Battle of Tours

On this date, in AD732, Charles Martel led the Franks against Muslim invaders near the city of Tours and turned back the tide of Islamic advance at the Battle of Tours (sometimes called the Battle of Poitiers).

In the preceding 110 years, Islam, thanks to the diligent efforts of polite young men in white shirts and ties on bicycles going out two-by-two, had spread from its origins in the Arabian peninsula through south-central Asia and across the north of Africa, and up into the Iberian peninsula.

Did I say polite young men in white shirts and ties on bicycles going out two-by-two?  Just kidding.  That’s Mormons.  The Muslims did it by going out conquering and to conquer, slaughtering everyone who would not submit, in a tide of blood across all their conquered lands.

It seemed that Muhammed and his successors did not understand that “Jihad” meant internal struggle over oneself and that “Islam” meant “peace” and the meaning of “submission” was ones own submission to Allah.  They apparently thought “Jihad” meant real war against unbelievers, using real swords and spears, leaving real dead and mutilated bodies in its wake and the “submission” was forcing those not in Islam to submit to it.  But what did they know?  They only founded the religion or followed in the footsteps of the founder.

Muslims of the Umayyad dynasty, chiefly Berbers, invaded the Iberian peninsula (really, it was a military invasion, not a lot of missionaries on bicycles.  Besides, the bicycle hadn’t been invented yet).  With an decade they had essentially conquered the Iberian peninsula and were expanding across the Pyrenees into what would eventually be part of southern France.

In the spring of 732, these Umayyad Muslims defeated Duke Odo at the Battle of the River Garonne, thus setting the stage for what was to come.

Odo, surviving the battle, asked the Franks for help.  Charles Martel, “Mayor of the Palace” (Ruler in all but name but it would wait for his son, Pepin the Short, for his line to officially claim the throne) would only promise aid in return for Odo submitting to Frankish authority.

While this was going on, the Umayyads, in apparent unconcern about possible Frankish might, advanced toward the Loire river.  Lax in scouting and unconcerned, they did not note the power massing to oppose them.

The Umayyads were mostly cavalry.  Charles, according to accounts, was mostly infantry, but heavily armed and armored infantry.  One of the Frank’s main weapons was the Francisca, a heavy-headed, short-handled throwing axe.  The Byzantine historian Procopius (c. 500–565) described the axes and their use thus:

…each man carried a sword and shield and an axe. Now the iron head of this weapon was thick and exceedingly sharp on both sides while the wooden handle was very short. And they are accustomed always to throw these axes at one signal in the first charge and thus shatter the shields of the enemy and kill the men.

And at the time of Charles Martel, the axes were still in common use.  It would be some time yet before the Frankish forces converted to being primarily cavalry under the successors to Charles Martel.

When the Umayad’s reached the Franks and their allies, they faced off with skirmishes while waiting for their full force to arrive.

Finally, the forces were all ready and the day of battle arrived.  Abd-al-Raḥmân, the leader of the Umayyad forces, trusted to the strength of his cavalry and had them charge repeatedly at the Frankish infantry lines.  The incredibly disciplined infantry stood its ground staunchly despite (according to Arab sources) Umayyad cavalry breaking into their formation several times.

A charge of Umayyad broke through, attempting to reach Charles reasoning, probably correctly, that if they could kill Charles the Frankish army would break.  However Charles’ liege men surrounded him and held off the attack.

While the battle still raged, rumors went through the Umayyad forces that Frankish scouts were threatening the Umayyad baggage train and threatening to carry off the loot they’d already gathered in their march northward.  Arab reports indeed claim that this was the case (in a second day of battle where Frankish reports say it only lasted one day).

This, apparently was too much for many of the Umayyads.  Fight them on the field of battle.  Throw axes at them.  Stab at them with spears and slash at them with swords.  All good.  But threaten their loot?  No way.

However, they didn’t appear to make clear to their compatriots what exactly they were doing and why.  The others saw them heading back the way they’d come and thought they were in retreat.  And “if he’s retreating, maybe I should be too” is a thought soldiers have shared many a time throughout history.  The result was the Umayyad’s went into full-fledged retreat.  Abd-al-Raḥmân tried to stop the retreat and, as a result, was surrounded and killed.

