a bike. “Put on your life jackets…we’re leaving!” Tracy stood, stunned in disbelief, still trying to grasp what was happening when Maggie handed her a jacket. Mike assured her, “It’ll be all right, just put it on!”

Then, just as suddenly as before, the power blinked out. Mike felt a flash of anger, then a sudden lightheadedness. His vision blurred, but he could still see Maggie and Tracy drunkenly grabbing hold of whatever they could reach. He fell to his knees, himself grabbing at the back of Tracy’s chair. For a brief moment he felt at peace, then everything fell dark and silent.

[1] Emergency Position Indicator Radio Beacon

 

 

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Preparing for ANNIHILATION – a book review

Annihilation

I read this book some months ago, with hesitation. The further I read, the more hesitant I was to proceed. In truth, this hesitation had nothing to do with the quality of Mr. Vandermeer’s prose or his prolific imagination. He creates an strange and intriguing world within a world, and sets his characters on a dangerous expedition into the unknown – all the exciting elements you could want in a science fiction story.

So what is my problem?

Probably, because when I’m reading I look for new revelations in each chapter. Stories of exploration usually offer not just new challenges at each turn, but new clues to the puzzle the author has created. Characters piece together the clues, bit by bit, until one reaches an Eureka moment, where the puzzle – or at least an important part of the puzzle – is explained.

The basic conceit of the story – which has been given away worldwide to anyone who’s seen the trailer for the movie – is that a  part of the country (by its native landscape, I’d assume Florida) has been overtaken  by a strange phenomena. No one who’s gone in has ever returned (no, they’re not retirees). Moreover, the boundary for this area is ever expanding, posing a threat to the entire country and perhaps the world.

No explanation is given (that I remember) why it is not being closely observed by satellite. So the government’s intrepid team enters with only rudimentary detail of the layout of the land around their entry point.  Here is where the story begins…and it is not too far from where the story ends. The abounding mysteries of the place overtake them very quickly, and the events almost as quickly dissolve their confidence in themselves and their teammates.

And the abounding mysteries pretty much remain mysteries through to the end.  Vandermeer presents his troupe with many questions, but with little by the way of answers – except, perhaps, about themselves and the human condition. Unfortunately, I wanted more. While I kept getting frustrated at not being offered some insight as to why this event was occurring, I kept up hope of being rewarded in each next chapter.  I kept hoping until it was too late. I’d finished the book.

My one final takeaway, reading the last page, was that this story was clearly intended to be continued. I seriously considered checking to see if a sequel had already been written,  but my discouragement at being left empty-handed won out. I never checked. I see now that two sequels have been written, and I’m seriously tempted to give them a shot. After all is said, the first did keep me reading and did raise questions I wanted answered. Who and why come immediately to mind. I’m very leery though whether I’ll find the answers I seek in these later books.

Maybe Hollywood will offer more answers in the movie version.  I know I’ll see it.  Vandermeer has created a rich, fascinating, visual world, so Hollywood’s version should at least look gorgeous even if it winds up a “gorgeous but dumb” blonde joke on theater-goers.

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PRELUDE – A New Cover Story

Prelude laserbeam full cover with spineOne  interesting thing about the original image for the cover is that there were two small disc-shaped elements hovering together near the planet’s surface.  As they were angled and aligned identically, and as each had a notable center, it strongly suggested something had passed through those centers – thus creating the effect.

This odd effect seemed a shame to waste, especially since my story does include the use of several forms of energy beam.  Suzanne Johnson*, who is not only patient (with my questions), but also immensely talented, came to my rescue with this (above) reiteration.

Unless some inspired publisher throws money at me and insists  on using their own cover art, I consider this a keeper.  So how does this grab you? I’d love to hear feedback.

*To see other of Suzanne’s work, her website is: http://dsjohnsonbooks.com/gallery

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Prelude – The Cover Story

PRELUDE front cover
PRELUDE front cover

Anyone who has known me for  any length of time also knows that I can’t even draw a straight line. So my friends would all laugh if I told them I was designing a book cover for  my novel.  

Thus self-aware, I began exploring artistic software that would allow me to not embarrass myself.  One I saw recommended was CANVA, which I found relatively easy to use, but which probably takes much more time to master. It did, however, provide me  fast results.

