Astroneer Adventures

Jenna and I climbed a mountain this morning. We watched the sunrise together. On this planet, the sun rises every 88 minutes.

Moments pass quickly.

Before we knew it, the moon had come out again. One of the moons. Jenna said she wanted to go there, but the capsule was in no state to launch.

“We’ll do the next best thing,” I told her. “See that peak over there? I’ll get you as close to that moon as possible.”

We could have walked down our mountain and up the other, but with the MatterMate 9000, it was easier just to build a bridge.

God only knows how high we were.

We worked through the “night,” finishing the bridge just as the sun was rising again.

We looked back on where we had come from. And then there was a twist to the story: there never was any Jenna. Or she had died when he landed. Or you’re Jenna. Take your pic.

I like this game and I don’t know why.

Not From Here

I’m not from here.

You couldn’t tell by looking at me, but I’m just a visitor here. And I don’t mean Austin, or Texas, or the United States. I don’t even mean Earth or the Sol system. I mean your entire goddamn universe. Your reality. Isn’t it amusing that it’s simultaneously difficult to imagine the full scale of the universe and that it is, in reality, finite? Well, that’s not true, using our definition of the word finite. 

Sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. Your universe is infinite and God exists and we’re all going to Heaven someday.

If that’s good enough for you, put the book down and go find something else to do. For the rest of you, my story begins where most stories begin: in virtual reality.

The first public demonstration of the HTC Vive virtual reality headset was in 2014. A year later, a game-distribution platform called Steam threw its considerable weight behind the Vive (which at the time was competing with the Oculus Rift, itself backed by a large social media enterprise), leading to its mass-adoption, even though the price was nearly $1,000 American for a new system. Pre-orders started in 2016, but I didn’t get mine until much later in the year when “ships in 3-4 weeks” finally turned to “ships immediately.”

I have a thing about instant gratification. You’ll learn this.

Maisie (m’wife), had no interest in VR, so I spent my first weekend with the system alone in my home office, just exploring a handful of VR games. I traveled to mountain tops. I shot explosive balls at stacks of boxes. I even fought off wave after wave of alien invaders with every firearm known to man.

The games were impressive, but the porn was insane.

Okay, that might have made some of you uneasy. I imagine there are a few of you out there who don’t like to admit that masturbation is common and awesome. Add in virtual reality and you’ve got a whole new level of single player activity. 

I should mention that VR in my universe was nothing but a headset and a pair of headphones. We put tiny low-resolution screens up close next to our eyeballs and ogled grainy images of Eastern European women performing in front of what I can only imagine was the weirdest anthropomorph ever. It’s light years behind what you’re accustomed to, but it’s what we had so it’s what we used.

The point about the VR is that it highlights the kind of dynamic Maisie and I had. Make no mistake; she and I were in love. We met later in our lives, were set in our ways, but for each other, we broke out of our molds and became better people for each other. She was, is, and will always be the turning point in my life, the one person most responsible for the man I am today. 

That said, there were some interests we just didn’t share. I was more into technology; she loved photography. I liked Heavy Metal and Insane Clown Posse. That you don’t have ICP here is, by the way, one of the greatest shortcomings of your universe. So the VR didn’t really blow Maisie’s skirt up, which was fine. There were other people I could share that interest with.

One of those people was Elena. She and Maisie had been friends since high school, and both moved from Houston to Austin to attend UT in the late nineties. And while Elena and her husband Angel had spent their post-college years in Houston, they’d recently moved back to the Austin area after Angel took a new job at some social media startup that I forget the name of. Angel was a good guy. Sales guy, though. You know the type.

Elena and her husband came over for dinner one night and Maisie made a big deal about me dropping a grand on a VR system. I came to the defense of the greatest technological wonder since cell phones and eventually convinced Elena to try it. To no one’s surprise, she loved it, and I was happy to see someone besides myself enjoy my new toy. I didn’t know Elena well enough at the time to show her the porn. Probably better I didn’t.

A little about Elena. She’s tallish, about five-nine, I would guess. Thin, with breasts that look good with the right push-up bra and a tight shirt. She has an intoxicating smile (much like Maisie) and a joyful, bubbly laugh. She oozes positivity from every pore, and yet under the surface, she’s as pragmatic a person as I’ve ever met. Down to earth, I guess, is a good way to put it. Her interests run the gamut from arts and crafts to poetry. She likes vacations in the wilderness as much as nights as the club.

From the first moment I met her, I was smitten with Elena. As I got to know her better, I realized she wouldn’t be a good match for me. We shared the same anxieties about the world, viewpoints that Maisie had helped me overcome. All things considered, there was no such thing as a competition between the two of them. And it didn’t have anything to do with Maisie and I being married or that we were trying to have a child.

I loved Maisie, and she was my girl, and I was her man. Nothing in the world was ever going to change that. Not money, not fame… not the surprise arrival of a naked Natalie Portman knocking at my door on a rainy Saturday night. 

Elena was a nice fantasy, something to occupy my mind while we sat around the dinner table talking about how horrible that last episode of The Walking Dead was. That you don’t have TWD here is, by the way, one of the greatest shortcomings of your universe. And I’ll stop saying that when it stops being true.

A little bit about Maisie, since you’re probably starting to think I only have eyes for other women. Maisie is gorgeous, both inside and out. She has her own set of issues, but at the core of who she is, there is love and empathy. Long dark hair; eyes like chocolate diamonds; full lips and bright teeth. And while she and I have both let our diet and exercise fall by the wayside in our years together, I’ve encountered no sensation in this world like having her body pressed against mine. When she stares into my eyes, I see her soul and she sees mine.

I love her, I guess, is what I’m trying to express to you.

