In praise of K.I.S.S.

If you’re not familiar with engineering, the above phrase might make you think I’m about to sing the praises of an aging metal band. But in engineering circles, “K.I.S.S.” is short for “Keep It Simple, Stupid”. It means that the simplest solution to a problem is usually the best.

Unfortunately, like every other field of endeavor, engineering has fallen under the siren spell of automation.

Take aviation.

The first aircraft flew by direct control. The pilot pressed on the rudder pedal, and a cable connected to it moved the rudder. There might be a few connecting links in between, but there was a direct connection between the pilot and their plane. As aircraft grew in size, the ability of pilots to move the ever-larger control surfaces meant that it became necessary to add ‘boost’ to the controls. Think of power steering in a car: you turn the steering wheel, and a linkage tells the wheels which way to turn and how much to turn. At the same time, a hydraulic cylinder senses the direction the wheel is being turned and applies force in the same direction, taking some of the load off the driver. But beyond the added pressure to make the action easier to undertake, there’s still a direct connection between the pilot’s (or driver’s) actions and what happens.

Now, however, most modern airliners have migrated to a system called “fly by wire”. Originally pioneered by the military for high-performance fighters, fly by wire has no direct connection between the pilot and the aircraft’s control surfaces. The actions of the pilot are registered as electrical impulses that are interpreted a computer, then transmitted to the control surfaces. For an aircraft like an F-16, which is designed to be unstable so it is more maneuverable, having this interface means that the computer know how much to move the control surfaces without causing the aircraft to go out of control. And because it must know how much a control surface can be moved without causing the aircraft to go out of control, it also means that the computer gets a ‘vote’ in how the aircraft is flown. In other words, if the computer thinks the input from the pilot is too extreme, it will over-ride the pilot and undertake a maneuver as close to what the pilot desires as it deems safe.

Translate that to an airliner, and you get computers that think a pilot pulling back on their control yoke to avoid a terrain feature is too extreme, resulting in the airliner full of passengers slamming into the ground. Worse, if the software is improperly coded, it can even result in a normal control surface input being deemed ‘unsafe’, resulting in a crash. The latter is what happened with the Boeing 737 MAX, and Boeing is still struggling to both fix the problem and regain the trust of airlines.

Unfortunately, the concept of fly by wire is making it’s way into the auto industry. Many modern autos no longer have a direct connection between any of the controls the driver uses and the auto itself. When you push in the accelerator, you don’t move a linkage that feed more fuel into the engine. Instead, your input is read by the auto’s onboard computer, which in turn sends a command to increase the fuel flow to the engine. Even the steering wheel is often no longer connected to the wheels is is supposed to control.

Right now, someone is reading this and saying to themselves “So what? As long as it works, why do I care?”

I’m glad they asked. My sister owns a modern piece of American auto engineering, an SUV I call her personal tank. It has all the modern bells-and-whistles: variable fuel feed to the engine cylinders to increase gas mileage, active traction control, automatic brakes, the works. All of this is controlled by an onboard computer, which also monitors the health of the vehicle and all it’s systems. And in that latter function lies the rub.

The onboard computer recently informed my sister that one of her wheel bearings had worn beyond the design specifications and needed to be replaced. And because the wheel bearings interact with the vehicle’s brakes, this caused her to experience locked brakes if she applied too much pressure too fast. All this happened on her way home from work, but she managed to nurse the vehicle home and drop it off at her favorite mechanic’s shop. A couple of days (and several hundred dollars) later, the mechanic gave her tank back to her, having replaced the wheel bearing assembly.

As I’d been giving her rides to and from work, I was quite happy to drop her off at the shop. What I wasn’t happy about was to learn, later, that her SUV had begun experiencing the same problem before she got home. She took it back to the shop, complained, and the mechanic put it back on the rack and started testing. He could find nothing wrong, the bearing in question reacted like it was in proper order, so he reset the vehicle’s computer and told my sister that a bad sensor might be sending a false signal to the computer.

Back home she goes, only to have the fault reappear.

So, I go on double duty. First, I drive her to work, then, after I return, I take her car out to the mechanic to be tested. It was decent walk back, the air cool and not a lot of wind…but getting the vehicle to the shop was not easy. Because it was convinced that there was a serious fault in the vehicle, the onboard computer was not happy with it being driven. So, no matter how much pressure was on the accelerator, the SUV staggered along at only five to ten miles per hour. As I couldn’t find the emergency flashers, this resulted in many people ‘flipping me off’ due to my slow speed.

But it’s there, and I’m home and happy to have my ‘primitive’ car to drive: manual transmission, direct link between accelerator and engine, and minimal interference from any computing devices. If I could have found my vehicle with ‘crank-up’ windows, rather then the power windows it has, I’d have been even happier, but beggars can’t be choosers, as the saying goes. It is a car that keeps to the idea that the simple solution is often the best, and I think auto makers would be well served to remember that dependability is often valued more by drivers than style or ‘modernity’.


An honest day’s pay

Paullus Lucius Decimus had been on the move, constantly looking for any sort of work, since the day he’d woken up in the abandoned building. He’d faced worse situations, like when he’d been forced to join the masses of humanity fleeing the Mongol army as it swept across eastern Europe. But even then, no one had asked any questions of a man willing to work at whatever task needed doing.

Now, facing a nation increasingly hostile to outsiders, he wondered if it were time to find somewhere else to live. He’d been in America for well over a century, and even in it’s darkest periods of xenophobia, it hadn’t been as bad as this. More than once, he’d gone to construction companies, landscapers, even restaurants, and been asked to show some form or identification. Before that strange reawakening, he’d had a decent set of false ID papers. But they’d not been on him when he came to in the filthy building.

