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Best Reason Yet...

Ted Nugent says "If Barack Obama is elected, I'll either be dead or in jail this time next year."

Get rid of Ted Nugent. Vote for Obama!

I wonder if there's anybody else we could get to sign that pledge. You listening, Rush?
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The Plague Dogs (Short Version)

The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams
Short Version

(Scene One: Laboratory)

Powell: Dr. Boycott, why are you drowning that dog?

Boycott: Why do you think? I'm a guy who does animal testing in a lab! I do it for the same reason ANY such researcher would: because I'm EEEEEVIL! Everybody knows there's no reason to test anything on animals in labs except because you're EEEEEEVIL.

Powell: OK, that explains everything.

Boycott: Also, since I do animal research, I'm stupid. That's why I named the laboratory ARSE and remained completely oblivious to the idea that this combination of letters might have negative connotations.

Powell: That's pretty subtle. Do you think the readers are smart enough to catch it?

Boycott: Probably not, but it's OK. We'll emphasize the point some more later. Now, are there more dogs for me to drown?

Powell: Right here-- hey, where did they go?

(Scene Two: The Wilderness)

Rowf: Boy, we're lucky to get out of there. But I'm hungry. Here's a car with a bag of potato chips inside! (jumps in and grabs the chips)

Snitter: The driver's coming back. Run! (They run)

Wescott: Those mutts stole my potato chips! I'm going to dedicate the rest of my life to hunting them down and killing them, because I'm EEEEVIL! Let's see. Here's my gun- see, I own a gun, so I'm EEEEVIL. I think I'll climb up to the crumbling unstable edge of this cliff so I can get a good shot. (Slips) AEEEE! That was predictable. That ground looks hard. (SPLAT!)

Rowf and Snitter: Oooh, that sounded like a bag of meat hitting the rocks! DINNER!

Driver: Hmm, what innocent creatures can I victimize by writing them up in a sensational story in my newspaper, because I am EEEEVIL? Oh, look, man-eating dogs! I'll say they killed Wescott before eating him. Call out the army! (scribbles madly in his notebook)

Rowf: By the way, I'm Rowf, and I hate all humans because they are EEEEVIL.

Snitter: I'm Snitter, and I knew a human who wasn't evil. He saved me from getting hit by a truck!

Rowf: That's cool.

Snitter: But he got hit by the truck himself.

Rowf: Bummer.

Snitter: Yeah. His EEEEVIL sister, Annie Mosity--

Rowf: As in "animosity?" That's pretty subtle. You think the readers are smart enough to catch it?

Snitter: Probably not, but that's OK. We'll emphasize the point some more later. Anyway, she was really EEEEVIL. She always hated me!

Rowf: Well, I can see that. You are kind of annoying.

Snitter: And she sold me to the animal experiment lab for a lot of money!

Rowf: Wait.. that doesn't make sense. They could have gotten any number of shelter dogs for free. And anyway, I'm not sure that proves she is EEEEEVIL.

Snitter: But she did it to get money for a FUR COAT!

Rowf: GASP! EEEEVIL!

The Todd: Hi, I'm a fox who is here to show you how to hunt. Go grab those sheep and rip their throats out.

Rowf: Like that?

The Todd: Yeah.

Driver: Ooooh! (Scribbles madly in his notebook)

The Todd: Good, and now we should-- oh, sorry, there are some humans coming, and they're EEEEVIL. Fox hunters, you know. They're going to have their dogs rip me to pieces to show how EEEEVIL they are.

Snitter: That's pretty subtle. You think the readers are smart enough to catch it?

The Todd: Probably not, but it's OK. We can.. IEEEEEEEEE! (dies)

Snitter: Well, that sucks. Let's swim out to sea and drown.

Rowf: No way. I'm scared of water.

Snitter: But I have brain damage that lets me see an island that isn't there!

Rowf: Good enough. Let's go.

(The End of the original version)

Epilogue:

Santa Claus: Hi, I'm here to rescue you. The EEEEVIL reporter had a change of heart and brought Snitter's master back from the dead, and they're waiting on shore for me to bring you to him.

Rowf: Aren't you mythological?

Santa Claus: Sure. But the readers wouldn't let you drown pointlessly at sea, so the author grudgingly arranged your rescue in an epilogue. He was mad that they made him do it and upset that they couldn't appreciate the hard-edged realism of the rest of this story, so he had a mythological being rescue you as a way of insulting them.

Snitter: That's kind of subtle. Do you think the readers are smart enough to catch it?

Santa Claus: Probably not, but that's OK. We can emphasize the point more later in the story.

Snitter: No, you can't. This is the end of the book.

Santa Claus: Crap.

(The End. For real this time.)

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Slime

Here is how you make the substance known to the industry as Lean Finely Textured Beef, and to everyone else as Pink Slime.

Dump fatty bits and gristle into a vat. Heat it up and centrifuge it to spin out most of the fat. That takes care of the "lean" part of the name, and probably the "finely textured" part too, since the process seems designed to convert anything into goo.

Since most of this stuff was from near the skin of the carcass and, therefore, prone to be infected with bacteria, you now season to taste with ammonia. Then you compress it into blocks.

This stuff is mixed back into the hamburger you, or your local School Lunch Program, buys. Don't look for it to be listed on the label, though. The FDA has decided this stuff is beef, so the seller doesn't have to list it as a separate ingredient. If you're like me, you've been eating it for years and never knew it, until you discovered the fact recently, and were revolted.

Now steps in Iowa Governor Terry Branstead -- Republican, of course-- to call for an investigation of all this. Not an investigation of how the FDA could rule that reprocessed, ammonia-treated garbage could be called "beef," oh no. Rather he wants the head of whoever inconvenienced the Honest Businessmen by pointing out that they, the Honest Businessmen, were selling reprocessed garbage as meat.

He is a good honest politician, is Mr. Branstead. I'm sure the $150,000 he got from the company that makes this stuff had nothing to do with his stand on the issue. And it is so refreshing to see one of the leaders of our Democracy who has his priorities so well in order.
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Fat

I have been overweight all my life, and I still am, according to any of the usual charts. I'm much less so than I once was, though.

