Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Captain's Log, Day 187: Let's Call This Research

          I made the decision one day after staring in frustration at one of my manuscripts. See, I'd just written my protagonist into a bit of a corner, and now he was engaged in a high-speed chase down a partially-blocked street. There was no way his car could fit through the gap.
          Ugh, I hated doing that. After a moment's thought, I decided on a logical conclusion. I'd just change out my protagonist's car for a motorcycle. Perfect. I could even do that without much editing to the scene! (The thought of rewriting the surroundings somehow never occurred to me.)
          There was only one problem. I had no idea how to ride a motorcycle, and I liked making my scenes as realistic as possible. I shrugged and pulled open my internet browser, searching for used motorcycles. Hmm, they were a lot cheaper than I expected. Time for a trip to the DMV!
          When I walked in, the DMV was actually fairly deserted (fortunately; I hate lines!). I went up to the counter and politely inquired how I could go about getting a motorcycle license.
          The DMV official behind the counter shrugged. "Well, do you have a permit?"
          I shook my head. "No. Do I need one?"
          He gave me an odd look. "Well, yes. You have to take the written test first; if you pass, you get your permit. Then you come back later with a bike and you can take the driving test. If you pass that, you get your motorcycle endorsement on your driver's license."
          "Ah." I thought for a moment. "What classes do I have to take?"
          "Well, are you over eighteen?"
          I fought back a laugh. He was the fifth guy that week to ask me that question; the other four had included a couple of very skeptical bouncers who had been fairly convinced that I had a fake ID. "I just turned 26."
          He blinked. "Okay. Then no."
          "How much to take the written test?"
          "First three times are free," he explained. "Fail three times, and we start charging you ten dollars per attempt."
          "Fair enough." I handed him my driver's license on a whim. "Sign me up!"
          After a heroic effort to not roll his eyes at the wildly unqualified nuisance, the DMV official took my driver's license and assigned me a computer. I sat down, fully prepared to fail but amused at my own audacity, and...passed, ten minutes later. Reflecting on the wisdom behind the old saying "fake it until you make it" and wondering if there was a "BS clause" somewhere in there, I returned to the counter. "Okay, got it!"
          The DMV official handed me back my license. "Well, you can come back and try again later--"
          "Actually, I passed," I informed him.
          He checked his computer. "Oh. Um...well...good job. Here's the paperwork?"
          I filled it out as quickly as possible and left with a permit before the DMV could change his mind and reevaluate the permit requirements. A week later, I'd purchased a cheap motorcycle of the "crotch rocket" variety (I'm informed they're called "sport bikes," but I think the other moniker is funnier) for testing purposes.
          Bear in mind, I'd still never ridden one before. Much less started one. I got it to my house via trailer and pushing. By the time I'd pushed the bike off the trailer, parked it in the garage, and returned the trailer, it was too late to try my first ride. I decided it would be the next day, when I went to Taekwondo. (Needless to say, I'd be taking back roads.)
          The next day got crazy busy, but I somehow managed to finish up work with an hour to spare before I had to leave to Taekwondo. I grabbed my helmet, wheeled the motorcycle out of the garage, and turned the key to start it.
          Click. Nothing happened.
          I flipped the key again. Still nothing. Hmm. I examined the labels around the key hole. Off, On, Lock. Must not be a Start option up there. I switched it to on and started looking for another button to start the bike. A small thumb button near my right thumb looked promising, so I pushed that. Still nothing.
          Okay, I knew this bike worked, since the previous owner had driven it around for me. Why wasn't this thing starting--oh, wait...the big red rocker switch on the right handlebar had two pictures on it: one with an engine and one with an engine with a big red X through it. The rocker switch was currently pushed to the side with the X. I switched it back and tried the thumb button again.
          The bike started.
          I grinned triumphantly and tried to kick up on the shifter to get it in gear. The bike lurched and stalled. After a few seconds of thought, I remembered that motorcycles are manual vehicles (there had been a clutch question that I'd somehow successfully guessed on the DMV test) and that I'd forgotten to pull in the clutch. Oops. I grabbed the clutch lever, pulled it in, and downshifted back into neutral before I started the bike. Then, after I started it, I pulled the clutch in again, kicked the shifter up, and slowly released the clut--
          The bike died again.
          Fifteen minutes later, I was still not grasping this whole "shifting" thing and was getting annoyed. I stomped into the house to grab my computer, reflecting on the inadequacy of the DMV test for actually determining readiness for motorcycle driving, and googled "How to Shift a Motorcycle." I almost smacked myself. According to the article, neutral existed between first and second gear, which meant you had to shift down to get into first, then up to get into second. I'd been trying to go straight to second like a complete moron. (I was way too used to the four-wheeler I'd driven growing up, which also had a foot shifter but had all the gears lined up, neutral-first-second-etc.) I was also a little mad with myself for not figuring that out, because of course you don't accidentally want to put the bike into neutral on the road. Duh.
          Man, I was really getting my money's worth out of this experiment. And just for one scene in my book...
          I went back out for another try. After forgetting about the stupid clutch on my first try, my second try had me rolling out the driveway and down the street (about thirty minutes later than I'd expected to leave the house, but hey--I gave myself an hour for a reason). I burned the remaining thirty minutes getting to Taekwondo via the most remote back roads I could find, only killing the bike three times at stop signs because I kept forgetting about the friggin' clutch. (It's worth noting that, on the trip back, I didn't stall it at all!)
          I didn't quit practicing, though. After a few weeks, I was comfortable enough to begin training for my book scene as well as my motorcycle endorsement test...
          ...but that's another story.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Captain's Log, Day 186: It's a Fort! It's a Cave! It's a...Hammock?