Having been forced to it too often, he hated to resort to begging. So when Paullus heard that a so-called ‘professional’ renaissance fair was looking for help, he’d been glad for the money. He’d spent only a small part of that time in in his native land, finding it far too depressing to see the descendants of Rome taking pride in rediscovering things their ancestors had taken as a part of their daily lives. He’d spent much of that period in Persia, which had been far more interested in building on the knowledge of Rome than on trying to recreate it.

Still, he had spent enough time among the European peoples to know the clothing he was required to wear as he sold mulled wine and other food was more costume than accurate. It made him money, and he told himself that was all that was important.

Then, on the first day of the weekend, a group claiming to be sword masters began to perform. Paullus heard of them from the other workers, who thought they were fascinating. During one of the times he was allowed away from the stand he manned, he wandered down to watch an exhibition of their skills. What he saw made him stifle a belly laugh. None of the people exchanging mock sword strokes would have last a minute against a real sword master. For that matter, none of them would have fared any better against an average legionnaire. Then one man made a thrust Paullus could have avoided in his sleep, but his opponent allowed it through before staggering and falling to the imaginary wound. Shaking his head, Paullus turned away, ready to walk off. As he took his first step, he heard a loud voice behind him call out.

“We, the Swordmasters of the Kingdom of Trakonia, do hereby challenge any swordsman or swordswoman to face us. Defeat one of us, and we will acknowledge you as a worthy opponent. Defeat two of us, and we deem you an equal.” The voice paused, an all-too-obvious device to build suspense before it continued. “Defeat all three of us, and win five hundred dollars cash!”

Most of the people around him gasped, then cheered, clearly hoping to see a true fight unfold. For Paullus, who would make less than half that amount for working the entire event, it was money he intended to win. He pushed his way through the crowd to find a line of people signing their names to a list before laying down five dollars. So that’s how they make it pay, they demand an entrance fee from those who face them, then pay any winner out of the money they take. Paullus had the money to enter, but it would take everything he had. Nothing ventured, nothing gained was an idea he’d known all his life, so when his turn came to sign up, he did so with a smile on his face.

Paullus and the other contestants were herded into a small, roped off enclosure where they were to watch while they awaited their turn. Each challenger was led out of the space and offered a selection of swords provided by their opponent. That by itself bothered Paullus, who’s familiarity with Rome’s gladiatorial games reminded him that offering a bad sword to an opponent was one of the easiest ways to fix a fight. But as he watched, none of the challengers lost due to a blade the broke under an opportune blow, or warped when used.

No, all of the challengers lost because they were fools who had never handled a sword in deadly earnest. Some strove for follow the forms of dueling, and lost to the men they faced who actually knew the basics of such things. Others tried to simply beat down their opponents, and fell to disciplined sword work like any of the barbarians Paullus had faced. Then, it was his turn.

Paullus left the much emptier enclosure and approached the table covered in different styles of swords. He knew all of the classics lying before him: saber, cutlass, broadsword, rapier and many others. Only one sword caught his eye, and as he picked the gladius up from among the rest, he knew someone had put a great deal of effort into getting at least the form right. It was obviously a wooden replica, far too light to simulate the feel of a real blade. But as he gave it a tentative swing, it felt right in his hand.

He’d watched his opponent as he dispatched challenger after challenger. He was a head taller than Paullus, and had the extra reach to go with that height advantage. He was also a swaggering, over-confident fool. He loved to flip his rapier around in broad, useless flourishes, and he never resorted to any sort of footwork, stay flat on his feet through all the matches so far. This is going to be too easy.

Paullus saw his opponent smile as he walked towards him. Motioning towards the sword in Paullus’ hand, he tried to taunt him. “What, did you pick up a sword to match your manhood?”

Holding the gladius in front of him, Paullus looked it over, then smiled. “No, unlike you, I don’t need to carry a huge sword to make up my lack of manhood.” The ugly red flush that spread across the now scowling face told him he’d hit his mark. “I do have one question before we start: What are the rules of this contest?”

The scowl disappeared. “Rules? Why do you ask about…”

Paullus’ opponent didn’t get to finish his response. Two long steps were all it took for him to cross the space between them. The heavy pommel of the gladius slammed into the other man’s stomach, and he folded as the air whooshed out of him. As he fell to his knees, Paullus switched his weapon around and brought the edge whistling down to stop just short of the kneeling man’s neck. “Because I wanted to know if this means I’ve defeated you.”

There was a moment of stunned silence, then the crowd roared out it’s approval as his opponent dropped his rapier. Paullus didn’t care what they thought. He lifted his eyes to the two men standing on the inside of the open area. “So, which one of you is next?”

They were polar opposites. One, a short, stout man in a knee-length coat of chain mail and armed with a sword like the Crusader’s sword Paullus had once wielded as a mercenary in the Second Crusade. The other was tall and slender, dressed like some 16th Century fop and carrying an epee. They looked at each other, and the tall man stepped forward. “I will face you.”

Paullus hadn’t had a chance to watch this man fight, but as they faced each other, his movements made it clear he possessed more skill with his blade than the last man. Between his longer arms and the superior length of his blade, he had even more advantage in reach. But like many epee users Paullus had faced, he tended to commit himself to every stroke. He dodged two thrusts, waiting for the moment when he moved too far off his center to cover himself. As he did, Paullus shifted inside him, driving his knee into his attackers crotch.