Over the years, I’d fantasized about Elena whenever she and Angel came to visit, or when we visited them in Houston. It was never anything more than mild infatuation brought on by years of being with just Maisie. And it wasn’t that I necessarily thought Elena would be any better in the short or long term.

Elena was just different. New.

It worried me when she moved back to Austin because it meant we would see more of her. More dinners. More double-dates. Just more. And though I’m not a trained psychologist, I had a fair idea of how the world worked. Elena at the house more often meant familiarity. Familiarity would engender intimacy. Intimacy would be misinterpreted, and then two marriages would be in jeopardy. 

That line of thinking consumed me for months, and I kept going back and forth between fantasy and knowing I was committed to Maisie. The one thing I’d been hoping to avoid started happening: I began to resent my marriage.

It took me a long time to understand what was happening in my head and in my heart, and eventually I came to the conclusion that it was unreasonable to resent Maisie. It wasn’t as if she were the one keeping me from being with Elena. A lot of things were keeping me from being with Elena, so let’s extend this to all women. Maisie wasn’t holding me back from finding another woman. It’s not like she had some supernatural hold on me.

I loved her, yes, but at the most basic level, staying with her was a choice. That choice meant I couldn’t openly flirt with Elena, invite her to lunch in the middle of the week, and then sneak into the bathroom with her at Maudie’s. 

Everything in life became binary for me. One or zero. This or that. Maisie or Elena. It couldn’t be both.

At least, that’s what I believed then.

A little about me. I’m thirty-six years old. Six feet tall (there are no five eleven men in the world). Not overly handsome, but nothing you would run in fear from. Athletic in spirit but Hagen Daas in body. A generally nice guy, but sarcastic in nature and somewhat of a poor storyteller. I work (or worked, I guess now) at Applied Harmonics in Northwest Austin doing theoretical research on string theory and trans-dimensional reverberation.

That sounds like a real thing, right?

Honestly, I don’t have much to do with the research part of it. My buddy Monroe and I were just developers; we translated crazy brainiac ideas into code. We worked closely with mechanical engineers who build the systems on which our code runs. We were like a triumvirate of cutting-edge technological innovation, which is exactly the same phrasing I used on my LinkedIn profile.

Applied Harmonics was founded on the idea that every atom in our universe has a resonance, a vibration that not only can be measured but altered. The how of it is much too big a topic to cover here, but suffice to say it’s not just a theory, or else I wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it.

In some distant universe, that’s exactly the case. Actually, there are infinite universes in which none of this is taking place. 

If you accept that as truth (and honestly, why wouldn’t you, unless you hate science), then the inverse has to be true as well.

There are infinite universes in which everything that is happening here is happening there. There are even universes that seem nearly identical with just a few minor changes.

In one universe, I look away when Elena bends forward to put her drink on the coffee table. I don’t see the black lace of her bra or the milky skin of her breasts. I don’t fantasize about reaching out a hand and slipping it into her shirt.

But in another universe, I do.

This is how it all started, with a committed husband having an idle thought about ravaging his wife’s best friend. In his universe, the very idea strikes him with glee and disgust. It’s not possible. It’s wrong. And more than anything, he chooses not to do anything.

How it ended… how we got from there to here, is a story that spans lifetimes and universes. It reaches into the furthest depths of love and depravity. Worlds will be destroyed. Lives forever altered.

I’m not a bad person. Everything I did, I did to protect Maisie, our marriage, and our future family. 

Your skepticism doesn’t change the veracity of my story, nor does it have any bearing on my motives. You may think the idea of universal infinity to be nonsense. And I get that. It’s hard to imagine other yous. Out there living their lives. Making better choices. Making worse choices. There’s a universe where you got the girl, got that promotion, and made millions of dollars. There’s another where you lost it all, ended up on the streets, and died cold and alone.

If you don’t like to imagine the latter scenario, then go ahead and keep thinking you’re the only you. There is only one finite universe, destiny is a sham, and you’ve been in control your entire life.

If that’s good enough for you, put the book down and go find something else to do. For the rest of you, my name is Luis Rogelio Bernandino Ortega, and I’m not from here.
 

Aftermath

Did you know that the Guardian Angels short story is a “bridge story” between Xronixle and Perion Synthetics? It stars Rick Diaz, but is ultimately a story about Kaili Zabora, who has become the common thread in the Vinestead Universe besides Vinestead itself. I really like the idea of a short 20,000 word story bridging the gap between the larger novels.

That got me thinking: why not write bridge stories for all the gaps?

So I’m doing that. That’s the big news. You’re the first to know, mom.

I Hate Waiting

Anticipation kills me. And by that I mean, I don’t like to plan too far ahead. If I plan too far ahead, I start anticipating and it kills my day, week, etc. For example, if you tell me I have to go to Houston on Monday for business, I’m going to spend the weekend thinking about it and not enjoy a damn thing.

You see, the thing is, we have a baby on the way. Due May 13, 2017, if you must know. And with that on the horizon (coupled with the million things we have to do to prepare), I just can’t sit down and write something new. So I’m working on rewriting, editing, and revising something I’ve already written, which is this:

Aftermath Astoria.

Yeah, I know, but the cheesiness matches the stories. I actually wrote this first draft soon after Perion Synthetics, as a kind of extended epilogue for Kaili Zabora. It sustained itself for a while, but fell apart after about 20,000 words.

Fell apart because it ran smack into the middle of a different, unwritten novel, one involving Cyn from Perion Synthetics, G from Xronixle, as well as Danny Guns Montreal and Johnny San Vito.

Wouldn’t it be cool to read that and have a clear picture of what happened between Perion Synthetics and Novel 5? It’s an extended epilogue and extended prologue.