The next day, Charles, fearing the possibility of an ambush, kept his troops in formation in their relatively secure position.  He did, however, send out extensive reconnaissance which discovered that the Umayyad’s had abandoned not only the field of battle but their own camp so fast that they’d left their tents behind, heading back to Iberia as fast as their horses and wagons could carry them taking what loot they could carry with them.

Had to protect that loot.

The Umayyad’s retreated south back over the Pyrenees and that remained the end of Muslim advance into Europe.  Further attempts into the European heartland were made but they came to nought in the end.  Charles Martel and his forces had broken the back of the Muslim conquest of Europe for many centuries to come.

How Charles Martel would weep to see Europe inviting in a new generation of invaders with open arms.


Why gun control cannot work

Anytime any violent tragedy happens in the US the usual suspects immediately shriek for more gun control.  The problem is that it cannot solve the violence problem and those shrieking the loudest know this.

Senator Feinstein admitted as much in an interview recently:

CBS “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson asked Feinstein if Congress could pass any law that would have stopped Stephen Paddock’s rampage.

“No, he passed background checks registering for handguns and other weapons on multiple occasions,” said Feinstein, who noted Paddock didn’t display any of the signs one might look for in a potential shooter like a criminal record or mental illness.

Yet she’s more than willing to use the event to promote her own citizen disarmament agenda.  As Nancy Pelosi said when asked if legislation on bump stocks would lead to further restrictions down the road “So what?  I certainly hope so.”

They want the restrictions even if they won’t work for the stated purpose.  What unstated purpose are they, then trying to accomplish?

Of course they won’t work.  Whenever anyone compares US violent crime (specifically homicide) rates with other countries they always say “Western nations” or “Developed Nations”, not realizing that such a limitation is a blatant admission that factors other than gun control are of far greater import to such rates.  When asked why such a limitation, it’s said “to keep it an apples and oranges comparison”. So factors other than gun control are so much more important that they completely change the kind under discussion?  Um.  Um.

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Or ask someone for a before/after comparison, to find an example of a place that

  1. Had a high violent crime rate
  2. Passed strict gun control
  3. Had violent crime rates subsequently precipitously drop
  4. And stay down, showing a lasting effect, rather than a short-term readjustment to a new circumstance.

The closest anyone has come is Australia.  An acquaintance of mine lives in Australia and he pointed it out.  The total numbers of violent crimes actually went up in Australia, but because population also went up, the net rate (violent crimes per 100,000 population) declined slightly.  However if you look at the trends over time, you see that the decline was simply the continuation of a trend that started well before the prohibition and confiscation of semi-automatic weapons.  The ban had no effect on violent crime.

Part of the problem of relying on gun control is non-compliance.

  • Connecticut passed strict “assault weapon” registration in the wake of Sandy Hook.  About 50,000 of the estimated 370,000 rifles covered by the legislation were registered by the deadline.
  • More non-compliance with New York’s “SAFE” act. Only about 44,000 of the estimated 1 million covered weapons were registered.
  • In Washington State, over 5000 gun owners gathered to engage in a massive civil disobedience event to basically swap guns back and forth in violation of Washington’s then new law requiring all transfers to undergo a Federal background check.
  • Common joke among gun owners: Guns?  I don’t have any.  I lost them all in a tragic boating accident.

Even beyond the non-compliance issue is that guns are simply too easy to smuggle, too easy to make.  Australian police are reporting that about 10% of the guns they seize from criminals are homemade, including submachine guns. (Look, if you know anything about how guns work, you’d realize that an open bolt submachine gun is one of the easiest repeating arms to make.)  Want to know how to make your own gun using commonly available materials?  Check out any number of videos on Youtube or get the army training manual TM 31-210.  It’s available online.  I have it in PDF.

Smuggling.  Drug smugglers bring thousands of tons of drugs into the US every year.  Now, if every one of the homicides committed with a firearm were done with a separate gun (I’ll deal with that here in a moment) and every one had to be smuggled in, that would only be about seven tons, trivial in comparison.  And guns are wood, steel, and plastic, a lot easier to hide from sniffing dogs than complex chemicals with unique scents.

And that assumption up above about every gun only being used once?  That turns out not to be the case.  Back in the late 80’s one of the news services, NBC, I believe, did a special on guns where they “traced” a single gun as it was trafficked across several states and dozens of crimes before eventually being confiscated by police.  Their intent was to show how horrible even a single gun is.  What they actually showed is how few guns are needed to actually provide for criminal “needs”.

