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.


The “something is happening” opening.

Over on Mad Genius Club the inimitable Sarah Hoyt is doing a weekly series on story openings.  In this case it’s what she called the “Something is Happening Here” opening, where the story starts with immediate movement.  Readers are invited to offer their own openings of the type in the comments.  Here was mine:

I got up and dropped money on the table, not bothering to count it. I strode briskly to the door, pulling my hat down over my head as I passed out into the bright suns light.

Mentally flipping a coin, I turned right. Then left at the corner. I had no idea what had prompted me to leave before the servo had even dispensed my lunch. I never do.

Three blocks, three random turns, later an explosion lit up the sky. I looked back to see a pillar of smoke rising from where the cafe had once stood.

Three times now I had evaded death. The faulty air filter on Hadur IV. The runaway floater on Perun II. And now an explosion at a cafe on Shala which I felt certain would prove to have some innocuous cause.

As the old saying goes: once is chance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.

Somebody was trying to kill me and was very, very good at making it look like an accident.

I don’t have a story to go with this one…yet.  It was something I knocked off quickly as an exercise.  However, some things jump out at once.  One thing is the planet names I grabbed.  They’re all named after war deities from various cultures.  This immediately puts the story in my FTI universe during or after the First Eres war.  During the First Eres War, you see, a lot of forward bases where built and the planets they set them at were named after war deities–and there are a lot of war deities when you get into the many cultures on Earth.

There are other things in there, things I just knocked off quickly to create this opening that not only tie it to the world but also give me a hint of character and some of the “why” element of the story.

And so, from that simple exercise, I’ve got an event, a setting, and the beginnings of a character.  I’m not quite ready to dive in and make a story out of it, but if I ever need a project to work on, I can always pull this one out.  In the meantime, it will work in the back of my mind until it’s ready to come out.

And sometimes the story doesn’t come together.

I’ve gotten a lot better about finishing stories than when I first started but sometimes….

One of my current stories is nearing the end and I realized it’s just not working.  Now, it’s easy to fall into the trap of a lack of confidence in a story even though it’s fine.  I’ve been there plenty of times.  The trick is to figure out when there’s a real problem or if it’s just nerves, fear, and self-doubt.

In this case, I could see what the problem was.  When you head for the conclusion of a story you want to try to bring as many of the story threads all together at once for one big payoff, the “climax” of the story, followed by a resolution and denouement.  In this case the various elements are too diffuse.  I’ve got less of a “bang” and more of a “fizzle.”  Fixing it will require ripping out at least the last half of the story, maybe drop some of the elements entirely (although the work on them is not wasted–they can be used in another story later).

So, for the time being, the thing to do is set this one aside and work on another project.  Come back to do the major surgery on it when I can look at it with fresh eyes.


“They were the bad guys, as you say…”

“…and we were the good guys.  And they made a very satisfying thump when they hit the floor.”

Thus concluded one of my favorite scenes in the TV show Babylon 5, indeed one of my favorite scenes anywhere.  I was browsing YouTube for other things and it popped up in “related videos” and I just could not resist.  I rarely do when that one comes up.

There is very little more satisfying than a clear cut fight, “no moral ambiguity, no hopeless battle against ancient and overwhelming forces” good guys vs. bad guys where the good guys come out on top and the bad guys make a very satisfying thump when they hit the ground.  At least, there isn’t when it’s well executed.

Some of my favorite scenes in fiction have been just such scenes.  Eric Flint’s novel “1632” is full of them.  When Mike Stearns rescues the Abarabanel’s from oncoming Spanish forces.  Jeff Higgins and his friends at the “Battle of the Crapper” (Trust me; it’s a lot more exciting than it sounds.)  Julie Simms with her rifle sweeping the field ahead of Captain Gars.  Crack.  Crack.  Crack.  Crack. These and scenes like them are why this book is my favorite in the series.

It’s a hard thing to pull off, the good guys vs. bad guys with the decisive, indeed overwhelming victory of the good guys.  Finding the balance of tension, enough to make the threat real, yet having the good guys able to plausibly win through to the victory that has everyone off their seat and cheering.

But when you can do it, you can make magic happen.


Feeding the Active Writer: Sesame-Garlic Chicken

this is an Asian flavored dish that takes a little more prep time than a lot of the “Feeding the Active Writer” items, but the result is well worth it, I think.


  • 4-5 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 2 tbsp roasted sesame seeds
  • 2 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup finely minced garlic (usual caveats, I use a lot of garlic for my taste.  You might want to use less)
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tsp xantham gum

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and put into a 2 quart casserole dish.  Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the chicken.

