Feeding the Active Writer: Low Carb Hamburger Gravy

I saw a recipe online for hamburger gravy and it brought back memories of childhood and home cooked meals.  The problem is the recipe called for flour and milk.  Now, the amount of flour used in gravy, when divided into a “serving” isn’t really all that much but when you’re counting carbs, every bit helps.  The milk, however, is a different story.  1 cup of milk (whole, low fat, skim–doesn’t really matter) has between 11 and 13 grams of sugar.  That’s a lot for anyone on a low-carb diet.

So, I came up with this recipe which is tasty and low carb.  As always, this makes a lot.  For me it’s a week’s worth of meals.  Or you can use it when entertaining if your entertainment runs along the line of down-home country cooking.

Ingredients

  • 3 lb ground beef (they come in rolls of that size at my local supermarket)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 tbsp bouillon crystals
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 quart unsweetened “Coconut Milk beverage” (that’s what it said on the package)
  • 1 tbsp xantham gum.
  • Salt to taste.

In a large pan crumble and cook the ground beef until it is no longer pink.  Stir in the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is tender.

Add the bouillon crystals, Worcestershire Sauce and coconut milk.  Bring to a simmer.

Stir in the xantham gum.

Simmer for about 5 minutes to let it thicken.  Add salt if needed. (Be careful.  It’s easy to add more.  It’s kind of hard to take it out.)

Serve over mashed cauliflower, mashed turnips, or the vegetable of your choice (mashed or not).

Come to the Dark Side. We’ve got STORIES: A Blast from the Past

Musing a bit here but back when I got started, late 80’s to early 90’s, the music I listened to was all of a piece (bear with me.  I’m going somewhere here).  Love songs and ballads, lightweight pop music, that sort of stuff.  The fiction I read was mostly, almost entirely, pretty upbeat as well.  As one example, I got so bothered, so freaked by the “danger” to the protagonist in the late Harry Harrison’s “The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge” that I nearly dropped the book.  I got through it and ended up reading it and the rest of the series, but it was a close thing.  I couldn’t really deal with the darker elements of life, not even in fiction and music.

This showed in my own writing.  I never really put my characters in jeopardy (EMT was probably the most “risk” I put my characters through at that time).  And when I tried, I tended to shy away from expressing it vividly.

The result was rather weak writing.  I was able to sell some stuff if I had a clever enough gimmick but that was about it.

More recently, I’ve gained an appreciation for the dark.  John Ringo’s books have introduced me to power and gothic/symphonic metal.  And that was really a catalyst.  The fear, the outright terror for the fate of the characters one is reading, is what makes for powerful fiction.  Back when I was in sunshine land I could not have written “Plague Station” (still looking for a few beta readers if anyone’s interested).  I had the idea for “Oruk Means Hard Work” years ago but I couldn’t have written it because I couldn’t have written the ending, the way it had to end.

There’s a great line from a movie that was otherwise, IMO, pretty lame:  if you want to paint pictures like that, you’ve got to use some dark colors.

So don’t be afraid of the dark.  Embrace it.  Use it.  Therein lies great power for your fiction.

Thus ends this musing.

The Church of the Holy Engineer

Many years ago I read Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel “Falling Free.” In that novel a sign was mentioned that read (paraphrased from memory): “On the eighth day, God saw that he could not do it all, so he created Engineers.”

The moment I read that “The Church of the Holy Engineer” was born.  The key doctrine is that building is an act of creation, an act of worship.  Building, pushing the limits of what can be built, and doing it with superb craftsmanship are acts of devotion.  Likewise is pushing back the frontier of knowledge to expand what can be built.  Inventors are honored as prophets.

Needless to say, adherents have a strong tendency to go into science and tech fields.

I haven’t actually used it yet in any of my published work, but it plays a part in this snippet:


In the Number Three Power Room, Particle Engineers Mate Second, Eric Thomas ignored the general quarters alarm as he hung suspended above Particle Generator G, Gertie as the crew called her.  Haste would only delay his task.

“How’s that, Vel?”

From her position at the test station, Vel Sanders, Particle Engineer’s Mate First, ran a test signal through the recalcitrant primary feed then examined the readout.

“A bit more, Eric.”

Thomas chewed on his lip and turned the adjustment screw one more sixteenth of a turn.  Inside, that modest movement was divided several million times, tweaking the position of the feed unit a small fraction of an atom’s width. “Now?”

Sanders repeated her test and nodded, satisfied, “Spot on, Eric.  Button up and clear the area.”

“Right.” Thomas reached into the inspection port and removed the test crystal from its holder.  He sealed up the Particle Generator, lowered himself from the rail above it and quick-marched out of the generator room.  The massive shield door shut behind him.

“Fire it up,” he said into the intercom beside the door.