They warned me before I lost that weight that I might have some psychological problems from it, for a reason you might not expect. And so I did.

See, after I'd lost about 80 pounds I began to notice something. On occasion, people would smile at me on the street, or speak a word to me, completely at random. When their eyes flicked across me, they might actually focus as if they were aware I was there.

When I went to conventions with my friends, some of them who had been unable to see me could actually see me some distance away, and would say hi. I had been invisible before. I had fun with it. I could walk up to people and wave my hand to catch their attention, and they would JUMP as if I had materialized out of thin air. Scared the hell out of folks. I actually enjoyed the effect, until I lost the weight and found out what had caused it.

You see, I now realize that I had been ugly, just a blob of fat in peoples' eyes-- and to be honest, in my own as well. People don't want to see ugly things, and what we don't want to see, we don't. I had been invisible. I had been a not-person.

When I came to understand that, I got furious. Not because people treat me badly, but because I realized how badly they HAD been treating me. It's bad enough to be trapped with a problem that is going to kill you early. It's worse to be despised for it.

Well, I got over the anger. You get used to being a person. You get used to having people see you, and when you smile at someone they might even smile back. You get used to having the Honest Businessmen you anger during an inspection have to dredge up some insult other than "fatso" or "lardo." It's kind of nice.

I still get angry sometimes when I'm reminded of how quick people are to judge and dismiss as worthless those who don't live up to the airbrushed ideals of a hair gel ad. The recent flap about Rush Limbaugh hit me that way.

I am not El Rushbo's greatest fan, to say the least. He is best described, as they say, with "a seven-letter word beginning with A, and it's not 'astronaut,' because that has nine." The fact that he is still wasting perfectly good oxygen on national radio is a prime example of the lack of justice in the world.

But it makes me furious that so many of his benevolent and enlightened critics start their reasoned criticism of the man with "that fat" whatever. Or as one columnist who is always so so careful to point out every possible instance of bigotry put it, "Limbaugh is no more careful with what comes out of his mouth than he is with what goes into it." Clever words, sir! How logically you have refuted any of Rush's words there, and I bet you don't think you yourself a bigot at all!

Don't be bigots, folks. The guy's a jerk. His weight has nothing to do with it.
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This and That

Today is our Presidential primary.

I went because this is a one-party town. Generally the Republican candidates for all the local positions run unopposed in the November election; the only time you get to choose between different people is in the Republican Primary. If then. A lot of the folks are running unopposed even then. Not that I mind too much. A lot of these small town minor positions are just volunteer work with a fancy title. I'm glad we have somebody willing to do them at all.

However, this was ONLY the Presidential primary, as it turns out. We have another primary election in August. Perhaps that was the one I remember, the one with the minor positions.

Well, having gone there, I had a fine choice. I could take the Democratic ballot and vote for our buddy Barack, who was unopposed. Also in this state the Presidential delegates for the Democrats are chosen in a closed caucus anyway. Why, then, we bother having a Democratic primary I do not know. Your vote wouldn't count or be counted, making it even more meaningless than in the usual election-- if that were possible.

On the other hand I could vote in the Republican side, where they do count your vote, where it does (theoretically, the usual electronic hocus pocus and other general fraud aside) choose the delegates. So which do I vote for? Ignorant inSantorum, who wants to force his bigoted and petty version of Jesus down our throats, or the Ghost of the Late Governor George Romney? Tough call. And no comment.

Might have gone for Ron Paul if I could have ignored the overt racism of his prior campaigns for President, but that's a lot to ignore.

-- I spent the day running a Full Administrative Completeness Check on a Renewable Permit. This is every bit as exciting as it sounds.

--On the way home I did some shopping and came up with one of those questions which doth trouble and perplex. Facing the Wall of Paper Towels, I asked the clerk "Which roll is largest, the Big, Giant, or Huge?" To this important philosophical question, he was unable to provide me an answer.
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Antisocial Network? (Help?)

Since Hilltown is coming out from Melange Books fairly soon, I have to do this whole Social Media thing. It's in the rulebook somewhere.

This I know from nothing. I suppose I must have a Facebook page, and Twitter. I have been avoiding both as I don't think I, at least, can come up with anything intelligent to say on them, but it has to be done, right? I just don't know how. I'm too antisocial for social media, perhaps.

Also there's the matter of review sites for SF and fantasy books. I don't know that many of them.

If anybody out there in the World of E has suggestions, I'd appreciate them.

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Strange Radiation

Every so often I hear about some new movie project and immediately start to hyperventilate. Eventually I calm myself by telling myself that it can't possibly be as bad as I think it's going to be.

Usually it is, of course.

There are remakes of movies that should never have been made in the first place. I suppose the rumored remake of _Starship Troopers_ rates as one of those, except you could argue that _Starship Troopers_ has never been made in the first place. Oh, yeah, the Bugs are there as they were in the original Heinlein novel, but the bozo who made the movie dressed all the characters in Waffen SS uniforms (apparently believing that he was being too subtle with his political viewpoint) and then left out the Cap Troopers' powered, armored suits-- which is rather like making an epic movie about Pearl Harbor without including any airplanes. Pitiful, really.

So maybe that has a point. I'm not sure that the upcoming movie _Battleship_ has any such point, though.

Battleship is supposed to be based on the game of the same name. "D-8, hit, you sunk my battleship!" That game?

The plot, so-called, is apparently a variation on the Strange Radiation from Outer Space theme. In this case the Strange Radiation is played by an alien force shield which somehow manages to seal all human weapons out of the battle area except for one battleship. Also, presumably, one carrier, one cruiser, one submarine, and one destroyer, all molded out of polypropylene.

To make it interesting we have the Screw Up Rebel Junior Officer, facing court martial, who is in love with the Hot Daughter of the Doctrinaire Admiral, who by chance also happens to be the commander of the ship where Rebel Junior Officer serves.

Now, the Strange Radiation Plot is usually along the lines of when the Ancient and Lordly Order of the Knights of Gonorrhea sally forth from their cathedral-citadel of Chikkun Noodl to bring order to the wastelands, they ride Shetland Ponies and carry Red Ryder BB Guns, because Strange Radiation from Outer Space keeps other weapons and other means of transportation from working. Or in other words, the author really liked ponies and BB guns.