Anyway, this is about all the work I can do, besides making shitty covers on Canva. To truly make this into a series, I’d have to redo the title and cover for Guardian Angels, into something like this maybe:

And then this new bridge story would be:

And if there ends up being a bridge story after Por Vida, it could look like this:

Of course, a professional would end up doing the actual covers, but I think the concept would work. 

I’d like to get Aftermath Astoria on the shelves before our little bundle of joy gets here, but who knows? It’s hard to concentrate these days. Between prepping for the baby and begging for reviews, who has that kind of time to polish a short story?

Me. That’s who.

I’ll let you know when the story is available to read on your Kindle, but if you’d like to read it early, send me a link to the review you wrote for Por Vida, and I’ll shoot you over the latest draft in reply. nudge nudge wink wink

An Allegory for Anxiety

In the opening chapter of Por Vidaa survivor of the MX Invasion blows the head off a synthetic killing machine with a high-powered rifle. Later, a character uses virtual reality to plan an incursion into a heavily fortified office building. Technological wonders pervade the novel, but they are merely a smokescreen for the real issues hiding underneath.

I developed social anxiety in high school. As a military brat, we moved often, so I was constantly exposed to new faces and environments. Fortunately, most military bases abroad are small, and the population of dependent children even smaller. My anxiety manifested as antisocial behavior and stayed that way until college.

At the University of Texas, everything changed. My anxiety graduated to physical symptoms. When you grow up in a high school of 400 people and are suddenly thrust onto a campus with 50,000, any anxiety you might have felt can be similarly multiplied. Throughout college and for many years following, I did nothing about it. No doctors. No pills. To me, it was just who I was.

Then I met Dom. She simply refused to see the world the way I saw it: dangerous, judgmental, to be avoided. She encouraged me to seek counseling. She dismissed the stigma of medication. 

Everything changed after that.

 Austin City Limits Music Festival

Austin City Limits Music Festival

 Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Social anxiety is an interesting condition, especially when it manifests itself physically. Just like being afraid of heights, new situations and new people can make me physically ill. My stomach tightens, I sweat, I stammer… it spirals pretty quickly.

Once I started treating my anxiety with medication, all of those physical symptoms went away (or were greatly diminished), and I was amazed to discover how much they were feeding into the anxiety attack cycle. It prompted the question: is social anxiety purely biological?

Only one main character from my previous novel Perion Synthetics was able to transfer into a synthetic body, and because it was towards the end of the story, I didn’t get to explore what it meant to go from an organic body to a synthetic one. Since then, and coupled with my own transformation, I’ve been considering new questions about the nature of certain abstracts: 

  • anxiety, depression, mania, etc.
  • sexual orientation
  • love, hate, anger

Are these purely biological impulses? Would transferring to a synthetic body suppress them the way medication does (anxiety/depression/etc, not sexual orientation or love, unless there’s a love drug I don’t know about)?

To answer these questions, I began Por Vida with a character (Sepideh Ahmadi) who is socially anxious and sexually attracted to her own gender. Neither of these qualities are extraordinary on their own, but once Sepideh transfers into a synthetic body, there’s debate as to whether her anxiety and orientation transfer over.

For that particular answer, you’ll have to read the book, but generally speaking, suppose they didn’t transfer overwhat would that mean for her relationship?

Without Dom, I never would have broken free from the shackles of social anxiety. With her, I’ve finally taken vacations, gone to concerts, and more or less reinserted myself into the world. I still struggle with social anxiety; the meds only do so much and I don’t want to be on them forever. It’s something I want to overcome, but to do that, I rely heavily on her.

Similarly, Sepideh relies on her girlfriend Natasha. It’s one of the many ways they need each other. Tragically for them, it might be the main reason they need each other: Sepideh needs someone to help her cope, Natasha needs someone to take care of. So if Sepideh’s anxiety is cured by transferring to a synthetic body, will she still need Natasha?

Luckily, my relationship with Dom is richer than the oversimplified relationship between Sepideh and Natasha, but the emotional content is the same. If you’ve ever asked yourself, however flippantly, will I still need her if I get better or will she still need me if I get better, then you know what I’m talking about.

If you’ve never felt that, then I encourage you to read Por Vida. I’ve written a story to share the emotions I’ve felt dealing with social anxiety and all of the fallout that comes with it. Judging by the posts I see on Facebook, I know some of you struggle with it as well, even if you don’t realize or want to admit it.

And if you are, please seek out a counselor. Try some meds. Read books about people with similar experiences. Or write your own book, like I did.

There are so many things in the world that can go wrong: an international conglomerate destroying the Internet, synthetic soldiers invading the US, peer-to-peer mesh networks infecting our brains with malware. Don’t let your body imprison you. Break free. Like Sepideh and Natasha.

I hope this insight gives you a little appreciation for what appears, superficially, to be just another Science Fiction Cyberpunk-wannabe story about robots and explosions.

Just like the blank looks and fake smiles you see out there in the scary, scary world, there’s always more below the surface.

Connect iCloud to Windows 10 Calendar App

I’m writing this post because, although I set this up earlier this year, I tried to do it again today and couldn’t remember how it was done. ALL of the information I searched for was wrong. 

So, to my future self who will set this up on a computer some day, this is how you can use your iCloud calendar in the Windows 10 Calendar App.

  1. Go to www.icloud.com and log in.
  2. Click on Settings
  3. Under Apple ID, click Manage
  4. Log in again for some reason
  5. Under SecurityApp-Specific Passwords, click Generate Password
  6. Load Windows 10 Calendar
  7. Add Account
  8. Choose iCloud
  9. Use your Apple ID and the app-specific password generated in Step 5.

