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Book Review – The Stones of Silence

Peter Grant has started a new series set in the same universe as his excellent Maxwell Saga, called “Cochrane’s Company”.  Its first book, The Stones of Silence, is a great read.

The secret is out – the Mycenae system is the hottest new mineral find in the spiral arm. Now it’s about to become ground zero in a gold rush by every crooked company and asteroid thief in the galaxy.

Andrew Cochrane, with his crew of the finest veterans and cunning rogues, have an even better scheme. They’ve conned the owner into hiring them as a mercenary security company to defend the system. With no oversight but their own, Cochrane’s Company plans to seize the richest pickings for themselves.

But nothing ever comes easy. If they want to keep their loot, they’re going to have to outwit and outfight every smuggler, bandit and renegade after the same prize – and their boss, too!

Stones of Silence spins the tale of how a group of people come together to create a new space-based security enterprise, and the conflicts that arise as they work to secure their first contract and make their fortunes.

Grant is a consumate storyteller.  If you’ve enjoyed is Maxwell and Laredo series, you’ll love this one.  He takes his time to flesh out his characters and their world, while at the same time weaving a story full of intrigue.

I’m definitely looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

News Roundup

  • From the “Meet the New Boss” Department – Venezuelan strongman Nikolas Maduro easily won reelection this week, beating out soon-to-be State Prisoner 1271418.  Venezuelans flocked to the polls to cash in their chance to win the Maduro-Lotto, which is reported to provide enough money to buy an entire kilogram of both iguana meat and beaver cheese.  In his victory speech, El Jefe Grande remarked that henceforth, the month of May will be called Maduro, with a special Maduro Day holiday added to the traditional socialist May Day celebrations.  The holiday will be marked with a government provided buffet of whatever can be scraped off of the floor of long-emptied warehouses.
  • From the “Filthy Lucre” Department – British officials are looking into the influence of Russian investment in the UK as London tries to hold a hard line against a resurgent, aggressive Russia.  A government source, reporting from her summer dacha in Brighton, reported that no evidence of Russian interference had been found, but that she would personally get rid of any kulak that dared to bring it up.
  • From the “Bad Bird” Department – A restaurant in Perth, Australia, has started arming its patrons with water pistols in an effort to ward off the predations of seagulls.  While the strategy seems to show early promise, I suggest upping the game and charging customers for a chance to man a roof mounted water cannon.
  • From the “Code Inspector” Department – A Florida alligator recently visited a construction site and had a look around.  Witnesses reported that the reptile made a thorough assessment of the project and left instructions that the retaining wall footer needed to be redone.  He then took a long nap in the sun next to the porta-potty, followed by a long session of leaning on a shovel while he watched the rest of the crew pour concrete.

Escort Duty – Part 21

Simon and Hollo looked down at the capitol. Booda was a large city at the bottom of a large valley, with a river port, which drew in both barges and cartloads of goods on their way to the sea. The bluffs beyond the city were of white chalk, and several paths and narrow roads led up their sides.

Their horses stood in a clearing behind them, eating and resting after a hard night of travel. Their saddles lay to the side, and the men had given them all a good rub down with their saddle blankets before collapsing to gaze across the valley.

“Haven’t been here in a while,” Hollo said quietly, “They’ve cleaned the place up.”

“Where does the duke live?” Simon asked, “The princess won’t be far from there.”

“His father had three places around the city. See those towers?”

Simon nodded as he peered down. This far out, the figures of soldiers on the city wall or atop the towers were dark dots against the gray stone.

“Think you can fly down there and have a look?”

“We’ll have to get closer. I’m exhausted. Won’t be able to hold the spell together for long.”

“We’ll go in this afternoon and see what we can find out,” Simon said, “I need to find a way to figure out which tower the princess is in.”

~~~

Erika watched as the maids laid out an elegant gown and jewelry. The dress was of fine, saffron-dyed silk, and it was accompanied by a heavy gold chain and pins for the dress.

“My lord asks that you be ready to have dinner with him this evening, my lady,” the matron said as she smoothed the silk out on the dressing table.

“Tell your lord that I will not be eating with him tonight, or ever again.”

“My lady, there is no choice in the matter. You will either walk to the table, or be carried. I’ve seen it happen before.”

Erika closed her eyes and shook her head slowly, her breath coming out in a huff.

“All right, tell that toad I will be ready for dinner, but I do not wish to be disturbed until then,” Erika said, her lips curled back on her teeth in disgust.

“Yes, my lady,” the matron replied, bowing as she closed the door behind her.

Erika walked to the window and looked down. Far below, several soldiers stood in the stone courtyard. The gate to the compound, made from wood and iron, lay at its far end. The plaza in front of it held a communal well and several merchants’ stalls.

One of the guards saw her poke her head out of the window and raised his hand in greeting. Erika quickly pulled her head back into the room.

Not that way, she fumed, drumming her fingers on the sill, unless I learn to fly.

She crossed to the door, and was surprised to find it unlocked. She opened it an inch or so, and startled at the smiling face of a guard looking at her through the opening.

“You desire something, lady?” he asked.

“Uh, no, thank you,” she said, closing the door.

How am I going to get out of here?

