If you read the calendar, it has a nice, neat date on it that says “Fall begins now!” But like everything in life, things are never so neat as we want them to be.

Where I live, the ‘official’ first day of Fall was a warm, sunny day that was no different than the one before it. None of the chill of a true Fall day, not even a bit of nip in the air.

Today…oh, today was a true Fall day. The air was chill, even at ten in the morning, and the sky filled with rushing gray clouds broken by only an occasional patch of blue. Below those clouds, small flocks of geese cruised about looking for feeding grounds while odd strays squawked frantically for attention as they strove to catch up to the main group. Soon they will join the truly massive flocks as they fly away to the South, leaving only the fortunate few who find a body of water that doesn’t freeze over.

The trees have yet to get the news of Fall’s arrival. Their leaves are still hale and green, with no real sign of the coming burst of color that will mark their death. Soon, though, the trees will begin their slow change to cool weather mode, and the leaves will put on their annual show.

Some find Fall a depressing time, a preview of Winter, the season they see as the season of death and endings. I find Fall to be the most invigorating of seasons. Summer’s heat is oppressive, and Spring brings the mad rush of growth every person with a lawn curses. Winter, with it’s snow and cold, is a season of constant annoyances. But Fall, even with the need to clean up leaves, is the season when the mower can be parked more than pushed, when every day isn’t spent wondering how much higher the weeds you can’t get at will grow.

And for all the trouble cleaning them up can cause, the Fall’s show of leaves is a thing to be celebrated. Perhaps this year I will do something I have done of in the past and take a drive along Route 2. For those of you who don’t know it, this state road winds along the banks of the Rock River for miles in the small valley that body of water has carved for itself over time. If you have the free time, it’s worth the drive to get to Dixon and follow it north and east as it takes you through Oregon and Byron to Rockford.

So enjoy Fall. Take in its beauty, and remember it as Winter closes in. It’s Nature’s final gift, our last chance to enjoy being outside before doing so requires more clothing than anyone can wear in comfort.

The Cats Paw War

Humanity’s first interstellar war began in the lifetime of the people who fought humanity’s first interplanetary war…if you could call the slaughter that was the so-called Colonies War a war. From it’s bloody beginning at the seizure of ER14 and FG27 colonies, to it’s end when those colonies and the original eight colonies that had been under the control of the Human Freedom cult were destroyed by nuclear explosion, nearly two million humans died for nothing. In it’s aftermath, the survivors did what they could to bring stability back to both their lives, and the solar system as a whole. None of them could imagine the cataclysm that awaited.

The Dan’s Ma Cobb hung off the docking mast of the massive O’Neill cylinder that was the EI93 colony, her internal power shut down and all her crew but one indulging in all the pleasures that could be found in this far corner of civilization. That exception was her captain and majority-owner, Kevin Collins. Kevin hadn’t ventured into a gravity well for nearly two decades, not since the day he’d been handed his discharge and his death sentence

Kevin had been one of the best System Space Forces pilots, and like every other pilot, he had undergone the installation of a wireless link that allowed his brain to directly control his ship. He had actually been one of the first pilots to have the hardware installed, and like everything new, there was a learning curve to the installation process. In his case, it was later found that the hardware did not need to be as closely integrated to his brain. All pilots, at the end of hostilities, had been given a choice: stay in the military and keep their links, or leave and undergo the removal of that highly-classified hardware. For those who had come after Kevin, the removal was an operation that had risks, but one that the pilot stood a good chance of surviving. Of all the pilots who had undergone the early, experimental installations, Kevin was the only one who chose to leave the military who had survived the removal process. The price, though, was damage to several major blood vessels, any one of which could rupture under the strain of him reentering a gravity field of greater than a quarter-G for a prolonged period of time.

Even floating in zero-G could be dangerous, and Kevin knew he was pushing his luck even now. He could feel his heart hammering away, and didn’t want to imagine what his blood pressure must be, but the pleasure the escort he’d hired from the colony was giving him with her mouth made the risk worthwhile in his book. He felt the sweet ache of approaching orgasm and when it hit, he could almost have died happy in the moment. The woman, knowing he was finished for the moment, raised her head and gave him a wicked smile.

“You want some more, baby? You must have been out a long time to have that much stored up. I learned how to do stuff in zero-G that you wouldn’t even imagine doing in a gravity field…”

It had been more years than Kevin wanted to admit since he’d really had sex with a woman, and not just settled for something like this. He also had a headache coming on, one that told him he’d pressed his luck about as far as was sensible if he didn’t want to really die this day.

“No, I’m good. You did a great job. Maybe I’ll call the agency later and have you pay me another visit before we leave.”

“You sure, honey? Things can get busy, and I might not be available.”

She wasn’t bad looking, but for what Kevin needed, she was no different from any other woman. He didn’t tell her that, though. “I won’t be leaving in that much of a hurry. If you’re busy, I can wait a while…after all, I am the captain and owner of this here ship! And if a captain can’t chose his own time to leave, well, what’s the world coming to?”

Now she turned a smile towards him that had none of th teasing wickedness in it, and all of the predatory desire of a hardened mercenary with their eye on a fat prize. “I’ll hold you to that promise. Just remember, you want someone who’ll show you a real good time, you ask the agency for Jun.”