          "Guys, I'm booored," Quill blurted out.
          "You're just mad 'cuz you're losing," Radar shot back, reaching over to help himself to the rapidly dwindling pile of cash in front of her.
          His sister swatted his hand away. "Hey! Quit it!"
          "Then pay up," Radar retorted, pointing at the Monopoly board. "You owe me two thousand dollars for landing on Boardwalk."
          Nemesis smirked, knowing full well that Radar was coming up on his half of the board and would likely be turning all that money over to him shortly. Quill's jaw dropped. "It is not, you cheater! Last time it was only six hundred!"
          "Yeah, like, ages ago--before I put the hotel on it," Radar said, sticking his tongue out.
          "When did you do that?"
          "Right after I landed on his railroad," Nemesis grumbled, smirk vanishing into the memory of lost cash.
          Quill held out her hand. "Let me see the card!"
          "Sure, but it's not going to--"
          "Oh, just gimme!" She snatched it out of his hand and studied it. Then, with a huff, she threw it down. "I don't have that much."
          "You lose!" Radar said cheerfully, scooping up all her cash.
          "Can we do something else?" Quill begged as her incredibly competitive brothers started trying to stare each other down.
          Nemesis blinked first and tried to disguise it by counting his money. "Like what? Mom said it's too rainy and cold to go outside, and I don't wanna anyway."
          "We could asked Mom if we could watch a show," Squirrel suggested, wandering back over. (She'd been knocked out of the game a while ago; her age and her general distaste for math dictated an early loss.)
          Radar snorted. "Yeah, good luck with that. She'd in a mood."
          "She wouldn't be if you hadn't messed up the kitchen!" Quill retorted grumpily.
          "Hey, at least I was trying to help!" he protested. "What were you doing again? Oh right, sleeping."
          Squirrel made a move towards the stairs. "Well maybe she has some ideas--"
          "DON'T!" her three siblings chorused in unison, stopping her in her tracks. She blinked and looked at them quizzically. Radar sighed and elaborated. "She'll make us do chores. You want to clean the bathrooms?"
          "Oh." Squirrel sat down on the couch and grabbed a quilt, throwing it over her head. "Quill, want to play house?"
          Quill made a face. "Again?"
          Radar snapped his fingers. (Well, he tried to. Didn't quite have the technique yet--he wouldn't get that down until he was about twelve, but he still liked the affectation.) "I know what we can do! But first--Nemesis, how much money do you have?"
          His brother eyed him suspiciously. "Why?"
          "So we know who won," Radar reasoned, looking down at his huge pile of bills and comparing it to Nemesis's relatively tiny pile.
          "Oh, sure." Nemesis started counting.
          It turned out that Nemesis had actually won--he'd been slyly converting his stacks of cash into five-hundred-dollar bills when no one was watching, allowing him to lull his lazier brother into a false sense of security. Since he also had one more property than Radar, he was declared the ultimate winner over his brother's protests. Radar promptly declared winner cleans up to sooth his wounded ego and departed the room in a huff.
          "What was your idea?" Quill yelled after him.
          "I'm getting it!" Radar's voice came echoing back from the general direction of his bedroom, voice slightly muffled.
          There were a few confused looks exchanged by the siblings before a general consensus was reached: Radar probably didn't have any good ideas and he'd just retreated to sulk and try to buy himself some time. He'd probably come come back out with a Lego set or something--
          A loud crash prompted some recalculating. Nemesis and Quill decided not to go check up on him, though--if he'd broken something, it would be better for them to not be in the immediate vicinity when the hammer of justice came down. They had the Monopoly set mostly put back in the box by the time Radar appeared, weighted down with all of the blankets from both his and Nemesis's beds.
          "Hey, I just made the bed this morning!" Nemesis complained.
          "So?" Radar reasoned, tossing a blanket at him. "Let's make blanket forts!"
          There was a brief pause while everyone considered the proposal; then, with a speed that would rival a cheetah's, the other three disbanded to raid every single closet and bed in the house. (Except for the parental unit's bed, of course--that would have triggered the hammer of justice.) Radar, rolling his eyes at their inefficiency, promptly confiscated all of the quilts off the downstairs quilt rack and disassembled the sofa, removing all the cushions to make a house with. By the time everyone reconvened, he'd also stolen the small picnic table to use in his creation and would have gone after the little playhouse in the corner if the girls hadn't threatened to tattle on him for hoarding.
          "Fine," Radar sniffed. "But I get the train table." (Currently cleared off, it was normally where they played with their wooden train sets.)
          "Only if I get the picnic table," Nemesis bartered, knowing full well that there was no way his brother would give that up (it was the superior fort-making table, since you could make levels in the fort with the bench seats). Radar surprised him, however, by accepting the deal. His siblings snickered at him and they all got to work.
          Since the eldest had a slight time advantage, he was done with his fort first--without using the train table. The table was a top that was set inside a wooden box frame; Radar removed the top, draped a blanket over the frame, making sure that three sides were covered, then replaced the top. It fit very snugly. He was forced to jump on the table top a few times to get it to seat properly. Then, he started filling crates with books and putting them on the table. This was not normal fort-making behavior, so his siblings began gathering.
          "What's that for?" Quill asked.
          "I'm making a cave," Radar explained. He draped blankets over three sides of the table and tucked them under the crates. Then, he stretched a blanket from his main fort over to the uncovered/untucked side, securing it. "Check this out!"
          Curious, they followed him inside. Radar proudly showed off his fort, leaving the train table for last. When they finally crawled there, Quill pointed to the blanket that was pinned above them on three sides, the weight of the table top and the assorted crates above pinning it firmly to the frame. "Cool. You made a ceiling!"
          Radar grinned smugly. "No, that's my cave!"
          There was a chorus of "Huh?" Radar reached up and pulled on the free end, opening it up so there was a little pocket created between the table top and the blanket. Then, to the astonishment of his siblings, he crawled up and inside. The blanket sagged considerably, but no further than half the distance to the floor, leaving Radar suspended in a hammock of sorts. There was a collective gasp, followed by a series of demands to be allowed to try it out. Radar reappeared at the opening to block the wild attempts to clamber in, reasoning that it wouldn't hold that many siblings.
          "How did you think of this?" Nemesis asked enviously.
          "Remember when we were at that hotel and we both rolled off the sides of the bed and ended up tucked in the blankets on the sides?" Radar asked, grinning proudly. "Well, when we made the tunnel for the trains last week and I tucked the quilt in on the side of the train table, I got this idea!" He wrinkled his nose. "I just forgot until now. So now my cave has two stories!" He flipped over on his back and tapped the underside of the table. "Three, if you count the outside."
          "Neat," Squirrel said enviously, crawling under Radar's rump to the back of the cave.
          "Quill, you're next," Radar decided, wanting to stay in but acknowledging that more praise would be forthcoming if his siblings got to try out the "second story of the cave" for themselves.
          He wasn't wrong, either. The cave was a hit.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Captain's Log, Day 185: Deer Me!