None of that even considers how you’re going to get rid of the existing more (some think a lot more) than three hundred million guns already in private hands in the US.

The simple truth is, you can’t.  Furthermore Americans, and particularly American gun owners, wont’s stand for it.  See the non-compliance examples up above.  While some might, a large fraction of gun owners simply will not give up their guns willingly.  We’re not Great Britain.  We’re not Australia.  Neither of those countries have the history of resistance to government and passion for individual liberty that’s bred into Americans despite the efforts of some forces to stamp it out.  Cultures, when placed under stress, tend to revert to their founding myths (see “Revitalization Movements” in cultural anthropology).  Our founding myths include such things as “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give my Liberty or give me death” and “Stand your ground.  Don’t fire unless fired upon.  But if they mean to have a war, let it begin here” (in response to an attempt by the government to confiscate arms, I might add).

That leaves force, sending armed men (armed with guns) to collect up the guns.  Only, you don’t know where they are.  That’s one of the reason gun owners have been so resistant to anything like universal registration.  And if you do, well:

Gun owners in this country outnumber police by 100 to one.

They outnumber the military by close to that.

They outnumber military, reserves, and guard combined by about 30 to one.

They outnumber the combined militaries and government paramilitary organizations of the entire world by more than 2 to one.

Barring a “cultural change” that gets most of those people willingly giving up their guns, there is simply no way it can be done. None.  And the tide turned on that cultural change in the late 80’s.  More States are allowing more people to carry guns in more places than ever before.  More people are carrying than ever before.  The percentages of people carrying are higher than any time since the “wild west”.  And along with that, violent crime rates have fallen, dramatically, from their high water mark in the early 90’s.  While there have been a few, admittedly horrific, high-profile incidents, the simple truth is that the average American over the last few years has been safer from violent crime than most people’s living memory and hovering near 100 year lows.

Gun control cannot work.  Fortunately, it’s not necessary.


Kind of getting burned out on the recent political posts, so here’s another snippet from a work in progress:

I woke to a high keening sound.  This time I had no trouble recognizing the siren of an ambulance.  I was strapped to a hard surface.  Backboard.  A thick cervical collar immobilized my neck.  Something squeezed my legs and lower abdomen, an even pressure that ran from my ankles to just above my hips.  A mask covered my mouth and nose, with air, no…oxygen, blowing against my lips.  An IV fed into my left arm and another into my neck under the cervical collar.  I’d lost a lot of blood.

The bouncing of the ambulance told me that we were moving fast.

“Well.  You’re back with us.”

A young man leaned over me.  The nametag on his blue shirt said “Grant”.  A patch on the shoulder carried the logo of what I presumed was an ambulance company.

“We got to you in good time,” the man continued. “You’re going to be all right.”

His words were meant as comfort but I did not need them.  Since I was not already dead, I would recover.  The word for what I am is Dhampyre, the child of a vampire and a human.  Or in my case of two vampires.  My kind is rare.  The male in a pairing has to be fresh from a heavy feeding in order to be fertile.  And when a male vampire impregnates a human female the woman rarely quickens, and even more rarely carries to term.  A vampire female can only carry to term if infused daily with enough blood to leave a string of corpses in their wake.  Fail even once and the uterus goes dormant causing a miscarriage.

I am stronger than a normal human, faster, more durable, and I heal better.

“Can you tell me where you’re hurt?” Grant asked.

I drew a deep breath, or started to.  The pain in my side reminded me of the rib.  So I started there.

“Rib.  Right side.  Broken I think.” My voice sounded weak, even considering the mask. “Right arm.  Stabbed.  Twice.” I could not tell him that a vampire had bit me. “Right hand.  Broken finger.  Heard it…pop.  Something…left ankle.  Broken?  And…lost a lot of blood.”

“Well.” Grant looked at the wiggly trace on a screen.  Heart monitor.  My heart. “We got most of that.  Hang in there, we’ll be at the hospital soon.”

“Guy I…landed on?”

Grant’s expression sobered. “Other team got him.  I can’t say more than that.”

I squeezed my eyes tight.  People get hurt in my line of work.  Innocents.  But what should have been a simple takedown of one vampire became an ambush by four with two, maybe three depending on whether the one I hit in my fall survived, dead.

