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Survive Until the Final Scene

Survive Until the Final Scene

Combat Search and Rescue is the hardest job in the Army. Especially for the medics.

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Excerpt: Isobel’s Story

a paranormal romantic suspenseAT THE CLEAREST SENSATION

Hollywood star Isobel Manella leads a charmed life in many ways: interesting roles, surrounded by friends and family, and the ability to sense precisely what those around her are feeling. Her empathic skills help her and her team shine.

Sailor and film handyman Devlin Jones enjoys the job niche he’s created along Seattle’s waterfront. His skills as a Jack of all trades keeps him fed, companionship can always be found, and his beloved Dragon sailboat lies moored just outside his back door.

However, when Devlin takes Isobel on an evening sail, he brings aboard far more trouble than he’s ever faced before. As an assistant on her upcoming film, he thought he could just sail through the gig. Little did he know she’d completely change the uncharted course of his future.

Isobel Manella stood at the end of her pier. Sadly, she was there in both the literal and metaphorical sense. The film actress in her appreciated the juxtaposition, but the woman she was didn’t at all. Except it wasn’t even a dramatic pier, it was just a little floating dock, and the crashing waves were inch-high wind ripples rolling across the quiet urban lake to lap below her feet.

“What was I thinking?”

The gull bobbing gently nearby didn’t answer back and she really, really wished it would.

Reflecting the Seattle skyline, Lake Union lay quiet beneath the summer sunset. The breeze rippled the surface just enough to break up the bright reflection of the lowering sun. It was hard to believe that she was in the heart of a major American city. Her home in San Antonio might boast the River Walk, but it had nothing like this.

The lake was a half-mile wide and a mile-and-a-half long. The southern shore was protected from the urban core by a thin line of restaurants and a wooden boat museum. The expanse of a park filled the north end with a lovely grassy hill that caught the evening light.

To the east and west, tall hills rose steeply, thick with a piney green so verdant that it practically clogged the air with oxygen. Only scattered apartment blocks and low office buildings risked those slopes that resisted most attempts at urbanization.

On this quiet June Tuesday, the lake was thick with more sailboats than all of Canyon Lake on July 4th weekend. Every year, Mama had made a point of driving the forty miles from San Antonio to take her and Ricardo there for the parade and fireworks. After she’d died, they’d only gone one more time—to scatter her ashes where their father’s had been all these years.

Isobel had never become attached to the sea; it was too vast and unruly. But she loved the happy bustle of a big lake.

The shoreline here was lined with marinas for boats of all sizes from daysailers to mega-yachts. Even a few massive workboats added their contrast to the scenery.

Several large houseboat communities also gathered along the shore. Though houseboats conjured the wrong image for her. A houseboat was a trailer on a rectangular metal hull rented for a few days on Canyon Lake. These were actual floating homes, hovering along finger piers that stuck out from the shore. They created a world away from the city, a quiet corner, without having to travel miles through sprawling suburbs to seek some peace. From here, the predominant evening sounds were the slapping of sails interrupted by the occasional hard burr of a seaplane lifting from the water.

No, the problem wasn’t the lake. Or the “houseboat” she’d rented for the team. She turned to look at it, a pleasingly eclectic mix of old and new. The weathered cedar-shake siding was offset by the dramatically large windows.

It had four bedrooms, three baths, and a luxurious great room that spanned the entire first floor and made it easy for her team to all be together or spread out in smaller groups. It had an open plan kitchen that reminded her how much she used to enjoy cooking, back when she had the time.

The back deck had a rack of single and double kayaks. A smaller deck spanned across the two front bedrooms on the second story. And the rooftop deck was ideal for looking out over the lake to watch the sunset light up the sixty-story-high Space Needle even though the sun would soon be sliding off the lake and going behind Queen Anne hill.

She could happily stay here forever.

Another spatter of laughter sounded from the rooftop deck, which she could hear clearly from where she’d “reached the end of her dock.”

The problem was her team.

Not that she didn’t love them all.