          Some kids are born troublemaking, some kids achieve troublemaking, and others have troublemaking thrust upon them. I was of the last category, but only because Dad wouldn't let me borrow the ax when I was twelve.
          "Nemesis! Wanna go make some forts in the woods?"
          My brother looked up from his car book. "I dunn--"
          "Well, Mom's going to kick us outside anyway," I added as an afterthought. "She's kinda mad." I neglected to mention that I was the one who ticked her off by more or less destroying the kitchen in an unsanctioned attempt to make muffins.
          Nemesis didn't bother with any follow-up questions. No one messed with Ma when she was on the warpath. "Sure, let's go."
          "I'll get the ax," I volunteered.
          "Dad says--"
          I waved a hand airily. "Oh, it's fine. He just doesn't want you getting hurt. I'll go down and check on the chickens--" I made some air quotes, "--and hide it in the woods over behind the barn. We can go in the woods behind the house and circle around to get it and no one will know!"
          Nemesis acquiesced, secure in the knowledge that it was my kiester--literally--that would be in the line of fire should our parents find out I was messing with the ax. I departed the house via the downstairs window before our enraged mother could hunt me down and made a beeline for the barn. Ax safely hidden in the woods, I met up with Nemesis and took twenty minutes to retrieve said ax because we insisted on having swordfights with every downed branch we found in the valley.
          The valley was in the woods. There were a lot of downed branches.
          Now, everyone knows location is the most important aspect of fort construction. Nemesis and I crisscrossed the woods, trying to figure out the best place to place the headquarters of our path to world domination. (We got a little ambitious. Something about that forest...) Eventually, we settled on a spot that would later turn out to be the location for some tree houses. However, we weren't time travelers, so we didn't care. Also, all our forts inevitably fell apart with the first good wind.
          We didn't mind. 80% of the fun of a fort was the construction process.
          I got to work with the ax, chopping up the longer deadwood littering the area and making a small pile next to me for use in future ramparts. Nemesis located smaller wood chunks that were already suited for walls. At least, that's what he was supposed to be doing; in reality, he kept getting sidetracked by cool stuff he found. I eventually got used to him wandering off and just kept working with the single-minded determination of one who knows that he's gonna be the one to name their creation.
          After a while, though, I heard a lot of crashing coming from behind me. I initially assumed Nemesis had slipped and fallen down the hill (we were building on a plateau in the hillside), but the crashing continued for far longer than I though it really should've. I mean, my brother was clumsy, but he wasn't that clumsy. Also, the noise was getting closer. I put the ax on my shoulder (you know, like a real lumberjack would) and turned around to see what was going--
          I came face to face with a deer.
          No joke. There was a giant buck, antlers and everything, about fifteen feet away from me and closing fast. It was fairly obvious that he would be all up in my kool-aid in about two seconds, so I let out a decidedly un-heroic squeak, dropped the ax, and dove to the side. The big guy thundered by, almost hitting me with his shoulder as he passed. Seemingly oblivious to the small child he'd almost flattened like a pancake, he disappeared over the ridge.
          I watched him vanish into the forest, part of me still keyed up from the sudden wildlife encounter and part of me disappointed that, when my life had flashed before my eyes, I still didn't know where I'd lost my favorite remote-control truck. You'd think with my highlight reel being that short, there'd be more useful information contained within.
          It took me a moment to remember that I'd come out here with a brother. When the realization hit me, I spun around to try to locate him.
          He was fine--he was standing behind and uphill from me, mouth open as he stared at the spot where the buck had dropped out of sight. He caught me staring at him and closed his mouth with some difficulty. "Radar! Did you see that?"
          "See it?" I demanded. "I almost got hit by it!"
          "I know! That was so cool!" Nemesis yelled.
          "Why didn't you warn me?" I yelped.
          He closed his mouth and shrugged. "Forgot."
          I thought about yelling at him, but decided that it would be wasted breath. Besides, now I had a great story to tell everyone. I pushed myself up into a sitting position...and promptly discovered that the story would need some editing.
          I'd dropped the ax on my foot. Blade down.
          "Ow," I muttered, examining the gash. Fortunately, the ax had landed across my foot, so the bones kept the blade from penetrating too far; also, I wasn't that tall yet, so there wasn't much time for the ax to build up speed. Still, I was leaking a lot of blood.
          Nemesis wandered over. "Oh. Ouch. Did you hit yourself with the ax?"
          I glared at him. "No, I dropped it on my foot when I almost got run over by the deer that you didn't warn me about!" I pushed the ax away, wiped my hand off on my shirt (a wasted exercise; my t-shirt was dirtier than my hands were), and slapped my hand over my foot. Then I looked at Nemesis' feet. He was wearing boots. (Not a member of the "Forever Barefoot" club like me. Something about "splinters and thorns"...) "Are you wearing socks?"
          He shook his head. "No."
          "Ugh, fine." I took stock of my situation. There was only one thing left to do.
          I'll leave my solution out of this, because it was a little gross even though it was effective. Let's just say I hopped home; that's sort of true. Nemesis and I bragged about the deer all the way back, too. After I stashed the ax in the woods, I washed off my foot in the mudroom, forgetting that I would also be washing off what little clotting happened. Needless to say, I tracked blood through the entire house. Ma was not pleased with me.
          I did manage to get my cut hidden under several band-aids and told Mom that I cut my foot on "something" while "dodging a giant deer!" There was some skepticism until Nemesis backed up my story. He also left out the ax part; I'd impressed upon him the importance of keeping that part of the story secret, pointing out that the ax was technically "something" and the deer portion of the story was more interesting anyway.
          Especially since the deer had antlers. Nemesis claimed there were "fifteen! Like at least fifteen antlers!" I claimed twenty, and informed him that "I was closer, so it was easier to count!" (Neither of us were very good at math yet, apparently.)
          Anyway, we successfully distracted Mom so she didn't yell at us for the mess. We did have to help clean up, though.
          Still one of the coolest things that ever happened to me! I bragged for years...you've almost hit a deer? Well, I almost had a deer hit ME!
          Note: Now that I think about it, there probably weren't "twenty antlers" on that deer. Probably closer to "twenty-five."
          Just sayin'.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Captain's Log, Day 184: A Log of 2017

          As is tradition, here is my recap of--huh? What's that?

          Well, apparently I forgot to make a recap for 2016. In my defense, it was a weird year.

          THIS year, however, I'm doing my duty for future generations and summing up 2017. I know people will be so interested in what I did before I got famous (and, future generations, I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume it's the exact same stuff I'm doing now, with fewer gadgets). Read on for a snapshot of my life!

          January: I completely neglected (as I mentioned) to provide a recap of 2016, possibly and erroneously assuming that my update on the Midway family would suffice for a recap. Even if that did count, that was kinda cheating on my part, since I only wrote about a fourth of it. January was kind of a busy month for me; I finished releasing Off the Radar and I decided that I was getting a little bored with my current job. I decided to shop around for new jobs on the offhand chance that a) someone wanted to hire me and b) there was a job that I was actually interested in. I put my new resume up on a couple job-hunting sites and...

          February: ...got flooded with interview requests. Didn't get any writing done, unfortunately; I was attending interviews. Oh, and house shopping, in case I wanted to stay in the area. And running; for some reason, there was a 70-degree warm spell, which was freaking PHENOMENAL! (I hate winter.) Not much to report there.

          March: Interviews were halted abruptly when I found out a company I'd really liked was hiring. I promptly sent in a resume and crossed my fingers. While waiting, I got some work done on Lost, finishing that book up, and started on Voidwalker. I also took a break to make a small report and display some cover art before getting to work on cleaning up Deadman Switch for publication. And all that work stopped when I got hired by the company I was hoping for!

          April: I spent about half of this month on the road, driving from South Dakota to Minnesota and back. I was still working at my previous company, but I timed my two-week notice out so I only had three days off to move all my crap. I managed to find an apartment in record time, but (since I was moving pretty much by myself) I had to take four or five trips back and forth to complete the move. In a 48-hour period, I spent about 30+ hours on the road. Kinda sucked, but the Dodger took it like a champ. I was also finishing up the Deadman Switch book cover, programming myself a website and working on my boat, so I slept maybe three hours. That month.

          May: Same thing: boat, book, and...um...what's a word for "website" that starts with "b"? I got nothing. I was also thrown headfirst into my new job and seriously enjoying it. Much less travel this month, though. I was grateful for that.

          June: I finished up the Deadman Switch book cover, as well as my author website, Facebook page, Instagram, and Twitter. (Figured I'd hit the big three there.) Once that was done, I published my novel...and got my first feedback not even 12 hours later. Five stars! Guess someone liked it! With that completed, I got into an argument with someone of stature little and started writing about college stuff in order to win a bet. (I'm still working on it, but I WILL WIN IT. Just have to finish writing these stories down! You're gonna lose, Shorty!) Additionally, I started a new series called "Off the Top of My Head" for my author site, publishing the first post right away so it looked like I had some content up there.

          July: Work on my boat proceeded apace; I finally got the last piece in to make the Panama functional (the motor) and proceeded to spend a lot of time out on the lake. Shout-out to Rach for helping me install the engine! I mean, I had to install a new one a few weeks later when I blew a piston rod in that one, but hey--we had fun. Seriously, if you only click on one link in this, click on the Panama one. That boat is beautiful. I'm really proud of it. I also wrote another story about my college years, crossing two out of the seven stories for the bet off my list.

          August: By this point, work was getting easier (I was starting to understand it a little better now) and it was getting cold. Seriously, too cold for boating, even. I was irked, but there was nothing I could do about it. I started attending Taekwondo again, since I was back in the area of my original school, and played games with and pranks on other people. Sometimes simultaneously. I had no regrets. I also started reorganizing my files and stumbled across a really old siege engine design, so I wrote down a story about why and how I'd designed and built it.

          September: Taekwondo kicked into high gear; I started preparing for the Interschool Tournament (a Taekwondo tournament, FYI) and really began working on a few other projects I had. I also started winterizing the Panama, stopping when it got super warm so I could take her out on the lake a few more times. I also started thinking ahead to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and what I wanted to write about for that. I also added to "Off the Top of My Head" when I was a little sleep-deprived. It shows.

          October: I broke a rib a week before the Taekwondo tournament. Sadly, I resigned myself to...um...leaving the sparring (fighting) match signup, but competing in everything else--patterns, team patterns, board-breaking, and weapons demonstrations. However, once at the match, I was informed that there was a higher belt there who had signed up for sparring (he was a third degree black belt, I was a second degree black belt) who had no one to compete against. I decided to suck it up and put on my sparring gear. I somehow managed to win, despite the repeated impacts to the damaged side of my ribcage. Afterwards, I chose the smart path (for once) and took a break from Taekwondo the following week to heal. OW. I used the time to prep for NaNoWriMo and write down some advice and strategies for the month. I also reminisced about possums in a different story. Maybe you're better off not knowing.