Jun hadn’t bothered to undress to perform her services, and her transparent top would elicit no comments, so she simply pushed herself off lightly, took hold of the guide line, and then shoved off hard, one had looped lightly around it as she headed towards the main hatch. There was nothing she could steal on the way out, so rather than follow her, Kevin opened the main com link on the off chance that one of the crew might have found some new way to get into trouble. His hand had barely lifted from the control when the link began giving off the strident double beep that indicated there was a priority message waiting for his attention. The beep was pitched so that it was nearly impossible to ignore, but with his headache still near it’s peak, it felt as if it were pitched to cause Kevin’s skull to explode.

“All right, all FUCKING right! Open the damn message!”

The beeping stopped, and there was a moment’s pause as the computer parsed his profane command, then the computer came back with a query he had never heard it use. “Message is confidential, requires captains voice print ID to open.”

“What the fuck do you mean, it needs my voice print for ID?”

“Voice print ID confirmed. Message decrypting.”

What the HELL is going on? Kevin barely had time to think the thought before the message began to play, and as soon as he heard the voice, he knew his life had taken a turn for the worse.

“Captain Collins, this is Admiral Tsu of the System Space Force Research Directorate, and I am hereby informing you that you and your craft are now under the command of my division. A representative of the Space Force who will contact you with 12 hours of the sending of this message to brief you on what we require you to do. Do not attempt to leave, or you will be considered a deserter and treated accordingly. That is all.”

Kevin remembered Tsu. To call him a ruthless son of a bitch would be to compliment him and insult every honest son of a bitch that had ever existed. Tsu had been his commanding officers for the last two years of Kevin’s service, and the things he had been ordered to do by that bloody-handed butcher still gave Kevin nightmares. He was strongly tempted to do an emergency undock and run, but he knew that while the ship needed everything from basic food supplies to reaction mass before it could do much more than move away from EI93. And he also knew that if he’d gotten a message ordering him to take orders from Tsu, the station authorities would have gotten a message telling them that he was not to have anything until Tsu gave them the go-ahead. Kevin was stuck. No matter how much he might hate the idea, he was now under the command of James Tsu, the man who had the blood of over a million people on his hands.

Oy, Modern technology!

We carry our phones everywhere, and they are often convenient. But they can also be a pain. Take my smart phone…

I got a temporary gig, and not wanting to depend on my elderly ‘dumb’ cell phone, I decided to see what I could find. My criteria were few, and my preconceived notions non-existent: I needed a phone that was cheap and a service provider offering a plan that I could ‘pay as you go’ so I wouldn’t be stuck with a fluctuating monthly bill.

What I found were several inexpensive ‘first-gen’ smart phones, a lot of extremely (to me, at least) expensive ‘modern’ phones…and one bargain that interested me. It was a (fairly) new smart phone, a Motorola Moto E, and the price was right: less than $50 before tax. I had some questions about the service provider, Virgin Mobile, but time was short and I decided to buy.

Learning my new phone was a steep curve I needed to climb quickly, and the first step was activating it. The instructions with the phone were far from clear, leading me to buy a “minutes card” that didn’t have enough credit to activate the phone. Several calls to a very frustrating customer service line later, I found out my error and managed to get the phone up and running by buying another card with enough credit on it to activate the phone. After that, with a little help from my sister, I got the basics down and when I got on the job, the phone worked well and gave as good service as any of those my fellow temp employees had.

After the job had ended, I kept the phone active, partly for contact with the temp agency, and partly to see what else I could do with it. Hulu soon joined the line-up of apps on my phone, and I would hate to see the number of hours I spent streaming anime. Fortunately, by the time I installed this app, I’d joined my phone to my home network, so I was getting my data over my wifi system instead of paying the phone company for all that time. It also proved to be my ‘go-to’ device for watching news from the RTE, Ireland’s national broadcast network. A few other apps stand out, and I find it to be a useful little piece of hardware…but it can still be a source of frustration.

One thing I liked about Virgin was the fact that I could buy a new card to renew my service, enter the validation information off the back, and when my monthly service time ended, the phone would know I had the credit in place and automatically renew my current plan. Well, it used to. This past month, I bought a card a few days before the end of my service time, did the usual entry, and went about my business. Then I tried to call someone the day after my contract had ended…and my phone told me I hadn’t purchased a service plan. The credit was still there, but now I had to physically tell the phone that, yes, I want to renew my current plan. Annoying, to say the least.

Another annoying thing are the number of apps I can’t get rid of. Because it’s an Android device, all the security and other updates come through the Google App store. There are several apps, like Google Talk, a chat service I have no interest in…but even though I’ve told the phone to uninstall them, they still keep insisting that I update them. There’s also a suit of games that aren’t installed, but there’s an icon I can’t get rid of, taking up space on one of my ‘desktops’ (and, no doubt, eating space in my phone’s memory).

Most annoying of all was Hulu’s recent decision to stop offering users the option to watch *anything* without subscribing to them. I was willing to be bombarded by the five-or-more minutes of commercials they’d shove into an anime that was only twenty-odd minutes long, but to have to put up with that AND pay for the privilege…no, the next time Hulu wants to update it’s app, it’s gone.

So there it is, modern technology at it’s usual: equal parts useful and annoyingly frustrating. No doubt anyone reading this has as bad or worse experiences they could relate. But we put up with the annoyance for the convenience, and hope we’ve made a good bargain.