“Let us sing praises to the Holy Engineer,” Sanders said and activated the Particle Generator.  Inside, the feed, joined with hundreds of others met at a tiny point at the center of the generator, a point smaller than an atom, smaller than a proton, as much smaller than the proton is than the proton is smaller than a baseball.  At that tiny point the beams induced a self-sustaining implosion compressing the mass energy of the beams smaller still.

For an instant, the smallest of black holes formed at the center of the particle generator, formed and almost as quickly exploded.  Then, for the barest instant after exploding it left a naked singularity in its wake. For that unmeasurable instant of time, in that equally unmeasurable point in space, the laws of physics ceased to exist.  Anything could come from that pure chaos, anything at all. But by tuning the conditions around it, where the laws of physics still held, Particle Engineers could control what came out of it. And what came out of this one was antimatter, specifically anti-hydrogen.  Auxiliary systems grabbed the antimatter and fed it into the first stage reaction chamber where it met ordinary matter, simple water in this case, producing the energies used to drive the Noah.

“All green,” Sanders reported. “And, Eric, helmet.”

Reflexively, Thomas unzipped his collar, allowing the flexible helmet bubble to unfold, surround his head, and seal itself back to his collar.

Thomas swore as the output of Power Room Three dropped again.  A shorted feed had burned out Hepzibah. Secondary radiation from a near strike had fried Imelda.  Jezebel had just not worked. Now Kailani had failed.

“Vel, what’s up?”

No answer.

“Vel?”

Thomas swore at the silent com link.  He motioned for the work crew that stood with him outside the door to the power room to step back while he keyed in the override for the door. Moving his lips in a silent prayer for luck, he stepped into the doorway.

He didn’t drop dead so the particle generator must have shut down.

Another hit had torn into the power room.  It did not seem to have hit the particle generator but…Thomas visualized the power routings.  Yes, it had cut the primary feed to the generator. Kailani was probably okay if they could just feed her with juice.

Sanders still was not answering.  The same hit that had clipped the cable had also vaporized the access ladder.

“Vel?  Come on, Sanders, Answer.”

Still no response.

Thomas switched to local broadcast on his com link to address the work crew. “Break out five meters of number three power cable from Locker Twelve A.  I’m going to check on control.”

“On it, Engineer’s Mate.”

Thomas looked up at the control room again.  The access ladder was gone, but that would hardly stop a particle engineer’s mate.  He leaped and caught hold of the support structure, curling his body he reached up with his legs to hook them over another brace then twisted to find a new handhold.  In seconds he reached the door of the control room and wormed his way through it.

Another hit had punctured the hull, cutting through a corner of the control room and spraying it with superheated plasma.  Sanders charred corpse lay crumpled in the corner.

“Shit.  May your Engineer keep you, Vel.”  Shaking his head, Thomas switched to the engineering frequency. “Engineering, Power Room Three.  I need a particle engineering rating here.”

“No can do, Power Room Three.”

“Look,” Thomas said, “I can get this thing back up, but I lost my partner.  I need someone to run the board while I work the hardware, or someone to work the hardware while I run the board.  Either way, I can’t do it alone.”

“You’re going to have to.  Nobody’s available.”

“The access gangway is gone.” Thomas felt his voice rising. “I had to climb up the support structure to get in here.  I can’t….”

“You’ll have to.  Nobody’s available.  Now do your job and clear this frequency.”

Thomas shut off the com link. “Right.  And fuck you too.” He wriggled the rest of the way into the control room.

The control board revealed its secrets to his probing hands.  The telltales revealed where the power feeds were damaged and he rapidly worked out where he’d have to install bypass cable to get Kailani back up.  He would have to drop back down to the power room to supervise the work crew in making the repairs then climb back up into the control room to test them and restore power.  He could do it. It would just take forever.

He did not have forever.  The near miss of an antimatter warhead sprayed plasma into the power room so fast he did not have time to realize he was dead.

“You should write that book…”

“…while you still know everything.” That joke is older than I am. (Sorry, folks, this isn’t a writing post.)

So apparently there’s this “walk out” going on in American high schools that is supposed to be a big show of support for “gun control”, by which they mean (they always mean) further restrictions on the rights of law abiding gun owners.

We’re supposed to care about this why exactly?

“The children are our future!” The future is the future.  For now they’re kids.  They’re wet-behind-the-ears kids with no life experience to put events in perspective and see what effects their proposed policies will actually have.

“We survived that attack, that makes us the experts.” Oh, please.  I had a broken collarbone once.  That doesn’t make me an orthopedic surgeon.  Being at the scene where a tragedy happened does not make you an expert on anything, not even on what happened at the event.  Look, ask ten eyewitnesses to something to describe what they saw and get ten different replies.  The only time you get get complete agreement is when the witnesses get together and agree on a story–which may or may not bear any resemblance to what actually happened.  There’s a reason why investigators generally prefer to interview witnesses separately and ideally keep them separate until they do interview them and get a record of their account.  It doesn’t even have to be dishonesty (although it can be).  People talking will “remember” additional details on hearing other people talk, even things they could not possibly have seen or heard, and this goes back and forth until all the folk “remember” the same story.  Whether things happened that way or not remains, however, an open question.

