“So when can I start walking?”

Footsteps

Today’s one word prompt from The Daily Post is Footsteps. I thought about this for a while and realized that for some people, being able to walk and leave footsteps is a challenge. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a good set of legs and feet. I know this for a fact because I adopted a wonderful son  named Abram who has spina bifida. As a preteen and teenager he was a world class wheel chair athlete, especially in shot-putt , discus, and javelin throwing . He is getting married this year to Maggie, one of his competitors, and I couldn’t be happier for them. The picture is from Maggie’s Facebook photo album.

Part of the science fiction novel I wrote involved the protagonist losing both legs above his knees in a freak accident. My solution to this almost overwhelming problem was to project new technology in the field of prosthetic legs. Below is the chapter in the novel that deals with how these new legs work. I hope this technology comes to pass, and soon.

Chapter 15 – New Legs

When the prosthetic legs arrived, Emily scheduled Sted for surgery. The latest prosthetic devices were attached surgically. Gone were the days of the simple mechanical devices that simulated the missing limb.
Above the biomechanical knee joint was the latest in medical technology. A 3D-printed carbon matrix hollow shaft was designed to slip over the severed femur bone. Then a calcium-based paste containing osteoblast cells from Sted’s original surgery was layered over the matrix to stimulate bone growth. The body, in effect, created its own glue by building bone tissue around the carbon matrix shaft. Once the prosthetic was joined to the bone, it sealed itself in a bond as strong as the original bone.
That was only the first step in the procedure. Next, the severed muscle and nerve tissue in the preserved stump was married, via stem cells, with the specially prepared ligament and electronic fibers in the prosthetic. The electronic fibers were connected to the processor embedded in the lower portion of the prosthetic. This allowed the actions of the lower leg and foot to be programmed to react to the stimuli from the brain through
the nerve/fiber interface.
Just two days after the surgery, Sted was working with his physical therapist, Alice Wheeler, in programming the new legs.