~~~

Simon and Hollo watched as farmers and traders made their way through the city gate. The guards either leaned against the stone walls or stood to search some random cart. Simon pressed his lips together and blew his breath out through his nose.

“Not going to get through there too easily with a sword,” he said, putting his hand on Gnarlthing’s pommel.

“Have to sneak in,” Hollo said flatly, “And I can’t carry you over the walls.”

The men knelt in tall grass at the edge of the woods. The wheels of carts and wagons creaked on the nearby road as they passed. Most were piled high with produce from the spring crops, while some carried trade goods. One, brightly painted and festooned with banners, caught Simon’s eye.

Its driver sat next to a woman, whose silver hair blew freely in the breeze as she sang to the rhythm of the horses’ steps down the road.

“If thou be Robin Hood,” bold Arthur reply’d,

“As I think well thou art,

Then here’s my hand, my name’s Arthur a Bland,

We two will never depart.

 

“But tell me, O tell me, where is Little John?

Of him fain would I hear;

For we are alide by the mothers side,

And he is my kinsman near.”

 

Simon listened to her for a moment, then began to tap out the familiar tune on the ground in front of him. Hollo scrunched his face up in a questioning look. Simon’s face, on the other hand, broke out in a wide smile.

“Wait here,” he said as he rose and jogged to catch the wagon. “I’ve got an idea.”


Other episodes can be found here.  The entire anthology can be purchased at Amazon.

Musings

  • The defining feature of an excellent vacuum cleaner is not in how powerful it is, nor is it in its variety of attachments and capabilities.  No, dear reader, the truly defining feature of an excellent vacuum cleaner is the ease of dismantling it so that a clog the size of a small raccoon can be cleared.
  • The little area that includes the place where New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut come together is quite pretty. I got an excellent chance to appreciate its beauty when we took a wrong turn on our way to the airport and didn’t realize it for thirty miles.
    • Since my previous experience with New Jersey was Newark and Monmouth, I was pleasantly surprised to spend a week surrounded by woods and pleasant people.
  • One good part of flying from a small airport is the speed at which you can get through it.  It only took about fifteen minutes to turn in the rental car, check my bag, get through security, and have a seat at my gate.
  • Chicago O’Hare, on the other hand, is a sprawling mess that really just needs to declare its independence and hold elections so that the poor souls trapped there for eternity can at least get a bit of representative government.
  • After finishing a long, rather tense couple of days worth of work, I decided to reward myself with a recorded German soccer match on TV, a cold Shiner, and a Dove chocolate bar.
    • I may be a bit of a redneck, but I’m a cultured redneck.

Musings

  • The minimum purchase at the work cafeteria is five dollars.  Since my coffee was less than that, I let the nice lady at the checkout talk me into some cookies and a Coke.
    • I’ll be honest, if she’d said I needed to do an arduous side quest to get my coffee this morning, I’d have suited up and grabbed my axe.
  • One of the good things about being away from home is how quiet it is in the hotel room.
    • The main distraction in the hotel room is how quiet it is.
  • I know that aviation is a gift, and that my ancestors would have given anything to be able to go from Kentucky to New York in a few hours, but by the time we landed in White Plains, I was ready to walk home.
  • It occurs to me that most modern programming / scripting languages began when someone flounced out of a C/C++ forum in the early 1990’s.
    • “Fine!  You don’t want to use my new way for handling exceptions and not require a semi-colon at the end of each line?  I’ll write my own language!  I’ll show you!”
  • As I was binge watching “Altered Carbon” over the past couple of nights, I realized that I’d played that Shadowrun campaign when I was 19.
    • Not that the program isn’t a great ride, but I kept waiting for the ninja swords to show up.