And yet, the same people who are telling us that these teens, these children are too immature to be trusted to drink alcohol responsibly, too immature to be allowed to own firearms (one of the things they’re demanding) are somehow mature enough to be given any credence on national firearm policy?

That’s not a rational position.

But it’s not about reason.  The whole thing is nothing more than a big appeal to emotion–not the teens, but the ones behind the scene driving them on (You expect me to believe that a bunch of teens scattered across the nation just spontaneously organized and scheduled this?  Please.)–an attempt to stampede action that they could not pass in the cold light of day.

History has seen this kind of stampede into action before.

It has never turned out well.

20 Rules for Racism (each) for the Right and the Left

This is originally from Tom Kratman.  In his words “widest possible dissemination authorized and encouraged.” So here it’s disseminated:

The Left’s 20 Rules of Racism:

  1. If you believe that general intelligence exists, is heritable and at all testable for, you’re a racist.
  2. If you point out that liberal philosophies and programs intended to have a good impact have had a disproportionately bad impact on the ethnicities targeted by liberals, you’re a racist.
  3. If you notice that other cultures have some problems, you’re a racist.
  4. If you notice your own culture has had some successes, you’re a racist.
  5. If you try to identify subcultural problems, you’re a racist. If the problems existed or got worse under liberalism, see item 2, above.
  6. If you’re mainstream American culture, and don’t hate that culture, you’re a racist.
  7. If you’re capable of noting unpleasant facts about subcultures and discussing them without your brain fogging, you’re a racist.
  8. If you won’t kowtow and grovel as soon as someone accuses you of racism for one of the reasons above or below, you’re a hopeless racist.
  9. If you do not believe that mankind is a tabula rasa for liberals to make whatever they think would be good to make of man, this week, you’re a racist.
  10. If you don’t take personal responsibility for all the evils of slavery, you’re a racist. This is true even if you only arrived from Poland last week.
  11. If you’re white, you’re a racist.
  12. If you’re white and just arrived from Poland last week and don’t accept that you’re a racist, you’re a racist.
  13. If you try to interject logical thought into a discussion of culture, you’re a racist.
  14. If you refuse to admit culture is a racial matter, and a liberal wants to conflate the two, you’re a racist.
  15. If you believe that race and culture are indistinguishable and a liberal decides that you shouldn’t conflate the two, you’re a racist.
  16. If you believe that black or Hispanic girls who are paid by liberal inspired programs from the age of 13 to have babies will have babies, you’re a racist.
  17. If you believe that _any_ girls of whatever color who are paid to have babies will then have babies but then, insensitively, observe that a smaller percentage of white girls do, certainly because they haven’t been targeted for as much “help” from liberals, you’re a racist.
  18. If it doesn’t bother you that the truth offends liberals, you’re a racist.
  19. If your name is Tom Kratman and you write and in your writing your heroes and heroines tend to be from minorities while your villains are white liberals, you’re still a racist.
  20. If you read The Bell Curve, you’re a racist. On the other hand, if you didn’t read it but wrote a scathing review on Amazon anyway you might not be a racist provided you take personal responsibility for 300 years of slavery even if you just arrived from Poland last week.

The Right’s Twenty Rules of Racism:

  1. Anyone responsible for three hundred years of slavery would have to be a lot older than you and me.
  2. There has to be some genetics in “racism’s” DNA, some DNA in its gene pool, or it just isn’t racism.
  3. Racism could be eliminated in the United States if we could just eliminate the white liberals who so plainly depend on it so much and do so much to keep it going.
  4. Reality isn’t racist: The reality is that there are pond-scummy gallows bait in every group. Some of those will be more of a problem to their own group than to you (see Rule 14, below). Some will be more of a problem to you precisely because you’re not a member of their group. It is wise, not racist, to avoid the latter. In Boston, this may be referred to as the “Evelyn Wagler-George Pratt Rule,” and that’s not code. Odd exception to half of Rule 4: Jesse Jackson would much rather be followed by a white on the streets of DC, at night, than a black.
  5. There have been two instances in recent history where the concept of “honorary white” held sway. One was in apartheid South Africa where, for example, Japanese were considered “honorary white.” The other was when, in relation to the Trayvon Martin shooting, the American mainstream media made Hispanic George Zimmerman an “honorary white.” This is not entirely coincidence since (see Rule 18) the very liberal American media is as racist in their way as ever the Afrikaner Broederbond was in its.
  6. Nobody really thinks whites are as evil as portrayed by white liberals and black demagogues. If they really thought so, they’d be too afraid to ever leave the house, since a) there are a lot more whites, b) those whites are much better armed, c) they’re more likely to be veterans of the Army’s and Marine Corps’ ground gaining combat arms, and d) they have an historically demonstrated cultural aptitude for mass, organized violence.
  7. People who insist you’re speaking in code insist on it because they believe it’s true. They believe it’s true because they really do speak in code and can’t imagine anyone who does not speak in code. It’s not racist to think those people are idiots, nor to note that they’re mostly white. (Exception to rule: When conservatives talk about guns and zombies? Especially in terms of using the former to kill the latter? Yeah; “zombie” is code for “liberals of any color.” See Rule 6, above.)
  8. It’s not racist to note that white liberalism managed to do in about thirty years something that three hundred years of slavery could not, seriously damage the black family, generally though not universally, and ruin it completely over wide swaths.
  9. Speaking of slavery, the bulk of slave raiding and trading in Africa was black, usually Islamic black (see Rule 16, below), on black. The Arabic word for black and slave is the same, “Abd.” And the first registered slave owner in Virginia was black. Pointing this out to liberals, white and black, is always fun.
  10. It’s not racist to wish that our first black president had been Thomas Sowell.
  11. The “Some of my best friends” defense against a charge of racism is no defense…unless it happens to be true. Sometimes it’s best expressed to a white liberal as, “You don’t have so much as a day in uniform, do you, dipshit?”
  12. The system of education that white liberals have inflicted on inner city blacks is a crime against humanity. No amount of money that they toss at it helps to overcome the elimination of discipline liberalism has caused. It’s neither racist to note this…nor wrong.
  13. The various college and university minority “studies” programs, because they give a useless pseudo-education, and at very high cost in both money and time, are racist in their effects.
  14. Most black crime is black on black crime. It is racist in its effects to deprive the black community of the social good that comes from executing black criminals that prey on other blacks.
  15. It takes a white liberal idiot (Lord, forgive us our redundancies) not to understand the difference between casual sex with a member of another race and marrying and investing one’s entire reproductive effort in a member of another race. See, e.g., http://www.tomkratman.com/yoli.html. Dipshits.
  16. Islam is not a race. Detesting Islam is not racist. There is nothing in Islam which genetically compels either slightly tanned Palestinians or totally white English reverts to pray toward Mecca five times daily, to self-detonate in crowded squares and movie theaters, to find offense in just about everything, nor even to clitorectomize their women. Flash alert: Lysenko was wrong. Dipshits.
  17. When a liberal accuses you of racism, rejoice; it means the dipshit knows he or she is losing.
  18. The worst racists are liberals, mostly white ones, who assume that blacks and hispanics are so inferior that only affirmative action in perpetuity would give them a remotely fair chance. (That this also keeps a lot of liberal white social workers and bureaucrats employed is, of course, merely incidental. Ahem. Dipshits.)
  19. There was a conservative argument for a kind of affirmative action. Unfortunately, all the money’s already been spent on employing white liberal social workers and bureaucrats, and we’re broke now, so that ship has sailed. Again, blame dipshit white liberals.
  20. Screaming “Racism! Raaaacissssm!” on the part of a white liberal, when the matter in question has no DNA in its gene pool, no genetics in its DNA (see Rule 2, above), is the surest proof that said white liberal is genetically defective. And a dipshit. And it’s not racist to point this out.

Feeding the Active Writer: Chicken and Gravy

This is another slow-cooker dish that is quick and easy to make, yet tasty and good for a week’s worth of entrees.

Ingredients

  • About 5 lb skinless boneless chicken.
  • 1 Tbsp xantham gum powder
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp dried parsley flakes
  • 1 Tbsp thyme leaves
  • 2 14 oz cans chicken broth

Put the chicken into a 4-4 quart slow cooker.  Sprinkle the xantham gum over the chicken.

Add the onion, garlic powder, dried parsley flakes, and thyme.

Pour the broth over all.

Cook on low for 6-8 hours.  When done, stir.  The chicken should break up into pieces.

I cut back the parsley in the above recipe from the last time I’d made this–the original used too much.  And if it were me, I would probably at more garlic in the future but…well, we’ve gone over before how I am with garlic so for others this is probably about right.

Enjoy.

 

There Ought to be a Law: A Blast from the Past

Acutally, in the vast majority of cases, no, there ought not to be.

Think about what “law” means.  Law means that someone from the government can come and use force on a person to make him or her comply, to submit.  Force.  And if they resist that force, the government can increase the level.

In the end, if they continue to resist, the government can kill them.

Even if you don’t have a “death penalty” on the books, it is always the end game of a person refusing to submit to the law.

And it has to be that way because without that ultimate use of force, there comes a point where someone can say “no” to your law and you have to say “okay.” At which point it’s no longer law but a strongly worded suggestion.

So when you say “there ought to be a law” you are saying “it’s worth killing people to ensure that this happens” or “to make this less likely to happen.”