Alice could be very intimidating when she wanted. Her dark hair was pulled back into a bun to keep it out of the way of her work, and her eyes appeared to be almost too big for her face. This may have been due to the startling amount of mascara she wore and her long eyelashes. Regardless of the reason, Sted knew those eyes missed nothing. Now he knew what people meant when they said they felt like they were under a microscope.
They started with simple movements.
“Okay, Captain,” Alice said. “I need you to imagine each simple movement in your head, and then I need you to direct your body to execute that movement. Let’s start with the left foot. I want you to imagine you’re pointing the toe of your left foot toward me. I have initialized the processor in the left leg to read the electronic signal coming through the nerve/fiber interface in your thigh and to react by pointing the toe. Now,
point your left toe at me.”
Sted obeyed just because he had nothing better to do with his life right now. He was sitting on a cushioned table in the PT suite dressed in a light blue form-fitting top and shorts. When he imagined pushing his toes forward and pulling his heel back, the muscles in the thigh reacted ever so slightly to accommodate that motion, and the nerve/fiber interface was stimulated by his brain. The fuzzy electronic signal the processor received
was recorded and associated with pointing the toes.
“Works,” Sted reported laconically as his new foot pointed in a delayed reaction.
Alice nodded as she typed something on the keyboard that was connected to wires leading in to the heel of his left leg. “Now, imagine relaxing the foot. I have programed it to return to its normal position.”
Sted let off on the pushing motion in his mind, and his thigh muscles and nerves reacted again. The movement of the foot back to its normal position was delayed slightly once again as the processor made the association between the fuzzy electronic signal and the desired reaction.
“Okay,” Alice said, “this is a first level association between your body and the prosthetic. When you try to point that foot again and then relax, the reaction should be immediate. Why don’t you go through several repetitions and see if the reaction of the foot seems appropriate to you.”
Sted tried several times to cycle his foot from pointing and then back to relaxed mode. The foot responded immediately this time, though in a somewhat mechanical fashion. He was also surprised that he got feedback from his heel moving against the top of the cushioned table.
“What is that feeling I’m getting of the prosthetic heel moving against the top of this PT table?”
A big smile lit up Alice’s face. “We have built skin-like nerve sensors into the prosthetic that provide feedback to the processor, which slows down the signal enough for the nerve/fiber interface to pass the information back to the brain. It won’t take your brain long to map the returned stimuli to the feelings it got from your original nerve cells that relate to touch.”
“Does that mean I will eventually be able to feel everything my prosthetic legs and feet contact?”
“It is not an exact science at this point,” Alice replied. “The human brain is very adaptive and can usually fool itself into thinking that the returning nerve pulses come from what it thinks are your original legs. It takes time and practice, but we hope you will get the same results as some of our other patients, where the interface becomes almost transparent. We will just have to wait and see how your brain adapts.
“At this point, there is no nuance programmed in for doing this at different speeds, or doing it with or without moving the toes or any of a dozen other variations. We need to program in all of the gross motor movements first. We can program the fine motor movements once we have all of the larger movements settled.”
“Why do you have to connect wires to the processor in the leg?” Sted asked. “Wouldn’t it be easier to do that wirelessly?”
Alice nodded. “Certainly, but how would you like someone to be able to control your new legs against your will with a simple wireless connection? Those leg processors have to be completely isolated and only responsive to your nerve/fiber interface. Once we finish programming your new legs, you will take complete responsibility for your own security. You will password protect the hardwired interface so that even I won’t be able to
change the programming against your will.”
“So, when can I start walking?” Sted asked with the first sign of hope in his voice.
“We can’t begin walking practice until we test out all of the gross motor skills from the knees down. It’s going to take at least two days of trial and error to get all of your gross motor movements programmed. In particular, when we work our way up to knee flexing, we have to be careful with the bonding between the prosthetic and the bones and musculature in the thighs. We don’t want it to tear because we’ve not programmed the reaction of the prosthetic properly. You’re going to have to show some patience.”
Sted sighed. “I’ll follow orders while you do the programming. I really need to feel whole again, and I’m not going to do anything to slow down this process. What’s next? More motions with the left foot, or do we program the toe pointing in the right foot?”
“I’m going to program one leg at a time so you don’t get any ideas of trying to go off walking before you’re ready. I know your type, Captain!” Alice smiled. “We’re going to program rotating the left foot clockwise and counter-clockwise next. Then we go to toe curling and then wiggling your big toe. So, let me enter clockwise rotation. Now, rotate your left foot clockwise without rotating your hip joint. We’re just working on foot movements at this point.”
The two of them worked the entire morning on Sted’s left ankle, foot, and toe movements. Then Emily came back to the lab and placed Sted on his gurney and wheeled him to his room for his lunch break.
Sted hardly noticed the food he was consuming. His emotional state was very fragile, and he felt like his life was at a tipping point. He had been depressed and despondent from the time he first woke up after the accident until he “felt” the heel of his prosthetic move against the top of the PT table. That odd sensation had sparked an insane hope that he
could climb back out of the disaster his life had become.
His life goal had seemed completely beyond his reach until now. But if he could learn to walk with his new legs and even “feel” sensations passed back to his brain from the sensors on the surface of the prosthetic device, then there was no reason to think he could not command a space vessel once again.
But then doubt crept in, and he whipsawed himself back into despair, because he knew that naval regulations prohibited him from commanding a ship. The interstellar ship that was about to be constructed would be under the command of a United Space Navy captain, so how could he possibly gain that position?
By the end of the meal, Sted had reached a decision. He would do everything in his power to get back into a captain’s chair, in or out of the Navy. Once there, he would prove his worthiness despite his injuries. To hell with the regulations! They weren’t written in stone. They could be changed, and he would make every effort to do just that.

Scuba Diving – Don’t be Fearless, be Prepared

Fearless

The oceans of the world are filled with the beauty of nature, but discovering that beauty requires a special skill set.

You need to understand that the human body was not designed to survive for very long at 10-40 meters below the ocean’s surface. For each 10 meters of depth, the external water pressure on the body increases by one atmosphere. So, at a depth of 10 meters your body is subject to two atmospheres of pressure. At 20 meters, your body is subject to three atmospheres of pressure. At 30 meters, your body is subject to four atmospheres of pressure.

What this means to any prospective diver is that you cannot just strap on a tank of air and willy-nilly  go off and explore. Specific training is required, the result of which is a scuba diving certification. Without that certification, dive operators will not allow you to sign up for any dive excursions.

What do you need to fear when diving?

  1. As you breath air from a scuba tank, you add extra nitrogen to your bloodstream under the increased pressure from the depth of your dive. For a 20 meter dive you are at three atmospheres of pressure, and for each breath you take, you are breathing in three times the volume of air as you would at the surface. You use up your air more quickly the deeper you dive, and as you use up that oxygen in the air, you are adding extra nitrogen to you bloodstream. If you come to the surface too quickly, this nitrogen will bubble out into your bloodstream like when you open a can of carbonated soda. Those bubbles can block blood flow an kill you (this is called the bends).
  2. Your scuba diving equipment is subject to failure. Therefore, you normally dive with a dive buddy. If one diver’s equipment fails, that diver can share the buddy’s air and then they can slowly return to the surface of the ocean without fear of the bends.
  3. Some of the plants and animals in the ocean’s depths can be harmful. Touching Fire Coral with the bare skin can be excruciating. Stepping on a Sea Urchin can be worse than tangling with a porcupine. Moray Eels can bite your fingers off. And then there are the sharks in the ocean. All of these and more can be dangerous, but with the proper training, guidance, and a bit of common sense, you can keep yourself safe.
  4. Finally, there are underwater currents that can sweep you away. You learn to swim into the current at the beginning of a dive and then return with the current when you are more tired and your air is getting low. Following an experienced dive master usually eliminates the possibility of getting lost in a strong current.