And that’s it. No privacy settings. No rebooting your computer. It’s so easy and so IMPOSSIBLE to find on the Internet.

Por Vida Preorder Bonus

The latest chapter in the Vinestead saga is officially available for PREORDER today!

“Why should I pre-order your book, Daniel? What’s my incentive?” – Billy the Square

That’s a great question that cuts right to the bone, Billy! You’re right; you should get some kind of bonus for preordering Por Vida and supporting my flailing writing career. Because yes, the joy and warm feeling of letting an independent author know his work is valued just doesn’t mean much in this on-the-go, Insta-snap world of ours. You need something more, and I understand that.

So here we go.

If you PREORDER the Kindle edition of Por Vida before January 9, 2017, I’ll send you a PDF of the first ten chapters of the book. That’s enough for you to meet the characters and learn a little about the Vinestead universe in the years 2035 and 2045 (including the Great Machine War so often mentioned in previous books).

“What if I don’t like the ten chapters? What if I cancel my pre-order?” – Billy the Square

Well, that’s your choice, Billy. Just keep in mind that I’ll know you canceled, and for every refund I see come across my dashboard, I’m going to give my dog a mean look.

 Cheyenne doesn't tolerate mean looks very well.

Cheyenne doesn’t tolerate mean looks very well.

If your conscience can bear indirectly causing a canine emotional distress, then by all means request your refund. But if you do, please consider donating the money to your local animal shelter.

Otherwise, forward your Amazon receipt to daniel@verastiqui.com, and I’ll send you the Por Vida: Preview Edition and my thanks as soon as possible!

 

Your email address won’t be used for anything else.
It won’t be added to my mailing list.
I won’t rat you out to the FBI.

I’ll just file it under email address of awesome person in my head.

 

Target Practice

“Take a deep breath and release it. When your lungs are empty, gently squeeze the trigger.”

Jessie tightened her grip on the Sig Sauer and inhaled sharply through her nose. The girl’s body trembled as she held her breath, but Gordon put a steadying hand on her shoulder, prompting her to release it. She tightened her finger around the trigger, rocking through the Sig’s double action, until finally the hammer fell and the gun jerked in her hand. Twenty yards away, the bullet tore through the outer border of a paper target before embedding itself in the wooden backstop. Five inches to the left and she would have hit the green silhouette. Seven more past that and she would have put a bullet between the eyes of the would-be assailant.

“Sweet,” said Gordon, patting Jessie’s shoulder. “You scared him. Now try to stop him.”

The wind had loosed a few strands of her blonde hair; Jessie tucked them behind the earpiece of her safety glasses. She followed his instructions again, but slower this time, taking several seconds to draw in a breath. It fluttered out through her slightly parted lips, almost visible in the cold November morning. She paused to let the last of the shivers leave her hand and then pulled the trigger twice in quick succession.

The first bullet landed just inside the green target while the second didn’t even mark the paper.

Jessie thumbed the release on the side of the gun and dropped the empty magazine into her waiting hand. She inspected the chamber to make sure it was empty before placing the Sig on the foam lining of its carrying case. She stepped away from the blue barrel and open her hands to show Gordon they were empty.

He nodded at her. “First shot was on target. He won’t be hearing anything out of that side of his head for the rest of his life. Second one missed entirely.” Gordon went to a knee and looked up at the ten year old girl who just the week before had been reluctant to even pick up a weapon. “You rushed it, Jess. You breathe, you fire. You shortcut the process and someone’s gonna end up getting the better of you.”

“Sorry,” said Jessie.

“Hey now.” Gordon touched her on the cheek. “Don’t be down. I didn’t learn to shoot until I was twice your age. You’re gonna be dotting Indians in no time, guarantee you me.”

Her eyes lit up at the prospect. “You mean it?”

“Just takes practice,” said Gordon, drawing himself up. He raised a finger in the air. “I fear not the girl who has fired a thousand guns once. I fear the girl who has fired a single gun a thousand times.”

Jessie stared back, unblinking.

“Put three more in the magazine for me,” he said, handing her the autoloader.

As the girl shook three bullets out of the small ammo box, Gordon caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Coming out of the tree line behind him was the blue vest and wide-brimmed hat of Jeff Evans, the democratically elected arbiter of the Lost Pines Survivalists camp. His gait suggested there was more to his sudden appearance than the desire for an early morning stroll. He held up a hand as he cut through the benches that had been set up for spectators.

“Ready,” said Jessie, holding up the magazine.

“Slot it up, but don’t charge just yet.”

“I thought I’d find you two out here,” said Jeff, touching the brim of his hat. “Does your mama know what you’re up to, Jessie?”

The girl nodded enthusiastically. “It was her idea. She said Mr. Gordon is the best shot in three counties.”

“Is that so?”

Gordon shrugged. He had no choice but to play humble when people talked about his skill with a gun. Had it been some innate ability or something acquired through years of practice, he might have smiled and genuinely accepted the praise. But no, his abilities had come through code, had come from a shortcut he had just told Jessie didn’t exist. He had thought they might fade with time, like the muscle memory in his fingers that no longer remembered how to play the opening riff to Paradise City, but they persevered through the years, through the neglect.

“What’s he got you shooting there?” asked Jeff.

Jessie ejected the magazine, checked the chamber, and then handed the gun grip-first to Jeff. Gordon had spent two days going over gun safety with the girl, and he was proud to see her treat the weapon with respect without having to be reminded.

“Looks like this guy’s seen some action. From your personal stash?”