The ride was short but it provided plenty of time for me to imagine what I might have done differently what might have left those three people alive.  The options started with letting the vampires have me and went downhill from there.

We arrived at the hospital and I gritted my teeth at the jostling, however slight it was, as the crew unloaded me from the ambulance.  Once inside the ambulance crew handed me off to the emergency room staff and then went off to do whatever ambulance crews do between runs.  Paperwork would be my guess.  That’s the bane of everyone’s existence.

The paperwork on my mission was going to be a nightmare.  A fight with a vampire in full view of multiple witnesses.  A body with a stake in it and two inch fangs in its mouth.  Two bodies if they check the roof and considering how I’d come through that awning, they would.

This was going to be a hard one to keep quiet.

There was a jump in time.  It seemed I was still drifting in and out.  I must have lost more blood than I thought.

While waiting for someone to take me for additional examination and treatment I ran a more detailed personal inventory.  I could not move my head to look so the inventory had to be by feel.  The EMTs had apparently cut my shirt off.  Strapped to the backboard I should be able to feel my holster against my back.  I didn’t.  That meant the police probably had it which meant they were looking for my gun.

Yet another reason they would end up on the roof.  They would have two vampire bodies to play with.  And once somebody had the idea of pulling one of my stakes out?  Wouldn’t that be fun.

Life just got better and better.


The doctors and staff in the emergency room were attentive and efficient, I’ll give them that.  They had me in the examining room in minutes and connected to various monitors.  A nurse drew blood that the fluid they drew was thin, watery liquid, more the stuff from their bags than my own blood was purely my imagination.

I overheard a doctor at the door telling someone I could not answer questions yet.  Good.  The longer I could put that off, the better.  I did not know how Indiana would treat my killing the vampire.  After all, the vampire had already killed two people before I staked it.

Some places that would be a clear cut case of defense of self and others.  You’d get a “thank you” and be on your way.  In others, any killing was prosecuted and you had to prove self-defense in court.

Considering what’s necessary to kill a vampire I really try to avoid having kills come to police attention at all.  Look, despite what you see in the movies, a stake through the heart does not kill a vampire.  It immobilizes it.  Remove the stake and the vampire comes back.  How fast depends on how powerful the vampire is.  To kill it you have to either burn the body completely to ash.  I’ve heard of cases of a few charred bone fragments regenerating.  Or you have to remove the head and stuff the mouth with either garlic or communion wafers, then bury head and body separately.

The doctor was asking me something but my head was still not working quite right.  I tried to shake my head but the cervical collar prevented my head from moving.

The doctor repeated himself. “You’ve lost a lot of blood.  We need your consent for a transfusion.”

I wiggled my fingers. “Can’ sigh’ ‘nyth’ng.”

“Verbal consent will do for now.”

“Yeah. ‘kay.  Do ‘t.”

The doctor gave rapid fire instructions.  I felt another needle go into my arm and saw a bag of dark red liquid hung above me to the side of my bed.  I suppressed a giggle.  This time I got to be the vampire.

The doctor leaned over me again. “We want to take you down for an MRI of your head and neck and of your arm.  Okay?”


The doctor grinned. “Once we get you out of that collar and off this backboard, we can get you to sign some papers.”

This time I let out the giggle.

“‘lways the pap’rw’rk, eh, doc.”

“Always.” He patted my shoulder. “You hang in there.  We’ll get you through this.”

I managed to twist my left hand enough to make a thumbs up gesture.

The doctor gave additional instructions to the attending nurse then swept out of the room, presumably to go deal with other patients.  Perhaps he’d have to deal with the poor sucker I’d landed on.

Yes, that bothered me.  I really hate it when innocents get hurt.  I hate it more when they get hurt because of me.

And on that thought I let unconsciousness take hold of me again.

What is “stupid”?

Stupid is:

Telling people that they are the cause of all the problems in the country, that they are evil racist, misogynists, supremacists, that you want them gone, that you want them killed, oh, and by the way, please give up your guns.

Telling people that they are a “basket of deplorables” and, oh, won’t you please vote for me next time?

Saying that the police are violent racists who kill innocent black people just because they’re black and this is why only the police should have guns.

Claiming that we can get people to do less of something, like smoking or drinking, by making it more expensive but that increasing the cost of hiring people (by mandating benefits or pay rates) won’t have any effect on employment.