Escort Duty – Part 20

Erika sat on a stool before a bronze mirror as a girl brushed her hair out. The soldiers had handed her over to the Duke’s guards late the night before, and the marks on her wrist showed how she had struggled against her bonds as she rode. She felt some satisfaction in knowing that her resistance had slowed her captors’ return to the city. The captain of the guards, a man with one eye who introduced himself as Gabor, had instructed several servants to assist her.

Now, she was thoroughly scrubbed, dressed in a silk gown the color of dragon’s fire, and sat having her hair and jewelry gone over by two servants. She looked about in disbelief, half expecting to see Greta’s smile reflected in the mirror as she fussed with the princess’ hair.

“Now, lady, you are beautiful,” the matronly woman who managed the servant girls said in a thick accent, “The Duke will be happy to see you in such a state.”

Erika looked at her sharply, but said nothing.

The servants finished their work, then helped Erika to her feet. The shoes they had put on her were too tight, and they pinched as Erika walked to the door of her chamber. Two guards, their clothing black with a bronze dragon embroidered on the chest of their tunics, escorted her down the stairs. Late-morning sun streamed through windows as she was led to a large meeting hall below.

A man, tall, stout, with grizzled gray hair clipped close to his scalp, sat in a chair at the end of the hall. Next to him stood an older man, wearing a woolen cloak dyed the color of ripe wheat. He held a wax tablet in one hand and a stylus in the other.  He scribbled rapidly as the seated man talked.

“Tell him that payment for his curse will come when I have taken Pesht. Butter him up a bit and tell him the plague is working better than expected, and there will be plenty of open lands to reward him with once the campaign is….” the man said, looking up and smiling as he saw Erika walk into the hall.

“Ah, my lady, so good to meet you at last,” he said as he rose with a dismissive gesture to his servant. The scribe bowed as she approached, then turned and left the hall, his scroll and stylus in hand.

The man stood and walked toward the princess. He was half a head taller than Erika, and wore a tunic of soft, heather-gray velvet across his broad shoulders and protruding belly. The silk slippers on his feet made no sound as he took a step closer to the women, and amethysts twinkled from his ears.

“Duke Kyrali, I presume,” Erika said, affecting her most imperious tone.

The duke bowed dramatically, “At your service, my lady.”

“If you are at my service, then why did your men kill my servant and drag me here against my will?”

“Ah, but that was just a misunderstanding. I’m sure they meant no harm.”

“No harm? Greta was a loyal maid whom I have known most of my life! And to bring me here as a prisoner, to force me to appear before you, that is outrageous!” Erika said as she raised her wrists up to show the bruises and marks from her bonds.

Kyrali acted as if he did not notice, instead taking Erika by the hand and leading her to a small table laid out with food and drink. A servant poured yellow wine into a silver cup for Erika, while the duke offered her a plate of cheese and grapes.

“Come, my lady, accept my hospitality,” he said in a silken tone, “It isn’t often that such a beautiful and noble woman graces us with her presence.”

Erika glared at him over the top of her wine, but took a piece of cheese from the plate. She nibbled on it for a moment, then looked at Kyrali with a shrewd expression.

“And what exactly do you want with me?” she demanded.

“Why, only to be of service to you and to offer you a rest from your long journey, fair lady,” he replied.

“If you wish to be of service to me, speed me to the borders of your lands so that I may return home!”

“Now, there’s no need to rush. I know of your father’s death, my lady. Such a pity, for such a beautiful woman to be without a protector and lord.”

This woman has no need of a protector or a lord, and how dare you speak of my father, you cur!”

“Ah, but I know that you are unwed, my lady,” he said, clucking his tongue, “How shameful that your father did not take care of that before his untimely demise.”

“What business is that of yours?” she retorted through clenched teeth.

“Why, since I plan on joining our kingdoms through marriage, it’s surely my business, Erika. May I call you Erika?”

“No, you may not, and if you think I’m going to….”

“Oh, I know of your betrothal, too. Really, your father was terrible about ensuring that his people stayed loyal to his house. But don’t worry your pretty little head about that, my dear. I’ll deal with Prince Jorgen as soon as I have united Booda and Pesht once again, and the resources of the Western Islands are mine.”

“My people will never…”

“Never let a gossamer hair on your head come to harm, my lady,” the duke interrupted with an oily smile, “even if that means providing me with ships and soldiers and whatever else your new husband requires. No, I think that we shall make a fine pair, and you shall give me good sons to rule both kingdoms.”