So, with all of these things to fear, why would anyone take up the sport of scuba diving? The answer is simple. There is nothing in the world quite like exploring a new and exciting other world under the water.

Here are some of the wonderful things I have experience in my over twenty years of diving:

  1. Off the island of St. Lucia, our dive group was diving the wall of the Pitons (two volcanic mountains) and I saw a rare blue lobster (only one in every 2 million lobsters are blue).
  2. There is a dive site off of the northern shore of Grand Cayman island that makes it seem that you are in a giant fish bowl. Visibility is over 200 feet in the crystal clear water and you can see large tarpon swimming together in formation over multi-colored coral. You just want to be able to stay there forever, but eventually your air tank empties and you must return to the dive boat.
  3. I did a free dive (no air tank) at Grand Turk island to bring up four Conch’s for a snack of Conch Salad on the beach. Diving 20-25 feet down to the bottom and collecting the conch shells was exhilarating and now I have two of the conch shells on the book shelves in my office. They are beautiful.
  4. I have been on three shark dives off of Nassau, Bahamas. These dives were led by the Stuart’s Cove dive team. This team was responsible for the underwater scenes in the early James Bond movies. Check out this link: http://www.stuartcove.com/DiveBahamasMgmt.aspx?id=2&pageId=57&main=y
  5. I have been diving on some wonderful wrecks throughout the Caribbean. The stories behind each wreck are fascinating.
  6. My latest diving experience was in the Fiji Islands after a 9 year hiatus in diving activity. The dive itself was nothing special, but to get back into the water after so long was a thrill.

I took the picture of the shark on this post while on an excursion in New Caledonia in December of last year.

I hope you have enjoyed my brief tour of my scuba diving history. Remember, don’t be fearless, be prepared.

 

 

The Rope Bridge

Photo from US Navy.

Nerve

Jackson trembled. His eyes were closed against the steep drop calling him to his doom. He knew that to open them again would only deepen the pull in the pit of his stomach. What could he do?

The suspension bridge over the raging waters 200 feet below vibrated from the wind passing over the rope handrails and the thick rope center line, making a buzzing sound more felt than heard. How had he let himself be talked into this madness?

“Come on Jackson! You’re holding up the whole troop!”, called his best friend Brody from the far side of the bridge. “Don’t lose your nerve now!”

“I can’t open my eyes” he whimpered, almost to himself. “I know I’m going to fall!” he said in a slightly louder voice.

“Hold on!” said Brody. “I’m coming to help.”

With that he felt the center rope sink slightly from the weight of Brody returning from the far side. Brody’s footsteps across the bridge transmitted themselves through the rope. Jackson even felt Brody’s hands gliding along the handrails, first on one side and then on the other. As Brody approached Jackson in the center of the bridge, Jackson felt himself sinking even lower into the chasm from their combined weight.

Brody’s hands closed over Jackson’s and he whispered to him  so the others wouldn’t hear “Don’t look down. Just open your eyes a little and look directly into mine.”

As directed, Jackson opened his eyes a crack and saw those deep brown irises not ten inches from his own. There was no way he could look down because Brody had blocked the view.

“Okay,” said Brody. “I’m staying right with you the rest of the way across. One step at a time. I’ll take one step backward while you take one step forward. If you can take the first step, the rest will be easier.”

With that, Brody moved his left foot off of the bridge and placed it behind his right foot, pulling slightly on Jackson’s hands to slide them in the same direction. Brody never took his eyes from Jackson’s as he willed him to make just one forward step. Jackson’s nerve almost broke but he knew he couldn’t disappoint his friend. Just watching those eyes, he took that initial step, unlocking the rigidness that had overtaken his legs.

“That’s it,” said Brody. “The rest will be much easier. Just keep looking into my eyes and moving your feet one step at a time.”

“I can do this,” Jackson said to himself as he gathered his nerve and followed Brody across the span to the far side, just one step at a time.

When they reached the platform at the other end of the bridge, the rest of the troop grabbed Jackson and pulled him to safety, then let out a cry like a pack of wolves. None of the others had frozen in the middle of the bridge, but all of them had been just a little scared. Jackson’s loss of nerve only justified each scout’s feelings as being real and natural, and they had all conquered the passage. This was the true measure of their kinship and brotherhood. There were no recriminations, no name calling, no jeers. Only six boys on an adventure.

Maybe going back would be easier. Only time would tell.