Whatever sound he might have made was drowned out by the groan of sympathetic pain that came from the crowd. This time, Paullus didn’t spare his opponent. He drove the pommel of his sword into the back of the other man’s head, dropping him on the spot. Lifting his eyes, he swept the crowd. “This is how a real sword fight is conducted. There is only one rule: win. Win because the only alternative is death.” Fixing his eyes on the final man, he put every bit of his experience in killing into the cold voice he addressed his final opponent in the sudden silence. “So, sir, will you face me, or do you yield?”

The man in chain mail didn’t so much drop his sword as throw it aside as he shouted “I yield!”

The cheers of the crowd didn’t move Paullus at all. The only thing that truly made him smile was watching as the fat man counted out his five hundred dollars, a fine pay day for a sort day’s worth of fighting. Tomorrow, and for the next few days at least, he would not have to worry about food and lodgings. After that? He slipped his hand into the pocket of the jeans he wore under his costume.

“After that will be after that” he whispered to himself as he walked through the crowd that parted before him.

Out cold

Amos Afah stepped out of St. Franicis’ ER entrance to get some warmth. It had been nearly two decades since he’d left his hometown of Ebolowa in the Southern district of Cameroon, but he still found the air conditioned interior chilly. Out here, with the rain pouring out of a warm, humid night reminded him of home. There, the storm that brought flashes of lightening and the occasional strong gust of wind would have been regarded as an ordinary part of the monsoon season. Here, in Maryville, in the northwestern corner of Missouri, it rated a severe thunderstorm warning. The distant sound of an ambulance siren reminded him it also brought him a patent in need of his care.

Lights flashing and motor revving, the huge red cube of an ambulance made the turn up the entrance driveway and came to a stop under the pillared shelter that protected Amos. Two men piled out of the rear doors, then brought their charge out on a gurney. The stocky man under the blanket would have been thought dark skinned by the two pale EMT’s. The smooth face behind the oxygen mask was unlined, giving no hint as to his age. Amos led them through the sliding doors into the ER proper. “What happened?”

One of the EMT’s looked at him, then at the patient. “Don’t know, Doc. Dispatch got a call from a motorist that there was someone lying along Stuart Road, just out past the edge of town. We responded, and found this guy lying on the edge of a patch of scorched grass. His clothing is burned off down his left side, and what was left of his left shoe was lying in the center of the scorched patch. We figured he was dead, struck by lightening, until Pete here heard him moan. So we brought him in for you to look at.”

The portable heart monitor they’d hooked him up to beeped regularly, giving no sign of cardiac distress, and the broad chest rose at a slow, even rate. “Help me get him transferred so I can do a more detailed exam.” Together, the three men shifted the unconscious one from the ambulance gurney to the hospital’s, and Amos removed the blanket to see what the body could tell him.

As they’d said, the left leg of the man’s jeans was a charred mass of shredded fabric. Yet for all the damage to his clothing, the stranger’s skin exhibited none of the telltale signs someone who had been struck by lightening. There was no charring to his skin, no open wounds where blood vessels near the surface had exploded from the sudden heating of a lightening bolt pass through the tissue. Then Amos noticed a pale scar, like a jagged white line that travelled from the top of the left foot, up the leg, across the length of the chest before climbing the neck and disappeared into the damp mass of black hair covering the patient’s head. He also saw the man’s body was covered in scars. Some of the round ones looked like healed bullet wounds. Other, bigger round wounds baffled him, but these were nothing compared to the array of crisscrossing scars that marred nearly ever visible piece of skin. Some looked like cuts from an accidental fall into a plate glass window. Others looked like they’d been the result of being slashed and stabbed by edged weapons. One long, puckered wound across the abdomen could only have been caused by some slash or stab that had opened the abdominal cavity completely. Amos looked at the EMT’s who like him, were looking at the patient as if they too couldn’t believe he’d taken all these wounds and survived. “What the hell has this man been doing?”

Before either of them could speak, the patient’s eyes popped open, and an amazingly strong hand closed around Amos’ wrist.

Nubian, qui es, ubi sum?”

The deep, growling voice had none of the hesitation of someone speaking a second language. No, this man spoke fluently, as if he were speaking his native tongue. Amos didn’t recognize a bit of it, and from the blank looks of the EMT’s neither did they. “Sir, do you understand me? You’re in a hospital, and I need to know who you are.”

The grip on Amos’ wrist tightened as the strange man’s eyes bored into his .“Quod lingua barbara est, quod loqueris?” The eyes flickered to the EMT’s, widened, and the man spoke again.Ego horum hominum captivus?” His eyes shifted back to Amos’, and for the first time, he saw fear there. Hi Gallorum, Germanorum?”

With no clue what he was being asked, Amos fell back on the oldest form of communications. Gently patting his patient’s hand, he said in as soothing a voice as he could. “It’s all right, sir. No one is going to harm you.”

The sentiment, if not the meaning, seemed to get through. The grip loosened, then the hand released him as some of the tension left the patient’s face. Amos looked towards the EMT’s. “I think he’s afraid of you two. He have any reason to be?”

Both of them frowned, their offended honor clear on their faces. Pete, who hadn’t spoken until that point, answered for them. “None I can think of. He wasn’t awake when we found him, nor while we loaded him up. Maybe he had a bad experience with some other emergency personnel.” Pete patted the man, and when his eyes darted to him, he gave him a smile. “It’s okay, buddy, we’re not going to hurt you.”

More tension left the man on the gurney, and he even gave a brief smile. Time to get on with the examination. Amos turned away, opened the drawer holding IV hardware, and withdrew one of the prepackaged ports. Tearing open the packaging, he turned to his patient. “Now, sir, I need to get some blood from you….”