In this case the author really likes battleships, apparently. All this appears to be an attempt to justify a CGI Battleship letting loose full broadsides on the wide screen, in 3D.

I gotta admit that would be pretty cool. Certainly offers more potential for pointless explosions than anything since Sylvester Stallone, and Pointless Explosions are the number one thing I look for in cinematic entertainment. But I'm not sure that even that is enough to get me to get me to watch "You're a disgrace to the service and I'm going to get you courtmartialled! D-8" "Miss! Bring me up on charges later! First I'm gonna save your daughter Jessica and all of Earth! D-7!" "Hit! What does Jessica have to do with it? You keep your hands off--"

But no, it can't be that bad.

Can it?
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Question

If you haven't heard of West Branch, Michigan, I'm not too surprised. It's about a hundred miles from the nearest place I might reasonably expect people to know.

About three miles south of town, accessible only via the northbound lanes of Interstate 75, is a rest area. It has a parking lot, a few picnic tables, public toilets, and two or three vending machines.

As you walk toward the toilet building you will pass a sign which says NO SKATEBOARDING.

I have to look around at the miles of nothing in particular surrounding this rest area and ask "Is this really a problem here?"
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Opening Day

"If you should happen to need to go into the woods, don't wear brown. Or white." I paused a moment to consider. "On second thought, it would probably be better if you didn't go into the woods at all."

Teph looked at the calendar. "Oh, yeah. November 15th. Opening Day."

Ah yes, Opening Day, the Upnorth National Holiday, where there is nothing deadlier than a white handkerchief (if anybody carries those any more). Because when you yank it out of your pocket to catch a sneeze, it flashes and flutters around just like the white tail of a startled deer bounding away through the underbrush. It's likely to get your fool head blown off.

Not that this happens often, to give the hunters credit. Usually the drive up here is the most dangerous part of the hunt.

Back in the late 1950s, my relatives tell me, they closed the Upnorth schools for the first week of deer season because between the people gone hunting and the people working to sell things to the Red Army, as they were called back then, nobody was going to be sitting in any classrooms anyway. This was in the years before the freeway came this far north, and they'd close the state roads too, or at least the southbound side of them. Both lanes would be bumper to bumper traffic heading north, driving like mad, the night before Opening Day. If you wanted to go south, you'd have to creep southward along the gravel shoulder, facing the glare of headlights all the way.

Today, the Red Army has become the Orange Army (by law) and Opening Day isn't quite the big deal it was back when it was the only thing going on up here between Fall Color Tours and Spring Morel Mushroom Picking. But it's still pretty big. Last night the roads and stores and restaurants and bars were swarming with hunters.

Today, heeding my own advice, I took my noon walk through the driveways and parking lots of the box stores near my office, not in the empty woods out back. (We have urban sprawl here too, except without that "urban" part.) The parking lots were STILL swarming with people.

Which raises a bit of a question. If the hunters are supposedly hunting all day (although there is about as much all-night drinking and card playing and sleeping it off afterward as there is hunting, I'd guess) then who was doing all the shopping at noon?

Well, another tradition of Opening Day is that the lonely, upset, sorrowful wives, left behind when The Guys all go out to The Camp, stay lonely etc etc until The Guys are out of sight. Then they grab the checkbook and the credit cards, assemble in swarms akin to locusts, and Descend Upon The Stores.

In today's less sexist world we don't have quite the division of labor they did in the old days, but there's still a lot of that going on. Old Upnorth National Holiday Traditions die hard.

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Overheard online and not original:

"The problem with the Internet is the difficulty of determining the authenticity of quotes you read there."

--Abraham Lincoln
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Halloween Stories #2

An old story of mine. It seems appropriate to the season.

Second Story Man

Sunset comes and I awaken in the telephone exchange which was. This is where I spend most of my time now, in the second story of a storefront in the middle of downtown.

So why is he there?Collapse )

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Halloween Stories #1

I was visiting my mother and, out of fairness, decided to go visit my father too. They've been separated for years. (It was nothing personal, only death.)

The journey was as long as you'd expect, walking alone down empty country roads. The trees scattered along the roadside showed black, naked branches against the cold gray October sky.

I found him living in a small, plain house with a roommate he didn't take the trouble to introduce. Such a plain home didn't seem to trouble him as much as it would have once. He was sitting at the desk he'd built himself (I have it in my room) and working on his biography, which was half done.

He said "Every man is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody."

"Mom told me you'd said that, and I was surprised you had. It's Mark Twain."

"I never said it was original."

"I never said you said it was original. What surprised me was that you'd say it about yourself. And that you liked Mark Twain."

"Oh."

"But I wanted to tell you I understand what you meant. I understand you did your best."

"Good. Thank you." And he returned to his work, leaving me to return to my own.

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Leftovers

My mother is lovable in such an annoying way I sometimes don't know whether I want to hug her or kick her.

I went on a visit to help with some family business. When I got there at 8:30 PM she had a home-cooked dinner waiting for me. No surprise there; We'd planned on this, and I'd skipped dinner. Everything's OK so far.

I sniffed. It smelled wonderful, but... "Is that chicken?"

"Yes. With carrots, onions, and potatoes." She had it simmering in an electric frying pan on the counter.

"I thought you were doing spare ribs in the slow cooker." The whole idea being, of course, that they could sit there all evening and would be fine whenever I got there, with no extra work on her part.

"I did. But they didn't turn out well, so I cooked the chicken instead. The ribs are in the refrigerator."

All this cooking for a guy with half a stomach. (Don't feel sorry for me, I didn't need the other half.) I ate a small piece of chicken and some of the vegetables.

We handled the business today. Then I went home with a few leftovers: The rest of the chicken dinner, the complete rib dinner, some leftovers from a restaurant we went to today, and what was left of the homemade apple pie she also baked, which was all of it, because we didn't get into it while I was there. And oh, yes, one Mason jar each of home-canned applesauce, tomato juice, and dill pickles.