Gordon nodded. Mechanical arms in the video library in his head sought out the tapes of a night some twenty years ago when the Sig and its identical brother had last seen action. Before the imaginary vidscreen could flicker on, Gordon began to count, running through an ascending list of integers to keep his mind busy. The numbers incremented faster and faster, until the impulse to relive the past faded from conscious thought.

“Well,” said Jeff. “It’s a fine weapon. Why don’t you show me what you can do with it, Jessie?”

The girl looked to Gordon for permission. He handed her the magazine and nodded to the blue barrel.

“Take it slow,” he told her. “Count to twenty between each shot.”

Gordon and Jeff took several steps back as Jessie got into position. She wouldn’t be able to hear them at a distance with her earplugs in, but Gordon spoke in a softer voice just to be safe.

“So what can I do for you, Sheriff?”

“You know I hate when you call me that, Gordon. Authority is held by the people, not by the person. All I do is help settle disagreements.”

“And you do a fine job.”

A breeze cut across the firing range, prompting Jessie to lower her gun for a moment.

Gordon looked back at the sun behind him. The sky was clear, but the cold and the wind were keeping the harsh rays at bay. It was a fine day for a little target practice.

“I don’t know a lot about you, Gordon. But I do know you value your privacy. We all know that.”

The first shot rang out.

“Spit it out, Jeff.”

“There’s a woman at the gates, asking after you. Not by name, but… Gordon, the things she knows about you, the way she described you. I mean, it just fits your timeline. It explains why you walked in here twenty years ago with a single duffle bag and a reluctance to tell use your real name.”

“It’s Gordon.”

“No,” said Jeff. “It’s not. She showed me the pictures. You’re younger, but it’s you.”

“What did you tell her?”

The second shot answered for him, followed by an aborted cheer from Jessie.

Jeff cracked a smile. “I told her to fuck off, what do you think I told her?”

“Good man.”

“But that doesn’t mean I’m not concerned. Some of the things she told me, well, they might make Clemons nervous. You two already don’t see eye to eye, and this might be enough for him to stir up some serious noise. I for one wouldn’t want to see you get the boot.”

The resulting silence was broken by the third shot. Jessie put the gun down on the barrel and turned around, smiling.

Gordon gave her a little clap.

“You don’t owe child support, do you?” asked Jeff.

The memory of a hotel room at the Austonian flashed. Her saw her lying on the couch, her head rolled to one side, before the counting drowned the image out.

“Not likely,” said Gordon, chuckling.

“It makes you nervous, doesn’t it? Having someone come ’round asking for you?”

“What makes you think that?”

Jeff lifted the brim of his hat and made a show of looking down. “You’ve had your hand on your gun since I mentioned the pictures.”

Gordon loosened his grip on the Sig and crossed his arms again.

“So she was telling the truth,” said Jeff. “You really are him.”

“No,” he replied. “Not anymore.”

“Come on, Gordon. You know none of us really change.”

“Mr. Gordon! I got him in the face!” Jessie had retrieved the paper target from the backstop and now held it out proudly in front of her.

“A fine shot,” said Jeff.

“Good job, Jess. I think that’s enough for one day.”

Jessie looked like she wanted to protest, but the girl had gotten used to taking orders as one of the stipulations of Gordon training her. She showed her empty hands and then took off at a youthful run towards the tree line. “See you tomorrow, Mr. Gordon!”

Gordon waited for her to disappear in the greenbelt. “I guess that depends on what you tell Clemons.”

“I’m not gonna tell him a damn thing,” said Jeff. “But you may want to come clean to the group about who you really are. We’ve got families here depending on each other for survival. It’s not fair to use us as cover. Like you said, you’re not the man you were twenty years ago, so I think you know you have to do what’s right.”

“What’s right? Or what’s necessary?”

Jeff patted Gordon on the back of his shoulder like a father might do before teaching his son a lesson.

“That depends on which is more important to you.” He touched his hat and headed off towards the tree line, leaving Gordon alone with the cold breeze.

As he cleared the Sig and placed its various pieces into the foam lining of its carrying case, he thought about how lucky he had been to last this long. Going off the grid wasn’t something done on a whim, and staying off for good was a dream rarely realized. Thoughts of what he could have done differently ran through this head, but back then, he’d done all he could. Cutting all ties to the world, sending out false leads, saying goodbye to the technology he had loved so dearly: these were the sacrifices he had made.

“I’m not going back,” he said aloud.

If anything, it was time to go deeper. Flee to Peru or Siberia, somewhere the tech couldn’t follow him, where stories of his past had never been heard and passed around like legends. He’d find another group of outcasts to glom onto, maybe teach their children how to shoot and kill, prepare them for the coming war.

Gordon hesitated, but finally willed himself to take that first step towards the tree line. Soon, he had passed through the greenbelt and come out on the east side of the compound near the vegetable gardens run by Sam Reed and his boys. A dirt path took Gordon to the plaza where half a dozen men stood sipping water from canteens. Around them were ATV flatbeds loaded with freshly cut firewood. A group of younger boys were transferring the wood to wheelbarrows so they could distribute it to the roughly thirty families lived and work at LPS. Last year’s winter had been the worst Texas had seen in decades. No one was going to suffer through a cold night this year, not if Clemons had anything to say about it.

Tyler Clemons nodded to Gordon as he passed. The former golden boy at Mac Haik Temple still talked like a used car salesman, but even Gordon could detect the sincerity in his voice. If Russell Hildebrand had actually died from his pneumonia last winter, Gordon was pretty sure Clemons would have climbed down into that little boy’s grave and stayed there until he joined him on the other side.

And yet something about the man didn’t sit right with Gordon.

