Update on Book 6 of Raven of Iskandar

Many apologies for not keeping up with the updates.  A lot has been happening at home and at work but I won’t go into the details.

Book 6!

If you remember back last year when I started book 6 and complained that I only had one or two pre-written chapters and wondered what I was going to write about the team.  Well, the situation has reversed itself.  I had originally intended to call book 6 ‘All-star’ but now I have over 100,000 words and haven’t even gotten to the announcement of the All-star fan voting.

One of the highlights is that there will be a new team match type called ‘Onslaught’ (UT2004 players will know what I’m talking about), which will debut at the All-star game.

I’m currently toying with the idea of finding a good end point for Book 6 with the working title of ‘Road Trip’ since the team goes on their first off-planet road trip of the season.  Then continue on to Book 7 starting with the announcement of the All-star voting and going through the All-star game (and Christmas Break).

What will be happening?  Some teasers:  You’ll finally find out the name of the Chief of the Conspiracy.  Body parts.  Vysse’s first matches.  Raven goes house-hunting.  Slash and TakIndigo return.  Caerie (Taryn Kelly) returns.  The arrival of the Barefoot Assassin (Fans of the Japanese band Band-Maid will know what I’m talking about, and, yes, her name is Misa).

I am intrigued with the character, so here’s her first appearance which will probably be at the end of Book 6.

Yaren Technos was taking his first shift at the front desk. 

Many companies had abandoned the idea of a real person at the front desk.  Instead, they presented visitors with a kiosk and locked doors.  Others would try something ‘more human’ by providing a bot instead of the kiosk.  Neither of those two implementations were friendly to the visitor. 

Iskandar had always used real people to greet visitors except in times of high security.  Iskandar used bots infrequently and preferred to double-up on the human security at need.

Yaren was just ending his sixth week with Iskandar.  In typical Iskandar fashion, he’d come looking for a job and, after testing and interviews, they assigned him to security.  The past weeks had been filled with training and paperwork.  Now, since the 3 to 10pm shift was thought to be the easiest, they assigned him to the front desk by himself.

Yaren actually felt a little bit of pride in the fact that they allowed him at the front desk by himself.  It wasn’t that tough a job and help was just a button press away.

At least he thought the job wasn’t tough.

He had no inkling of what was to happen when the young girl came through the door.  On a world like Central where you saw just about everything, she seemed unusual.  She was tall, dressed in a black dress that almost swept the floor but was mesh in the lower part of the skirt to show she had on black floral stockings.  And she was barefoot.  She had a round face with almond-shaped dark eyes that was framed by bangs and long black hair.  She was bearing a backpack and what looked like a guitar case, both flung over her back.

Yaren’s first impression was that this was a lost traveler.  He couldn’t be more wrong.

She didn’t smile as she approached the desk.  She wasn’t distracted at all by the displays. 

“Misa,” she said in a heavy accent, pointing to herself.  “Tryout.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” he began.  “There are no tryouts at Prime level.  You’ll have to travel down to either Piedmont or Bestmartin, or even West Haven.”

She obviously did not understand a word he said.  She babbled something in a strange tongue.  At which he put up a finger for her to wait while he turned on the universal translator.

He showed it to her and she seemed to understand that and began talking again.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” said the translator.

“What language are you speaking?” he said half to himself.

Her face, though pretty seemed to be getting more stern by the moment.

“Tryout!” she expressed adding multiple comments in her own language.

He tried the translator again.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” it replied.

Seeing the look of confusion on his face, she slammed her hand down on the counter.  “Try Out,” she said loudly, stretching out the syllables.

Yaren pressed a couple of buttons on the translator, which began spewing out something in Skaarj.

Misa said something in her own language with was obviously disdainful.

“Let me get help,” he said, putting up a finger again.

She replied with something else, shaking her head with disdain.

There was the red button for emergencies and the blue button for help.  Thank God, he thought, they realized that sometimes you need help.  He pressed the blue button.

“Ok, Technos,” said a voice from the console.  “What’s the problem?”

“I’ve got a girl, uh, woman, that seems to be asking for a tryout,” he began.  The voice on the other end answered before he could finish.

“You’re having trouble with that?  Look, you know the rules and we covered this.”

“Yeah, but she doesn’t understand a word I’m saying and the freaking translator doesn’t recognize her language.  All she seems to know is ‘tryout’ and her name.”

Misa apparently understood that he was calling for help and leaned over the counter and let go a spate of scornful dialogue and then slammed her hand down on the counter again.

Damn, he thought, she has one helluva slap.

“Was that her?”


“I’ll be right down.”