          November: Oh gosh, check Instagram. I documented my progress with pictures. You can see exactly where I snapped and desired to edit my new book with archery. (It's not that bad; I just had an interesting day.) That's pretty much all I did, though; work, write, and...what's a word for "Taekwondo" that begins with "w"? Dang, I'm really batting zero on the alliteration tonight.

          December: I opened up the month by testing for my next rank in Taekwondo on the first. I also broke my hand because I'm an idiot sometimes, but hey--still passed (possibly because I refused to admit that I broke my hand until after the test). Perihelion bought one of my short stories, Timelock, and published it that month as well. That was my first commercial short story sale! Heck, the story about how I got it published is kind of funny all by itself, but you can read about that on my website. I also considered taking up photography, but decided that Ma pretty much had that covered.

          And that pretty much wraps up the year! Tune in this next year for:
       
          -at least two, potentially three new book releases
          -more short stories, both of the fictional and non-fictional type
          -insanity (probably)
          -winning that bet with Shorty
          -the story about how I bought my first property (haven't yet, but it's GONNA HAPPEN)
          -and a partridge in a pear tree. (Hey, it's still the Christmas season!)

          To all of you who've followed me through the creation of this blog, to the publication of my first major novel and other writing-related endeavors...thanks for sticking with me and believing in me. Wishing you all a happy and prosperous New Year!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Captain's Log, Day 183: Daredevil Photography

          "I would like to bring up a topic of general interest," Ma offered as a conversation starter.
          I looked up from my turkey/gravy/potato combination that I was currently mashing together. "Um, is it though?"
          "Hey now," she protested. "We need to have this discussion--"
          Apprehensive glances were exchanged between all siblings.
          "--about the Christmas pictures!" Ma finished.
          There was a chorus of groans. Our friend from Poland, Wojtek (he was visiting us for Thanksgiving), looked confused. "It is a problem?"
          "For those of us who are not photogenic, yeah," I grumbled, then turned to Mom. "Please tell me we're not doing formal this year."
          "That would look good," Mom mused. "But what would the girls wear?"
          I made a face at my brother Nemesis as the conversation quickly devolved into the logistics of formal wear between Mom and my sisters. "Well, that backfired."
          He shrugged placidly and kept eating. "I didn't bring my suit."
          "You could borrow one of Radar's," Ma interjected.
          "Can't get out of it that easily," I chuckled. "And I think I do have one that would fit you."
          "You do not. You're a twig!" Nemesis returned, refraining from pointing out (again) that he outweighed me by fifty pounds. It was a bit of a sore subject for me.
          I resisted the urge to kick him. "Well, last time we got a suit, Mom made them leave some room to grow," I explained. "Ergo, it's a little big for me, but it wouldn't be too snug on you. Just...don't do jumping jacks or anything like that."
          "You usually don't exercise in a suit," Wojtek noted.
          "Never stopped me," I returned through a mouthful of turkey.
          "Okay, I think we're going to do a black shirt/jeans thing," Mom announced, finishing the discussion with the girls. "Now we just have to decide where to do it."
          "We could do it on the front porch--" my sister Quill began.
          The youngest sibling, Squirrel, interrupted her older sister. "Did that the year before. Or was it two years--I forget, but we've done it already."
          I thought for a moment. "Hey, remember when we did one in the back of my truck?"
          Mom looked wary. "...yes?"
          "We already did that too," Quill pointed out. "Obviously."
          "Well, we could do a similar thing, except with my boat," I suggested. "I could hook up the trailer tomorrow, bring it out and park it in the front yard somewhere, and we could do the picture in there."
          "You could back it into the pond and we could shoot it in there," Dad joked, straight-faced.
          Ma's eyes lit up. "Hey...that's a GREAT idea!"
          I stroked my chin. "Well, if we could get some boards down--wait, isn't the pond frozen?"
          "It's not that thick," Mom said excitedly. "And we could get the dogs on board and--"
          "Dear, I was kidding," Dad protested.
          "Okay, first off, there shall be no dogs on my boat," I said firmly. "Second off, I'm not shoving the Panama into a bunch of ice. It would scratch the paint."
          "But it would be so funny!" Ma protested. "Please, could we--"
          "Not unless you're willing to shell out another three grand for a new paint job," I said. Quill and Squirrel groaned in disappointment. I thought for a moment. "Plus another hundred and thirty to re-winterize the motor. I already had it drained and prepped."
          "Party pooper," Mom said disapprovingly.
          "Again. Joking," Dad reminded everyone. No one listened.
          I shrugged. "We can do it next summer. Or fall. You know, before it gets too cold. Having the boat on the pond would be funny."
          "And we can have the dogs--"
          "NO."
          Quill giggled. "Seriously, where are we going to do it this year?"
          "Well...let me think..." Ma said slowly.
          Nemesis cleared his throat. "We don't have to do Christmas pictures this year."
          "Yes we do," Mom said emphatically.
          "Well, if we've GOTTA do Christmas pictures, let's do them on the roof of the house," I joked. "Nemesis, wanna sling the turkey this way, please?"
          "Ooh, like in front of the gable? Sure," Mom agreed suddenly.
          I blinked. "Wait, what?"
          "I think he was kidding too," Dad mused.
          "Actually, I wasn't, but I didn't think she'd go for it," I clarified.
          Mom looked thoughtful. "But we couldn't have the dogs in it."
          "Well, technically, we could," Quill pointed out, giggling. "At least the small ones. Rocky, probably not." She looked down at Mom's new golden retriever, who grinned up at her and poked his nose at her plate. She pushed him away. "HEY!"
          "The dogs were in the photo last year," I reminded everyone.
          "Not Rocky!" Mom protested. "We didn't have him--"
          "Not a loss," Squirrel muttered under her breath to Quill.
          Dad raised his hand. "So we should do one on the ground. Good. In front of the front door?"
          "Let's do both," Squirrel proposed. "One on the roof and one on the ground, and see which one's better!"
          One day later, I was back out at the farm and ready to go. Mom grouped us up in Squirrel's bedroom and told us how she wanted us to line up on the roof before departing for the downstairs to get her camera. Squirrel opened her window and I pulled the screen out, leading the way out of her gable. Wojtek watched with amusement; I informed him that he really shouldn't be laughing, since Ma was probably going to make him join us for at least one picture.
          "That is fine," he reassured me.
          "Yeah, you say that now," Nemesis said, making a face.
          It was a little cold out. I guided my siblings to their spots, standing between them and the edge in case one of them should slip. (It was universally acknowledged that I had the greatest chance of walking away from any sudden roof descents, partially because I had fallen off of several roofs already...and from greater heights than this.) We got into position with a minimum of jostling and a maximum of threats against other siblings. Also a family tradition.
          "So how is Mom--" Quill started, then broke off as we heard the familiar rumble of the skid loader. Dad came driving up from the barn, waving the bucket at us before parking in front of the sidewalk. Mom hopped in the bucket and we convulsed with laughter.
          "Should have guessed," Quill admitted.
          Squirrel checked her pockets. "Does anyone have a phone?"
          "I've got this," I promised and took several pictures of Mom slowly ascending in the bucket.
          "Positions!" Nemesis begged. "It's a little cold up here!"
          "It would be great if it wasn't for the wind," I admitted, trying to get my hair out of my face. "Oh, hell with it."
          "You think you have it bad," Squirrel remarked through a mouthful of her own hair.
          Mom raised the camera. We all smiled.
          "Wait!" she yelled, turning to Dad. "I gotta go back down!"
          There were a chorus of groans from the roof. "WHY?" Nemesis yelled.
          "Wrong lens!" Mom explained.
          We burst out laughing again. "Go figure," I muttered as Dad put Mom back on the ground. She hurried inside. Wojtek laughed at us from inside Squirrel's room.
          Dad drove forward with the skid loader, jerking it back and forth across the sidewalk for a minute before he dropped the bucket all the way to the ground and grinned up at us. He unzipped his jacket and turned up the radio loud enough to be heard even through the closed cab and over the noise of the engine.
          "Now he's just gloating," Quill giggled, sticking out her tongue at him.
          I felt compelled to defend him. "Hey, if I could sit inside with a heater and some tunes instead of getting my picture taken, you could bet your--"
          "Hey now," Squirrel interrupted me.
          "--I would," I finished, ignoring her.
          "I think my fingers are falling off," Nemesis complained, walking around the roof fearlessly.
          "My hair's in my face!" Squirrel complained.
          I joined in the good-natured complaining. "I can't feel my butt. Is that normal?"
          "I'm gonna jump," Quill threatened, laughing and holding out her hands in a posture reminiscent of swan-diving.
          Mom came running back outside and climbed in the bucket. "Ready!"
          Dad raised her up. She held the camera up, then yelled down, "Back up!"
          Dad backed up. She waved her hand. "More...more...more..."
          In a few seconds, the skid loader was further out than it had been to start with. I frowned. "Where are you going?"
          "I got the zoom lens!" Mom yelled back. "I need to back up a lot!"
          I stared at her incredulously. "You mean you got a different lens when you could have just had Dad move the Bobcat closer?"
          "This takes better pictures," Mom yelled back, then waved to Dad. "Back up more!"
          I groaned. "If they hit my truck, I'm gonna be--"
          "Radar, language!" Quill interrupted.
          "Whatever."
          "Okay, smile!" Squirrel suggested.
          We smiled. Then goofed off. And basically did whatever the heck we wanted while Ma took pictures. Eventually, we got Wojtek out on the roof and took a couple pictures with him as well.
          "Okay, that's probably good," Mom finally decided. "Let's go downstairs and shoot a few more!"
          There was a mass scramble for the window (we were pretty cold by this point). I opted to let the others go in first, and so got treated to the entertainment of Mom trying to get Dad to let her down and Dad pretending not to understand her and driving the skid loader around instead.
          And, despite the facial expressions of everyone (not to mention Squirrel's dramatic pose) in the following photo...Mom still decided to use one of the front door pics with the dogs.
          On some upcoming Christmas, we should just do a blooper reel of pics from previous years.