But the other members of Shadow Force: Psi were now three couples. Her twin brother had married Isobel’s best friend. They now supported each other more than her. She wouldn’t wish it otherwise, but still she missed them—even though they were right …there, up on the roof. And her best friend’s stepbrother had just become engaged to a lovely English lass. Even the quiet Hannah and her cowboy husband were utterly charming.

But she could feel their happiness.

She and Ricardo had grown up in a hard household. Papa dead in the Gulf War. Mama a single mother who’d run an entire nursing staff at a major hospital. Isobel had run their household from the time she could reach the stovetop from a stool.

They’d made it. A tight, hard-working unit. Then, while Isobel was in college and Ricardo in the Army, Mama was suddenly gone. Her death still left a hole in Isobel’s heart that the last decade had proved would never heal.

By keeping her team close, she was surrounded by happiness every day.

Yet she wasn’t just a third wheel to Ricardo and Michelle’s happiness. She was now a seventh wheel to all three couples.

Shadow Force: Psi was between missions, so they’d all accompanied her here and were looking forward to helping on her latest film—with an excitement that was a little overwhelming. They’d arrived in Seattle just this morning and everyone had plunged into enjoying themselves as not a one of the others had been here before. Nine years and a lifetime ago she’d been here to shoot her breakout rom-com but not been back since.

Isobel had been managing it, enjoying their sense of fun.

Until Michelle had announced that she was pregnant.

The general excitement had turned to near ecstatic joy. Hannah had exchanged a look with Jesse, who then announced that they were going to start trying, too. Michelle had cried on Hannah’s shoulder that she might not be facing this alone—as if that was possible in this group.

Isobel couldn’t be happier for them…but her mind couldn’t shut them out.

They each had their unique gifts. Some of them could switch them on and off, others couldn’t. Michelle and Ricardo shared a telepathic link that was unique to them, and always worked without fail. Though Ricardo occasionally complained about being unable to shut out his wife’s thoughts. The others had absolute control over their skills. Hannah and Jessie could do strange things with creating sounds, really strange and useful things if they were in physical contact. Michelle’s stepbrother Anton could send his vision out to take a look around without having to drag his body along. And his fiancée Katie could feel if someone had been in a certain spot and then use her wilderness tracking skills to follow their trail.

Normally, her own empathic gift was wholly under her control. She could choose to sense what those around her were truly feeling, or she could shut them out and just be “normal.”

It was a skill she’d always had, but hadn’t known was unusual until Papa had been killed in action. Mama had put on the brave mask for her four-year-old children, but Isobel had been overwhelmed by that hidden grief. She’d had to learn at a very early age how to turn off her extra sense in order to survive.

But tonight the joy was so thick in the air, she hadn’t been able to shut it out. She couldn’t breathe.

“How can we stand it?” she asked the gull who had drifted to the other side of the dock.

Apparently deciding that she couldn’t (or that Isobel was not being sufficiently forthcoming with some torn bread), the gull fluttered aloft and soared off in search of less frustrating places.

If only she could do the same.

Again happy laughter, big and deep this time. It sounded as if Michelle’s stepbrother, Anton, had talked Katie into all of them trying to have their children close together even though their own wedding was a month off.

Isobel rubbed her own midriff.

She ached to be like them. Be one of them in this moment.

But all she could see of the future was becoming Auntie Isobel. Always cheering for others but never for herself.

Her face had been on every cover from Vogue to The Hollywood Reporter as her career had exploded. Even her Christmas blockbuster had busted the block beyond all projections. People had imaginatively dubbed her “The Sun-kissed Actress.” No matter how non-PC it was to emphasize her skin color, it was true that fortune was absolutely smiling down on her. Amazing career. Incredible friends who truly understood the joys and fears of being gifted. A challenging life with the secretive Shadow Force.

And the personal life of a lone oyster. At least those lucky mollusks got pearls.

Every man who saw her instantly thought he knew her—and wanted to conquer her. Not her, but rather her-the Movie Star. Her chances of finding what all of her friends up above were now celebrating decreased with each passing film.