Amos had a moment to see the man’s eyes go wide, then he was off the gurney in a blur of motion that ended with him standing behind Pete with his arm wrapped tight around Pete’s neck. “Mendacibus!” Whatever the meaning of the word he shouted, Amos could hear the anger in his voice, and see the cold, killing intent in his eyes. When Pete’s partner started to shift sideways, Amos raised a hand to stop him. “Don’t. He’s scared, and he’s desperate. I think your best bet is to just stand there and let me see if I can reason with him.” The EMT stopped, and Amos focused his attention on his former patient. “It’s okay, just relax. You don’t like needles? Neither do I.” Laying the port behind him, Amos brought his empty hands out, spreading his arms to show he had nothing that could threaten this desperate man. “He wasn’t going to hurt you, so why don’t you just let him go?” He took a step forward, and seeing the already tight arm muscles stand out more, stopped. For the first time since he’d come to work there, he wished that St. Francis had a security guard. He saw those remorseless brown eyes focus on him, shift back to Pete’s partner, then with a wordless grunt, the unknown man shoved Pete at Amos and bolted out of the ER.

From the shouts and the sound of the entrance door opening, Amos knew the man was gone. Pete’s partner started towards the exit, but Amos stopped him. “Call the police, let them do their job. Help me check your partner to make sure he isn’t injured.”

Pete didn’t give either of them a chance to examine him. Waving both of them away, he rubbed his neck and looked towards the exit. “I’m fine, Doc, seriously. Outside of choking me a little, he didn’t hurt me. But what the fuck was that guy’s story? From all those scars, you’d think he was some cartel soldier or something like that. But that sure as hell wasn’t Spanish he was shouting.”

The mention of soldier brought several things about the stranger’s wounds together in Amos’ mind. What would a soldier who lived forever look like? With no way to know, all Amos could do was speculate about what he’d just encountered. “I don’t know, but I think all three of us are lucky to be alive. I don’t know about you two, but I fear he could have killed all of us if he’d been so inclined.” Amos wasn’t surprised when neither of the other men objected.


Paullus Lucius Decimus awoke shivering, half naked and soaking wet in what appeared to be an abandoned building. His last memory was of a rainstorm he’d been walking through as he made his way across Missouri. He’d been walking because bus passengers faced increased security when boarding due to a recent string of immigration raids. Illegal aliens? I wonder what they’d make of me? In his nearly two thousand years of life, Paullus had never held any citizenship but to his native Rome. His duffle bag was gone, and with it his phone and everything else he possessed.

He sat up, and feeling something tugged at the skin on his chest, ran a hand across the spot. Something was stuck to him, and after peeling it off, he moved to a pool of light beneath a window. What he saw was a small metal nub portruding from a sticky pad. While he’d never worn one, Paulls had seen images of things like this: it was a heart monitor sensor. How…? Even as he wondered, fragments of memory came to him. A hard bed in a cold white room filled with equipment. The coal-black face of a huge man in a white coat. Standing in the rain, surrounded by a blinding white light as searing pain washed through his body.

Did Jove strike me with lightening?

Paullus had never been pious, had never even been what moderns called agnostic. Whatever had happened, whether divine displeasure or simple bad luck, he was where he had been many times before: without funds or possessions in a world that prized wealth both. Then he remembered the Roman coin he’d been given by the mysterious prostitute. Yes, it was still in his pocket, along with a handful of modern coins, but could he bring himself to sell it?

No. If a long life had taught him nothing else, it had taught him that there were always those who would hire someone willing to work cheaply. Tomorrow, he would find some store selling used clothing. Then he’d find a menial job and start over again.

The Real Demon

Morag smiled as he watched the girl wandered down the country back lane. Oh, I am so going to have fun playing with her! He’d been stalking the inhabitants of this innocent countryside since he’d killed the sorcerer that had summoned him months ago. Morag enjoyed terrorizing the people he killed before consuming their souls. He had no fixed form, so he could assume any shape he felt like. For this girl, he chose one of his favorites: a wolf, but one ten time bigger than any normal beast. Teeth like sabers, eyes that glowed a fiery red, paws bigger than this girl’s head, Morag became the embodiment of fear.

He leapt into the lane when the girl came within a few steps of him. Stretching lips back to bare his teeth, he let out a snarl that had caused grown men to quake. But while the girl stopped, her face revealed no fear. No, for some reason, she smiled at Morag. Did she not understand she was about to die? He snarled at her again as he crouched down, gathered himself to pounce…and her smile grew wider. Is this child daft? The fact that she demonstrated no fear angering him more than he could have imagined, Morag sprang at the girl, intent on ripping her apart.

His eyes fixed on hers, time seemed to slow as he opened his jaws to grab her…then, she vanished. Morag’s jaws snapped closed as he landed, but they closed on nothing. But at the moment his teeth came together, he felt a searing pain along his left side.

Morag’s head came around and he saw a long, deep gash that ran from just behind his front leg all the way along his huge barrel chest to his back thigh. And there, standing just behind him with a knife in her hand, was the girl.

He rounded on her, but even as he opened his mouth to ask “How?”, she vanished again. And just like before, Morag felt a burning pain spread down his side, but this time, it was his right side.

The question turned into a howl of frustration, pain and rage. How could this mortal child best him? The thought formed in his mind even as another wave of pain came over him and he tottered, his left rear leg useless, it’s hamstring severed.

Now, the girl was before him. But she no longer looked like an innocent. Her face was a blood-covered mask, his blood. Her smile a grin of triumph, her eyes ablaze with hatred, she vanished again, and Morag collapsed as his left front leg’s hamstring was also severed.