I'm not sure what we're all thinking, but I'll take a guess based on facial expressions. (From left to right) Nemesis: "LET'S KILL BATMAN." Squirrel: "Can you paint with all the colors of the wiiiiiind?" Quill: "I think I'm eating my own hair, but I'm still cute, so who cares." Radar: "I can't feel my butt and I'm pretty sure I accidentally wedgied myself."
        

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Captain's Log, Day 182: Playing *With* Possum

          The night started out pretty normally. I got into a rather heated Halo match with Shorty, wound up in a rather heated debate with her about the properties of laser sword feasibility on the subsequent victory run to Long John Silvers, got my shin kicked repeatedly when I bought her food and managed to get the cashier to think we were dating (a running joke by this point), and...
          ...and, come to think of it, this was really only normal for me. Unless the rest of you had pretend midget girlfriends/wives (it varied) in college.
          One further note: the "pretend" part was regarding the relationship status, not the height. Totally a midget. Hence the shin-kicking.
          Anyway, the real fun started when I managed to steal her phone and send a text from it to a secondary number of mine.
          "YEEK! Radar, gimme that back!" Shorty demanded.
          "Yeah, yeah, give me a second," I said absently. The table was wide enough to prevent a sudden onslaught from the other side, so I had a moment.
          That's not to say she didn't think about launching herself across like a very tiny Radar-seeking missile, but since there would be a certain launch time associated with that while she climbed up on the table, she settled for giving me the evil eye instead. "Well, good thing I password-locked it."
          I finished the text and flipped the phone around. "You mean the password I guessed on the second try?"
          Shorty closed her eyes in mock pain. "You know me too well."
          "As your kill/death ratio in Halo would indicate," I agreed, tossing her phone back across the table. "You may receive an interesting text in a few moments."
          "What did you do?"
          "Texted a friend of mine," I lied. Actually, I had some research to do on a book, and I wanted to see if I could write well enough as someone else to fool one who knew me. Hence, Shorty. Stealthily, I pulled out my phone and texted her back.
          She unlocked her phone. "What did you--RADAR!!!!!"
          I snickered. "It's a conversation starter!"
          "Well, now this guy is going to think I'm crazy!" she complained.
          *BZZ*
          She read the text. "Oh. Wait. Never mind. He knows I'm crazy."
          "Really? How so?" I asked innocently.
          She made a face at me. "Because I hang out with you."
          "Fair point," I conceded, confident she hadn't guessed that is was me.
          (She never figured it out--until I told her a year later, anyway. Definitely my longest-running prank of all time. She didn't believe me either until I sent her the screenshots of the account information for that phone number!)
          We finished the meal with more debate about various random things--arguing about everything was pretty much our favorite pastime--and headed back to college. Once there, I remembered to finally take my racquetball gear out of the car. A fateful decision, as it turned out.
          "What are you planning on doing with that?" Shorty asked as I slammed the door shut.
          "Teach you how to play!" I announced, striking an exaggerated pose.
          She snorted and kept walking, back towards her apartment. "Yeah, no. First off, I already know how--"
          "THEN I CHALLENGE!" I whooped.
          "And second off, just no. I've heard stories--I'm too young to die!"
          "Wuss."
          "No, just smar--hey, is that a cat?"
          I looked where she was pointing. Two glowing eyes stared back at us from under a nearby car. I frowned. "Hmm, something seems off for a cat."
          "It's totally a cat," Shorty said positively and made several clicking sounds. "Here, kitty, kitty, kit--holy crap!"
          I burst out laughing as the "cat" whipped around and retreated, exposing a very long and very bare tail. "Yeah, that's a possum!"
          "Shut up," Shorty suggested, red-faced.
          "Make me," I returned, already rushing forward. "Come on! It went under that car there!"
          "Why are we following the giant rodent?" she asked, hanging back in a manner justifying my "wuss" comment previously.
          "Rodents of unusual size? I don't believe they exist," I quoted. "But to answer your question, I want to catch it."
          "Oh, great." Shorty crouched, muttering something about frogs.
          I ignored her and dropped down as well. "Man, it's going to be hard to get it out from there." I pulled out my phone and snapped a picture, spooking it. "--there it goes!"
          "Behind the fan!" Shorty announced, getting into the chase in spite of herself. (Admittedly, she probably thought there wasn't a chance I would actually catch it.)
          I sighed and hopped back up. "It's an AC unit, you...you...um...math major!"
          She burst out laughing.
          I scurried around the car in hot pursuit. Peeking over the top of the unit, I saw a pointy snout, so I took another picture. After a moment's study, I took my best guess at where his tail was, dropped the phone, and dove. There was a scream.
          But not from me.
          "You caught it youcaughtitholycrapareyouINSANE??" Shorty yelped as I dragged the reluctant rodent out.
          I snagged one of my discarded rackets just in time to prevent the hissing beast from biting my leg. "See? Piece of cake. Take a picture!"
          The possum resigned itself to its fate and stopped struggling, giving both of us the evil eye. Shorty picked up my phone semi-reluctantly and snapped a few pictures. "You're crazy."
          "Yep," I agreed. "Okay, back up, I'm letting him go."
          Shorty retreated with a speed normally associated with ballistic missiles. I let go of Mr. Possum's tail. He declined the possibility of a rematch and took off like a shot into the darkness.
          I held out my hand for my phone. "You know, if these don't turn out, we'll have to catch him again--"
          "Oh hell no!" Shorty giggled.
          Fortunately for her sanity, she did get a good one.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Captain's Log, Day 181: Siege of the Basketballs