That’s what “law” means.  That’s what law is.

It is the same with anything you want the government to do and to pay for.  Taxes, after all, are also laws.  Someone can say “no” to paying the tax and you send armed men to force him or her to pay.  And if he resists those armed men, they can kill him.

“The government should provide/pay for…” means “we are willing to kill someone to have…”

And it’s not even just the willingness to kill the people who break the law because the use of force occurs before any trial is held to determine guilt or innocence.  Police respond to a bad tip and break into someone’s home.  Resident, having no reason to expect the police, acts to defend himself.  And the result is the coroner has to come and haul away one or more bodies.

Someone, maybe several someones, dead because “there ought to be a law.”

This is not to say that there should be no laws and no taxes, but that we need to go into that eyes open about what it means.  Does a study on why Lesbians have a higher incidence of being overweight (an actual CDC study) really  justify killing someone?  Is it really worth killing people over smoking an unapproved plant?  And so on.

Thomas Jefferson wrote:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

There, I believe, is the crux of it.  To secure these rights of LifeLiberty, and Pursuit of Happiness, does justify the use of force to the point of deadly force.  Defending our nation, laws to censure those who credibly threaten the rights of others to Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness, and the minimal necessary taxes to accomplish those ends.  And no more.  Let other things be accomplished by other means, means that don’t come with the sanction to use force up to and including deadly force.

Reserve law and government for things that really are worth killing over.

Oh, and one more little thing.  Before you decide that it’s okay to kill those “other people” (you know who they are) because you don’t like what they’re doing, just remember:

Anything government can do for you, it can do to you.

Training for Armed Teachers.

So Florida now allows (at the local Sheriff’s option) teachers to be armed in schools if they complete 132 hours of training.

This is utterly and completely ridiculous. Teachers armed to defend themselves and their students do not need to be SEALs or SWAT or even Air Force security specialists. Being armed for defense of self and others around you is a far simpler tactical problem.

They don’t have to go breaking into a room where the “bad guy” is, identify him out of a chaotic mix of the bad guy and the people he’s threatening. They don’t have to learn to do dynamic entry through a door, minimizing their own exposure in that vulnerable moment all while trying to find a bad guy whose location they don’t know, discriminate him from victims, get a clear shot, and pray they don’t make a mistake.

But the problems that require all that training?  They’re the attacker’s problems, not the defender’s.  Nobody who knows anything about the subject suggests the teachers go hunting the bad guy.  What they advise is have the teachers hunker down with their students, ready to defend them if and when the attacker comes to them.

Armed teachers, unlike police coming from the outside, wouldn’t have to do a dynamic entry. They wouldn’t have to do any kind of entry. They’d already be there. What armed teachers would do is give the attacker all the problems that folk like SEALS, SWAT, HRT, and others need all that training to deal with. The attacker is now the one who has to make the dynamic entry, identify and locate the “threat” that the armed defender represents, and do it before said defender–who’s already in place and covering that entrance–can shoot him.

And he has to do it every. single. time. he makes an entry because he doesn’t know who is or is not armed. The mere possibility that someone might be armed means he has to take extra precautions every time he goes through a door. He has to assume every classroom he enters is “hot”. At the very least this slows him down and reduces the number of casualties before the police finally do show up. Best case the attacker runs into the armed teacher at the start and the only casualty is the attacker.

Actually, that’s not true. Best case is that they decide not to attack after all because they aren’t looking for a fight. They’re looking for sitting ducks.

All the teachers need in this situation is basic marksmanship sufficient to hit a torso sized target at a distance of 20-30 feet (from across the room, basically), Jeff Cooper’s four rules, and basic “when is it okay to shoot” training which amounts to reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury (which generally comes down to identifying expressed intent, ability, and opportunity to cause that harm). That’s it. Any basic CCW training course is more than adequate.

Alchemy of Shadows: Another snippet

Really got nothing tonight so how about another snippet?


The easiest point to create a new identity for myself is as a college student.  It’s a new environment.  If I claim to be a student far from my home high school, there is little chance of meeting someone who would expect to know who I pretend to be.  And I look young enough that I can maintain the masquerade.

So many jobs one might pursue in the modern day require a college degree, or if not a degree then some form of professional certification.  I have found it much harder to fake a degree or certification that to simply go through the motions to obtain them.  While I do not need a job to survive, being independently wealthy draws attention, and questions about where I obtained that wealth.

The difficult portion is records from the claimed high school.  Still, one does not live as long as I have lived without learning a few tricks.  The same tricks allow me to put birth records into various municipal systems every few years against future need.  After all, even without the Shadows chasing me I can maintain an identity only so long before people question my continued youth.  And for every one of those identities, at the appropriate time, I have to take various college entrance exams.

I have taken so many college entrance exams that I can pick, within five points, what my final score will be.