Giving money to people, that you took from people in the first place, causes the economy to grow.

The government is evil and corrupt.  Let’s have more of it.

A person planning to kill a bunch of people will change his mind on seeing a sign saying “gun free zone”.

The first amendment protects our right to riot but does not protect your right to, you know, speak when you’re saying something we don’t like.

The Parties switched in the 60’s (although I can’t name three national level politicians in each direction who changed sides) but we’re still going to claim credit for Kennedy, Franklin D Roosevelt, Harry Truman and anyone else we care to.

I’m going to make this political accusation against you for causing a tragedy and don’t you dare politicize it be responding.

A woman should have complete control over her body, unless she wants to smoke.

A woman should have complete control over her body, let’s ban large sugary drinks.

No fat shaming!  We will force kids in school to eat what we consider a healthy diet, whether it’s appropriate to them or not.

Blocking traffic is legitimate peaceful protest, unless it’s in front of an abortion clinic

Judging a person by race, color, or gender are wrong and those evil white males are the cause of all the problems in society.


Who are the violent ones again?

For years, anti-gun folk have been saying that those of us who support RKBA should be killed or suffer other acts of extreme violence.

Recently, we had this from Nancy Sinatra:


I sent a reply of “Thank you, Nancy, for demonstrating why I’m keeping my guns.” (I know we’re not on a first-name basis, but I’m not inclined to be polite with someone who wants me dead.) I don’t know whether she deleted the tweet or blocked me, but I couldn’t find it when I went back later.  However, thanks to the many people capturing screenshots, the Internet is forever. (What happens on the Internet, stays on the Internet–something to remember.)

Later, backpedaling, said said “not all NRA members, just the murderous ones”.  Uh huh.  You didn’t mean “murderous” to be a descriptor for all NRA members, but to indicate a subset.  And you can believe as much of that as you want.

She’s far from the only one making that kind of statement.  Not necessarily about guns, but about people who disagree with them politically.  Some recent.   Some older:



This woman, unwilling to do it herself, is hoping for terrorists to do it for her:


Oh, they tried that.  The result was two dead terrorists.


Making a false report, as this person advocates, is a crime, but anything in order to get a law abiding gun owner killed, right?

Hope this person received a visit from the Secret Service:


Pity they grayed out the User ID.  This person should be made famous:

This is just a tiny sampling.  Folk I know personally, who support individual liberty and RKBA get death threats all the time.  And never mind the cheering regarding the Scalise shooting.

And yes, I know, you get some on the other side too.  But right you, you folk are showing me exactly why I’m keeping my guns.

I’m a peaceable man at heart, but if you think I’m going to disarm when so many people want me dead for the simple crime of disagreeing with them on matters of politics and philosophy, let alone for believing I have the right to defend me and mine and have the effective means to do so, then you’ve got another thing coming.

What do you mean by “Leftist”?

Elsewhere on my blog, in the comments, the question was raised “What do you mean by ‘Leftist’?”  They went on to ask whether it meant Democrat, Socialist, Progressive, or what.

Let me expand a bit on the reply I gave there:


Most people–no matter what their position, on anything–don’t really give their positions a lot of thought. They go with what “gut instinct” (basically what sounds good to them) tells them or “if it was good enough for granddad…”

This is not really a criticism. Nobody has time for careful consideration of all the facts in every position about which they might be called upon to make a decision (even if it’s just “who to make that decision on my behalf”).  A lot of my own positions, I freely admit, are just that. I accumualted them over time as things that feel right or they were just things I absorbed when I was young.  (I touch on this a bit elsewhere.) I try to remember that and be amenable to alteration of such positions based on further information when needed.  And from time to time, as issues come up, I’ll take a position I hold, bring it out, examine it, and see if it still seems valid after careful consideration.  Sometimes it is.  And sometimes…it isn’t.  In the latter case, I have been known to change my position.  It just takes more than somebody ranting at me about how wrong I am and about how much they feel.