          Radar wasn't really paying attention to what he was doing (which wasn't really unusual for him, per se). It was just another day at college--planning what homework to do next, bantering with his lab partners, unloading a siege engine from the back of a truck, dropping an electric motor--
          "GAH!"
          Radar noticed the motor slipping off the tailgate at the last second, but lunged forward too late to stop it. In desperation, he did the next best thing; throwing his leg forward to try to catch it with his foot. Now, he was decently strong, but still not strong enough to stop a thirty-pound motor falling at (what seemed to be) a significant fraction of the speed of light.
          THUD.
          "OW!"
          "What happened?" Liz asked, rounding the corner.
          Radar carefully removed the motor from his foot before beginning his traditional just-broke-his-foot dance. "Motor slipped! Ah, blast blast blast--"
          "You can swear. We don't mind," Phil offered generously.
          "Why didn't you move your foot?" Kaci asked.
          Radar paused his dance to look quizzically at her. "I did. Right under the motor."
          "I think she meant out of the way," Liz clarified
          "Why would I do that? This motor is a rental," Radar pointed out. "My foot will heal. The motor won't."
          Phil snickered and went back to unloading. "Good point."
          The girls were looking a little concerned. "Did you break it?" Kaci asked.
          Radar made a face at his foot. "Probably."
          "Do you need to go to the hospital?" Liz clarified as Radar picked up the motor and limped off with it.
          "Do I look crazy?" he shot back over his shoulder.
          "Yes," everyone said in unison.
          The point was fair. The three of them had known Radar for almost two years now--ever since he'd started taking college classes the year before, at sixteen. He quickly became known for two things: the fact that he ran everywhere, and his interesting additions to all laboratory experiments. Also, for sticking his hand in a beaker of hydrochloric acid when he mistook it for water, to the amazement of Liz (who was his lab partner at the time). By this point, though, everyone just accepted the fact that he was indestructible and let him take lead on all potentially hazardous experiments.
          The project they were working on was their spring design project for physics: building a siege engine. The project originally started with three constraints--be able to launch a basketball two hundred and fifty feet, fire five times in twenty minutes, and be constructed for less than one hundred dollars--but after an overenthusiastic Radar had showed up to a meeting with twenty designs utilizing everything from gunpowder to compressed air to massive springs, their prudent professor had outlawed all chemical, compression, and torsion methods. He clearly hoped to steer them towards some form of gravity as their propulsion system (as in a traditional trebuchet type of thing), but Radar had other ideas.
          Liz, Phil, and Kaci were less enthusiastic about his brainstorm, but they admitted the coolness factor and the uniqueness of the project were definitely pluses. Besides, Radar's prototype had almost put out a lightbulb with a ping-pong ball, so they were pretty confident it would work in some fashion.
          Once they got their siege engine assembled, Radar ran a quick systems check and declared it functional. The others decided to run their own checks, just in case. Radar mock-indignantly demanded to know why he wasn't trusted; Phil pointed out that Radar's prototype had almost taken his head off and burned out all the electronics within it. Radar promptly informed him that a) Phil should have ducked and b) the electronics were Radar's anyway and he'd been curious to see what would happen if he hooked them up to a car battery (and the results had been totally worth it). Kaci agreed on that last point, and Liz suggested that--since this was Radar's brainchild anyway and he was the one most likely to survive any incidents--he should be the one to fire it first. He agreed enthusiastically, and the lab team stored the project in a nearby building and disbanded for the night.
          The next day dawned bright and early for all of them. Well, earlier for the other teams, who had to put together their massive trebuchets, while Team Radar ("We are NOT calling ourselves that," Liz informed the self-dubbed "mascot" between giggle fits) just had to drag their machine out onto the field. Their professor, who was overseeing everything, raised an eyebrow at the contraption.
          "You built that for a hundred bucks?" he asked, a little incredulously.
          "Eighty," Radar said proudly. "The motors were lent to us for free."
          "Plus, Radar has the entire Menards store at his house, apparently," Liz added parenthetically (and a little jealously).
          He shook his head. "I think we'll have you guys go last. That looks like it might destroy the basketballs after a few shots."
          "Hey, keeping them in one piece was never part of the design specs," Phil pointed out hastily.
          Professor burst out laughing. "That's true!"
          They had to wait forty minutes for their turn. Team One's engine could really hurl the ball, but their accuracy was a bit lacking--they got off six shots in twenty minutes, and landed them in a 100-foot diameter area. Team Two did a bit better; they got off seven shots, and landed them in a comparatively tighter fifty-foot circle. Then, it was the third team's turn.
          "So, explain to us how this works," Professor invited them.
          Radar took a step back, trying to get behind his teammates (he hated public speaking). Kaci noticed and caught his arm. "Nuh uh. This is your idea."
          "Yeah, go for it!" Phil said mischievously.
          "I hate you," Radar muttered before taking a breath. "Okay, this is our siege engine--emphasis on engine. It's powered by two electric motors, which spin in opposite directions. The wheels on top, which I stole from Dad's old broken snowblower, grip the basketball and use their rotational inertia, plus the motor power, to fire the ball."
          "Like a massive pitching machine," Liz added helpfully.
          Radar paused, mouth open. "Why didn't I think of that?"
          "I thought that was your idea in the first place," Kaci said, confused.
          He shook his head. "No, but it should have been."
          "So how do you keep the motors from being ripped off the mountings?" Professor asked curiously.
          "Ah. That's the brilliant part," Liz said. "Radar came up with this system--"
          "--with some help from my dad," Radar interjected honestly.
          "--to have the motors on hinges," Liz continued, ignoring him. "The motors are on springs, holding the wheels as close as possible. When the ball is fed through, it forces the wheels apart. The springs help the wheels grip the ball, and pull the motors back together after the ball is fired."
          Professor still looked dubious. "Well..give it a shot."
          "Pun intended?" Radar asked, snatching up the power cords. "Alrighty, stand back!"
          The motors fired up, spinning the wheels insanely fast. Radar caught the ball Kaci tossed him, crossed his fingers, and rolled it up the ramp.
          ZWIPTHUD.
          The ball went hurtling off towards the target, landing about twenty feet in front of it. Radar rolled ball #2. ZWIPTHUD. The ball zipped through the wheels, the motors thudded back together, and the second shot landed almost directly on top of the same spot at the first one.
          "Okay, I so wanna try this," Phil said, grinning.
          "One more?" Radar pleaded, having already launched three and four.
          Phil ignored him and took a ball. "Shot five away!"
          The team continued an almost constant stream of fire, with short breaks to adjust angles and discuss distance to target. They managed to get within ten feet, but couldn't get any further forward, since they had a pretty limited adjustment angle to work with. Radar made a note of that for their report.
          The team totally nailed the five times in twenty minutes part, though--they fired over a hundred times in total. "Plus," Kaci noted, "we're technically the most accurate. All our shots are right on top of each other."
          "Except for that pop fly I did," Radar giggled. "That almost hit me."
          "How did you do that?" Liz asked.
          Radar demonstrated. "Just bounce the ball off the track so the wheels pop it up, and not forward."
          Phil burst out laughing. "I want to try!"
          The basketballs were definitely worn out by the time their twenty minutes was up. Professor ordered a general teardown and cleanup, and the teams set to work. Radar, curious about his grade, approached his professor. "How did we do?"
          Liz, Kaci, and Phil joined him, equally curious. Professor took a breath. "Well...I'm going to give you guys an automatic A. I would have bet money that it wouldn't have worked! Very well done!"
          "I still think the cannon would have been cooler," Radar said amidst the general jubilation.
          Professor chuckled. "I don't think we could get away with setting off explosions on a college campus," he said dryly.
          "Touché," Radar admitted and limped back to help with disassembly.
          "So, Radar, what would you have done if we'd gotten the concrete canoe project they had last year?" Liz asked mischievously as they were finishing up.
          Radar cocked an eyebrow at her. "Are you kidding? Weaponize the sucker. Water cannon turret! Hey, what's so funny?"
          His three teammates were laughing too hard to respond.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Captain's Log, Day 180: The Vault Is Secure