PRELUDEbackaltThe artwork was free, from a large selection CANVA offered. I expect for a price an even greater  selection could be found at one’s fingertips.  Emboldened by this minor feat, I decided to post it to the SciFi and Fanstasy Group I follow on Facebook. As all aspiring authors do, I craved feedback.  What came next is why I love this wonderfully knit community of kindred spirits. Not only did I receive feedback, but one talented member of this community who does graphic art, Suzanne Johnson, was kind enough to offer a more professional rendering  of my original cover concept.  These first two images are from my original endeavors with CANVA.

Below are the re-imagined front and back pages done by Suzanne. The background images are sharper. The fonts are more stylized and jump out better. Plus she made my name bigger, which – aside from any ego thing – just looks better.


Prelude The Expanding Sea of Earth cover 1
 
I am several months away from publishing my novel in any form, as I would like to complete the patience-baiting query process first. However, it is very satisfying to have a cover concept already in hand – even if needs should change before that time. So I am very grateful for Suzanne’s generous effort. 

I can only hope readers will be as delighted with the pages in between the covers.
Prelude The Expanding Sea of Earth back cover 1
One other bright note to addressing the cover now is that I inadvertently wrote a simpler and – I think – more effective log line or summary of the story. This has always been tricky, for whenever you set one aside for a few weeks, you almost always think of another (better?) was of saying it. This latest blurb gives the basics of the plot, with only a hint of he hidden story, and without going into unneeded detail. That’s my hope, at least. We’ll see…

PS: Suzanne’s work can be viewed at: http://dsjohnsonbooks.com/gallery

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Getting Back Into the Swing of Things

  Well, it has been a while.Scan 13

And I’ve clearly been neglecting my blogging duties, so here is my New Year’s Eve promise for 2018 – 

I will do – at least – one new post per week.

And here are a few personal resolutions we can re-examine during the course of the year. I’m as anxious as you to see how they work out.

  • I will lose weight (it’s the law, you have to include this one).
  • I will see my first novel scheduled for publication, by December 31st, 2018.
  • I will wean myself off wasteful political commentary on Facebook. The effort is criminally stupid.
  • I will finish the first draft of my next novel (this will be tough).
  • I will complete one chapter each month of my text book (time to stop putting that off, although I may be over-reaching here).
  • I will go to my high school re-union in July (if only to see who I can still recognize).
  • I will not clobber any of the idiots I have to endure during the year (this is easy, I’m really more verbal).
  • And, finally, I will try not to burp with my mouth open (very tough, but this one’s for you, babe)! I do truly love my wife.
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Pantsing, Plotting, and Sussing

 

Pantsing, and Plotting, and Sussing …      Oh My!

I’ve read a number of literary discussions on the relative merits of “pantsing” versus “plotting” when it comes to developing one’s story line, and have always been left in a little quandary as to which I’ve done when writing my first novel, “The Expanding Seas”. I didn’t start out with a plot. I began only with a scenario that I found intriguing.

As I wrote, the typical form of most SciFi/adventure plots took shape. I placed my protagonists in the most impossible position. They would have to outwit their captors, overcome great odds, recognize and accept they had a greater responsibility, and ultimately take action to protect others. Obviously, this is a common trope in many genres.

But wait! Not so fast! Rather than plot out how I’d lead my characters and story toward resolution, I found myself approaching each new chapter in their journey from the standpoint of “why have these particular obstacles been placed in front of them”, “what would they need to do next”, and “how might this affect their goals”.

I had already set up a myriad of questions in my opening chapters. I felt I really needed to answer each to properly grasp the next logical action or event – before I could move on. Sussing these out, recognizing this natural progression, is what drove each successive chapter. Moreover, it’s what logically forced twisting the plot before the end.

Now, I won’t suggest that Sussing – as a concept – should be given an equal place next to Pantsing and Plotting. Perhaps it might be regarded a subset to plotting. But I do suspect it fits somewhere in between the two.