He managed a curt nod and continued on his way. Past the double-wide trailers, Gordon took a northerly turn and ended up near the small stream that ran through the compound. Across a newly built footbridge and up an abrupt rise was his cabin, complete with its own bathroom and separate bedroom. Those hadn’t come with the cabin when he got it, but he’d found that home improvement was just as effective as counting when it came to keeping the memories down. So he’d redone the interior, added his own water closet, and finally the bedroom, of which his twin bed filled half.

Gordon stepped inside and left the door open behind him.

The main room was big enough. A fireplace sat between two wooden rockers. Facing them was a couch with new upholstery done by Jessie’s aunt. Directly ahead, a small refrigerator buzzed from the half-kitchen. There was no stove, but the hot plate was sufficient for making a quick meal. To the right was Gordon’s dining table, not that he could remember ever eating dinner there. Most of his meals came from the cafeteria where he could sit around expansive picnic tables with like-minded individuals who had withdrawn from a world that was spiraling out of control.

Withdrawn from a government that wanted to enslave them.

From corporations that wanted to exploit them.

From a population too frightened to believe that salvation could come from within, from the innocent men and women trapped in the system.

Gordon crossed the room and stood next to the rocking chair. He fingered his belt until his holster started to slide down his leg, leaving the Sig safely tucked in his other hand. With a groan, he collapsed into the chair and put his head back. It was too early in the morning to be feeling his age, but the cold always made the creaks worse. His mind jumped forward, playing out the scene to come. For once, he didn’t start counting.

Instead, he closed his eyes and waited.

Sometime later, footsteps sounded from the door.

When Gordon opened his eyes, he saw the small frame of a woman standing in silhouette except for her hair, which burned a fiery red. From the center of the shadow, gold dots stared back at him across the gulf.

Gordon steadied the Sig on the arm of the chair.

“What took you so long?” he asked.

Hayden Island

FEED://banks.media/celebtracker {DANNY GUNS MONTREAL. Seen walking around the flower district in Portland, OR at 18:45:39 PST with TANZY. Got into I.C.E-1 branded SUV after eating at Che La Vie. DEVELOPING.}

The SUV followed I-5 north for several miles before taking the exit for Hayden Island, curling its way downward into a misplaced suburbia on the northern edge of Oregon. Well-to-do Portlandians hurried across the wide roads in their dense jogging suits, their reflective limbs catching the light from the SUV’s LEDs. Moon towers floated above retail parking lots, their pinpricks of illumination supported by tall, unyeilding stems. Danny watched the pedestrian parade roll by, took note of the few cars they passed.

Lexus. Audi. Tesla.

Real estate opportunities on Hayden Island were effectively nil, so it spoke to I.C.E-1’s power and influence that they had carved out their own little section of the moated sanctuary. Tanzy had never talked about how much money her hacktivist collective brought in every quarter, but Danny was sure it was orders of magnitude higher than what he earned in his solo endeavors.

Rusted train tracks passed over the SUV’s moon roof, briefly illuminating the interior. Danny noticed Tanzy’s hand on the knee of her crossed leg, tapping out a rhythm that was either anxiety or anticipation.

“It was nice of you to finally come up,” said Tanzy, noticing his gaze.

Danny nodded as he turned to the window again. “It was time. You live in Umbra long enough, you start to think the rest of the world doesn’t exist. It’s nice to see there are still normal people walking around.”

“Normals. The affluent aren’t normals.” She gestured to a passing row of boats on trailers. “They’re our meal ticket. Client and victim, all in one convenient package. It just goes to show you, babe; it’s not about having the right product, it’s about selling to the right people.”

Danny bit back his own sarcasm and nodded politely. Perhaps later after they had rolled around in the sheets a bit he would say something about her schooling him on the basics of business, but not here, not in front of her driver and the muscle sitting in the passenger seat. As the figurehead of I.C.E-1, Tanzy’s authority was above question, and guests who didn’t temper their responses with the necessary deference often felt the full force of that authority.

Another flash of a streetlight. A smirk on Tanzy’s face.

The SUV made a tight turn into a row of trees that held close to the road for about a quarter mile before opening up into a large clearing. A squat, two-story building sat in the middle of the clearing surrounding by fifteen-foot high fencing tipped with razor wire. Robotic sentries stood on high pedestals at eight points, scanning for threats. As the SUV entered the clearing, low guide lights rose from the side of the road, illuminating the car from all sides. The gate opened automatically, and the guard at the booth gave a small nod to the driver as they passed through.

“Isn’t this a little much?”

Tanzy shook her head. “You can never spend too much on security.” She leaned forward to speak to the driver. “Up front is fine, Miguel.”

They stopped in front two massive, steel doors and a guard was at Tanzy’s door in an instant. Danny let himself out of the SUV and walked around it to join her.

To the left of the door, a small brass plate read simply, “I.C.E-1.”

“Welcome to my home, Mr. Guns.”

Inside, the headquarters of I.C.E-1 looked just like any other generic office space, with hallways stretching out to the left and right, carpeted with blue hexagons on a green background. Framed reproductions of the Portland skyline dotted the walls between doors. Tanzy ignored the hallways and walked through the double doors on the far side of the foyer.

The decor shifted to pure minimalism: white walls, thin black lines framing doorways, and a light gray grid on the floor. The lobby was larger than Danny’s apartment back in Umbra, and the cavernous space made the receptionist and her desk look tiny.

Tanzy gestured to the girl. “My niece, Evangeline.” She cupped her hand to her mouth. “Long-ass name, kinda rolls off the tongue like a brick into shit.”

Danny tried not to laugh as Evangeline approached.

“How are things tonight, Eva?” asked Tanzy, her voice echoing.

“Just a few messages, Aunt T. Also your guest arrived about an hour ago. I set him up in your waiting room.”