Generally speaking, there’s a certain comfort level for people to stay with beliefs they’ve long held, even in the face of contrary evidence.  Their beliefs have “worked” for them so they’re just not inclined to change.  And when they do change, it’s not sweet reason that converts them but emotion.  Humans are emotional, rationalizing beings, not “logical”.  Appeal to emotion may be a logical fallacy but in the social and political arena it is also good tactics.  When your goal is to persuade people, it works.  And this is something the political Left (bear with me, I’ll get to the term itself here shortly) has learned well.  They have generally been far better at couching their terms as emotional appeal (while pretending to be “fact based” and “logical” and “scientific”) than has been the Right (and I’ll include here things like Libertarianism that are neither Left nor Right but off in a different direction).

In politics most voters–Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Socialist, Green, Independent, whatever–are “low information voters”. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.  And it’s not even that much of a criticism.  Most people just can’t spend all their time researching candidates and their positions and what effect various policies are likely to actually have.  They go with what they’ve always gone with.  Or they go with whoever produces the most appealing soundbites and promises (real effects of said policies need not enter into it).

However, there are some people, espousing “left wing” political views (and that’s a complicated issue itself because neither “left” nor “right” is well defined–has to happen when you want to take two things that have far more in common than they have differences and put them at opposite ends of the spectrum) that aren’t “low information”. They, for their own purposes–which can be truly “the good of the nation” or it can be, and most often is, the good of themselves–know exactly what they’re doing. (And, yes, I am well aware that the description applies to the “Right” as well as those off in a different direction positions, but the question was about “Leftist”.)

I use the term “leftist” to distinguish those folk from the honest but low-information who follow along in their wake. It includes “liberal” (as the term has come to mean in use as opposed to its original meaning), “Democrat”, “Socialist,” “Progressive” et al. The folk who are actually shaping those policies whether they are “true believers” or simply cynically using them for their own selfish ends. (Again, this applies to the “Right” as well–but the question was about “Leftists”.)

That’s what I mean by “Leftist”.


I am not at terribly fast writer as such things go.  One way I work with that is to have several projects going at once.  Each project goes a bit slower than it would if I were doing it alone but I produce more in total than I would otherwise..  Here’s a snippet from one of my current projects.  It’s tentatively set in my FTI Universe.

The airlock door slid open.  Tom Bardeau, captain and owner of the asteroid harvester Bardeau’s Bard, popped his helmet and drew in a deep breath of the air in Amphitrite station.  After eight months in the ship that also served as his family’s home the air smelled sweet and fresh.

“Hey, Da,” Tom’s oldest, Andrea said. “Can I. . . .”

“Go.  Go,” Tom said.

Andrea grinned and pushed off from the wall.  Tom watched as she sailed across the concourse.  She used a short burst from her wrist and ankle jets to duck a trolley then caromed off a push pole before disappearing into the distance, headed for the station clinic to complete the practical portion of midwife training.  A bittersweet smile caressed his face.  All too soon, she would be leaving, not for classes between trips to the deep but with a husband.

His headset beeped, announcing that it had negotiated protocol with the local network.

He scowled as his preset program ran and a string of numbers appeared in the holocrystal in front of his left eye.  He read the final tally of his local account.  That wasn’t right.

Tom turned to his wife, Merinda, “I’ve got to go to the claims office.  I think there’s been a problem.”

Merinda snagged Brendan, their youngest, before he could push away from the wall and began to strip him out of his suit. “Should I oversea resupply then?”

Tom started to concur then stopped.  The final tally of their account balance still floated in the holocrystal. “Better wait on that.  Until I get this cleared up, we’d better not spend any more than we have to.”

Merinda’s eyes glazed in the expression Tom knew meant she was reading her own display. “I see.  Then I’ll get the kids settled in temporary quarters.”

Tom nodded.

Merinda pursed her lips, “Still, there’s that engineering practicum….”

Tom sighed. “Do as you think best.” He tapped the holocrystal. “But….”

Merinda nodded. “Of cou—Tanith, stop that!—Of course.”


“What do you mean nothing has come in?” Tom Bardeau floated upside down in front of the claims office desk at Amphitrite Station. “I sent down three heavies.”

“I can’t speak to that,” the woman, her nametag said ‘[Guðrún]Steinsson”, said. “But nothing with your beacon has passed into our zone, nothing but the one you rode in with.”

Bardeau bit down on his anger.  He touched one of the palm switches controlling the air jets he wore at waist, wrist, and ankles, releasing a burst of compressed air to adjust his position. “Three asteroids.  Thirty meter class.  At least 35 parts per million platinum.”

