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PROLOGUE, PART THREE

Cobryn opened the throttle all the way. He'd never piloted an exploration buggy before, but the fundamental principles had to be the same as piloting a starship: faster was always better. The four-seat buggy surged forward, nearly tossing its passengers from their seats. Oops. Maybe that was too much throttle.

"Wheeee," Quig shouted gleefully over the roar of the engines and the howl of wind through the open cockpit.

Sahara was less enthused. "I thought you said you knew how to drive one of these things!"

"Obviously he does," answered Striker One. "We are already overtaking our quarry."

It was true, Cobryn noticed. The goblins were slowing their buggy down to navigate the rough-cut path – it didn't even deserve to be called a road – through the forest. They simply weren't willing to take the same risks he was. Of course, taking chances is what had gotten Cobryn into this situation in the first place.

He had taken a chance when he accepted a smuggling job for a client he didn't already know. The pay was great, but it turned out the cargo wasn't. Cobryn might be a lot of things, but he was no slave trafficker. The client hadn't liked Cobryn's change of heart. One thing had led to another, and Cobryn had lost his ship, his reputation, and his freedom. With no better options, Cobryn had taken another chance on a mysterious message. One thing had led to another, and now he was on the other side of the solar system chasing goblins with an annoyingly cheerful ysoki, a humorless android, and a lashunta woman who just might be a bigger gambler than he was.

"What are we going to do if we catch them?" Quig asked.

Cobryn scoffed, "What do you mean 'if'? I out-maneuvered that space pirate, didn't I? I think I can handle a couple of goblins in a go-cart."

"When we get close, I'm going to put this grenade in their driver's face," said Sahara.

Striker One was skeptical. "That may be unwise. Our mysterious benefactor has insisted on secrecy, but those goblins were clearly surveilling our arrival before they fled. It would be useful to know why and where they are headed."

"Whatever you're going to do, you'll need to do it quickly," said Cobryn. It certainly didn't take a pilot of his skill to catch these goblins; they could barely keep their buggy moving. Cobryn relaxed the throttle and pulled alongside them, coming eye to eye with the goblin in their passenger seat. It grinned. Only then did Cobryn notice the plasma pistol in its hand. His reflexes saved his life. (Again.) He jerked the wheel, and the pistol bolt blasted the buggy's windshield frame instead of his head.

"Decision made," said Sahara. She lobbed the grenade.

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PROLOGUE, PART TWO

Sahara twitched her antennae in nervous anticipation. Had she escaped from a noose only to face a firing squad?

"Surrender your vessel and whatever your cargo is, and I just might let you live," ordered the space pirate through the starship's radio.

Sahara toggled the radio to broadcast. "We don't have any cargo of value," she said. It was the truth. The holds were as empty as her pockets. Not even the ship itself was worth more than what a scrap yard would pay for it.

"I'll be the judge of that," came the reply. "Turn off your engines and prepare to be boarded."

An electronic signal from the ship's science station caught Sahara's attention. She looked at the android in the gunner's seat. "The pirate weapon has a target lock on us," Striker One said calmly.

Sahara looked at the ratman. "Are the shields working?"

The furry Ysoki nodded vigorously. "You can count on Quig."

"If you say so, Quig," said Cobryn, the ship's pilot. "But shields won't last forever. A pirate ship like that against a tub like this…. We'll never be able to outrun him or his lasers. Maybe we should comply and hope for mercy."

Sahara's three crew mates waited for her response. She hadn't asked to be captain of this vessel, but she wasn't a trained pilot like the human or a natural engineer like the Ysoki. And she certainly didn't have the artificial man's ability to talk to computers. That left her in the captain's chair by default. It was not a comfortable fit.

The last time she'd been the captain of a starship, it had been on a two-seat craft fleeing the slavers who had captured her and her sister. Their escape plan was Sahara's idea, but it had been her sister's beauty that lured an overconfident jailer into giving up the security codes to the ship that would carry them both to freedom. The plan had worked well, but an unlucky break, a guard's unpredictably overactive bladder, had resulted in her sister being gunned down on the launchpad. Sahara took off without looking back. She knew she would meet the same fate if the slavers ever caught up with her again.