Panicking, Morag tried to change shapes, and found he couldn’t.

Terror filled Morag’s heart. And as it did, the girl appeared before him. “So, demon, how does it feel? How do you enjoy terror now? Does it feel as sweet as it did when you inflicted it on your victims?” He would have replied, but the girl didn’t give him the chance.

The knife in her hand was far too small to instill the fear that now drowned Morag. No, the terror that swallowed him whole came from her eyes. He had seen every emotion from blank terror to desperate defiance in the eyes of his victims…but Morag had never seen anything like the all-consuming hatred that filled the little girl’s eyes. She stepped closer, the knife rose.

“For my parents, who you tore to pieces for pleasure.” Those were the last words the demon Morag heard.

The Apology

Cheri Paulsen knew she was lucky. Landing the job of Public Relations Specialist at the Consulate-General of Japan hadn’t been her reason for taking a major in Japanese history at Northwestern. But the necessary fluency in Japanese such a degree required had given her an ‘in’ for this job when she’d found jobs in her chosen field few and far between.

So now she took the Metra every weekday from Glenview to downtown, an experience that left her wondering if that was how Japanese office workers felt getting into downtown Tokyo. Probably not. She’d mentioned the idea once to Goto-sama, the actual Consulate-General, and he’d laughed at it. He told her commuter trains in Japan were standing-room-on on weekdays, the people packed in so tight movement was virtually impossible. And seeing as how Goto Eiji had grown up in Tokyo, he would be an expert on such matters.

Even though she was fluent in Japanese, Goto-sama preferred to speak to her in English. When she’d asked why, his answer reflected the blunt pragmatism that seemed to be at his core. “If I only speak English when I am talking to some visitor, how can I possibly stay fluent enough not to embarrass myself?”

Cheri was at the office coffee maker when she saw Goto-sama walk out of the elevator. His office was on the same floor as hers, so that wasn’t amazing. What caught her attention was the stunned, empty look on his face. Something about it worried her, so she approached her boss to find out what was bothering him.

“Goto-sama. Goto-sama. Is something the matter, Goto-sama?”

His face stayed blank for a moment, like her words hadn’t registered with him. Then his head turned towards her and his eyes focused on her face. “Excuse me, Paulsen-san, but I’ve just had a disturbing encounter with one of your countrymen.”

Someone as important as the Consul-General didn’t usually deal with anyone less than an important corporate types. They weren’t the type of people she imagined insulting or even delivering disturbing news to an important official like Goto-sama. She opened her mouth to ask what had happened, when her boss continued.

“The front desk called me, informing me that an American was there asking for the opportunity to apologize. I couldn’t imagine why they’d called me, but Hiru-san insisted I come down to see the individual.” Goto-sama held out a small package neatly wrapped in cloth. It must have been tied together at the top at one time, for the folds still held the rough shape of the knot they’d been tied in. Now they overlapped, covering whatever was inside. “There was a large, elderly gentleman waiting for me, and he actually managed to introduce himself in quite good Japanese. Then he started a short speech that he had evidently tried to memorize, but he lost his way after the first few sentences. What he wanted to do was apologize for something his father had done.” Pointing towards the package, he continued. “His father had been in the Philippines, one of the soldiers guarding Clark Field after the Americans retook it. His father had helped stop a wave of suicide attacks the Japanese defenders staged one night, and the next morning, he and the rest of the soldiers went out to collect trophies. He brought this back.”

Goto-sama slowly uncovered the package, which consisted of a pair of faded photos, some Japanese money, what looked like an old Japanese medal….and peeking from under all that, a tightly-folded, deeply stained white silk cloth covered in kanji characters. “Is that a yosegaki hinomaru?”


The fact that Goto-sama had fallen back into Japanese, even for a moment, told Cheri there was something profoundly disturbing about this relic of Japan’s dark past. Laying the photos and other material reverently aside, he carefully unfolded the cloth. More writing came into view, then, the last fold opened revealing a larger, bolder hand’s writing. It was a name that took Cheri’s breath away.


Cheri looked at her boss and saw something she’d never seen before: tears. Goto-sama’s attention was focused on the flag. “My grandfather told me about his older brother, a gunsō, a sergeant, in the Imperial Army. How he’d been part of the Manilla garrison, and how the family never knew what had happened to him.” Goto-sama pointed at a shaky line of characters, so inexpertly drawn Cheri couldn’t make them out. “This is my grandfather’s final wish to his older brother. ‘May your military fame be eternal.’ That’s his name, Goto Eiji, just like mine.”

Cheri knew Japanese families put great emphasis on venerating their ancestors. “I’m glad your family has recovered this, Goto-sama, and that they know now what happened to your grandfather’s brother. I know this means a lot to you and your family.”

Hai. Sheri-san, arigatōgozaimashita.” Goto-sama wiped his eyes before looking at her. “I just wonder how many more families in Japan wait like mine for word of a lost ancestor, and how many American families carry the burden like that man for something their ancestor did.”

Adventures in electronics

Well, that was fun.

I recently had a tablet ‘donated’ to me. It’s an older model, and recently it had been giving it’s former owner fits. Repeatedly dropping WiFi connections, ‘freezing’ in mid-operation, you name it, it was doing it.

I was mainly interested in getting a tablet as an entertainment device: something I could watch movies and anime on, listen to music, and maybe read a book. So I didn’t figure I’d have as many problems as it’s owner had been having, and besides, it came at the perfect price: free.