 

Transparent Sapphire Windows

Window

Here a short excerpt from Nu Book 1 – The Esss Advance as it relates to today’s prompt of “Window”. Featured image compliments of NASA from a lunar orbiter photo.

Chapter 23 – Cam’s Office

As Sted took a seat in front of Cam’s desk, he couldn’t help but be awestruck by the lunar landscape spread out before him. Cam’s office took up a full third of the top floor of the circular tower, and the entire outside wall was made of some kind of transparent material.

“What a view!” Sted exclaimed.

“I thought you might be impressed,” Cam said as he entered. “The two-inch thick transparent sapphire windows cost a small fortune, but I think the result is worth the price. My only reservation was the exposure to meteorite impact, and I’m sure you can understand why.”

“Well, you can’t live your life in fear,” Sted replied. “I’m not completely over the trauma from the meteorite that killed my friends and took my legs, but to go back into space as the captain of my own ship again far outweighs any of my fears. I would bet that the chance of being killed by a high speed impact in the belt is more than a thousand times greater than here on the moon.”

“Statistically, you’re being a little conservative. My insurance carrier tells me they didn’t even consider the risk of impact from a meteorite, because the chances of it happening were so infinitesimal. Just look at the rim of this crater, which has been here for over two billion years, and you can actually count the number of small impacts per square kilometer. It averages out to less than one impact per square kilometer every three thousand years.”

Sted nodded. “That desk top looks almost identical to the windows. Is that transparent sapphire as well?”

Cam thumped it with his knuckles. “Exactly. We ordered four extra glass panels in case of breakage during installation, and we got lucky. The construction crew only damaged one. The crane operator misjudged the momentum of the window panel as he was moving it into place, and it banged against the side of the tower. One corner of one panel was slightly damaged, so I decided to use it for my desktop. We just had the crew cut off thirty centimeters from the damaged end and then build a pedestal of nickel from the deposits left by the asteroid that formed this crater. Then our chief engineer designed my workstation to fit into the panel as seamlessly as possible.

“Speaking of our chief engineer,” Cam continued, “I would like to introduce him to you as soon as possible. His name is Aidan McBride, and he is currently on the factory floor working on the Delta class prototype. I can’t think of a better way to get you up to speed on the project than to get your two heads together. I just need you to palm these two employment forms on my workstation, and then we can head down to the factory floor. Later this evening, the three of us can get together in my apartment for some dinner and talk some shop about where we want to go with this project. Do you have any questions or objections?”

Sted shook his head. “I’m ready when you are.”

He stood up and took one last look at the spectacular lunar landscape before palming the forms.

 

Chapter 20 from Nu Book 1 “Remembering Northern Song”

The one word prompt for today is Fight. This seems like the perfect opportunity to showcase a chapter from my new novel so that everyone can get a small taste of what is in the book. The protagonist is Sted Richardson and he is thinking back to a firefight from earlier in his career. UAMC stands for United Asteroid Mining Company, USpN stands for United Space Navy, and C8 stands for the Council of Eight, the political head of all operations above the Earth’s surface.