You start your story, establish the rules of your story world, then must follow those rules. If you are writing SciFi, or procedural (detective) novels, some of these rules may be strict, leading you down the same path to discovery as your characters. And the more confidant and professional you make your characters – both heroes and villains – the narrower that path will be. Their logic begins leading you down the path to a better understanding of the world you created, and maybe even of your own world.

My own sussing led me in an entirely new direction, and dramatically affected my novel’s theme.

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Learning Curve

IMG_0889

Having now experienced the slings and arrows of seeing this site buried in spam, I’m hoping my new filters will properly remedy the situation, so I and my two or three (?) followers can actually comment and participate.

In the process of learning, I had to remove several of my older posts (fastest way to get rid of blocks of spam messages that I knew). Some of these I’ll repost.

I’ll be more watchful in the future, but hopefully have found a reasonable solution to the problem. And, of course, I’ll try to make this site a little more interesting to watch.

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Protocols, Procedures, and Rules…Oh My!

Having already staked out a position on bad rules, it seems only appropriate that I should give equal time to the value of good rules – in general, at least.

OneTwoThree.

(Scene from MGM’s classic 1, 2, 3…with James Cagney)

The reason we constantly surround ourselves by “best” and “required” practices is to get through life in the least stressful, most efficient and productive manner.

Being human, we are, after all, toolmakers. Much like a computer, hammer, and test tube, these protocols, procedures, and (yes) rules are simply tools. Their purpose is to help us get the job – whatever that may be – done in the best way we can manage!

This brings up two questions. The first is “what is the right tool for the job”. If you have a box of screws and some wood to assemble, do you use a hammer? Obviously, a screwdriver would be better. But then there is that adage “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. Remember that? Good! Now forget it. Go out and buy a damned screwdriver.

IMG_1180The second question is “are these the best tools for the job”. This is more subtle. If you have some hammering, sawing, screwing, and gluing to be done on your project, do you buy the ten-pound hammer, hand saw, long handled screw-driver, and Elmer’s Glue? Or do you buy the heavy-duty electric stapler, a saber saw,IMG_0055 an electric drill, and a water-proof epoxy? Now there are variables. Each must be taken into account to formulate your answer.

In fact, now you have multiple variables affecting your decision on each tool. How big is your project – i.e. how much repetitive action will be involved with each function? What type of materials will you be working on – thin, soft wood? thick, hard wood? And how many projects of this nature will you be participating in, in the future? Will it be just this once? Will this be one of a series of similar projects you’ll need to do? How much time can you allot to this project? Need it yesterday? Need it next week? Plus how precise must your work be? Impeccable quality? Rough, simple and functional? Some place in between?

I’ll assume you’ve got the idea. Answers to these questions will help determine what tools – protocols, procedures, or rules – will work. However, the one safe, albeit generic, takeaway you can get from this exercise, is that most tasks can be successfully accomplished in several ways. What practices are good, better, best, or awful will depend upon your individual situation. The difference, if any, will be in their relative efficiency.

Let’s look at your woodworking project. You have flexibility in the order of work, and the safeguards you choose. You might cut all the wood to size in advance of doing any assembly. You might instead begin assembly of some parts as you finish cutting each piece. Neither practice will be wrong, but their relative efficiencies will depend upon your allotment of time and your immediate objectives. Do you need to turn out a number of units quickly? Then the piecemeal approach might be more effective. Do you need to complete the entire batch quickly? Then doing the cutting, then assembly in stages might be better.

Either way, you get the job done, and get it done right. But the procedure – tool – you choose must fit your objectives and deadlines.

Note that the physical tools you have at your disposal, whether hammer and nail, or computer and software, still affect your final efficiencies. The more automated your tools are, the shorter, simpler your protocols, and the more efficient your overall operation can be.

Bottom line – no procedures, protocols, or rules are – or should be – carved in stone. There are only “best and latest” practices that fit your current situation. The truly “best practice” is to recognize best practice is a moving target, and that organizations should always review and strive to achieve better. The tools – protocols – you

Four friends accept responsibility
(Four teammates dedicated to established  procedures embrace exciting new conditions.)

 use today were developed over time through trial and failure,

In a changing world, when you stop reviewing and refining your procedures – stop updating your tools – you stagnate and set yourself up for failure.

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