          "Okay, okay, I'm ON!"
          My Xbox live partner finally joined the party, giggling slightly at the barrage of texts I'd just sent her. I chuckled. "Well, I spent enough time porting this map onto my Xbox One--you are GOING to see this."
          "I'm excited," Exastris admitted, accepting the game invite I sent her. A moment later, her icon appeared on my map, along with the words Exastris joined Darkfire Ranger. And she was, like, halfway across the map. "Whoa. Did you make these mountains? They're very square! Like big block cliffs!"
          "No, they just spawned like that," I told her. "Let's see--oh, I know where you are. Jump off the side with the water on it. You should survive..."
          "Should?"
          "Well, it took ME a few tried to get it right," I laughed. "I'll come over to meet you. Look for a railway."
          I heard the echo of a splash through Exastris' mike. "I made it! Oh, hey, I found the railway."
          "Cool. I'll be there in...twenty seconds."
          "Is that a GIANT TREE?" Exastris demanded incredulously.
          "One I built, yeah. The inside is hollow," I replied proudly. "It's a literal tree house...but I gotta be careful with fire whenever I'm in there." I whooshed past the house with no sign of her avatar. "Where did you go?"
          "Nowhere," she protested. "I'm on the bridge next to the railway!"
          "On the bri--oh, you mean over by Nemesis's house," I suddenly realized, spinning the rail car around. "I thought he and I destroyed that."
          "Your brother has a house here?"
          "Two. We built this map together," I explained. "He has a fort here and another on the other side of the map. He's not as dedicated to the craft as I am, though. I mean, I have a tree house, a castle, a pirate ship--"
          "You have a pirate ship?"
          "--the Enterprise from Star Trek, a secure vault, and railways crossing this whole place," I finished.
          "I demand to see the pirate ship," Exastris informed me. "And the vault. You've been talking that up for a while. Oh, hey, I see you."
          "Hi there." My avatar punched her in greeting.
          "HEY!"
          "Sorry-not-sorry. Here's your cart. Follow me!"
          I led the way to my castle. Via the tree house, of course. Exastris loved that, and insisted on exploring it all the way to the top. I couldn't really argue that--I was proud of my creation, and it did have an excellent view up there.
          Once we got closer to the castle, the Enterprise became visible. Well, I say became visible--it kinda blotted out the sun for a few moments. It looked most impressive, if I do say so myself. We rumbled into the railway shed, hopped out, and headed into the castle, taking a brief moment to change our spawn points (Exastris didn't see the point, but I foresaw death and insisted on it).
          "Okay, so...where is this vault?"
          I pointed. "In the well."
          "In the--you're kidding."
          "Nope." I dove in. Sinking to the bottom, I opened the door in the side of the well's wall and walked into the passage. Exastris followed me.
          "Okay, go to," I said generously. "Although, I don't exactly remember how I set this up, so--"
          Exastris brushed past me and headed down the hall--a little too fast. A delayed trapdoor hissed open underneath her at the intersection. She had just enough time to pause and look down before she vanished into the hole. The hole, which led to a pit of fire. FWOOSH. A moment later, a notification popped up on my screen: Exastris went up in flames.
          "RANGER!!!" Exastris yelled, then burst out laughing.
          I was laughing so hard I couldn't breath. "The moment...of...dawning...realization..." I choked out.
          "Yeah, that was a Wiley Coyote moment there," she admitted. "Oh, look! Gravity! Now, how do you get past that?"
          "Walk slowly," I advised, still giggling. "It slides shut after a moment. Then, you can walk over it."
          She took my advice. "Oh, hey, there's a button here. Should I push it?"
          I took a look. It was a benign button--it powered a section of wall that would slide back and allow access to a disarming lever. "Sure, why not."
          Exastris pushed it. The wall hissed open. Startled, she took a step back, tripped the trapdoor, and fell through again. FWOOSH. I fell off the couch laughing.
          "DAMMIT RANGER!" Exastris respawned. "Okay, that was kinda my fault."
          "Maybe you should go a different route?" I suggested when I stopped laughing. "You realize there's multiple paths at that intersection--"
          "You realize you could just tell me how to get through?" she suggested, a little sarcastically.
          "Where would be the fun in that?" I reasoned. "Also, I only know how disarm it by actually going in there and doing it with you, and I'm pretty sure you'd get me killed."
          She laughed. "Okay, true. Still, I'm not sure if I trust you." She navigated the trapdoor, ignored the button, and turned right. I heard a faint click.
          "Oh, now I remember what was down there!" I snapped my fingers.
          "What?"
          BOOM. Multiple boxes of TNT, hidden in the walls and the floor, exploded. Exastris died instantly.
          "A booby trap," I said innocently.
          "Ooh. Sneaky," she complimented me.
          I reset the map and invited her back in. "Thanks. I try. Want to go again?"
          "You're insane," she told me.
          I waited.
          "...yes."
          "Thought so!" I said triumphantly.
          Exastris went down the left tunnel this time, disregarding the button. Needless to say, the booby-traps didn't disengage. BOOM.
          "Are we having strugs?" I asked innocently, using our shorthand for struggle to mock her a little.
          She giggled. "Oh, shut up. Just show me how!"
          I reset the map and led the way. After dodging the trapdoor, I pushed the button. The wall shot back, and I quickly hit the hidden lever before it shut again. "Okay, that disables the left side booby traps. The right side is still live, so DON'T go that way."
          "Got it." Exastris followed me.
          I rounded the corner. "Okay, go stand by the vault door." Once she was in position, I hit another button. Nothing happened.
          "Um..." Exastris started.
          "It's a delayed release," I said.
          Click. The door released. Exastris shot inside--and almost fell off the narrow bridge into the fire below. A long ways below. "Wow, this is crazy! What are the walls made of?"
          "Hardest material in the game," I said proudly. "Obsidian. I can set off all the TNT around here and still never breach the vault."
          Exastris slowly (and carefully) walked across the bridge to the chest at the end--right in the middle of the vault, over the fire pit. "This is super cool. What's in here?"
          "Oh, an extra map, gold, diamonds, some enchanted weapons, stuff like that," I explained.
          "Wow. Crazy."
          "This is a booby-trapped vault at the bottom of a well over a pit of fire surrounded by TNT," I summed it up. "Yeah, crazy pretty well covers it. And you haven't even seen the pirate ship yet."
          "How do you even build a pirate ship in Minecraft? You know what, nevermind. LEAD THE WAY," Exastris ordered loudly and almost blew herself up on the way out.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Captain's Log, Day 179: PANAMA