Fight

As Sted headed over to the Lockheed Lunar compound, his mind went
back to the incident with the pirates hired by the Chinese to steal
UAMC’s ore barges. Based upon the trajectory of the barges when
they were discovered, Captain Landsted surmised that their destination
was the L4 Lagrange point in Earth’s solar orbit. Since the Chinese had
established a major colony at L4 to bleed off population pressure on
Earth, it was a good bet that the mined ore was headed directly into
Chinese hands.
Because the ore being hijacked was from the platinum group, it was
obvious to everyone aboard the USpN Charger that the Chinese were
back up to their old tricks of flaunting the C8 and building warships at a
shipyard hidden amongst the many peaceful population platforms at L4.
There was probably no better place to hide a shipyard and all the personnel
required to operate it than right within a high-density space colony.
When Captain Landsted submitted his preliminary report to Space
Navy headquarters on the C8 platform orbiting Earth, he was directed
to continue the investigation at the L4 source. The Admiralty promised
a backup force would be dispatched directly in support of this mission in
case trouble arose with the Chinese colony. Meanwhile, naval intelligence
was tasked with uncovering anomalies in the delivery of all materiel
to the colony over the past twenty-four months. What they found was
eye-opening. Their intelligence report back to the USpN Charger set the
stage for the upcoming encounter.
Sted remembered the day of inspection like it was yesterday.
Northern Song, this is USpN Charger inbound for an unscheduled
inspection of your facilities. Please acknowledge and prepare for a shuttle
inspection party to dock at cargo bay three in fifteen minutes,” Captain
Mark Landsted said. “Lieutenant Adams, open a line to Shuttle I.”
USpN Charger, this is Northern Song acknowledging receipt of your
request for docking in cargo bay three. Please note that cargo bay three
is not available. The bay doors are currently inoperable and under reconstruction
after failing maintenance check. Please have your shuttle routed
to passenger bay seven, where we will have a team waiting to assist you
in your inspection.”
“Commander Richardson, that intelligence report was very specific
that the last shipment of control components arrived at cargo bay three.
How would you suggest we gain access to that area?” Landsted asked.
“Sir, we should send the shuttle to passenger bay seven but drop a
squad of marines over cargo bay three as we transit the colony,” Sted replied.
“Their full battle gear won’t show up on the Chinese radar, so the
first indication we have arrived will be when we knock ever so gently on
their door with a thermite breaching ring. We can have the squad into
the bay and contain the breach in less than three minutes, according to
Lieutenant Gomez.”
“Very good, Commander. Shuttle I, you are cleared for docking at
passenger bay seven. Keep your squad of marines on board until the general
alarm sounds aboard the colony. That will mean we have breached
the cargo bay. At that point, deploy the marines to protect the inspection
party and to keep the passenger bay clear for your departure.”
He pressed another button on his console. “Northern Song, this is
Captain Mark Landsted. We acknowledge cargo bay three is unavailable.
Our shuttle will be directed to passenger bay seven. Commander Kim
Cho will be leading the six-man inspection team.”
He turned to Sted and motioned him over for a private conference.
Sted pushed off from his station and caught hold of the back of the captain’s
chair with practiced precision. He hooked his belt tie-down to the
tie-down ring on the chair and looked at Captain Landsted in anticipation
of further orders.
“Commander, I want you to suit up and follow Gomez’s squad down
to the cargo bay. Coordinate with Gomez so you arrive just after the
breach. I want you wearing a full recording package. I’m sure our surprise
will catch them moving that equipment out of the cargo bay prior to our
inspection, so everything will more than likely be out in the open. Once
you record what they have on board, order Gomez to destroy every piece
of equipment in the bay. Then open every storage room in the bay and
drop a thermal charge in each. The lesson has to be very painful to the
Chinese, and I don’t care if we destroy a few storage rooms of non-essential
equipment or supplies. I only want you and that squad in the cargo
bay for twenty minutes. After that, get out and back to the ship. I don’t
want a firefight with the Chinese while you’re on board if at all possible.
Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir,” Sted replied. “No firefight while on board if it can be
avoided.”
“Good. Keep open command channel two during the entire operation,”
Captain Landsted continued. “I will have your video feeds live
on my console as well. As you are entering the breach, remember to
plant the laser relay beacon on the hull of the colony so we don’t lose
communication.”
“Permission to speak, sir?”
“Of course, Commander. What’s on your mind?”
“Sir, as you know, everything usually goes south in the middle of any
combat operation. What are my rules of engagement? Is it more important
to take out every piece of equipment in the bay or to protect the squad
should the Chinese prove more recalcitrant than we are anticipating?”
“We must send a clear message to the Chinese,” Landsted replied.
“You can destroy everything in sight if that’s what it takes. The team is
important, but the intelligence you gather is primary. My feeling is that
this colony is only a shell surrounding a shipyard in the making. Why else
would they have so many passenger bays except to ferry workers from the
other colonies here on a regular basis? Your live feeds are the critical part
of this operation. It will give us the evidence we need to launch a full-scale
attack on this colony to destroy that shipyard.”
“Thank you, sir,” Sted replied. “That clarifies the mission objective.
You will have your intelligence regardless of the cost.”
While suiting up to join the assault team, Sted went over his objectives
with Lieutenant Gomez so that there would be no confusion once the action
started. Sted had specific instructions from the captain, and Gomez
needed a full briefing in case something happened to Sted during the
operation.
Gomez and his team deployed first, with Sted deploying just three
minutes later. Sted had a bird’s eye view of the action as the team landed
outside of the cargo bay, set up a defensive perimeter, and attached the
breaching charges.
“Lieutenant, you are cleared to breach the hull,” Sted ordered from
1,000 meters out. “I will be at the breach in two minutes. Once you’re
inside and have cleared any threats, let me know.”
“Yes sir,” Gomez replied as he activated the thermite switch.
Sted’s face shield went dark as the light from the thermite ring flared
brighter than the sun for almost ten seconds. When his face shield
cleared again, Sted saw the last of the marines entering the breach. That
meant that the cargo bay was already in vacuum and not under pressure.
Otherwise, they would have been waiting for the outward flow of air to
subside before trying to enter.
As Sted’s battle gear absorbed the impact of landing next to the
breach, he jammed the base of the laser relay beacon against the hull,
releasing the Insta-weld arcing charge and bringing the relay online.
Charger, this is Commander Richardson confirming beacon plant.
Please confirm receipt of the beacon feed.”
“Confirmed,” came the immediate reply.
“I’m waiting for Lieutenant Gomez with the ‘all clear’ before entering
the breach.”
Sted lowered his camera into the breach to get a sit-rep without exposing
himself to enemy fire. As he looked at the camera display on his
helmet video feed, he saw the occasional burst of laser fire from the far