“You are no king, and I will not be your brood mare,” Erika said defiantly.

“Ah, but you see, I soon shall be. The little country of Pesht is being ravaged by a horrific plague, as I’m sure you saw on your way through that poor land.”

“I saw empty villages and farms turning to wasteland, if that’s what you mean,” she replied in an icy tone.

The duke shook his head sadly. “Yes, horrible, isn’t it? I’m sorry to say I’ve had to close my border with our neighbors to keep the contagion from spreading here. More wine?”

“I heard what you were saying when I came in. How can you kill all those people?”

“Ah, you are a sharp young lady, aren’t you? No matter. You see, a land depopulated by sickness can’t stop my army from crossing the border to… assist our neighbors. Of course, after we’ve garrisoned troops there to bring comfort to them, they’ll be happy to be ruled by such a benevolent master as me. And once I rule both lands, why, what else can I call myself but ‘King’?”  His smile widened as he took a sip from his cup.

“Benevolent?” Erika snorted, “You evil little snake, you’re murdering children so that you can steal from your neighbor!”

“Well, I guess it just depends on how one looks at it, doesn’t it, my dear?”

The duke took another drink from his wine, then smirked at Erika as he put his chalice down on the table.

“And since you had the bad manners to eavesdrop while I spoke to my advisor, I’ll just have to make sure you never have an opportunity to spread such things around. You’ll make a fine lady in the high tower, won’t you?”

His teeth showed white against his beard as he grinned at her and lifted his cup to drain it.


Other episodes can be found here.  The entire anthology can be purchased at Amazon.

Book Review – Bite Sized

Holly Chism, proprietress of the Godshead Tavern, has started a new series call the Liquid Diet Chronicles, and the first book, Bite Sized, is a real treat!

Meg Turner has been a vampire for twenty years. Her favorite food is rapists. Which is how she met Andi Donahue, her new best friend/ girl Friday.

And then the nightmares start. And the bodies start showing up–bled out and raped. Just like Meg was. They don’t have a whole lot of time to stop the killer before he strikes again, and only one way to stop the killer.

But how can Andi help Meg stop a killer she can’t even see?

Chism’s greatest strength as a writer is her ability to get inside her characters’ skins, and she hits the mark with Bite Sized.  Meg is a young vampire who’s had to learn everything on her own, and she has a pentient for thinning the ranks of those who prey on their fellow human beings.  By the end of the first chapter, she is a vivid, well-formed character that makes you want to read the next page and the page after that.

Other characters, especially Meg’s friend Andi, complete Bite Sized as they race to find and destroy a killer.  The story is fast paced at times, but Chism takes time to give her characters time to breathe and be human.  Well, mostly human, but it’s a vampire story, so you take what you can get.

I’d recommend Bite Sized for the beach or the lake house, or for an evening in front of the fire.  I’m already looking forward to the rest of the series!

Escort Duty – Part 19

The sun had been up for an hour when Simon and Hollo approached the village.

“I don’t know about you,” Simon said, “but I need a bath, some food, and a few hours of sleep.”

Hollo merely grunted as he looked at the village on the horizon. He stiffened as he saw several men on horses milling around near the tavern. He put his hand up, and Simon reined his horse to a halt.

“What is it?”

“Not sure. Was there a troop of cavalry in the village last night?”

“Not that I saw,” Simon replied, rising in the stirrups to get a better view of the village.

“Well, they’re at the tavern now.”

They rode their horses off the road and into a copse of trees. After dismounting, they tethered the horses to a willow next to a small stream and crept as near as they could to the village without being seen.

Closer inspection did nothing to assuage their fears. Even from this distance, they could see soldiers, both mounted and on foot, searching the buildings. Villagers stood around, clutching children close and bowing their heads to officers when they issued gruff orders and demands.

“Well, that’s the end of this trip,” Hollo said, turning to go back to the horses, “No way they weren’t captured.”

“We need to find out where the princess is,” Simon said, putting his hand up to stop his friend.

Hollo regarded him for a moment, then sighed.

“You and your damned sense of honor. Seriously, it’s going to get you killed someday.”

“Have to die for something,” Simon replied, “Think you can get in there without raising suspicion?”

Hollo said nothing, but reached his hand up to his amulet without asking Simon to turn around. His features blurred for a moment, then were replaced with those of a large crow.