Still, entering college takes time, time for paperwork, time for letters back and forth.  You cannot decide on Tuesday to start college and then start college on the following Monday.  No, you have to wait until a semester starts.

And while you’re waiting, you have to do something or people talk.

Tom Caldwell came up behind me and put he hand on my shoulder.

“That’s it, Adrian.  Go ahead and clock out after this customer.”

“Thanks, Tom,” I said.  I was going by the name of Adrian Jaeger.  I tended to favor German names, one of the few things I hold onto from my birth.  Perhaps that’s a weakness that the Shadows exploit to find me, but how much of a weakness can it be?  German is the most common ethnic heritage in the United States.  German names are common.

There were times when German names raised questions, but I don’t look like a certain generation’s so-called Aryan ideal.  My eyes are blue.  That’s about it.  At five three with dark brown hair I was nobody’s superman.

“Sure you won’t stay?  Give me another couple of months and you could be managing your own shop.”

I grinned. “You make it sound tempting but I’m looking forward to starting college.”

Tom laughed. “Fair enough.  Maybe I’ll see you again some time.”

I smiled back at Tom.  He was certainly an attractive man and had the situation been a little different might have been an interesting diversion.  While I preferred women, somewhere in the centuries I’d lived I’d lost most of my early taboos about sex…and gained a new one:  never get emotionally attached.  The price I paid for such attachments was just too high.

Tom was a good man, giving an eighteen year old orphan, on his own for the first time, a chance with a job over the summer.  He deserved better than a casual fling.

I did not think so.  The Indiana college I’d selected was a good five hundred miles away.  The fewer ties, the fewer connections, the better.

After clocking out and signing my last time card I took off my apron and dropped it into the laundry bin.  I waved to the dishwasher on my way out the back door.  The Green Monster, an old Cadillac Eldorado that someone had painted a bilious green.  I fired it up seeing the blue smoke pour from the exhaust in my rear view mirror.  At the shop an ongoing pool was when the Monster would finally die on me.

Half a dram of the proper elixir in every tank of gas ensured that it continued to run like new.  Another elixir maintained the smoke and a third gave the occasional rattle with no discernable mechanical cause. My elixirs generally do not work well on made things, doing their best on the living world, but for some reason they have always worked well on cars.  Perhaps because so many people think of their cars as alive, possessing personalities, that it has become a kind of truth.

A brief drive took me to my small apartment.  The few belongings that I had acquired since my last encounter with the Shadows fit into two large suitcases.  A third container held carefully padded glassware, burners, and other tools of my trade.

I did not like being out at night, too much chance of encountering Shadows, but I decided I would be safe enough on the road.  Car loaded, I hit Interstate Seventy headed east.

#

I pulled into the parking lot for the apartment complex near downtown Indianapolis about ten o’clock.  I removed a new flashlight from where I kept it tucked between the seat cushions–out of the way but still handy–and dropped it in my pocket.  Two magnesium flares followed.  I still did not know what had happened to my previous flashlight and so wanted another way of making a lot of light.

I had picked up the keys to the small student apartment the previous weekend, a studio that would have been luxurious in my youth but served for a struggling college student in the present.

I opened the trunk and removed the first of my two large suitcases.  I hauled the suitcase around to the front entrance to the apartment building and set it down so I could open the door.

The sound of music blared from inside, some current fashion involving dissonant chords and excessive volume.  Alcohol fumes wafted out the door to assault my nose.

The noise increased as I climbed the stairs, dragging the suitcase behind me.

As I reached the second floor, the door to the stairwell banged open and a young woman barged through it.  She wore shorts with big pockets on the thighs, a style called cargo shorts and a T-shirt tied under her breasts leaving her midsection bare.  Sneakers of a garish purple covered her feet.  No socks.  I could not see her face as her head was turned to look back through the doorway but her hair fell in thick brown waves to just below her shoulders.  Her right hand braced open the door while her left held a red plastic cup.

“Be right back, Vonnie,” She said.

“Whatevs,” someone in the hallway beyond the door, a woman by the sound of the voice, said.

The young woman stepped clear of the doorway, letting the door close behind her before turning round to face forward.  Only my own prompt step back prevented her from colliding with me.

“Whoa!” Some brown liquid sloshed out of her cup.  “Oops.  My bad.”

The waves of dark hair framed her olive-brown face.  Her eyes were the color of dark chocolate.  A subtle use of gloss darkened and added shine to her lips.  I saw no other makeup.  Her T-shirt was blazoned with the logo of some overly loud band barely discernible above the knot.  Like most people, she was taller than me, but only by a few inches.

“It’s okay,” I said.

“You here for the party?” She frowned. “No.  Wait.  Just moving in?”

“Yes, I…”

“That’s an awfully big load.  Hang on.”

She opened the door a crack and stuck her head through. “Hey, Jeff.  Fresh meat.  Could use some help with his luggage.”