Tanzy stopped in the middle of the room. She gestured to Danny. “My guest is standing right here.”

“Oh,” said Evangaline, “I just thought.” Confusion swept over her widening eyes.

“You let someone into my office without an appointment?” She looked back at the guard standing just inside the door. “How did they get into the building?”

“Not just someone…”

Tanzy reached for her waistband under her jacket and withdrew a metallic 9mm. She started for her office doors.

Evangeline ran to intercept her. “No, no, it’s okay. It’s Mr. Coker. I recognized him from the feeds. He didn’t have an appointment, but I didn’t think you’d want me to turn him away.”

Benny Coker?” asked Danny. “White Line Benny Coker?”

The girl nodded.

“Does this happen often?”

Tanzy shrugged. “You know those types. Think they can just barge into any collective in the country and start throwing their money around. I like the money part, but I can’t stand the audacity.”

“What are you going to do?”

She slipped the 9mm into the back of her pants and motioned to a door on the left. “I suppose there’s no harm in hearing him out. You don’t mind, do you?”

“Pass up a chance to watch you do business? I can’t think of anything hotter.”

“Let me dispatch this feed monger, and then I’ll show you the meaning of hot.” Then, louder, to Evangeline, “Give me five and then bring him in.”

Danny followed her through several backrooms, including a doorway that was partially hidden behind a shelf full of empty computer cases. The door opened into her private bathroom and from there they stepped into her office. She walked to the front of her desk and turned to Danny.

“How do I look?”

She wore dark jeans that hugged her legs, a white shirt that hung loosely over her waist, and a black jacket of luminescent leather. A hand-knit scarf of purple and black wrapped around her neck. Wavy hair framed a natural face, its color matching the plastic frames of her glasses.

“Like the queen of Portland. A pleasure to be in your company, your Highness.”

Tanzy rolled her eyes, smoothed out her shirt, and gave her breasts a quick lift with both hands.

Two short raps came from the door, and then they opened to reveal Evangeline and a middle-aged man in a dark blue suit. He removed his sparkling white cowboy hat when he saw Tanzy.

“Now what is owner of the third-largest media feed in the country doing so far from the Jersey Shore?”

Benny smiled in return, nodded to Danny. “Sorry for dropping by unannounced. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Ms. Tanzy.” He held out a hand in greeting.

“Please, just call me Tanzy,” she replied, shaking his hand. She jerked her head towards Danny. “This is Felipe, my sex slave. You may call him slave or boy.”

“Oh, no,” said Benny, chuckling. “I’ve seen enough feed to recognize Danny Guns Montreal when I see him. I meet celebrities all the time at my casino, but I can honestly say this is a real pleasure.”

Danny shook hands with the man, felt the sweat already building in his palms.

“If you ever get out to the East Coast,” continued Benny, “give me a ring. I’ll set you up at the White Dragon, on the house.”

DIY Gladiator Garageworks Mini-rails

Because the price of rails is too damn high!

If you called me up and said Hey Daniel, these guys are gonna kill me unless you cut me some French cleats free-hand with a circular saw, I would calmly reply well you better go to your happy place because you’re about to get straight-up murdered.

After viewing April Wilkerson’s French Cleat System video, I thought to myself maybe this is the excuse I need to finally get a table saw! But at over $300 for a good one, I decided to put off this purchase and try doing the 45-degree length-wise cuts myself. As you can see from the photo above, I failed miserably.

Dejected, I decided to just order some new bins for my existing Gladiator Garageworks system ($). As I was adding the new rails (which honestly aren’t that expensive), I realized they are overkill for what I wanted.

So I just ordered the bins direct from Whirpool (Amazon doesn’t have them in stock) and waited for them to arrive.

Then, PROJECT!

Measuring for mini-rails

Since screws and nails don’t weigh that much, we don’t need the full Gladiator rail system. All we really need is a lip on a mount. Lip on a mount. Lip on a mount.

That’s fun to write.

Cut the lips

I had some scrap wood (I think 1/4″?) that fit nicely into the tabs on the back of the bins. So I cut those into 2 1/4″ strips.

Man that scrap wood is terrible. Splintering all over the place. Thank god for eye protection.

You should test the fit of the scraps you cut. If you want to be fancy-pants, you can make the strips actually fit snugly. It’s a game of eights though, so be careful or you’re gonna have to do some sanding.

Cut the mounts

Use a thicker piece of scrap to cut the mounts. I believe I chose a 1/4″ as the lip depth, but who knows at this point? I wasn’t really keeping track.

Glue those bastards together. On the first rail, I used the smallest screws I could find. Then I discovered you can use brad nails, which is so much more fun! Find the shortest brads and put one in each end. Then cut the excess off with some dikes.

Make sure you use some glue. That’s what all the pros are always saying, anyway.

Repeat the process

Build as many rails as you want. I did six before I got really bored with this project and wanted to go inside to play video games.

Find a place to mount the rails

Again, stealing an idea from April, I decided to mount the rails on the inside of the door to my water heaters. That would keep them out of sight and make the garage look cleaner. Double win.

Take note that if you’re gonna do this, you have to account for the lip on the doorjamb as well as the length of the bin (where it might hit another door or jamb as it closes). I was able to fit 4 of the Gladiator bins on each row under these constraints.

Done!

After mounting all the rails and the bins, take a step back and admire your work.

Do not be fooled by the angle of the picture. I assure you they’re level. Probably.

24 new bins for holding stuff! How exciting. I was running out of space in my old bin storage unit. If I fill up these guys, I’ll repeat the process on the other door. Now you know.

Alright, I think that’s enough BSIY posts for this year. I should probably get back to writing a new book or–gross–exercise.
 