“Never seen how you do that before,” Simon said, “Try to find out if they’ve been captured, and where they’ve been taken.”

The crow blinked twice, then took off in a rustle of black wings. Simon watched as it landed on the roof of the tavern, turning this way and that from its perch. After a moment, it flew down into the village and out of his sight.

Simon stole back to the horses and waited for Hollo. He was getting anxious when he heard wings beating on the wind, and then Hollo walked out from behind a tree.

“I’m doing that too often,” the thin man said, “Going to have to rest a bit.”

“What did you learn?” Simon demanded.

“They took the lady last night. She’s in Booda by now, probably.”

“And Greta?”

“Dead. I heard the innkeeper’s wife complaining to someone about having to clean up the blood.”

Simon shook his head at that. “We should never have left them,” he said angrily, slapping his fist into his palm.

“They’re searching the village for us,” Hollo continued, “The innkeeper told the soldiers that the last he saw of us, we were leaving the tavern last night.”

“How far is it to Booda?”

“If we take the main road, we can be there tonight, but we can’t go that way.”

“And if we go the way that doesn’t end up with us locked in a crow’s cage?”

Hollo looked up at Simon’s choice of words, then said, “We can be there by dawn tomorrow.”

“Good,” Simon said, turning to the horses, “let’s get going.”

Hollo shook his head and muttered as he mounted his horse. “Going to get both of us killed.”


Other episodes can be found here.  The entire anthology can be purchased at Amazon.

Derby Rumblings

  • Kentucky Derby coverage in Louisville started just about the time most of the folks who celebrated the Kentucky Oaks last night were prying their bloodshot eyes open and trying to figure out what happened to their pants.
    • The local coverage wasn’t too bad, but I’ve been advised by legal counsel not to comment on the folks NBC sent to Louisville.  What I have to say might be considered a hate crime.
  • It’s been raining off and on all day.  Racing officials have changed the track conditions from “sloppy” to “snorkel”.
    • Looking at the conditions, track veterinarians have decided that the biggest risk to the horses today is trenchfoot.
  • Irish Woman broke out the funny money to teach Boo about odds, win/place/show, and how much it sucks when you take the grocery money to the track.
    • Apparently, it’s a family tradition.  Her uncle, the Jesuit priest, used to take her to Churchill Downs all the time.
  • One of the local news critters says that people at the Derby will consume approximately 60 barrels worth of Woodford Reserve bourbon today.  That’s only slightly more alcohol than the average Army division consumes after it returns from its latest deployment.
  • By 3 PM, I was ready to send Boo to stand out in the rain until he stopped singing “My Old Kentucky Home”.
    • It’s a beautiful song, but I am sick unto death of it.
  • Irish Woman has announced that she wishes to attend the Derby next year.  If I start auctioning off redundant organs now, I’ll only have to take out one additional mortgage to make this happen.
  • The roses for the winner were carried and escorted across the track by Navy folks in their summer whites.
    • Nothing says “military logic” like having a bunch of folks walk across a muddy, nasty horse track in clothing that has to be perfectly white in order to be worn.
  • The Irish gentleman who is here with Mendelssohn is looking around as if he were thinking “Look at all those drunk bastards!”.  That says a lot.
  • The horses and jockeys looked so clean when they left the paddock, but that didn’t last long.
    • If Audible can get in on this, Tide should be able to really get their advertising hooks even deeper.
  • We decided to get a treat for dinner from Claudia Sanders tonight.  I have never been so loved as when I ran the feline gauntlet between the truck and the house.

Musings

  • Contrary to popular belief, I am not allowed to ask a Cub Scout, who is advancing from one den to the next, if he would like ‘Blood Rank’.
  • We took Boo to Churchill Downs this morning before school.
    • He got to see the sunrise over the haze wafting up from the city, the Derby and Oaks horses getting their morning exercise, and his father before coffee.
    • Speaking of which, I’m refraining from commenting on the coffee the Downs serves its paying customers.  I may be old and weak myself someday.
  • Another idea flew across my mind today: The tale of a mysterious stranger who walks into a North Dakota town during a February blizzard.  He brings with him an iron will, a fast gun hand, and a coffeecake.  He is… High Plains Lutheran.
    • It’s ideas like this that kept me out of the officer ranks.
  • How many calories does chasing your tail, or a wild goose, burn per hour?
    • If I have many more days like I did today, I’m going to be back to my ideal weight in no time.
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