In a small saucepan heat the sesame oil.  Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes .

Add the soy sauce and heat to just starting to boil.

Whisk in the xantham gum until it thickens.

Remove the sauce from heat and pour over the chicken.

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.  Stir to mix the chicken, sauce, and the juices released from the partially cooked chicken.

Bake an additional 20 minutes at 350.




On This Day: The Battle of Nassau

On this day, in 1776, forces of the fledgling Continental Navy and Continental Marines (ancestors of the US Navy and US Marine Corps) performed its first ever amphibious assault when it attacked the port of Nassau in the Bahamas, capturing the town and seizing the munitions and gunpowder that had not been evacuated in advance.

Before the battle took place, at the start of the American Revolution the British governor of Virginia Lord Dunmore removed stores of gunpowder and munitions to the island of New Providence in the Bahamas in order to keep it from falling into the hands of the rebel militia.  Facing a desperate shortage of powder in order to prosecute its war against Britain, the Second Continental Congress organized a naval expedition to seize military supplies at Nassau.

A fleet of eight ships, departed Cape Henlopen, Delaware.  Gale force winds led to two of the ships becoming separated from the rest of the fleet.  The merchant sloop Hornet was forced to return to port for repairs and the sloop Fly eventually rejoined the fleet at Nassau.

The fleet arrived in the vicinity of Nassau on March 1 and captured two loyalist sloops, pressing their owners to serve as pilots to help navigate the local waters.  A local captain, George Dorsett,  escaped and warned the Bahamian governor of the presence of the rebel fleet.

A landing force of 210 marines were moved to the two captured sloops and the rebel sloop the Providence.  These three ships were to attack the port of Nassau at daybreak, hopefully before the alarm could be raised.

As it happened, the ships were spotted in the morning light.  Browne, awakened on the spotting of the ships ordered four of the guns at the fort fired to alert the militia.  Two of those guns came off their carriage in firing.

The attackers heard the guns and realized the element of surprise had been lost.  They called off the attack.  The traditional account has John Paul Jones, then a lieutenant to the fleet commander suggesting a new landing point and leading the expedition but as he was unfamiliar with local waters this is unlikely and one of the other officers is likely to have made the suggestion and a lieutenant on the Cabot, Thomas Weaver, is believed to have lead the expedition.

Fifty sailors were added to the marine landing force which sailed, joined by the schooner Wasp to provide covering fire, to a point south and east of Fort Montague.  They made a force landing, the first amphibious landing by United States Marines.

A lieutenant named Burke led a small detachment from the fort to investigate the rebel activity.  Heavily outnumbered, he asked, under a flag of truce what their intentions were and learned that they intended to seize powder and munitions.

Governor Browne, in the meantime reached the fort with additional militiamen.  On learning the size of the attacking force, he left a token force at the fort and returned to Nassau.  He, himself, returned to the Governor’s house and most of the militiamen returned to their own homes rather than take a stand.

The rebel force occupied the fort and Browne sent Burke back under flag of truce to once again ask the rebels’ intentions.  They repeated to him that they had come for powder and weapons.

The marines elected to remain in the fort overnight.  This, along with Hopkins’ error in not posting any ships to guard the harbor, proved to be a mistake.  Browne ordered powder and weapons loaded on ships for evacuation from the port.  Into the night, 162 of 200 barrels of gunpowder were loaded onto two ships:  the Mississippi Packet and the HMS St. John.  At 2:00 AM they sailed out of the harbor bound for St. Augustine.

The Marines occupied Nassau without resistance on the 4th.

The fleet remained in Nassau for two weeks, loading as much weaponry as they could fit onto the ships, including the remaining 38 barrels of powder.  They pressed the local sloop Endeavor to carry some of the material.

The fleet sailed from Nassau for Block Island Channel off Newport Rhode Island.  As they reached the vicinity of Long Island they encountered and captured the HMS Hawk and the Bolton, which included stores of more armaments and powder.  On April 6 they encountered the HMS Glasgow, which, though heavily outnumbered, managed to severely damage the Cabot and escape.  The fleet reached New London, Connecticut on April 8.

While initially lauded as a success, questions were raised about the handling of the mission, in particular in allowing the Glasgow to get away.  One of the consequences was relieving the captain of the Providence of command and giving an officer whose name should be familiar to many readers his first command in the Continental Navy:  John Paul Jones.

And the rest, as they say, is history.