The evening was still bright, but soon the team would notice she was gone.

Michelle would come find her first; she knew Isobel’s moods better than Isobel did herself. She’d slip a friendly arm around Isobel’s waist—her emotions thick with the green velvet of her core kindness, and rolling pink with compassion—and say something completely outrageous that would make her laugh and feel as if she belonged and was just being foolish.

Isobel didn’t want to be consoled. She didn’t want to live through her friends’ relationships, through their children.

Since playing the “Crippled Girl” in The Pied Piper of Hamlin during second grade—a role she’d landed because her mother the nurse had been able to borrow a child-sized crutch from the hospital—she’d loved acting. But the price! The price was terribly high, and growing all the time.

She closed her eyes and concentrated on shutting herself off from others.

There was only her, the evening breeze, the warmth of the early evening sun on her face. She leaned toward its warmth. She could just—

“Don’t do it!”

Isobel opened her eyes and looked at the man who’d called out to her. He floated a short way off in an elegant sailboat. It was long and lean, with a teak deck and a bright-varnished wooden hull. She’d never sailed on one, but she knew it was a model called a Dragon. It had been easy to remember because it was how sleek a flying serpent should look.

“Excuse me?”

“Don’t jump, lady. Whatever’s wrong, it’s not worth it.”

She looked down at the water lapping quietly a foot below her bare toes. One of the first things they’d all done on arrival this afternoon was jump into the water and swim about to wash off the flight from San Antonio.

“I think I’d survive the fall.”

“Maybe there’s a hungry Kraken lurking below. Why risk possible doom when you can sail?”

She focused on the man. His skin was roughly as dark as her own though differently toned—less Latin-brown, more desert ochre. Black hair strayed down to his collar and a close-trimmed beard and mustache emphasized the strong cheekbones that stood out despite his mirrored sunglasses. He wore denim cutoffs, and the edge of a colorful tattoo peeked out from the sleeve of a white t-shirt that declared, “I’d rather be sailing.”

She nodded toward his t-shirt. “But you are sailing.”

“Wouldn’t you rather be sailing?”

“I’d rather be doing anything.”

Releases 9/29. Pre-order now. (Print and Audio available 9/29.)

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NerdGuy #22: Dragons

No, not the cool fire-breathing kind. Sorry.

A Russian Dragon racing on Lake Como, Italy. © VYGOcommand|Wikimedia

Okay, is it utterly ridiculous for me to whimper at this point?

Sailing geeks get it, of course. Here’s a (very) brief background as to why.

Dragon Coolness

Johan Anker was a Norwegian sailor who won Olympic medals from 1908 to 1928 (the last gold was with his son and the crown prince, and future king, of Norway on his crew). So, we can accept that he knew a little about boats.

Anker & Jenkins soon became on of the premier boat design teams in the world. And Anker’s design of the Dragon became an Olympic event from 1948 to 1972.  This made it the one of the three longest running keelboat classes in the Olympics, featuring in 7 Olympics over 34 years.

Today, it is still one of the largest one-design keelboat sailing classes anywhere with over 1,300 boats registered in 31 countries on five continents.

Okay, I can feel my wife is way ready for a subject change. I sailed all the time as a kid and through much of my twenties. Her experience with sailing was staying at her mom’s tiny houseboat in Sausalito, CA, where she moved after my wife went to college. When I get on a roll about sailboats, her eyes don’t just roll, they tend to roll right back into her head.

A few definitions

A wooden Dragon, super-extra cool as most are fiberglass now. © AHunt|Wikimedia

See that big fin underneath, below the water line? That’s called a keel. Even better, it’s called a full keel. (This is one of those points that cause endless debates in bars after sailboat races.)

Compare that with this “fin” keel.

Fin keel. You get the idea, right? Paceship 23 © AHunt|Wikimedia

The full keel is really good at going in a straight line. With all of that area underwater, it doesn’t get blown sideways very easily. Whereas the fin keel offers much less sideways resistance.