“Maybe, but they haven’t arrived here.”

Tom scowled.  The occasional loss happened.  A beacon failed.  A rock sailed past the collection zone without being marked for pickup.  Or a navigation error put the rock into the wrong orbit and it never came near a collection station.  Three, however, was too much to credit.

Another burst of air to adjust position then Tom drummed the fingers of his right hand on his thigh and looked at Steinnson.  Station personnel cheating wranglers out of the proceeds from their rocks had happened.  The Aurora scandal had been the big one involving half Aurora station’s personnel and hundreds of tons of platinum value before being squashed.  That one had involved shorting the tonnage of processed asteroids, not crediting wranglers with the full value of their rocks.

Making complete rocks just disappear, though?

Steinnson shifted her eyes, unwilling to continue meeting Tom’s glare.

“You’re not the only one with missing rocks,” she said. “I don’t think anybody else has lost three, but the numbers of losses seem to be up.”

“All right,”

With quick eye motions, Tom activated his headset and flipped through menus to the comm function.  His second oldest, Aaron, had shop watch.

“What you need, Dad?”

“I want you to go through our beacons, every single one.  Pull every board and examine them under the microscope.  Anything, anything at all that isn’t right, you let me know.”


Tom sighed. “I know.  I know.  You need your down time too.  We’ll take this in turns.  But they never recorded our rocks arrival.  If we got a bad batch of beacons, we need to know it.”

Aaron hesitated a long time before responding.  He knew what three missing rocks meant to the family as much as Tom did. “Okay, Dad.  I’ll get on it.”

Tom switched off the comm and turned back to Steinnson. “Thank you for your time.

She spread her hands. “Sorry I can’t help you.”

As Tom left the office he checked his account balance once again.  He had enough to outfit for another trip out.  One.  But another disaster like this would break him.


Maintaining an asteroid harvester was an expensive proposition.  They were not large enough for bioregenerative life support so.  They could recycle water.  Electrochemical systems could recover oxygen from carbon dioxide, but they still needed reserves against losses and supplies of food.

The biggest expense was propellant, reaction mass for the ion thrusters and storable hypergolic fuels for the high thrust maneuvering jets and the small attitude control jets.

Not just money was needed, but time.  Life support systems to be scrubbed out.  Recovered volatiles sold back to the station.  Every system checked to ensure it was up to spec before they headed back out into the belt looking for more likely rocks.

Normally the process took two weeks.  In order to conserve funds, Tom had lowered the priority of his work orders, ordered several jobs on a “space available” basis rather than hiring a slot.  He put off buying fuel, keeping a sharp eye on prices and hoping for a drop before he absolutely had to load up.  The estimate was four weeks before they would be ready to go out again.  The extra rooming costs would eat up part of the savings, but they could spend part of that time back on the ship.

Tom completed his quick check of ship status and twitched his eye in the pattern that switched off the holocrystal display.

“I’m sorry, Sandu.” Tom sipped from his bulb, a peaty scotch.  Where had Sandu obtained that? “I got a bit antsy and checked on the ship.  You were saying?”

Sandu Sala laughed.  The captain of the harvester Kristo–or, as Tom had come to learn, former captain, had developed a bit of a paunch.  When he had learned that Tom was in station he had invited him to lunch at his quarters.

“Believe me, I understand,” Sandu said. “Back when I had the Kristo, I couldn’t go five minutes without checking on her progress while in station.”

“Speaking of that,” Tom snagged a French fry out of the container on his meal tray. “What happened?  I would never have thought you’d give up wrangling.”

“I didn’t.” Sandu scooped up a bit of casserole and, with a deft movement, transfered it to his mouth without a crumb escaping in the low gravity.  He swallowed. “Costs were eating me alive.  I took a loss three outings in a row.  You know how that goes.”

“I do indeed.” Tom nodded.  Every trip was a gamble.  When you went out, using a low powered ion drive, you swept section of the belt.  The goal was to find rocks dense with heavy metals, neither too big nor too small.  Too big and you would not be able to shift them into an orbit for one of the catch stations.  Too small and they just weren’t worth the time.  Divert the asteroid.  Slap on your identity beacon.  And collect your paycheck the next time you touch at a station.

There were millions of asteroids in that range of sizes, but scattered over such an enormous volume of space finding them, even with modern equipment, involved a certain amount of luck.