I managed to get out of there without hearing what was wrong with any of it. To hear Mom speak she's never cooked a decent meal or, especially, baked a good pie in her entire life. It's always too runny or the meat isn't lean enough or the chicken is too dry, but everything is always great.

Well, that's not true, quite. She DID warn me, as I fled out the door with my loot, that the dill pickles are salty. But somehow I'll cope.
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When the Story Can't Change

Once upon a time, if you wanted something printed you'd have it hand-set, with movable type clamped into flat devices called forms. This took a lot of work, so it was expensive, especially for something as long as a book.

There was only a limited amount of type and a limited number of forms. You'd typeset your book (or just one section of it, I suspect) and print it, then knock it down and reuse the type for the next job. If your book was a hit you'd need to have the type hand-set all over again, maybe two or three times.

There was a way to "save" your hand-set type to avoid this. You would make a bed of wet clay and press the type into it, making a mold. You would then pour molten type metal over the mold, to make a page's worth of text in one solid block.

The only problem with this approach was that you could never change your page, once you'd set it. But if you wanted to print the same thing over and over again, without change, this was the way to do it.

The process was called stereotyping.

French printers had a word for one individual stereotype plate out of a set of them. My dictionaries differ on where the name comes from- might be a mangled version of the German for a mass of clay, such as you'd use to make the page mold, or it might be imitating the sound of the type form being pressed into the clay, or the type metal being poured onto the mold. In any case, they had a special word for that single plate. It was known as a cliche'.
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Noon

In Grandfather's town you carried
a spark of time on your wrist
through a wilderness of trackless hours.

Lit from the kitchen clock
in the predawn darkness,
before work,

Setting hands, twisting the knob,
to wind the dime-store watch,
Finger and thumb with special ridges
Of callus, from decades against sharp edges
and the resistance of springs.

At noon each day the tornado siren wailed
And 532 sets of fingers
moved to reset 532 drifting watches
To realign another day
With eternity.
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Apple Has Jumped the Shark

I love my Ipad and Iphone, but I think Apple is on its way down.

With the human urge to blame everything on heroes or villains, I'm sure people will say this is because they've lost Steve Jobs. I'm sure that doesn't help, but the real problem is they seem to have given up on innovation.

Notice that they now devote more effort into unfair, anti-competitive tactics than they do to new products. They are big into suing anyone and everyone over silly patents, such as the case in Germany where some idiot judge has apparently decided Apple holds the patent on the rectangle.

Notice also their much-anticipated new products. The iPad THREE. the iPhone FIVE. The iPod.. six or seven? The Mac, version 15 or 20? And at that, the iPhone is nothing but an iPod with cellular capacity added, and the iPad is just iPod Extra Large.

Oh, and they also had a huge media to-do about bringing out some of their products in white instead of black. Big whoop.

You read it here first.
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Electricity

I gather that most folks on the East Coast weathered or are weathering the hurricane fairly well. I was sitting here at my desk wondering if a couple people (and you know who you are) were dry, had electricity, and so on, when our power here failed.

It was out for two hours on a calm, warm, sunny afternoon. A bit of irony there. Since the lights dimmed several times before the power failed, I'd guess a tree touched the lines. That's the usual sign. But I don't know, and assuming this was just a local problem, I never will.
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Woot?

Melange Books, a small press, has offered me a contract to publish Hilltown. It will come out as an ebook and, possibly, hardcopy in April of next year.

I thought about it, read the contract, carefully considered, and..

Oh hell, I agreed with a quickness that Einstein might have said was impossible. Although yes, I did read through the contract- and since I have only an e-draft of the contract I haven't signed it yet.

And I feel oddly deflated. After about 15 years of trying to get books published, after being ignored except for scam artists who were interested but only if I paid them $5000 to doctor the book before accepting it, I'm wondering what the scam is this time.

But woot?

Also Anthro, at www.anthrozine.com, says it's coming back from the dead. I got a note from the editor that _Hoarfrost and the Night_ would be good for his Back From the Dead issue.

He says he has had personal problems which kept him from continuing with the magazine. I am glad he's bringing it back because it is where I had my greatest success in getting stuff out there for people to read. But that is far, far less important to me than the fact that the editor, Mr. Long, is still alive and presumably more or less OK. A publishing venue is only a website, but Mr. Long is-- would it be presumptuous to call him a friend? And he'd dropped off the face of the Earth, and now he's back. You have to love that.

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The Idiot Ball

Many spoilers!

I saw parts of the Star Trek reboot movie at a great party. Maybe my brain wasn't operating at full efficiency, but I thought "Special effects, pointless explosions-- what's not to like?" So wanting a movie the other day, I got a copy of Star Trek.

Bad move. I can't watch this thing. The stupid, it burns!

You can't even call it the Idiot Plot, because that requires all the characters to be blind about one obvious thing. Here, each person is stupid in their own individual way. Apparently 23rd Century Replicator Technology allows everyone to have their own personalized Idiot Ball.

But what really made me turn the thing off in disgust is the stupidity of the Romulan Captain.

Captain Nero-- let's name the villain Nero, that's subtle!-- blames Original Spock, who is here Future Spock, for the destruction of Romulus, Nero's home planet. Future Spock has been thrown into the past by the accident; Nero follows somehow, Swearing Terrible Revenge. But he overshoots by 23 years.

Now he's 23 years early for his rendezvous with Future Spock and his Terrible Revenge. What's he going to do for 23 years?

One possible course of action would be to go home to Romulus and wait, while relaxing on the beach and enjoying good Romulan home cooking. While he was there he might, say, give the government a clue that the whole bloody planet's gonna go kaboom in 103 years 9 months 3 days 22 hours 3 minutes, maybe they ought to do something about that. And by the way, here's my starship. She's just a tugboat, basically, but her tech is so advanced she can take out any Federation ship, or any combination of them. Think you might be able to do something with that tech?

So Nero sits there on his beach, in luxury, for 23 years. And then when Future Spock arrives he hunts him down and says "I destroyed everything you cared for because of what you did. Here, look at the ruins of your world, near the center of the Now Much Greater Romulan Empire."

That, I would think, would be revenge enough.