interior. In the vacuum of space, no sound accompanied the light, but
every few seconds, Sted felt shudders through his magnetic boots.
Charger, Gomez is running into more resistance than anticipated,”
Sted reported. “The immediate area of breach appears to be clear. I’m
going in without confirmation from Gomez. I’m leaving camera one at
the breach to continue recording. I’m designating my shoulder camera as
camera two. Once I’m secure inside the hull, I’ll activate my high-definition
hand camera on feed number three.”
With that, Sted released his boots and activated his back and side
thrusters. From three meters above the breach, he oriented himself for a
headfirst dive and then squeezed the thruster in his left hand just enough
to get his whole body through the breach with minimal exposure.
“Gomez report!” Sted ordered as soon as he was clear of the breach
and had a good view of the entire cargo bay.
“This is Gomez. We have an internal security force pinned down
behind the cargo shuttle in the bay, sir. Chandler and Singleton are not
responding and assumed down. The remainder of the cargo bay has been
cleared.”
“Keep their heads down, Gomez, while I start recording the cargo. If
they get out of hand, blow up the damned shuttle as long as you give me
a few seconds of warning to take cover.”
“Yes, sir. I’m sending Corporal Allen to assist you with opening those
crates tied down to the interior bulkhead. I have two corpsmen sealing
the hatches from the ship’s interior. We don’t want to be surprised by
unexpected company.”
Sted accelerated over to the crates Gomez mentioned and considered
which to open first. Their time would be limited, so his selection
was critical. What he was looking for were control console-sized crates
or anything that might hold military grade laser components. As he was
considering his selection, Corporal Allen arrived. Sted directed him to
open one of fourteen identical crates located halfway between the two
hatches, which were now sealed.
The Corpsman dialed down his hand laser and directed it at the closest
crates, peeling back the outer packing material. Then he reached in
and pulled out exactly what their intelligence report had specified. The
writing on the console was in Chinese, but the function was obvious. The
battle screens surrounded by missile and laser deployment controls had
a universal look. There was no mistaking what this was.
“Corporal Allen, set a charge in the center of these crates while I
record as much detail as I can about the one you opened. Then we should
move to the next set of crates. We only have five minutes left in our twenty-
minute window, so be quick about it.
“Gomez, get ready to blow the shuttle as we withdraw. We don’t need
any live fire at our backs. Have the remainder of your squad prepare
charges to take out whatever remains in the cargo bay as we head back to
the breach. Every charge should be set on a ten-minute timer and then
launched as we exit. I want the squad well clear of the colony when they
blow.”
With his orders clearly spelled out, Sted headed over to Allen, who
was dismantling another crate. This time what he pulled out was completely
foreign to Sted. All he could do was record everything and hope
the intelligence team could identify its purpose.
“Take cover. We’re blowing the shuttle in five, four, three, two,
one, Now!”
Three bright flashes bathed the cargo bay interior, and then pieces of
the shuttle began flying everywhere. Sted and Allen just had time to hunker
down behind the crate they were inspecting. That’s when the shuttle’s
fuel tanks blew in a huge secondary explosion.
As the lights died down, Sted gave the withdrawal orders, and everyone
jetted for the breech, raining down explosive charges to every corner
of the bay as they retreated.
Gomez had one of the downed marines over his shoulder, and his
sergeant had the other. They were the first out of the breach, with the
remainder of the squad spraying cover fire around the bay just in case
someone popped their head up to fire at the retreating marines. Sted was
second to last out, followed by Allen, who was covering his back.
“Commander Richardson, we have Shuttle II inbound to your location.
ETA forty seconds,” Captain Landsted said over the command
circuit. “We got every second of your recordings through the relay. Based
on your ten-minute timer orders, you have four minutes to get the squad
into the shuttle and away from the cargo bay before it blows.”
“Gomez,” Sted called, “Shuttle II is at your nine o’clock approaching
with the shuttle bay doors open. Get everyone aboard ASAP. We have less
than four minutes until those charges blow.”
Sted moved alongside of Gomez to add his suit’s thrust to that of
Gomez to make up for the extra mass of Chandler’s body and armor. Even
with the extra push, they were the last to make it into the shuttle bay. As
the shuttle doors closed, the outer hull of the colony erupted with a series
of explosions. When Sted moved to the cockpit to get a better view of
the damage, he saw that the interior of cargo bay three must have given
way. Atmosphere was pouring out of the breach, along with melted and
twisted pieces of cargo. He also saw suited and unsuited bodies floating
listlessly among the detritus of what looked like a pitched battle.
Charger, this is Commander Richardson. The squad is back aboard
the shuttle. We have two casualties. The entire area around cargo bay
three on the colony has been destroyed with multiple casualties. I recommend
you coordinate a rescue mission with the colony. There may be
a few suited survivors outside of the cargo bay.”
Charger copies,” Captain Landsted replied. “Make your best time
back. I don’t want you exposed to any retaliatory strikes. We have five
destroyers inbound to either finish off this hidden shipyard or board and
secure the facility if they surrender. We won’t be dealing with survivors
from those explosions until the action is over.”
Commander Kim Cho’s voice sounded over Shuttle II’s speakers,
Shuttle I is clear of passenger bay seven.” Sted and the shuttle pilot could
see the other shuttle pulling away from the Northern Song colony as it
accelerated in a wide arc back toward the USpN Charger.
“Northern Song, this is Captain Landsted aboard USpN Charger. You
are ordered to stand down all forces aboard. We will give you one hour to
accept full surrender of your facility to the United Space Navy. If you do
not acknowledge surrender, your facility will be destroyed. No ships will
be allowed to depart from your colony. Please observe the five additional
destroyers inbound from Earth. Their ETA coincides with your one-hour
window. Acknowledge receipt of these orders.”
Charger, this is Northern Song acknowledging receipt of your orders.”
With that settled for the moment, Sted returned to the shuttle bay
from the cockpit to check on the status of Chandler and Singleton.
When he got there, both had been stripped of their battle armor and
were strapped to medical gurneys with IVs running into their arms. That
meant both men were still alive.
Sted turned to Gomez. “What’s their status?”
“Singleton took a hit to the back of his helmet that knocked him unconscious.
We’ve stabilized him for now, but the docs onboard will have
to check him out, because he hasn’t regained consciousness. Chandler
lost his left arm below the elbow. The suit saved his life, but he’s still in
shock. We’re keeping him warm and hydrated for now. There’s nothing
else we can do until we get him back to the Charger.”
“Thanks, Lieutenant,” Sted replied. “We should be back aboard in the
next ten minutes. I’ll go forward again and report their condition to the
doc so he can be ready in the shuttle bay.”
With that, Sted turned back to the cockpit to make his report, hoping
the doctor would be able to patch up the two marines. He didn’t want to
lose anyone under his command. He thought of little David Barns being
carried away in the ambulance, never to be seen again.