BSIY Fold-down Workbench

Because you park your cars in your garage like a good American

Oh, Saturdays. Is there anything better than a Saturday with nothing else to do? You wake up, cook yourself some chorizo and eggs, pop a few Ripped Fuel pills, and decide to build yourself a fold-down workbench in the garage.

Also because the Longhorns don’t play until six.

Let’s talk supplies

Head over to Home Depot in your SUV and purchase the following:

  • 4′ by 4′ plank — if you go longer than 6 feet wide, you may have to add another foot. That will look weird. And where will you attach it?!
  • (3) 2x4x8 — whatever color, material you like
  • Piano hinge
  • (2) 3″ bolts in 1/2″ diameter w/ nuts.
  • A latch! — Something like this.
  • Some screws — wood screws, 2.5″ or 3″

Make sure you purchase all of these things together, take them out to your car, and not be able to fit the 4’x4′ plank into your Nissan Rogue. You’ll really enjoy having to go back into Home Depot to have them cut the plank for you.

Measure out the framing

As April Wilkerson points out, you want to put the frame a few inches from the edge of the plank so you can use clamps. Measure, make some marks, do a little dance.

A speed square makes makes this speedy and square

I went all the way around before I realized that one edge of the plank is going to have the frame flush against the wall. So, you can do all four corners, but be sure to measure from one edge to one intersection for the boards.

Cut three sides of the frame

As I learned in the previous Mirror Framing Incident of 2016, it’s a crap-shoot to measure and assemble a frame by itself and then try to fit it to something. Instead, measure the sides one-by-one and screw them into place somehow. April drilled holes for pocket screws; I couldn’t figure that out at all! I just clamped the boards into place and screwed up from underneath.

You can go all gangsta pocket holes on the cross beam if you want, or, just screw in from the sides.

Complete the frame

At first, I cut a board to fit snugly in the open space. Then, I realized I wanted the eventual legs to fold flat against the bench when it was stowed. This meant leaving enough room on the sides for the legs. Here’s the progression.

I used some scrap to size the new board. I was so proud of myself for being smart.

Attach board to wall

Now, why are we doing this step now instead of after the feet are cut? Well, smart-ass, maybe you forgot that your garage floor isn’t level! Yeah, now who’s writing this post?

Anyway, grab a level and your favorite drill, find some studs, and just go to town. That means whatever you want it to mean.

If this is the first time you’ve ever attached a board to a wall, try putting the center screw in first, but don’t tighten it all the way. Then you can rotate the board until it is level, drill a pilot hole, and screw it into place. The more you know, right?

Make one good leg and one crappy leg

This really is the hardest part because who knows how legs work.

Note: If you mounted the board on the wall at your desired height in the CENTER of the board, then one leg will be slightly shorter than that height and one leg will be slightly longer. That’s all I can say about that because it’s too complicated and you’re an adult.

Here’s the sequence I used for the second leg.

  1. Use a speed square to mark 45 degree angles from both corners (making an X)
  2. Drill a 1/2″ hole at the X
  3. Put the board in place in the workbench and clamp it down. Use the existing hole to drill into the frame.
  4. Remove the leg and trace a circle that is centered around the hole you drilled. Surely something in your garage is the right size.
  5. Use a jigsaw to cut the half-circle

I decided to cut both boards to “a little longer than final” so that I could get them attached and see how much I needed to cut off to get level.

The crappy leg — don’t just make a lot of marks and hope it works!

Clamp, drill, etc…

Left leg is shorter than the work surface; right leg is longer. This will make sense later.

Test the fit on the wall

You can now put the workbench on the really sturdy board you attached earlier. Test the level and adjust the length of the legs as necessary. I’m not gonna lie — my first-try legs produced a perfectly level surface. Yeah, that’s right, first try.

You can see how badly I mangled the left leg at the top.

Latch it up, latch it down

We’re coming to the step where we’re going to attach the plank to the board on the wall. To do that, we need a way to keep it against the wall while we work. Use a scrap piece of plank (from the piece the Home Depot guys had to cut for you because you don’t know the size of your car).

Measure, attach it to the wall, and put the latch on it.

You can use the second half of the latch on the plank if that’s your style.

Attach the piano hinge

The hinge I got from Home Depot was 4 feet long and needed to be cut down to size. Figure out which way it’s supposed to bend and attach the plank to the board on the wall.

Once you’ve filled all 89-bajillion holes in the hinge, your bench should look something like this.

Another cross beam

The keen observer will note an extra cross beam in the previous photo that was heretofore unmentioned. This keeps both legs in sync as they fold out and also keeps the legs from coming out too far when you extend the bench.

Attach the cross beam while the bench is folded out and put the beam right below the framing.

Depending on how much attention you pay to your projects, you might be able to get both sides of the cross beam flush with the framing.

WARNING: This beam creates an excellent space to mash your fingers!

Put your car in your garage

Fold your work bench up and pull your Japanese car into your American garage like the thoughtful neighbor you are. Seriously, why do people park ten cars in their driveways? Or worse, on the street? Or worse, on the street in front of my house?!

It’s a thing of beauty.


Disclaimer: This edition of BSIY was kind of a cheat because I watched this video of April Wilkerson building a DIY Fold Down Workbench. She’s really amazing and details every step of the build. If you’re actually interested in building one of these, I fully recommend you watch her video.

She even has plans available on her website (for a small fee), but that kinda defeats the purpose of Bullshit-It-Yourself, doesn’t it? Come on, only a lame-o uses plans and schematics. You’re not a lame-o; you’re a bad-ass BSIY vato.

Disclaimer 2: I only took on this project to justify buying a jigsaw. Don’t tell Dom.