Does Nero do that? Does he even check into a cheap motel in some obscure tourist town in Missouri?

No. He does nothing.

He lives aboard a TUGBOAT in deep space, all alone, doing NOTHING.

For TWENTY THREE YEARS.

On second thought, the 23rd Century does NOT give everyone their own individualized Idiot Ball. Nope, there's only one Idiot Ball here. It's being carried by the writers.
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Wild World

Very roughly paraphrased, a blog I read said "This song sucks. He's claiming to be a wise old man, but he was a 23 year old kid whose supermodel lover was leaving him- why she ever took up with an ugly geek like that I don't know- and she was his own age. What an arrogant, manipulative liar he was."

No, it didn't suck. It was a good song, or at least it wasn't bad for the reasons given.

Maybe he thought he was so mature and understanding, but he was an idiot. Maybe he was losing his lover and thought "How would I react to this if I really was as grown-up as I wish I were?" and wrote from there. Maybe the song was a cynical attempt to manipulate her. Maybe the song was flat-out fiction, with nothing to do with his real life at all.

We don't know, and it doesn't matter. He told a good story. When it comes to art, that's all that matters.

It irks me when people say that because an artist, scientist, author, or athlete isn't a plaster saint, their work can't be any good. Or conversely, because their work is good, they must be a plaster saint. It doesn't work that way. A person's accomplishments are sometimes because of what they are inside, but also sometimes in spite of what they are inside. They are what they are, and once they're created, what the creator does in their time off can't change that, one way or the other.

I hope nobody's going to say that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories suck because he was just a middling medical doctor, who never committed a murder, stole a jewel, or hunted down anyone who did. I hope nobody's going to say my stories suck because I never piloted a starship. They are what they are, folks.

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Jesse James's Gun

The first of what you might call modern cartridges came along about the time of the US Civil War. Most revolvers of that war didn't use them. After the war, though, revolvers that fired the new metallic cartridges were all that most people wanted.

I suppose that had much to do with the fate of the Rogers and Spencer.

Not Just Gun GeekingCollapse )
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My Country, Right or Wrong

“Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!”

--Stephen Decatur, US Navy Officer, c. 1816

He never quite said "My country, right or wrong," but I've heard the misquote far more often than the original.

I've heard self-appointed super-patriots use the misquote to say that you must blindly respect authority and support the actions of the government, right or wrong, good or evil. I have heard it used in a manner even worse, to say that anything the United States does is right, by definition, even if it's wrong; as in "If the United States does it, it isn't torture."

I have heard the misquote used sneeringly, by people who dismiss any respect for your own country as jingoism. I've heard the sneering reference more often than I've heard people seriously espouse the idea.

I take the misquote, or the quote itself, to mean that I can't abandon my country even when I know it's doing something wrong. That even when my country is in the wrong I owe it to us to do the best I can to make it a better place, and to direct it toward doing the right thing-- even though I feel powerless to help, I owe the country to at least TRY. And not threaten to abandon my country for some other, just because it does something I consider to be evil, or because somebody I don't like happens to win an election.

If you really love something, you try to take care of it, even if it hurts you.

It's hard to put up with the Greed and Stupidity sometimes, but I have to do it.
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Desktop Calculator-- 1987

The IBM PC was beneath "Greg." The mapping software would only work properly on a serious machine, like the DEC minicumputer or the Sparc Stations. Still, we had to try to get part of the software to run on the wretched PC because the customers, the users, kept asking for it.

Greg didn't have much use for users. That included me, the sole survivor of the original branch of the company, the one that had used our software to make maps for the industry rather than trying to sell the software itself. Still, I was useful enough. I could try some damfool user move like crashing the system by using a contour interval of 0.00001. ("It was a triple integral of the vertical component of the magnetic field, and the whole data range was only plus or minus 0.003! How could I know it was gonna crash the system?") Annoying, but better that I do it than that one of the paying customers did.

I rose a bit in his estimation, though, when one of the PCs-- one of the GOOD ones, the PC-AT, with the faster processor and the big hard disc-- ate itself. It needed a new hard drive. I told Greg I thought I could replace it for less than the $600 that IBM was going to charge us. Not only that, I pulled it off.

And not only THAT, but by paying $300 for a new drive and a RLL controller card to operate it (IDE, with the drive electronics on the disc drive itself, was still years away) gave us a hard drive of 40 MB, twice the original capacity. We had no idea what we were going to do with all that space. I was a hero. I actually knew something about computers.

Then, two days later, I shot myself down again.

I was rummaging around for a calculator. "You know, they ought to build calculators into these desktop computers."

"What, build a calculator into the keyboard?" Which was not such a bad idea, actually. A year or so later those showed up on the market, and you could buy them for several years. Maybe you still can.

"No, as software. With a calculator display right on the monitor. I'm sitting here looking for a calculator and I've got an IBM PC-AT that can do twelve thousand arithmetic calculations per second, and I can't get it to divide three by seventeen. It's frustrating. They should have a calculator program that just pops up when you need it. Multitasking on the desktop computer, or something like that."

Greg snorted. "Do you have any idea how hard that would be to do? And for what? To use a five thousand dollar computer to take the place of a fifty buck calculator."

"I don't care. They should do it."

"No, they shouldn't, and they never will. That's just a silly idea." And Greg walked away, shaking his head and chuckling about how naive I was.
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Negative Evidence

Published in the Anthrocon 2011 convention book.

Samel Church stood in the doorway looking miserable, and well he might. My Procurator, Dimitri Silverblaze, loomed behind him.

Dimitri isn't huge, but the mouse Samel barely came up above his knees. The little fellow just had to feel threatened. Besides, Dimitri is a Dark Unicorn, and we all know why the Mad Czar had his necromancers create them.

I tried to blink myself awake in spite of the bright sunlight streaming into my office. "What did Samel do this time?"

"He fell off the north wall, trying to climb out."

I rubbed my bleary eyes with my left wing. "Samel, is this true?"

He hung his head lower. "I'm sorry I tried to escape."

"Oh, Samel. Don't be sorry about that. I'm upset because you could have been killed! If the time comes, you may leave openly. But if you do, walk out the front gate. Never try to go over the walls."