On the other side of the coin, the fin keel lets you twist and turn much faster as you don’t have to slosh so much water out of your way. The Dragon is actually what’s called a “modified full keel” because the underwater part doesn’t run end to end. Ocean-going ships will typically have true, full keels because they don’t need to turn except at either end of their journey.

My lovely “Lady Amalthea”. A boat I rebuilt from 1983-1985. Note the full keel (and the pretty new paint job).

The Lady was very slow to turn, but if I was headed in just one direction, she flew!

The modified full keel design of the Dragon is a compromise between “holding a line” and “turning on a dime.”

You’ll also notice that the Dragon and the Lady were very long and lean, compared to the Pacer. Lean means less resistance to the water, which means FAST! Sure, the  Pacer 23 (23′ long) probably had berths for 3, a tiny galley and maybe a toilet. The 29′ Dragon has some room for sails down below, but not much else. The 50′ Lady could sleep six and had a galley and toilet, but it was all very tight.

Two of these boats are about sailing and one is about cruising.

Sailers, Cruisers, and Stinkpots

There are two or three types of sailors.

Those aboard Stinkpots, boats with no sails, just a motor, call themselves sailors…they’re wrong.

Cruisers aren’t in a big hurry. They’re glad to loaf along from one place to another. They’re comfortable, have the kids aboard, and are taking their hotel room with them.

Sailors who sail sailboats, especially long, lean sailboats like Dragons and the Lady, care about the ride. So what if our accommodations would make a nylon tent look luxurious. It doesn’t matter that we’re heeled over enough to be inundated by cold spray (or the occasional cold wave). We haul up as much canvas as we dare and we thrill at the ride.

Big Cruising

My wife and I once toyed with the idea of taking our kid and going sailing around the world for a couple of years. We looked at big cruising boats. Perhaps as long as the Lady, but also half again as wide.

Suddenly the narrow pilot’s berth became a kid’s room with a guest bunk. The master suite wasn’t just a fancy name for the foam and plywood top laid over the sail locker. The galley wasn’t a charcoal grill dangling off the back rail and a battered cooler.

We ended up not going for a lot of reasons (money being one of them–big boats are very spendy), but I never quite recovered from all of that cruising space. I’ll take a long, lean, sailor’s boat any day.

That’s why I think that the Dragon is one of the most beautiful boats ever built. It looks like it’s flying even perched on a trailer. I came within inches of buying one years ago. I was traveling 8 months a year, remodeling a house, and had no time to even think about dating anyone. But I found one just sitting there, so pretty, so perfect. Walking away from it was actively painful.

I Still Dream of that Boat

I sold the Lady Amalthea after three years of rebuilding her and sailing on her every chance I got. I spent two months solo sailing her through the San Juan Islands in 1984.

The Lady under full sail. I tied a rope around the tiller and she just flew. Straights of Georgia, off Vancouver, BC, Canada
The Lady under full sail. I tied a rope around the tiller and she just flew. Going over eight knots on the Strait of Georgia, off Vancouver, BC, Canada.

I changed her sail color and gave her to the hero of Where Dreams Are Born (Where Dreams series #1).

No, that’s not the “Lady” on the cover.

The Dragon that I never owned? Well, you’ll have to wait until 9/29 to find out who gets “my” Dragon. It’s exactly the one I would have bought back in the early 1990s. You can pre-order At the Clearest Sensation now to be the first to read it, or jump in and read the first three in the series before the 29th so that you’re ready for this heart-warming series ender.

a paranormal romantic suspense
Shadowforce: Psi #4


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NerdGuy #21: Submarine cables

You use them every day…perhaps 100s of times.

Did you glance at the BBC news? Send a message to a friend traveling in Thailand? Look at a webcam of a wildfire in California (but you don’t live on mainland North America)?

If so, you used an undersea cable. Satellite? Nope. By comparison those are both slow and very expensive. They’re better for beaming down large blocks of programming to a massive area to be picked up by big radio dishes to feed into local cable systems (and little ones at home). Bad weather can interfere with the signal, making frequent resends necessary (it’s all done automatically, but the repeating still slows everything down).