That's why she had been willing to answer the mysterious summons that had led her into this latest pickle. She didn't know where they were headed or why, and she certainly didn't trust her crew mates. But so far as she was concerned, death was a better option than surrendering to a pirate who would only sell her back to her captors.

Turning back to the android, Sahara ordered, "Target his thrusters with our gyrolaser. Let's see if we can't even these odds."

She had made her decision. The die was cast.

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PROLOGUE, PART ONE

This particular starship was unknown to Quig, but he'd certainly seen its like before. Light freighters were the backbone of the solar system's shipping industry, after all. Therefore, it wasn't the unfamiliar surroundings that set the ratman's hairs standing on edge but the three strangers in the airlock with him.

Summoning his nerve, Quig asked in his high-pitched voice, "Excuse me, but is one of you the person who sent for me?" He dialed his personal communicator to the anonymous message he'd received a week before and held it up for the others to see.

The pale, broad-shouldered android raised an eyebrow in a good simulation of how other races would display surprise. "You're willing to expose your data to persons you do not know? That seems… unwise." Artificial men like this one made most sentient organics existentially self-conscious, but Quig had always found them distracting for other reasons. What made these mechanical marvels tick? He'd love to take one apart and find out.

The scruffy-looking (real) human man leaning against the starship's bulkhead smirked. "I was just about to say the same thing. Maybe I got a message. Maybe I didn't. How do I know you didn't send it?" Across the galaxy, no race was as capable of deceit as humans. Quig made a mental note not to trust this one.

"This is getting us nowhere," complained the female lashunta, her forehead antennae twitching in apparent irritation. She kept glancing out the ship's porthole at the docking bay entrance. Was she expecting more company? "Yes, I got the message. Obviously, we all did. The question is what are we going to do about it?"

The android shrugged almost naturally. "I believe we should do as instructed and take this ship to the coordinates indicated. Why else did we come here if not to uncover the mystery behind our summons?"

The human interlaced his fingers and extended his arms to crack his knuckles. "Works for me. I've been itching to get back in space."

"I think we're walking into a trap," said the woman dourly. "But as there are some… people around here who I'd rather not run into again, I don't see as I have any choice."

That was more or less how Quig felt, too. He couldn't go back home where The Families were looking for him. That was certain death. Better to take his chances with this motley crew. Besides, he'd always liked tinkering with alien technology, and if he had to walk into a trap, at least it was a trap well baited with the promise of getting his claws into an advanced starship's innards. “I'll start the engines,” he volunteered cheerfully.

The adventure had begun.

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The 2020 NFL playoffs: a perfect confluence of football, Covid personal protective equipment, and Star Wars.

My converter's running wild!

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I've been sick for most of the past two weeks, ever since former friend Ken infected me with his blech at the the Georgia Tech/UGA game. (No, seriously, Ken. You will get your comeuppance for this.)

When I was sick back in March 2017, I had a delightful piece of art from friend Cam to post while I recovered. Luckily for me (and you), she's been back to work.

Merry Cokemas 2018

Keep up the good work, Cam. I eagerly look forward to seeing what you'll have for me to post when I'm sick in 2019!

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Georgia Tech came to Athens and lost for the first time since 2012. They lost badly, too. Through the first three quarters, Tech managed to score only on a punt return. After UGA pulled the starters, final score was Georgia Tech 21, UGA 45.

Ga Tech 21, UGA 45

The game was essentially over when Georgia scored their first touchdown on their opening possession. I didn't see that, however. I hadn't yet reached my seat because my companion, Friend Ken, was 30 minutes late to the carpool. But he did buy me a pretzel in the third quarter, so I'm not inclined to hold too much of a grudge. (Unless I catch his cold. If I catch his cold, yeah, grudge back on.)

By the way, I would be remiss to mention that at halftime, the Georgia Tech band came out on the field and played a tribute to Aretha Franklin. Then the Georgia band followed with... a tribute to Aretha Franklin. R.E.S.P.E.C.T. indeed.