"If I could leave, why did Procurator Silverblaze bring me back? I can't use magic, I can't, I can't! I've tried so hard, but I don't belong here. He should have just let me go." The little fellow's eyes brimmed with tears. My heart ached for him.

"I had to help you. You broke your arm when you fell," Dimitri said. His voice was gentleness itself.

I reached for Samel's arm. "Let me see that." He held it out for me, full of trust.

I started chanting a healing spell. I could sense a minor fracture, but it was hard to focus power on it. Well, like all bats, I'm not at my best in daylight.

"I feel your power," Samel said. "If I can feel it, like a wizard does, why can't I use it?"

"We don't know. We'll find the answer, though. Don't lose faith. Stay with us."

He lowered his eyes. "I will since you ask it, Princeps."

The magic curled around the bones of his arm, flickered, and slipped away. I sighed. "I can't hold this. You'd better go see Brother Timothy. He'll splint your arm."

"Once again magic fails me."

"My spell would only have held the bone in place anyway. Some things work just as well without magic. Go see Medicus Timothy, and try not to lose hope."

"As you wish, Princeps. I've given you nothing but trouble. I'm sorry to disturb you, especially now that the Greenleaf Brethren have-- you know--"

"They can threaten, but actually collecting my head is something else. And any Prospective is worth my trouble, Samel. The Institute exists for the Prospectives, after all. If the Brethren make us forget that, they've already won."

He bowed and left, holding his arm.

"I thought you reinforced the wards on the walls," I said, when the mouse was out of earshot. "I thought I told you the Council authorized lethal magic."

"I did, and the wards are lethal, or should be," Dimitri said. His eyes, black in black, were unreadable as always, but I felt his certainty. "I'm good at lethal, too. He's lucky to be alive. It's most curious."

"Check the wards again. I hate to take this personally, but I'm told that when a necromancer cuts off your head he keeps you conscious until they rip the knowledge-- um. It is, they say, most unpleasant. You're sure that your spell will destroy my head if--"

"You'll explode like balefire. But they won't get either of us." There was a hell-glow deep in those all-black eyes. He looked like he meant it. That glow made even me shiver.

"Why do the Greenleafers hate us so much, Dimitri? Even my herbivore friends don't understand it. Killing in the name of radical vegetarianism! It's ludicrous!"

"I asked about that, in a meeting of the Vegan Party in town. They didn't seem to have an answer, even among themselves. They just spouted slogans at me."

I blinked. "They let you into a meeting?"

"Why not? I have flat teeth, don't I?"

"If they knew what dark unicorns eat, they wouldn't worry about Brother Timothy's pot roast."

"I think they would. Like many fanatics, they are more concerned with symbols and theories than facts."

"They choose to make themselves ignorant."

"Yes, but encouraging fear and ignorance has always been the swiftest route to power. The Mad Czar knew that. He lost the World War in the end, but that doesn't stop others from following his example. We learn nothing from history."

"I'd like to think we learned something, at least. And I think the Greenleaf threat will pass, as others have."

"I hope you're right."

"Do you think we might flow-scan poor Samel again? Tonight is the dark of the moon. At midnight, our abilities should be greatest. It might work this time."

"I begin to think he's right when he says he has no magical talent."

"Nonsense. Everyone has some magical talent."

"Newton proposed that with her Laws of Magical Interaction, but it's never been proven."

"But Samel feels magic so strongly! Besides, he wants it so much."

Dimitri considered this for a moment. "Given that kindness changed even my own people, I know it's never wasted on anybody. Let alone on a gentle, sincere fellow like Samel. All right, let us try one more time.

"But there's something strange about him. I suggest you consider the curious effect of your healing spell."

"The spell had no effect."

"That's what was curious."

"You're too deep for me."

He smiled, showing a perfect set of black teeth. "Of course I am. I'll bring Samel back here toward midnight. In the meantime I'll check the wards on the walls. You get your sleep, old friend."

"I will. Thank you, Procurator."

#

Dimitri brought Samel to my office an hour before midnight.

"Welcome. Come in and be seated. All right, Samel, I-- wait. Who's there?"

The door to my chambers opened again. I saw nobody, but I felt the air move.

Dimitri sensed the threat first. He gestured and started a warding spell, but it was too late. A net of orange fire wrapped him and threw him to the floor. I tried to reach for power, but barely spoke a word before the spell hit me too. It slammed me to the wall. I felt bones break.

The air shimmered. The shimmer became a red deer unwrapping a green cloak from around his body. He was dressed as a Necromancer, Gray Level; bracers, breastplate, skull helmet, and nothing else. Like all Necromancers he used a wand made of bone, supposedly the thighbone of someone he'd strangled. Two minotaurs appeared with him. They carried axes.

"I'll hold them. Get their heads." He pushed past Samel.

Samel stepped back. But then he squeaked a war cry and charged.

His cry was a squeal of rage that would have been at the edge of anyone's hearing except mine. Teeth bared, eyes bulging, he hurled himself at the deer who towered over him.

The necromancer flicked his wand and the world exploded in the purple glare of balefire. I wept in rage against a fanatic who would vaporize a young student when a simple slap, or a basic stun or hold spell, would have stopped--

--but Samel was still there, untouched in the midst of the glare. He hurled himself at his enemy. His toeclaws bit into the deer's ankle, he dug his finger claws into the thigh, and he lunged upward and bit with those razor-sharp incisors. He bit the deer real high?

Even wrapped in magic as I was, I cringed. No matter how skilled a mage you are, some things just have to break your concentration. This was definitely one of them.

The red deer squealed even higher than Samel had, if that was possible. He leaped, reached down, desperately tried to swat Samel away. His wand went flying. The spells that hold Dimitri and myself shattered.

Dimitri spoke a Word of that great power his people carry. Just the feel of his power half stunned me. His magic was enough to hold our enemies, I was sure, but I threw in everything I had too, just to be safe. Then I thought it might be a good idea to crumple down onto the floor and sleep for a while.

#

"Princeps?"

"Samel. Dimitri. Thank you both for coming."