She pulled back and another head appeared in the doorway, several inches higher than hers.  The man had likewise had olive brown skin, his a shade darker than the young woman, his eyes a shade lighter.  He wore his hair cropped short.  The resemblance of his features to hers spoke of close family ties.

“Come on, Becki, they’re just about to start…”

“Don’t care.  Guy needs a hand.  Look at him.  That suitcase is almost as big as he is.”

She looked at me and an expression of chagrin crossed her face. “Oh, I’m sorry.  No offense.”

I forced a lopsided smile. “None taken.”

“So come on, Jeff.  Help the guy out.”

“Becki, I…”

She grinned. “I’ll owe you a solid.”

Jeff’s eyebrows raised. “You’ll owe me?  What about him?”

“I’m asking.  He’s being entirely too shy to ask.”

She was wrong.  I am not shy.  I simply choose to keep a distance between myself and people so very much younger than I am.  Saves trouble in the long run.

Jeff pushed the door the rest of the way open and stepped through. “Fine.”

Jeff stood a bit over six feet.  I could not guess his weight with the baggy sweatshirt and jeans he was wearing–dressing for comfort rather than appearance.–but he was big  Despite the differences in their sizes, there seemed to be a certain similarity in their faces.  The shape of the nose, the curve of the lower lip, they shared that.

“So,” Jeff said, nodding at my suitcase. “Need help with that?”

“No,” I said, my voice soft, “I’m fine.”

Jeff grinned. “I insist.  Becki will beat me with a stick if I don’t.”

Becki punched Jeff in the arm.

I found myself returning his grin. “Wouldn’t want that.  So, please.”

I dragged the suitcase up the last step and set it on the landing.

Jeff reached out a huge hand.  I let go of the handle.  Jeff picked up the suitcase as though it were empty. “Which room?”

“Three Oh Eight,” I said.

Becki punched Jeff in the arm again.

“Where are your manners?  Introduce yourself.” She turned to me. “I’m Rebecca Pierce, Becki to my friends.  This is my brother Jeff, dumbass to people who know him.” She grinned.

“I’m Adrian Jaeger,” I said. “Ms. Pierce.  Mr. Pierce.”

“Ooo, all formal,” Becki grinned. “Don’t be silly.  Ms. Pierce is my mother.  Becki.”

“I dunno,” Jeff said. “I kind of like ‘Mr. Pierce.’”

“Be nice, Jeff,” Becki said. “Or I’ll tell Mom about Candy.”

I watched the byplay with amusement.  I’d seen so many dysfunctional families over the years, so many youngsters steeped in selfishness, that it was refreshing to see a brother and sister that not only openly cared for each other but were kind and helpful to a complete stranger.

Jeff put his foot on the first step of the stairs up. “Three Oh Eight is up here.”

I nodded and gestured for him to lead the way.

#

Three Oh Eight was a small one bedroom apartment. More than I needed, really but neither of the studios in this property were available.  And I needed an upper floor to safely vent fumes.

The window looked out over the parking lot and to the twin building across the lot.  Not the most charming of views.

“Well,” Becki said. “This place is…empty.”

Jeff set my suitcase down. “This it?”

“Got another suitcase down in the car,” I said. “And a couple of boxes but…”

“Nonsense,” Becki said. “Jeff will be happy to…”

Jeff growled.

“Really,” I said. “I can get it.”

Jeff waved a hand.  “Don’t mind us.  Becki is always volunteering me for stuff.”

“And you always do it too for your little sister.” Becki clutched her hands together in front of her throat, tilted her head to the side, and batted her eyes. “Please?”

I covered up laughter with forced coughing.

“You might want to get that checked out,” Jeff said but I could see the way he pressed his lips together to suppress his own grin. “Let’s go get your stuff.”

A few minutes later the last of my modest luggage sat in the middle of the small living room of the apartment.

“So that’s it,” Becki said.

“So can we get back to the party?” Jeff asked.

“Fine.  Fine.” Becki said.  She turned toward the door then paused.  She looked back. “Why don’t you come with us?”

I smiled. “Thanks, but I don’t think so.  I’ve got to get settled in here.”

“Where you gonna sleep?” Becki spread her arms and waved them from side to side. “Unless you’ve got a bed tucked into one of those suitcases.”

I shrugged. “I’ve slept in worse.  Really, I’ll be fine.  Probably pick up a mattress at a thrift store or something tomorrow.”

I ushered Becki and Jeff out then turned and sagged back against the door.

Somehow, without meaning to, it would seem that I had made some friends.

Why are you so obsessed with…

Whenever folk like me object to erosion of long-held rights, people often ask why we’re “obsessed” with that right, why it’s so important.  Why we’re not more worried about whatever other thing they bring up as a distraction.  It’s actually not hard to understand.