UGA finishes the regular season 11-1 (7-0 at home). I saw 5 of the 7 home games, and none of them were very competitive. Was that worth the increased ticket price? Maybe. Will I renew my tickets again next year? Maybe. It probably depends on how much they jack up the prices this off-season. We'll see what we see after the SEC Championship game.

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I woke up to a text from Friend Ken who needed advice regarding his broken range top. "Boy, am I glad I don't have his problems," I thought to myself.

And then my kitchen sink broke.

Somehow, the nut holding the pipe on the strainer basket in the left basin had become completely stripped. As a result, the pipe slid sideways, and the dishwater, instead of draining away to the septic tank, drained into the cabinet.

Mom and I debated calling a plumber, but we ultimately agreed that replacing a sink basket is no big deal. I should be able to handle that repair easily. Unless the locknut nut is rusted in place. Which, of course, this was. Enter the hacksaw! In a tiny cramped space! On my back!

Two hours, one trip to Home Depot, and $17 later, the sink was back together and successfully holding its water. That's when I noticed that the pipe in the right basin had a cracked nut that was also leaking. Grr. Fortunately, I had the replacement parts leftover from a previous repair to the basement sink. So another hour later (in a tiny cramped space, on my back), both sides of the sink were good as new! Almost.

On reinspection, the left basin was leaking again. Thinking it must be because I had used too small a bead of plumbers putty, I unscrewed everything again. That's when I noticed that while reassembling the parts last time, I had accidentally placed the high-tech piece of cardboard (meant to reduce friction between locknut and gasket) above the rubber gasket instead of below it. It turns out that cardboard is terrible at holding water. Who knew?

Maybe I *should* have called a plumber.

Anyway, everything is working as it is supposed to again. So take that, Ken! The ball is back in your court, buddy.

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The Miami Dolphins came to Atlanta for their first visit to Georgia Dome 2.0 Mercedes Benz Stadium, and I went to see them with my friends, Falcons fans Keith and Ken (and their lovely wives).

Dolphins 20, Falcons 17

In the first half, the Dolphins played like the Dolphins, stumbling into a 0-17 hole. Jay Cutler was the worst he's been all season, playing without inspiration or conviction, placing balls where they would do the least good for the receivers. Just horrible.

However, in the second half, the Falcons played like the Falcons, committing penalties, throwing interceptions, failing to tackle, and just refusing to finish a game. The Falcons scored 0 second half points. The Dolphins scored 20.

Final score, 20-17, Dolphins! Whoo-hoo! Thank you, Falcons!

I would be remiss if I didn't mention my first impression of the new stadium. All I've heard is how wonderful it is. Don't believe the hype.

  • The much ballyhooed 360° HD halo screen is worthless for half of the stadium. Those on the ground floor have to stare at the ceiling to see anything. Those in the rafters (like me) can't see half the screen because the near edge obscures the top half of the far side screen. (Given that they can't even make the roof open — not that you'd be able to tell from most of the seats — I assume that it would have been too hard to pitch the screens into a cone so that they would be visible to all?)
  • Stadium concourses are given over almost exclusively to concessions with queue lines cutting into walkways, making it impossible to get around without running through crowds standing in line for beer and $2 hot dogs.
  • And if you want a $2 hot dog, get one early. Lines don't move quickly. I didn't go myself, but watching and listening to those around me, the minimum wait time appeared to be 15 minutes. (And if you want a Coke, your only option is to stand in line for a fill-it-yourself fountain cup which entitles you to stand in line by the "free refills" drink fountains. That's two lines for the price of one!)
  • Speaking of 15 minutes, that was the wait time for restroom breaks — to the men's room!

In short, I didn't see that this stadium was an improvement in any way over the Georgia Dome save the welcome presence of natural light, and I got the impression that I must not be alone. From the very beginning of the game, there were huge blocks of empty seats visible all over the stadium. (I'd guess it was half full.) Given the stadium's evident disdain for people who actually want to watch a game of football, I can't blame those ticket holders for wanting to spend their time doing something other than watch football there.

But enough about that. I went to the building not to pass judgement on it, but to watch a football game with friends. In the end, I think a good time was had by all.*

To be clear, this picture was taken in the first quarter. My smile came out later.