"How could I not?" the mouse said. "Are you sure you're well enough to speak to me?

"My ribs are healing. How is your arm?"

He held it up and flexed his wrist, wiggled his fingers. "It seems fine."

"He's healed, Princeps," Dimitri said. "Brother Timothy can't find a trace of a break. In fact, our young Master Samel seems to have gained some muscle bulk out of this incident. It's only logical, after all. Remember the Law of Conservation of Magic. All the energy he absorbed had to go somewhere."

"I don't understand," Samel said.

"I'm only beginning to understand myself," I said. "There shouldn't have been anything of you left."

"There was so much light around me, and it felt cold, yet the cold felt so far away somehow. What happened to the necromancer and his axemen?"

"I took care of them," Dimitri said.

Samel looked up at the Dark Unicorn, swallowed, and nodded. Obviously, he had decided not to ask questions. Wise lad.

I said "I think we discovered your special talent, Samel. No matter how powerful, magic has no effect on you. Your body just absorbs it."

His eyes went wide and filled with tears. "Then truly, I have no place here."

"On the contrary. Your best place is here."

"How can that be?"

"You've already shown how. In a world run by magic, a warrior-- and don't scoff, you have a warrior's heart-- who is immune to magical weapons may be the ultimate weapon himself."

"So you want me as a guard, to patrol the walls."

"I would like you to have combat training and help protect us, yes. But your talent has other uses. In particular, I'd like to start training you to be our potions master. I have the apprenticeship contract right here. All you need to do is sign."

"What good is a potions master who can't use magic?"

"You'd be surprised. Our most useful medical potions use no magic; that's one thing that helps make them so useful. As for the rest, you could learn the incantations but prompt someone else to chant them for you."

"I'd still be a poor master, if I can't--"

"Ask him what happened to the last potions master," Dimitri said. Blue sparks danced among his teeth when he grinned. It was disturbing.

"What happened?"

"We don't really know. We presume the laboratory accident had something to do with her disappearance, but.."

"And the one before that?" Dimitri prompted.

"He got turned into a newt," I said. "A red chenille one, to be precise." I nodded toward my corner bookshelf with the stuffed animal on top of it.

Samel looked at the plush toy animal and blinked. "Is he still alive?"

"We don't know. I talk to him anyway, just in case. But I think my point is made. The laboratory is a dangerous place, with untrained students just learning their first potions. I think you can see how someone immune to magic would be invaluable there."

"So it's not just because I tried to save you?"

"I'd never entrust our prospectives to your training just because I'm grateful to you! Nobody I've ever met is as qualified for this as you."

He smiled. I think it was the first time I'd ever seen a smile on his face, but thankfully, it was far from the last.

"You may have a point," he said, and reached for the quill.


The End
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Hoarfrost and The Night

(Published in the Anthrocon 2010 convention book. I'm happy with this little story, if "happy" is the right word. :) )

The slope must have been steeper than it looked. He was out of breath and shaking by the time he reached the top, either from exhaustion or from the bitter cold. But he'd always known this was the perfect place.

Far below him the river, the trees on the far side, and the snowy plains beyond shone in the brilliant moonlight. Far away to the south were the mountains he'd never reached. His eyes weren't what they had been when he was young, but he thought the scene was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

The mountains made him sad. He had always planned to explore them some day, but some day had never come. Oh well; tonight he was leaving on the greatest journey of exploration of all. And there couldn't be a more perfect night for it, or a more perfect place.

He planted the butt of his best spear on the ground and leaned on it as if it were a walking stick. Lifting his silvered muzzle to the moon, he emptied his mind and let his soul rise to sing to the Goddess. He would sing silently tonight, but it would be his most beautiful--

His nose wrinkled. He smelled beer. Beer and woodsmoke, leather and-- the old wolf sniffed deeply, nodded a bit, and sighed-- that horse. Him again.

He heard a clink of pots and the sound of hooves kicking away the snow. A spray of the stuff hit him on his tail and the back of his legs. He growled deeply. "Go away."

Scuff scuff scuff. "Make me."

"Go away now, Herd Meat, before I rip your throat out!"

"Don't make me laugh, Carrion Breath. You're too old and too slow. Don't waste your strength trying."

He shook his head in exasperation. "Why. WHY do you bedevil me so?"

"You've forgotten why? I haven't. The pain of the scars on my leg wouldn't let me forget, even if I wanted to. I will follow you forever for what you did."

"I should have eaten you when I had the chance."

Behind him twigs and small branches snapped. The smell of smoke became stronger. An orange glow flickered on the snow around him. That horse had been carrying glowing coals in one of the clay pots. The horses had learned that trick from the wolf people years ago.

The horse said "Indeed, it would have been simpler to eat me. Although not so good for you when my herd found us."

"We had nothing to fear from a bunch of grass eaters."

"If you say so. For whatever reason, you didn't eat me. I've always wondered why."

"Because I was an idiot, that's why. I'd never even dreamed of a creature who looked and smelled like prey, but had hands, carried the flint-tipped spear, and could speak-- or could make sounds that seemed like some kind of barbarous speech, at least. You were interesting. I thought you might be useful. Silly me."

"You're silly indeed, trying to get away from me like this."

"You won't stop me."

"No," the horse said, almost too quietly to hear. "No, I won't. Want some beer?"

"What?"

"I want to stop you, Hoarfrost, but I won't."

Hoarfrost sat down in the snow, turned halfway away from the beauty of the full moon so he could look back at the horse. The fire between the horse's feet was a cheerful, steady glow now. Even after all these years the wolf had trouble reading the expression in those wide-set eyes.

"You say you haven't come to stop me, yet you build a fire and you offer me food."

"The fire is for myself. I feel the cold more than you. And strong beer isn't food."

"I can't drink it."

"Of course you can! You can't stomach our food. I wish I knew why. But you've been drinking our beer most of your life. I wish I had something else to offer you. A rabbit, a rat, anything. Who would have thought I'd be sorry these creatures DIDN'T try to come steal our grain? But I'm more sorry about that than I have been about anything in my life."