First thing I found out about it was that outside of the built-in memory, it had no memory. It had a slot for a micro-SDHC card, but one hadn’t been installed. Quick trip to the local Walmart revealed that I could buy a card that would max out the possible memory for under $7, so it came home with me. Then the fun started. I did some research to find out how best to transfer files between an Android device and a Linux platform. Strangely enough, even though Android is based on Linux, doing a file transfer via a USB cable would require me to install an special file transfer app on the tablet, and even then the information I could gather indicated that the transfer would be both slow and prone to errors. But the card came with an adapter that would allow me to plug it directly into my Linux machine, so I decided to just load the files I wanted onto the card before installing it in the tablet.

It took some time to do this, even with the higher speeds available via the card adapter interface. Dumping 5+GB of music files alone took over five minutes. And the file folders holding my different anime series were roughly that size too. Throw in figuring out what I wanted to have on the tablet ( I had a lot more available than the card could accommodate), and I spent most of Wednesday morning getting the job done.

Wednesday afternoon is one of the times I volunteer to be at the local Democratic Party headquarters, so with all the files transferred, I plugged the card into the tablet and took it with me to see how well my experiment worked.

The results were mixed.

It took a bit of poking around just to find the anime and movies. Turns out, they were all available in the “Gallery” app. Individual series folders holding the episodes were represented by a single image from one of the episodes, so not hard to figure out what was where. For some reason, even though they were loaded as individual files, all the movies ended up lumped together behind a single ‘tile’. Tapping it opened the tile up, revealing a sub-tile for each movie. Decided to try watching an anime episode, so picked one at random, tapped it, and selected an episode for the sub-tiles. The episode opens, and I watch it through before trying another anime series. This one had most of the sub-tiles showing a scene from the episode, but not all. Those that didn’t had a ‘generic’ scene, so I tried one of them. Up pops a message “Can’t play video.”. Okay, why three episodes in the middle of the series aren’t opening, I don’t know, but that’s something to figure out later. Back out, I try a movie, one of my favorite, “Your Name”. The tile opens, and the message “Can’t play video” pops ups even though I can see the video playing behind it. Stop, try again, and this time no message, but also no audio. Another problem to sort out. Time to see about the other content.

Now things get interesting. I can’t find an app that will even see the books I have loaded on. They’re all “Project Gutenberg” downloads, and I’d moved them all into a folder to cut the clutter on the card, so I reasoned that either might be causing the problem. Then I try the music file, and get the same result: nothing can find the music files. Basic trouble-shooting done, and a few ideas for solution in hand. I settled back to enjoy the remaining time at the headquarters watching anime.

Today, I decided I’d pop the card out of the tablet and try a few ideas I’d come up with. First off, I thought I’d see if what was keeping me from seeing the books I had loaded up was them being inside a file folder. So I put it in, shifted the ebook files out of the folder and ditched the folder before ‘unmounting’ the card and putting it back into the tablet. Still nothing. Fine, I reasoned, I’ll just ditch the files, free up a few hundred meg of space, and see what I can do about the music files. So I power down the tablet, open the access panel to get at the card and go to remove it.

For those of you who have never handled an micro SDHC card, they are tiny things, less then half the size of a postage stamp. They slide into a slot on the side of your device and ‘click’ into place when properly seated. To get one out of it’s slot, you press in with a finger nail and release. The card should pop slightly out so you can grasp it for removal….but it is spring-loaded. So, if you’re not careful it can do more than just move into position for removal….it can literally pop out of the device and go sailing out of sight, which is what my card did.

In my case, not only did the card go sailing, it flew over my shoulder and dropped into an area by the chair I was sitting in that holds a trash can and a few other items (it’s nick-name is ‘the junk corner’, to give you an idea of what it’s like). I didn’t see where it went, all the information I had was what I heard. What I heard was the card striking a hard surface, then bouncing off to go…..somewhere.

And it’s still there. I pulled the garbage can, looked under it, around it, and found nothing. Cleaned out most of the junk in the corner, and again found nothing. Then it was time to sort through the contents of the garbage can, by hand, to see if it had gone in there. Nope, checked everything, found nothing.

So the moral of the story? Be damned careful where you work, and remember what you’re working on too. Tomorrow morning I might go out and buy another card, but for now I’m going to spend some time kicking myself for my own stupidity.

The fly on the wall

(I am thinking of this as the opening to a series of science fiction stories revolving around humanity’s first wars in space. Fair warning, lots of rough language and discussion of sexual slavery involved.)


After all the effort she’d put into riding him, ‘Angela’ was happy the fat bastard had finally managed to get his rocks off. She tightened the right muscles, let an inarticulate moan out, trying her best to fake the orgasm he no doubt wanted to believe he’d given her. All she really wanted was a shower, but instead, she made herself lie atop his sweating carcass like a satisfied lover.

Her efforts to satisfy her customer were rewarded by him throwing a flabby arm around her before kissing her forehead. “Thanks, Angela, that was great, like usual. You sure know how to make an old man feel good.”

“No, sweetie, it’s you who know how to make a woman feel good. That was the best sex I’ve had in a long time.”

From the way his arm tightened around her, ‘Angela’ knew the fat idiot must believe at least some of what she’d said. If she was lucky, he might tip her some cash on top of what he’d paid the agency for her visit. That was the whole reason for engaging in the charade. Now, she had to get out of his apartment so she could get ready for her next appointment.

Angela pushed herself upright, swung her leg over, and stopped to remove the spent condom. She hated disposing of the filthy thing, but like sucking and fucking, it was part of her job as a prostitute. For all her disgust, she slapped a smile on her face as she feigned examining it. “Wow, sweetie, you shot a lot. I’m glad you had this on, or I’d be on the ‘nine month count-down’.”