My Irish Grandmother’s Irish Nose

My grandmother on my mother’s side was born as Madeleine Tate. You can’t get much more Irish than being a Tate. She was also an orphan along with her sister Florence, but those facts I didn’t learn until much later in my life.

My fondest memory of Grandma was her chasing my brothers, my sister and I around the house with a fly swatter just to get us wound up. We would run through the living room and into the kitchen, then through the kitchen down to the hallway where the doors to the three bedrooms and bathroom were located, and then back into the living room. It was a big circle and Grandma never seemed to be able to catch us. I also remember us all laughing and getting out of breath from the chase.

Those were innocent and happy times, back in the middle to late 1950’s. We lived in a three bedroom, one bathroom single floor house with a full basement and a full attic. Outside, we had a small front lawn just big enough to play pitch and catch and a large back yard that was mostly a huge vegetable garden.

Let’s get back to my grandmother. She married a Dutchman named Charles VanHeusen. Grandpa was the stable influence in my mother’s family. He never got angry or out of sorts, and he always had a joke or saying to fit any situation. My favorite was “Apple pie without some cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze.” It was probably my favorite because of how much I loved my mother’s apple pie. But guess what? My mother didn’t learn how to bake a pie from my grandmother. I never saw grandma cook anything. The joke was that she was probably the only person who couldn’t boil water without burning it.

Grandma and Grandpa came over to our house almost every Saturday night. After we were put to bed, they would play pinochle with my parents. Grandma would have a glass of two of her favorite Thunderbird wine and my parents would have a gin martini. That was their entertainment for the week.

As my brothers, my sister, and I grew older and the house grew smaller, we stopped the chasing around the house, but we always looked forward to the Saturday visits. The older grandma got, the whiter her hair became. Eventually, her hair was completely silver white and it stood out from her head like a halo. The hair, the Irish nose and the smile are about all I have left when I picture her in my mind’s eye.

So there you have a little history about the one-quarter Irish blood running through my veins. You also know of the-one quarter dutch ancestry. From my father’s side I get my English and Scottish heritage. I am a true Celtic blend. But on St. Patrick’s day, I like to think back to my grandmother and her Irish nose and her high spirited Irish temperament.

Happy St. Patrick’s day, everyone.