"You tried, Dapple. You did your best, even though hunting was so far outside your nature. May the Goddess bless you for trying. But there's no meat. There is nothing left for me but to leave on the greatest hunt of all. It would be an affront to the Goddess to delay my hunt, on such a perfect night as this, by drinking deep of your strong beer."

The horse laughed, although there were tears in his eyes. "We know more about the strong beer than you do, old wolf. None who wish to live would drink of it in the forest beneath the icy winter moon. You will feel warm, yes, and then you will sleep, and wake no more."

"That is even worse! We show the Goddess our courage by facing the Night, the Journey, the cold and the pain, alone."

"And so you did. You went forth to your Goddess, alone. If your Goddess shone her light in my eyes to wake me, so I could see you and follow, that is Her decision and mine. Not yours."

Hoarfrost nodded slowly. Dapple rose from his seat, presented the pot of beer to the wolf, and returned to his fire.

The wolf opened the pot and drank deep. "Ahh.. I remember the first time you gave me this. Old friend, I never thought it was in you to follow me into the woods this night and then not try to bring me back to your fireside."

"Would it do any good? I can't even catch you a rabbit."

"You are no hunter. You are what you are, and that pleases me. Thank you for the beer. You should go now. Watching me go to sleep would be too hard for you to bear."

"Nothing could be harder. And that's why I will stay."

Hoarfrost drank more of the beer. He did feel warmer now. "I almost think I understand you. Living with us has made you horses into wolves, just a little bit."

"And you wolves into horses, Beer-Guzzling Carrion Breath."

"Ha! That is true also. Thank you, old friend. It seems so warm, and I have never seen the moon so beautiful. Who would have thought, when a wolf-cub bandaged and tended a wounded, fever-wracked colt, that they would run so far together? And now I am old, and dying, while you are still young."

"Your weak eyes deceive you. I am not as old as you, but old enough."

"So says the Herd Stallion."

"No more. At the last new moon I asked nephew to become consort to my mares."

"I don't understand." Hoarfrost drank more beer. The pot was almost empty now.

"It means we both knew he would defeat me in the Spring Challenges, but-- and may your Goddess protect me-- I have somehow become too honored in the eyes of the Herd to suffer that humiliation. He will be Herd Stallion in fact, while I will be allowed to continue as Herd Stallion in name for what few days I have left."

"I weep for you, Herd Meat. We have run long and well, but none are fast enough to outrun Time."

"Truth." Dapple sighed. "I could wish that I might go with you tonight. For us the Land Where The Sun Goes At Night is summer days, rich fruits, and warm nights, forever. I could wish to hear the music of wolfkind's beautiful howls in those nights."

Hoarfrost blinked awake. "What? You LIKE our music?"

"Why not? We hear, and we sleep knowing that you prowl the night keeping enemy-wolves away. We know that the deer who come to eat our apples or grain will never reach it, nor even the rabbit dare a nibble. Sun-At-Night will be sad indeed without the music of wolves under the full moon. And besides that, what good is a lazy, warm evening without you to come in for a jar of beer and a story by the fire?"

It was so warm now, and the light of the moon filled everything. He looked into that light and smiled. "I can see my place at the night fire of the Goddess, and yours close beside. We will tell the stories of when we were young and too foolish to know that we were enemies. The songs we shall sing, the stories we shall tell! And the beer, such beer we will enjoy. I see it. Do you hear?"

"Yes. I hear and my heart soars."

"Dapple? I only wish that what the Goddess gave us might endure."

"I hear, friend. If She can hear the prayers of an old horse, so will it be."

Hoarfrost smiled and closed his eyes to sleep.

#

One day came the first pioneers of the spring's vast herds of buffalo, moving up from their wintering grounds in the lowlands. The next morning Dapple heard distant howls from far downriver. He took Hoarfrost's beautiful spear, with its gleaming leaf-point, its two eagle feathers, and its strings of red and green stones. He carried it as he walked down the riverbank, away from his village.

Soon the wolfpack trotted around the trees at the distant river bend and came on toward him. The wolves came close, then stopped. Their leader came forward alone.

"Silverlight," Dapple said, bowing his head.

"Dapple." The wolf came close and looked at the spear in the horse's hand. "Grandfather?"

Dapple presented the spear to her. "He left us in the last full moon of winter. I'm sorry. We tried to find food for him, but we could not."

Silverlight took the spear. Turning it in her hands, watching the light flash from the point and the colored stones, she sighed. "I had hoped you might save him to see one last summer. But the mark of the Goddess was upon him. He knew that too. He stayed behind because he knew he would slow us down. Because of his sacrifice we found meat before any of us starved."

"I am glad his sacrifice was not in vain."

"It never is, in the eyes of the Goddess. Did he go to his special place on the river bluff?"

"Yes." Dapple swallowed and tilted his head back, looking up at the clouds. "But in the end I couldn't let him go alone. I went with him, and stayed with him to the end. After it was over, I brought him home. He rests now beneath the newest mound, the one furthest in the direction of the dawn."

Dapple kept looking upward. Silverlight frowned. "Why do you present me your throat?"

"I didn't leave him in the woods. I brought him home and dealt with him as we would a hero of horsekind. I have dishonored your customs and your Goddess, may she and you forgive me. Perform justice as you see fit. But after that, I beg that you lay me by his side, that we may journey to Sun-At-Night together."

Silverlight reached out and touched Dapple's cheek gently, pressing his muzzle down until the horse and the wolf were looking into each others' eyes. The wolf's mouth was open without teeth much exposed, and her ears were up; Dapple knew this was a wolf's smile. It was strange to see that smile and tears on her face at the same time.

"Why would I enforce judgment on you for what you have done? There are no wolf-people and no horse-people. There is one People, and the People are all of us together. For as long as the river flows, for as long as Spring follows Winter and the Goddess waxes and wanes."

Dapple felt the tears in his own eyes. Do you hear your granddaughter, Carrion Breath? You wished that what we had might endure. There is your answer. Go on your Great Hunt in joy. When you reach those bright lands watch for me. I come, soon.

"Dapple? Are you well?"

Dapple smiled. "I am better than you can imagine. Come to the fireside, my friend. There we will share songs, and stories, and the good strong beer."

The End

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