“Wait just a moment, help is coming,” he said, trying to make the appropriate hand gestures.

She rolled her eyes and turned her back on him and began a soliloquy, dripping with sarcasm.

That’s the only thing I think is universal, he thought, sarcasm.

Destar Connolion came down.  Normally it would have been Zumbo or Chaptaine, but both of them were on the road trip.

Connolion was an impressive figure of a man and Misa, seeing him performed her Misa-Tryout act again.

“One moment,” said Connolion, holding up a finger.  The woman rolled her eyes again.  “Yaren, give me the translator.”

Yaren handed him the box.  Connolion fiddled with the buttons and then thrust it at the woman, pointing to it.

She waved it off and began babbling in her language again.

“I’m sorry.  I don’t understand,” said the box still another time.

The dark-haired woman launched into a tirade, dripping with sarcasm when Yaren heard people approaching.  A mixed group of staff and attendants appeared, apparently headed across the street to Phineas’.

Then the current unpleasant scenario turned bizarre.  In the crowd was Taressa from Secundus.  Just like most women in the tournament, was tall and thin but with big hazel eyes and dark curly hair.  Yaren thought she was one of the beauties in the building.

Taressa spotted the dark-haired woman and her eyes bugged out. 

“Holy shit!” she exclaimed and turned and ran back into the building, pushing everyone aside.

Misa quickly dropped her luggage and ran after her.  She bowled her way through the crowd, even knocking Connolion aside.  Yaren and Connolion ran after the two women.

Taressa, as a Tournament player, was fast but her opponent was apparently faster and gaining on the player as they both pelted down the hallway.

The two security agents had a hard time keeping up, never mind catching up.

Taressa took a wide corner and headed down a hallway toward the back of the building.  When He and Destar finally turned the corner, they saw Taressa slam into a fire door, wrenching it open.  Misa was mere steps behind as they were both out in the back alley.

“Damn they’re fast,” said Yaren.

“There’s nothing out there, just some dumpsters,” said Destar.

They got to the damaged door just in time to see Misa spring and catch Taressa by the ankle.  The player went down hard on the macadam and Misa twisted head over heels to land on top of her.  She had something in her hand that she slapped on Taressa’s neck and almost instantly the player went limp.

By the time the two security guards got there, the dark-haired woman had the player trussed up with immobilizers on her wrists and ankles.

Yaren wondered what they were going to do now.  After that act, Yaren didn’t feel too confident about confronting her.

As they approached, Misa turned and thrust a hand out to stop them.  Both stopped as there was an ID plat in her hand.  The plat had her portrait and was covered with what looked like some kind of hieroglyphics but Yaren immediately noticed the seal of the Alliance Police Force.  The only statement in Galact on the plat was apparently a title:  Senior Assassin.

And, to Yaren’s surprise, Misa was smiling at them.  She walked over and grabbed Connolion’s wrist and waved the plat over his wristmon.

Des stared at the display.  “It’s Japanese,” he exclaimed.

“What’s Japanese?” Yaren asked.

Des was busy with the translation box, which he had forgotten to drop when the race began.  In a stark contrast, the dark-haired woman, just waited patiently.  Yaren figured that, as an APF operative, finding Taressa, for whatever reason, had completed her search.

Des was still looking questioningly at the box, as if unconvinced that he’s set it right.  Misa began babbling in her language, and, to Yaren’s surprise, Galact came out of the box.

“Thank you very much for the assistance,” said Misa, who performed a small bow.  “I need some assistance in getting the target to Zanvliet.  The prison ship is there.”

“We’re happy to assist the APF at any time,” said Connolion.  “I just don’t know how to address a Senior Assassin.  I didn’t know the APF employed any assassins.”

Misa laughed.  Suddenly Yaren thought that that was such a beautiful sound.

“There are many prohibitions against assassins,” replied Misa.  “Most of what I do is bounty-hunting.”

Bounty-hunting didn’t sound like the best translation, but the two security guards got the idea.  For some reason, Taressa, or whatever her real name was, was wanted by the APF.

“Thanks for your help,” continued Misa.  “I did not realize that you knew I was arriving.”

“I’d like to take credit for it,” said Des.  “But it was a fortunate coincidence.”

Misa laughed again.  “In my report, I will state that Yaren Technos and Destar Connolion were of great help.”

Yaren raised his eyebrows at the fact that she knew their names.

“I’m just happy I didn’t understand what you were saying back there,” said Yaren.  “But I understood the tone of voice.”

Misa laughed.  “Sorry, but I get very anxious when near target,” she said.  “Delay will give the target chance to get away.  Happened too many times.”