          I was working on wrestling the steering cable into position when I smacked my hand into the back of the motor. Muttering something uncomplimentary about the motor's parentage under my breath, I tried to surreptitiously check my hand for damage.
          "You okay?"
          Not stealthy enough. I made a face, wiped off the blood, and got back to work. "Yeah, I'm fine. Would you mind handing me the thingy?"
          Full disclosure; I'm not super eloquent under the best of circumstances, and, when making plans to attach a stubborn cable to the appropriate hole on the motor, even worse than normal. Fortunately, Rach was a mind-reader and handed me the correct bolt. A few minutes of tweaking later (Rach wound up holding the engine steady for me), the steering system was complete.
          "I gotta get a longer cable," I muttered.
          "So is it done?"
          I laughed. "Not even close. I still have to install the wiring for the lights, put the side bench seats in, put carpet under the bow seats, put the ceiling in--"
          She poked me. "I meant the motor."
          "Eep! I know, I was just messing with you," I clarified, relocating to the other side of the boat with a speed generally associated with supersonic jets. (Ticklish.) "Yeah, the motor's done. Want to try it out?"
          "Definitely!" she said enthusiastically.
          I gave her a thumb's-up and vaulted out. "Thanks for the help, by the way. Half the work I've done on this thing has been two-person jobs that I've had to do by myself. It's nice to get something done quickly for a change."
          "Have you had this out on the water yet?" Rach descended a little slower than I had.
          "Sort of. The first motor had a lower unit issue, so we didn't go very fast." I made a face. "The boat never got up on plane--which, by the way, is boat-speak for going so fast most of your hull is out of the water."
          "What kind of issue?"
          "It leaked. BADLY." I snorted. "The last test with it ended with us losing most of the oil, which--needless to say--let in a ton of water. The forward gear got shredded or something, so it only ran in reverse. We had to BACK the boat out of the middle of the lake."
          She giggled. "You're kidding."
          "I wish." I sighed. "Super embarrassing. That's how we found out we had a leak--running it in reverse for so long stuck the oil all along the prop casing. That was the point at which I decided to just give up on the dang thing and get a new motor." I slapped the engine cowling for emphasis. "A lighter, more powerful motor. This one's 115 horsepower."
          "What was the other?"
          "One hundred." I snickered. "And the boat's rated for 90. She'll fly when this thing opens up." I glanced down. "I'll need a new prop at some point, though. This one's a little beat up."
          Rach raised an eyebrow. "Is that a problem? The motor, I mean."
          I shook my head. "Nah, I shaved off a lot of weight when I rebuilt the boat, and this motor only weighs maybe twenty-five pounds more than a contemporary 60's ninety-horse. Plus, I reinforced the transom. She'll hold up just fine." I grinned  "Engineer, remember?"
          She stuck her tongue out at me. "Showoff."
          "Wait until this boat actually works," I returned. "Shall we?"
          "Yes," she said, laughing. "I have some boat-related bucket list items to do."
          I had to pull the boat out of my garage "manually"--the parking lot didn't have enough room to hook up the truck and still make the turn. A few minutes later, though, I was hooked up and ready to go. Rach hopped in, I googled the nearest lake, and we set off.
          Ten minutes later, I was cursing. "What kind of stupid landing is this?"
          "Will it work?" Rach asked, looking at the cockeyed trailer dubiously.
          "Not even remotely," I said disgustedly. "I mean, we could probably float the boat off just fine, but there's no way we could get it back on. They need to grade this stupid thing."
          She made a face. "Now what? Head back?"
          "Not a chance," I said resolutely. "There's another lake I know of, and that one is really popular. It's gotta have a decent landing there somewhere."
          Fortunately for my sanity, it did. I backed the trailer into the water, grabbed the keys, and hopped into the boat. "We should probably test the motor first before we take the boat off...you know, in case it doesn't work."
          "Is that a possibility?"
          "Always," I grumbled, pressurizing the fuel line with the hand pump. Going to the captain's chair, I crossed my fingers and turned the key.
          The motor whined a little but didn't start.
          I let off the key, then cranked it again and gave it a little throttle.
          More whining. Still no starting.
          I gave it a little more throttle and tried again.
          The motor whined, sputtered, and almost started, but killed itself.
          A few minutes later, it was still not starting. I was looking annoyed. Rach tried to calm me down. "It's almost starting, anyway. Maybe the problem isn't too bad."
          "The idle's probably set too low," I complained. "I don't have the tools to fix that. What I can't figure out is why it's not sputtering anymore. It was almost there a minute ago."
          "Is the fuel line broken?" Rach asked.
          "No, the fuel line is the one thing that actually wor--" I cut myself off and dove into the back. "Wait a minute."
          "You have an idea?" she asked eagerly.
          I came back up, face probably very red. "You are a genius. And for the record, fuel tanks don't work if they're sealed. I was pulling a vacuum on the stupid thing--forgot to crack the air cap."
          "At least you remembered to put the plug in," Rach giggled.
          I rolled my eyes. "I've only forgotten once in my life, and I should not have told you about that." I cranked the engine over again. This time, it whined, sputtered, coughed...and roared into life.
          "YES!" Rach yelled.
          I bowed. "Thank you, thank you--although this is totally your win, not mine. Okay, let's get this off the trailer."
          She pointed. "Going to leave the motor running?"
          "Sure, why not?" I reasoned. "In case there's a starter problem or something. Besides, it hasn't been started in a while; let's let it warm up a bit." I hopped back out of the boat. Rach held it steady as I pushed it off the trailer and pulled the trailer away. A moment later, I was installed in the captain's chair again.
          "So...how does this work?" Rach inquired, still holding on from the outside.
          I carefully put the boat into reverse but left it idling. "Um...just jump in. I'll back it out."
          As soon as she was in, I gave it a little throttle. The boat backed away from the dock slowly. Once I'd gotten it out a safe distance, I kicked it into forward and turned. Slowly. Really slowly.
          "Is the motor not working?" Rach asked.
          I smiled tightly. "No clue. I haven't throttled up yet. I'm just getting out of the shallows." I pointed the nose of the boat at the wide-open expanse of water in front of us and swallowed. "Cross your fingers."
          Wrapping my hand around the throttle, I carefully pushed it forward. The boat exploded out of the water, hurtling across the lake at speeds that...well, I honestly never expected it to reach. My jaw dropped and I started laughing. "IT WORKS!!" I yelled at the top of my lungs.
          Rach high-fived me. "CONGRATULATIONS!"
          I fumbled my phone out and took a quick video of the motor and the speed we were hitting to send to Dale and Skipper later. "Oh, man...this...I think I'm gonna cry. This is awesome."
          "I bet," Rach said, grinning. "It's gotta be amazing--something you've worked on for so long--"
          "You wanna know the coolest part?" I interrupted her, just noticing something.
          Rach gave me a curious look. "What?"
          I pointed down at the throttle. "We're only at three-quarters throttle."
          Her jaw dropped. "No way." The wind suddenly snatched her baseball cap off her head.
          I burst out laughing. "You lost your hat!" I patted the boat. "I guess you've earned the name Panama now." I spun the boat in a circle and headed back for the hat.
          "You don't have to get it," Rach protested. "It's old and crappy!"
          "We leave no hat behind," I declaimed, pulling up to a stop about fifteen feet away from it. We climbed up on the bow. Rach pointed to a rope. "Think that would work?"
          "Or we could work on your bucket list," I said mischievously and threw her overboard.
          She came up sputtering and laughing. "Okay, that's definitely one off the list. Where's my hat?"
          "About fifteen...never mind, twenty feet behind you," I said, chuckling. "Go get it--I'm going to duck into the cabin, grab my swim gear, and join you. My bucket list involves jumping off the bow."

The Panama
          Author's note: the Panama is a 1961 Lone Star cabin cruiser that I've been restoring for the last year. This story documents the first time she actually worked, which is the fourth time I'd had her on the water. It was also the first time I'd ever actually taken her out to have fun on the lake, as opposed to just troubleshooting various stuff. Many thanks to Rach for helping me get the new motor set up, and to Dale and Skipper for giving the boat to me to restore. 

The Panama when I first saw her

Hooking her up for the first time

The boat was a bit of a mess...

Pretty much all the wood in the boat had rotted.


Yeah, I really had to disassemble the poor thing.

Getting her back together!

I sprung for a new paint job. She needed it.

And damn did it turn out NICE.

Finishing up the cabin...


That ceiling was a pain to install.

WE'RE GOING TO THE LAKE!!!!