*At least, all of us cheering for the Dolphins.

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Today was a UGA home game. The Bulldogs played Samford in Sanford Stadium at 7:30pm. However, I wasn't there to see it. Instead, I had to spend the day on Tybee Island with Mom.

She seeks sea shells by the sea shore.

Don't get me wrong. I love Tybee. (And I love Mom.) Tybee is a charming coastal town with some fantastic scenery. (And Mom is Mom.) I'm happy to report that most of the island survived Hurricane Irma just fine, though plenty of scars from last week's storm were still visible everywhere. But it wasn't Tybee's beauty or Irma's wrath (or Mom's Momness) that brought us to the Georgia coast. No, we were here to attend friend Brian's beach wedding in the shadow of Tybee's historic lighthouse.

Mom is a big fan of former Secretary of State George Marshall

Mom rented a wonderful house at 117 Cedarwood Drive, and she, Audrey, July, and I used it as a base of operations for our weekend stay. Mom frequently visited the beach (just a few hundred yards to our north) to collect shells, each time leaving Audrey behind to rue Tybee's draconian "no pets on the beach" policy.

Bring me back a pizza!

Sadly, I somehow managed not to take any pictures of the groom or bride, Veronika. For that matter, I don't have any pictures of groomsmen friends Ken, Keith, or Michael, either. The wedding party didn't show up on the beach until after the wedding officiant warned the attendees not to take pictures because that was the wedding photographer's job. Instead, you'll just have to be satisfied with this screen grab from the lovebird's official wedding website.

You know it's true because it's on the Internet.

In fact, the only picture I have of the wedding was taken by friend James. (James was one of my few friends in attendance who wasn't actually in the wedding party. Matt was the other. Why was I not in the wedding party? I'm sure it had no small part to do with my vowing to Brian after Keith's wedding that I would never wear anything dressier than jeans to a wedding again. "Except mine?" Brian asked. "Even yours," I answered. That's what I like about Brian. He listens.) James couldn't resist disobeying the order not to take any pics, but he somehow still managed not to get the wedding party. (Reminder: "Never do what James does.")

My wedding photo

I haven't attended a lot of weddings. I don't like them. Yet I found this one left an especially bittersweet taste for many reasons, not the least of which was that Brian was the last of my single friends likely to get married. From this point forward, we're all more likely to reunite at a funeral than another wedding. That's an uncomfortable thought, though it's better than imagining the possibility that I may have to sit through yet another wedding ceremony.

Thanks to Irma, there is much less dune area to be fined in.

Good luck, Brian and Veronika. Do me a favor and be so happy together that we don't have to do this all over again, ok? Thanks.

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My third book is currently out for galley printing. It will be on the market by the first week in November (target release date is Halloween). It's time to start thinking about marketing.

What's the best method? Keyword targeted Internet advertising is always available (Google Ads, Facebook Ads) for CentralKingdomsChronicles.com, but that costs money. I read a lot about networking (establishing a Twitter presence, participating in like-minded communities), but that's never made much of an impact for Boosterrific.com. I'm sure that I should pursue multiple paths, I'm just not sure which are worthwhile.

Obviously, since I wrote a fantasy genre story, it's fantasy genre readers I need to reach. Perhaps I could advertise at local comic book shops. I also plan to give away the Kindle edition of all three books for free over the Thanksgiving/Black Friday holiday. (Readers are more important than profits. Can't have one without the other!)

For the record, I knew going in that book marketing is very, very difficult. So many book, so few readers. For every author I read who has been even moderately successful, the trick seems to have been time: Grind out story after story, book after book until someone takes notice. I'll soon have three. I guess I should get to work on four. Maybe before I get to one hundred, I'll finally make my first buck.

(For the record, as I type this, the first two books have generated exactly $54.41 since release, $49.63 in paperback and $4.78 for Kindle. [Oh, plus Ken bought me a Coke. That counts as profit.] The publisher won't cut me a check until I pass the $100 threshold. Perhaps the release of book three will put me over the top.)

If anyone thinks of anything else I might try, please tell me. In the meantime, if you've read and enjoyed my books, please tell your friends!

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To be continued...

 

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