“Can I ask why the APF wanted Taressa?” asked Connolion.

“Not secret,” said the dark-haired woman.  She tapped at her wristmon and both of theirs lit up.  It was a wanted poster.  Taressa, well, by her main alias, Absi del-Porosa-den, was wanted in connection with a mass murder on the planet B-Maid.  Yaren had no idea where that was.  If Misa knew little Galact, then it had to be way out there.

“She is a known person for the Bechtel Crime Group,” added Misa.  “She was only wanted for questioning, but then she hurried left.  She knew we had enough of her illegal doings to retain her for many months.”

“Sheesh,” said Connolion.  “Iskandar has had so many problems with crime infiltration the last two, three years.”

“Which is,” said Misa.  “Why I have been explained to stay.  It looks like you will have to give me a tryout.”

The dark-haired woman had a big smile.  The two of them looked at each other.


Termination at the Halt (2)

I forgot to mention…in conjunction with the fund-raising via Yvonne Marrs’ new book ‘Termination at the Halt’, as Syemak I created a track to go with it. It’s called ‘Ghost Train at the Halt’.

You can listen to it here:

Ghost Train at the Halt by Syemak

As a “subtle” hint, the fund-raising is for Breast Cancer UK and the link is here:


At some point, there is going to be the signing of real books of ‘Termination at the Halt’. Don’t have the information on that so far.

Termination at the Halt

It has been my privilege to help with the editing on Yvonne Marrs’ new murder mystery, ‘Termination at the Halt’.  For those of us not into railroads, a ‘Halt’ is a stop on a train line that is just a platform.  Trains only stop on demand as Halts are not part of the regular schedule.

The ‘Halt’ that is the location of the story is in Nast Hyde, Hatfield, Hertfordshire, UK. 

Nast Hyde Halt was one of those abandoned stations as the branch line between Hartfield and St. Albans was decommissioned in the 1950’s.  Mike Izzard restored the Halt to its former glory and is the main character in the novel.  Wrapped up in the murder mystery is the actual chronicle of Mike’s restoration of the Halt.

‘Termination at the Halt’ is due to be released on Amazon on March 1st and 50% of each sale will be going toward a charity, Breast Cancer UK.  Mike had so much funding help in his restoration of the Halt that he wanted to do something for charity.


Being some 5000 miles away from the Halt, I won’t be there.

‘Termination at the Halt’ will also be available for Kindle and as a paperback from Amazon. 

Adobe Bridge 2022

I’m not a big or prolific photographer. Roughly 75% of my pictures/images are taken for stuff I’m listing on eBay. Incidentally, most of my pictures are taken on a standalone camera. My current one is ancient, a Kodak EasyShare Z950. It’s probably close to 20 years old and, I know, Kodak has been out of the camera business for years.

Incidentally, that thing on your phone that takes pictures is not a real camera. If you have to push on the screen of a thing that you can barely keep steady, it’s not a camera. In fact, if you’ve unfortunately had to watch Apple’s commericals, you’ll see that even they show their phone being held by a handle attachment to hold it steady.

What I wanted to talk about was the recent upgrades to Adobe applications and, unfortunately, their terrible ‘customer support’.

At one time, I was a subscriber to Adobe’s monthly plan, and, for the money per month, it’s not a bad value if you happen to use the extent of their applications. As you can tell, I don’t. It was grating that I was paying $10/month to do contrast/brightenes/cropping on a dozen images per month. So I bought Affinity Photo and canceled the subscription. I did still use Adobe Bridge because it was easy. It download images from the camera, erased them from the camera and presented me with view where I could double-click on any image and have Affinity Photo start.

That is, until Adobe updated their ‘Creative Cloud’ and updated to Bridge 2022. I was totally unsuspecting of what was going to happen. Originally, Creative Cloud would allow you to install older versions of any application. That changed with the recent update, that ability was removed. Second, unknowing to me, when Creative Cloud updated, the default was changed to remove older applications when the update was installed. In short, I was handed an Adobe Bridge update that did not work, with no option to go back.

Bridge 2022 would still download images from my camera, but, when it came to the automatic deletion, it would delete one image, then complain ‘Device is not connector or Busy’. About that time I moved to a new computer and, the same problem still happened. Nor did the USB port matter, tried a few. Finally, I tried to find Adobe Support. I first went to the Adobe Community (where you can find answers!) and got no answers. I received one reply by a technically-weak user with strong, misguided opinions who lambasted me for deleting pictures from my camera because an ‘electronic bust’ could come by and destroy all my pictures. I didn’t answer him since people like that would not understand UPSes and things like backups. Subsequently I found that he was an Apple user, so I can understand he’s probably used to failures like video chips desoldering themselves.