There is a tale I heard told about the ancient Greek Philosopher Socrates.  According to the tale a young man came to Socrates and asked how he might become as knowledgeable as Socrates.  Socrates bid the man to follow him and led him to the shore and out into the water.  Puzzled, the man followed.  When they were out where the water was about chest deep Socrates, being a strong and vigorous man (ancient Greece tended to mix athleticism with its philosophy, that whole “strong mind in a strong body” thing) and no doubt being aided by surprise, grabbed the young and ducked him under the water.  There he held the man against his struggles until the young man passed out.

Socrates then dragged the man to shore where he left him and went on his way.

In time, the young man awoke and sought out Socrates. “Why did you do that?” the young man asked. “I nearly lost my life.”

“What did you want most while you were under the water’s surface?” Socrates asked.

“Air!” the man replied.

“When you want knowledge exactly as much as you wanted air, nothing in the universe can prevent you from getting it.”

There is more than one lesson to be learned from that little tale.  There is, of course, the obvious one that the key to gaining knowledge is to want it badly enough to do what it takes to get it. (Long hours of study.  Tracking down sources.  Doing research–and I don’t mean Googling a few key terms but actual scientific research–to find answers that nobody else has found yet.)

But consider also what the man wanted.  He wanted air.  Why could Socrates not simply tell him at the start that when he wants knowledge as much as he wants air, then he’ll get it?  Of course the answer is before the escapade down at the sea shore he didn’t want air particularly.   He had it in plenty and didn’t even have to think about it.

It was only when he was deprived of air that he suddenly found it to be important to him.

So it is with long held rights like, for instance, the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (RKBA).  (I could talk about other rights under assault, but this one is much in the news recently, and frankly, the assault on it has been running a long time and is deeply entrenched.) In the early history of the United States it was the normal state.  People didn’t have to think much about RKBA.  It was just there.  Oh, there were certain inroads made on it.  Georgia passed one of, if not the first “gun control” laws in the US in 1837.  That law was ruled Unconstitutional by the Georgia Supreme Court.  Part of the reason that the Dred Scott decision decided that “the negro race” could not be recognized as having full rights was that they could then buy arms and carry them wherever they went.  And a little bit here and there.

Slow inroads on the existing RKBA made over time, but still, for the majority of people it was like air to the young man before Socrates drowned him.  Want to buy a Gatling Gun?  No problem.  A Maxim Gun?  Again, no problem.  Cannon?  If you’ve got the money.  Now, most people didn’t because there was no need.  A rifle or shotgun (or both) for hunting.  A revolver for personal protection if one felt the need (and more likely to be used against snakes than against desperadoes).  But most anyone could.

Air to the young man of Socrates’ acquaintance.

Then more strict and more widespread gun laws started being enacted.  Prohibition saw a rise in the use of automatic weapons by gangs to shoot up rival’s illegal drinking establishments, which led to other uses by criminals.  That lead to the National Firearms Act of 1934.  Still not too bad by most people’s lights.  It’s not like the various controlled weapons were banned.  You just had to pass a strict background check, pay a tax, and get your local head Law Enforcement Officer to sign off on it.  You could still get them if you want.  You just had to jump through a few hoops first.  It’s not like you are denied them.  Really.

But then other restrictions went into place.  And folk started finding out that “get your local head Law Enforcement Officer to sign off on it” meant “be politically connected, people without considerable political pull need not apply.”  The hoops became smaller, lit on fire, and raised way up in the air.

And the young man is sputtering, still not quite underwater, but getting a lot of water in his mouth with each breath.

Then further laws and restrictions.  The Gun Control Act of 1968.  No interstate commerce in guns except via dealers with Federal Firearms Licences (FFL).  No shipping of firearms except to and from FFL holders (and a few select exemptions such as shipping firearms back to the manufacturer for repair).

The Hughes Amendment to the Firearm Owners Protection Act, preventing any further automatic weapons being added to the registry for legal private ownership.  What was then currently registered was all there was and all there ever would be.

The rise of organizations dedicated to the banning of some or all privately owned firearms.  People organized for the express purpose of ending RKBA.

The young man’s barely getting any air at all, now.

Then the “Brady Bill” which implemented a national 7 day waiting period on handgun purchases “so the police would have time to perform a background check” and the federal “Assault Weapons Ban”

And now the young man is completely under water and really wanting his air.

So why is RKBA so important to us?  Because you’re trying to take it from us.  The only reason you want to dismiss its importance is to make it easier for you to take it.

Through most of our history, people never really thought much about RKBA.  But when it comes down to it, of the three “unalienable rights” Jefferson called out in the Declaration of Independence–two of which are echoed again in the Fifth Amendment–every single one is meaningless without the right to defend them and without the right to effective means to defend them.  To deny RKBA is to deny right to life and right to liberty.

I would love to go back to it not being “an obsession.” For it to just be “there” with no need to worry about it.  Like air to the young man before Socrates took him to the sea.

But you won’t let me.