 

The Life of a Single Drop

Drop

Hazy. Everything is hazy way up here in the clouds. Life seems to float on a bed of swirling air, in and out of the light. I don’t exist yet but soon, very soon.

Awakening. A singular event happens. A speck of dust passes through the mist and gathers pieces of me together like a mother hen gathering her chicks. I am swelling and feeling bloated, heavy, singular, different.

Falling. The mist can no longer support me. I feel the downward pull that lends direction to my universe. There is only up and down and down I must go. How long? What is long? I awaken to the concept of time where it never existed before.

Growing. Still gathering mass as I pass downward through the cloud, light dims. I am falling into a deep gray nothingness. Will the light go out?

Flash! Bang! What was that? Intense brightness followed by a thunderous clap that moves me sideways for just a brief instant. My form vibrates from the released anger of the storm. All around me are companions in our downward journey. It is a race now, not just a lone journey. Millions race.

Release. We are free of the mist but not free. We are carried by the wind, and down is no longer the only direction. We are all pushed sideways to who knows where. Life is not ours to command. We are all carried by the forces around us to an unknown destiny.

Splash! Swirl. Release. I am in the cold salt water. My form disappears. I join my companions and all those that have come before me in the wondrous sea. I can taste many new flavors. From the speck of dust to the ocean, life has been short, adventurous, exciting, now calming, understanding, joining, becoming.

I know I will do this again. I was a drop for such a short time, but the ride was awesome.

Will you join me on my next journey?

 

When I Feel Incomplete

Incomplete

How many times in your life did you experience something uplifting or fantastic and wish with all your heart that a special someone could be there to to share the experience. To me, that is the true meaning of incomplete. If someone “completes” you, then being away from them at those special moments makes you feel incomplete, because you cannot fully share your joy.

When you lose someone close, be it parent or spouse or child, you truly know the feeling of being incomplete because you are almost crippled by it. Sometimes it takes years to dull the ache brought on by this permanent separation, and it never really goes away.

So how do you cope with incompleteness?  My only answer is to think back to those wonderful times that you had and try to remember the joy that you both had. That joy has not been erased. In fact, that joy can never be erased. It can, however, be cherished.

This post I dedicate to my mother and half-sister at my mother’s 80th birthday party in 2005. They are sorely missed.

Getting Back in the Groove

Have you ever had the best plans and the best intentions to accomplish something and then you got smacked in the side of the head by life coming at you like a freight train? That was my situation.

Family emergencies can be that freight train. Nothing can stop them from happening and there is nothing you can do but ride out the emergency to get to the other side.

I had just been coming into my own with writing daily to my new blog when I got smacked. Now, I have just a few minutes to jot down a few thoughts before I take up a new task.

First of all, I had my book signing event at Barnes and Noble in Greensboro, NC last night. It started out as a dud with nobody showing up to hear about my story as a new author or my reading of a chapter of my novel. That can be quite discouraging. However, I turned the night into a success by moving the book signing table around to face the front door of the store and I engaged the patrons as they were entering and exiting. Besides selling and signing four books, I also handed out over a dozen business cards to people who were thinking about buying the book. Getting something from nothing was a great feeling.

Second, I have been spending all of my time marketing my book on Facebook and Twitter. I have gained over 430 followers in just one month on Twitter. We will see if this leads to any sales.

Third, I got a great review and five star rating on Amazon as follows:

“A Great new entry into the sci fi world. Waugh has packed his first book with accurate scientific details that makes the premises and settings burst with reality. He develops his characters well and gets you comfortable with their personalities as the chapters unfold their thought processes and actions. Now that I’ve digested Book 1- I’m looking forward to the second in the series”

I owe a dinner to this reviewer. I can’t imagine getting a better review.

Finally, I have offered to be a beta reader for a new novel from a successful SciFi author. I will be reading and critiquing his new novel over the next four days. This is a new experience and I hope it helps to broaden my knowledge of writing.

Meanwhile, it is a beautiful day here in North Carolina, and that makes for a smile on my face and a spring in my step. I hope everyone is having a great day and a great week.

 

Divide is a Dirty Word

Divide or Unite? Divide or Multiply? Divide and Conquer!

I don’t see anything very positive in the word divide in today’s world. That was not always the case.

When I was younger, we used to divide and share when it came to food, candy at Halloween, the chores around the house, etc. I haven’t heard divide used in that context in a long time.

Perhaps we need to get back to a time when we were thankful for the little bit that we had and not envious of those who had a little more. Now all we hear from our children is whining and complaining that they don’t have enough. They want the latest tech gadget or the most candy, or more Christmas presents, even though none of these things seem to make them any happier.

In today’s world divide has turned into a dirty word.

Let’s clean it up again in our own small world and perhaps that will translate into the larger world around us. I will try. How about you?

 

 

 

Divide