By chance, I found ‘Contact Us’ in Creative Cloud and it led to a chat where I could discuss my problem. They were there for me (right). Now I note that they offer the opportunity to ‘get technical assistance’ but nowhere did they mention that the person I would talk to would be technical at all. I would find that out immediately.

To make a long story short, it took 2 1/2 hours to find out that my camera had been dropped from the list of compatible cameras. Mind you, they still supported some 20 Kodak (obsolete) cameras, but mine was not on the list. I chatted with three of these customer support personages and within the first five minutes with each, I realized that they did not know a thing about what they were supporting. The first two did not even ask to view the problem (yes, they did ask to have access to my computer). The last guy did and he was as lost as the other two. He had to have the problem repeated to him a couple of times. After nearly an hour, when he found the camera compatibility list, he kept trying to get rid of me. I asked about getting an older version and he said ‘You can find it after you reboot’. Sure that would let him off the hook. I told him to show me. For the next 20 minutes he tried to find somewhere in Adobe Creative Cloud where older versions could be installed. He didn’t find it. Finally, I said something nasty enough (You mean you are no help and won’t give me any help to install an older version?) that he got help and got me the installer for Bridge 2021.

What’s the point of all this? If you are in the same situation I was, I have the installer for Bridge 2021 and I will send it to you to save you hours online with Adobe’s Technical Incompetence. Email me at didymus7@hotmail.com and I’ll get it to you.

Incidentally, Bridge 2021 is call version 11. Bridge 2022 is version 12.

Last Man Standing

The title has become trite since it’s been used so many times and so many ways. However, when it happens to you, it’s different.

For example, Ben Nicks is now 103 years old. He was an aircraft commander (on the B-29’s, they didn’t call them pilots) during World War II. About a year ago, his last friend from that time passed away. He is fortunate, however, as he had 8 kids, 7 of which are still living.

You can feel sympathy for someone like Ben. Then again, I had a similar situation happen to me and I only recognized it recently.

In 1975, fresh out of college, I started my first job, as an engineer, at Picker Nuclear and Ultrasond in Northford, CT. Picker no longer has a division in CT. The location has been taken over by another company, but that’s another story.

During that time, I was very interested in chess and eventually started a chess club at Picker. We managed to have some kind of event every lunch time and a number of people were engaged. When it came to finding a name for out club, we decided that we weren’t that sophisticated. We called it the Picker Chess Horde and registered it with the US Chess Federation.

It was there that I met Ken Plesset, a chess master, who took an interest in my development. Years later, Ken was to witness me winning the club championship at the Madison Chess Club, where, rather ironically, he was the only opponent I lost to.

Eventually, there were four of us who were really into chess and it went so far as we would hold chess tournments among the four of us at each other’s homes. Along with Ken and me, were Paul Hornreich, another engineer and a technical artist by the name of Wayne Howard. Yes, the comic illustrator, the Wayne Howard that you could look up on Wikipedia.

Wayne was unique. He loved playing and analyzing chess games. As any chess player, he didn’t like losing, but he didn’t like beating anyone either.

After 5 years, I left Picker and eventually lost track of the other three. Ken was the one I kept in contact with the longest, that is, until he left the state.

Fast forward to 2008. I received an email from Howard Hornreich, the son of Paul. I did the normal mistake of asking how his father was. He’d passed away on Nov 15, 2006, at the age of 62 and his son was just gathering up stories about his father from his friends. He significantly asked about finding Ken Plesset and Wayne Howard. I helped him as far as I could but I’d lost contact with them. Wayne was still either in the state or in his cabin up in Maine. The last thing I’d known about Ken was that he was in Washington state running a chess store/club that a rich woman was funding.

Then I went back to normal life. It was earlier this year, when I was thinking of updating my first book, Raven: The Call from Central, I was considering a new cover. For some reason I remembered Wayne and searched to find him. I didn’t think I’d have any problem convincing him to do a new cover for me.

It was then that I found his Wikipedia page. It surprised me but not as much as finding out that I was much too late. Wayne had passed away on Dec 9, 2007 at the age of 58. Wayne was a heavy smoker. One of those that usually got ashes everywhere.

That was when I went to find out about Ken Plesset. Ken’s given name was Kiven, so he was easy to find. Ken was also the oldest of the four of us, so I had already figured that I’d find his obituary. Ken passed away on Jan 9, 2012 at the age of 85.

So, of the four people who drove the chess club known as the Picker Chess Horde, I’m the only one remaining. The last man standing.