Her john actually smile, like he was pleased by the thought. “That might not be so bad. My wife doesn’t want any more kids, and ours are nothing but spoiled brats. How about it, would you be willing to let me make one with you?”

Did this moron really think she wanted him to fuck his kid into her? Not a chance in hell! She fought the wave of disgust that swept over her and smiled wider. “But what would happen with your wife? And what about your career? It’s a tempting idea, but I don’t want you to ruin your life to give me such pleasure.”

His face scrunched in, reminding ‘Angela’ less of a man thinking than someone struggling to take a shit. “Well, there is that…I guess I just got caught up in the moment, baby. Thanks for thinking that through for me.”

“Any time. Wouldn’t want the best member of the Colony Board of Governors to lose his job over me now, would I?” ‘Angela’ slipped backwards off the bed and walked into the spacious bathroom attached to the bedroom, closing the door behind her. That a moron like that could be trusted to help govern one of the biggest of Earth’s orbital colonies never ceased to amaze her. She relieved her bladder, dropping the tied-off rubber in before flushing all the waste away. Supposedly condoms sold on the colony were biodegradable, so flushing one shouldn’t raise any flags. Not that she really cared. After all, his name on the lease to this space, not hers, so any official repercussions wouldn’t land on her.

The shower she stepped into was nearly as large as her apartment. It also didn’t have the five minute limit on water usage the shower she shared with ten other people in her block did. Just as well, because she spent more time than that under the stinging-hot spray, sluicing the lingering stink of her customer away. She had never understood why some people stank even fresh from a shower, while others barely registered to her nose after hours of hard labor. Whatever the reason, ‘Big Bill’ Hannity smelled like something long-dead, even fresh from a shower, and “Angela’ was happy when she could no longer caught his sent on her.

She let herself take a moment to luxuriate in the pulsing jet setting the shower offered. Letting the spray play over her slender body was close to heavenly after all the exercise she’d put in making Bill cum. But even with the sort of luxurious allowances a suite like this had, there was a limit to how much water she could use. Part of the wall changed to a screen, displaying a countdown to the point where the system would start charging extra. ‘Angela’ allowed herself one final splurge on Bill’s tab: she washed her short hair using some of the expensive shampoo his wife normally used.

Done, she thumped the water cut-off bar, and the intelligence controlling the shower took over, bringing a warm swirl of dry air up around her while it sucked every drop of water from the surfaces and the air that dried her. All the showers on the colony did this. Water being something that had to be harvested in far more distant portions of the Sol system, the colony’s life support systems wasted none of it. At her apartment, the shower often dried her in air colder than the surroundings.

Her skin dry, she stepped out to face a portion of the wall that had been programmed to become a mirror. ‘Angela’ had no memory of her parents, no memories earlier than growing up in a refugee camp in war-torn Thailand. So she had no notion of how she came to possess her dark skin, nor a face one of her clients had said looked fit for a Chinese goddess. It had been more john bullshit, but as she looked at her reflection, with it’s small nose and up-tilted eyes, the thought occurred to her that perhaps this is what her mother had looked like. Or maybe her face was just some random chance, as so many other of the poor living on Mike-Lima Forty-One, as everyone called the ML4-1 colony.

‘Angela’ gave her head a shake, ran her fingers through her hair to get it roughly going the same way, and pulled on one of the robes stacked outside the shower. She’d love to comb her hair, but “Big Bill” had strict rules things like that. Outside of the stall, hair and other things her body might shed weren’t automatically collected. And while his wife might not notice a few stray skin cells that didn’t be long to her, a single unfamiliar black hair among the bottle-blond hairs already littering her brush would be a dead give-away. Bill didn’t even like her using the robes, but she knew well that if she came out of the bathroom naked, the old goat would pester her for ‘another shot’, and she’d had enough of fucking him. So she’d accept the dirty look for wearing the robe and make sure to toss it into Bill’s automated laundry system before she left.

The door was hardly a crack open, but the stranger’s voice was loud enough to be understood. “Bill, what the fuck do you expect me to do? I’m head of security for the colony, but we both know the real power lies with the corporate security teams. I’ve got twenty guys who are supposed to police a population of over two hundred thousand. The smallest private security force has three hundred members, and most of them are ex-military. My force is just a joke, and we both know it’s that way because the colony founders wanted it that way. So what am I supposed to do about your ‘threatened violent take-over’?”

Every time ‘Big Bill’ talked around her, he strove to sound decisive, in control. But she heard none of that as he replied. No, if anything, he sounded like a street hustler who’d found out they accidentally conned one of the ‘Founding Families’. “Juan, you don’t understand. These people are dangerous! I mean yeah, I took their money, and accepted their support to win my place on the board…but I never, ever thought they’d go through with this bat-shit crazy plan of theirs. Hell, if they carry out their plan, you’re going to be taking a space walk without a suit on, and so will a lot of other folks. These fuckers are insane, seriously insane. They think the Founding Families made a mistake when they allowed what they call ‘non-European mud creatures’ onto the colony. These assholes are talking about spacing everyone who doesn’t fit their idea of a ‘proper’ citizen. That, or reducing them to outright slaves, even they can’t make up their minds on that point.” Bill stopped talking, whether to catch his breath or gather his thoughts ‘Angela’ didn’t know, but the person he was talking to cut him off.

“Bill, if you’re serious, why the fuck did you call me? Why not contact the head of the Paulus family? Or the O’Hannlon’s senior? I mean if someone needs to know this, it’s the household heads who sit on the Founder’s Council. They have the authority to take control of the private security firms in an emergency, not me.”

“You don’t get it, do you Juan? Some of them are involved in this….and I’ve got no fucking clue who is and who isn’t involved. So what do you think happens to me if I complain to the wrong person?Think they’re going to just sit back and wait for me to find someone who will act? I’d be dead before the end of the day, that’s what would happen.”

There was a long silence, long enough that ‘Angela’ began to suspect the conversation was over. It wasn’t. “All right, Bill, then you should contact the Earth government. Lay it all out. Even if you don’t know anything more than the person you’re in contact with, they can get troops, or peace keepers, or whatever the fuck they want to call them out here to stop this from happening. As a member of the Colony Board of Governors, you should have enough juice to get someone to listen to you.”

Big Bill didn’t respond right away, and ‘Angela’ knew why. The fat son of a bitch is trying to figure out an angle that won’t just leave him in power, but that will get him more power. She had to get out of the apartment, fast. But her clothes were lying by the front door, where Bill had forced her to strip for him. And she could neither get to them without whomever he was talking to seeing her in their holo-imager, nor avoid them getting a good enough look to ID her later. Her brain was scrambling around, looking for a solution, when Bill finally spoke.

“All right, but I can’t just send the message through my official account. I’m pretty sure they’re monitoring it. So I’ll contact a guy I know in the Communications branch and arrange for him to send it out under his ID. He’s got enough reason to communicate with the Earth government that it shouldn’t draw attention. Hopefully nobody will notice if he forwards a message for me to the Security Chief at the UN Colony Administrator’s office.”

“Fine, whatever. Just keep your head down, and quit getting in bed with murdering sleaze, for fuck’s sake!” The double-chime of a disconnected holo-call told her it was safe to come out, but ‘Angela’ waited for a count of fifty before fully opening the door. She found Bill sitting on the end of the bed in his boxers looking like he’d landed in a mine field with no map of how to get out. She stopped for a second to kiss the top of his bald head.

“Well, sweetie, I got to get going. Want to set up another visit now, or would you rather wait until you know you’ll have the free time?”

Bill didn’t respond right away, and when he did, he didn’t raise his head to meet her eyes. “No, I think I’ll wait. Looks like I’m gonna be busy for a while, so until things get a little less hectic, let’s just leave it open.” ‘Angela thought that might be it, but Bill stood, walked over to the night stand, and pulled a couple of bills at random from his wallet. “This is for being extra nice today, baby. I appreciate the effort. You take care now, hear?” And with that, he headed for the bathroom, no doubt to shower too. ‘Angela’ looked at the bills, and nearly fainted when she saw they were two hundred new-dollar bills. It was nearly as much as Bill had paid for her to come, and she was getting all of this in cash that the agency couldn’t get a cut of. She folded the bills before stuff them into the purse she carried. Not a bad hour’s work.

Dressed and out the door, ‘Angela’ became the anonymous Prostitute #3094 from the Heavenly Body’s Entertainment Corporation. The transparent dress she was forced to wear while working left no doubt what she did for a living. She was thankful no one was in the corridor. She’d become almost inured to the mix of lecherous stares of the men, and open hostility of the women, that followed her and every other prostitute who worked on Mike Lima Forth-One. Almost was the operative word. Just like she almost made enough to pay off the debt colony officials held over her for allowing her to enter the colony as a refugee. That she hadn’t had any choice about whether or not she came didn’t matter to Mike Lima’a officialdom. No, people who couldn’t afford to buy a place on the colony were required to work off any and all costs associated with them coming to the colony. So even a ten year old, half-starved Thai refugee who ‘d been stuffed into the orbital elevator car against her will had to cover the cost of allowing her to enter the Mike Lima economy.

And there’d been no charity even before then. Back when she was still Lee Bik, she’d temporarily gotten into an orphanage. But charities had to have money, and the orphanage fed the majority of it’s kids by selling cute ones to pedophiles. Bik’s first taste of sex was being raped by some white sex tourist. She still remember he stank far worse the Big Bill, and to an eight year old’s eyes and body, how he’d had a tree trunk sprouting between his legs. Half a dozen more encounters just like that proved to Bik that the orphanage was worse then the streets. But street whores were something devoutly Buddhist Thailand wanted to make a thing of the past. Bik had been picked up in one of the sweeps the Thai military ran through the streets of Bangkok. As a child, she got slightly better treatment than the older street girls, but the UN-run refugee camp hadn’t been a paradise. Bik had stayed alive fucking the older boys in exchange for extra food.

Then the day had come when the loudspeakers blared an announcement in Thai, Chinese and half a dozen other languages ordering the residents to assemble at the camp’s central square. There, she had undergone a quick medical exam and been shunted to one side of the square with most of the other children and young adults. The old, the sick, and a few Bik knew to be involved in the camp’s thriving criminal underworld, they had gone to the other side of the square. Those with Bik had gone to Sumatra to be stuffed like cattle into one of the cargo pods going up the orbital elevator. Random chance decided that she ended up here.

She slipped out the same discrete side door she’d used before, and found the usually deserted alley occupied. That occupant caused her to pause. He was a muscle-bound, pale-skinned monster, easily head-and-shoulders taller than her. Like a few white men, he shaved his head clean, but unlike most, his head gleamed like he’d polished it. But none of that was what brought her to a stop. No, what stopped her in her tracks was the look of complete contempt he aimed at her. He looked at her like he was watching a strange dog take a shit in front of him. Anxious to be away from that hostile stare, she turned her back on him and headed towards the street.