An Incredibly Brief History

  • The telegraph really worked well for the first time in 1839. A two-wire apparatus built by a British team.
  • By 1842, Samuel Morse had dumped a wire (his cheaper system required only one and, along with creating Morse Code, made him the father of telegraphy) into New York harbor. He coated it in hemp and India rubber, and submarine cable was born.
  • By 1853, a successful cable was laid across the English Channel.
  • There are now about 450 of them, many with a dozen or more interconnections to a single cable. I should amend that, there are about 450 active cables, there are (literally) 1,000s down there. Seriously cool active cable map:
  • There are more being laid every day.
  • A cable appears to have about a 20-year life. Not that they all fail, but because technology moves so fast that they’re simply too lame to bother with anymore.
  • Cables were originally mostly owned by telegraph and telephone companies.
  • Now, most of the new ventures are owned by Internet media companies: Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Netflix, with some phone companies thrown in for old times sake. They are all investing billions of dollars into this infrastructure. Private enterprise is going for a 100% connected planet as fast as they can (and as governments allow). If a government chooses not to get hooked up, they’re simply be bypassed and fall off the information superhighway (a near-fatal mistake in my opinion, even just from a commerce point of view). Look at the landing points of the upcoming 2Africa cable to see what I mean:

The Cable Itself

There’s an old World War II submarine cable sticking out of a hillside not too many miles from where I live. We went to see the old anti-submarine observer tower that’s smack in the middle of a very upscale neighborhood. The cable has just been chopped off and left behind in a road cut with no indication if back in the day it was merely connecting to Boston or it stretched all the way to Europe. An insulated core wrapped in heavy armor (that’s all the twisty steel, not for conducting, just for protection). There would then be another protective layer over that, but the rubber has probably degraded out of existence (the tower is at least 75 years old).

WWII Submarine watch tower, Cape Ann, MA
WWII Submarine watch tower, Cape Ann, MA
Submarine cable at base of tower
Submarine cable at base of tower








They’re now fiber-optic thread (or a bunch of them), inside a copper tube (which carries a current to drive the repeaters that boost the signal every 100 km or so), inside armor, waterproofing, and so on. The whole cable will be only 2-3 inches across, all of it in service of a dozen threads of fiber optic each finer than a human hair.

Speed? Try 26 Terrabits per second on a recent trans-Atlantic cable. If I did my math right, that about 135 1080p (hi-res) movies per second. Or 1.3 billion hi-res pictures. Per second. That’s one cable for 1/86,400th of a day.

Now multiply by those 450 cables (despite varying speed and age), and you can see how they connect our world together.

Damage, Sabotage, and Tapping?

Yes, yes, and yes.

Every few days a cable is broken by rock slides, underwater earthquakes, or fishermen. In an extreme example in 2007, a couple of Vietnamese fishermen essentially unplugged the country. They pulled up 27 miles of cable with the intent of selling it as scrap. For over a month the country had to limp along on a single, aged cable.

Cutting a cable is easy.  The main safety against a cable attack at this time is simply the vast number of cables. To target even a significant number, at least in the first world, would be a monstrous task. In less connected countries, which may have only one or two connections, or worse yet may only be linked through another country’s cable, this is a higher risk.

Tapping one is harder, but both the Russians and the US have submarines that appear to have been specifically adapted to do this. Consider these links:

The submarine USS Jimmy Carter (with an extra 100′ section) took over duties from the USS Parche worked for the NURO, National Underwater Reconnaissance Office (part of the NRO??). And if you want to muckrake a little deeper, try this article.

Tapping them on land is trivial, as Snowden revealed in his document theft from the NSA.

This is, of course, no surprise at all to any half-decent computer tech, and it is practically guaranteed that every country is doing it and has been all along. Snowden just happened to steal a document that exposed GCHQ (the British equivalent to the NSA).

The easiest attack point is where the cables come ashore. Any sailor knows the “Do Not Anchor Here” signs of a cable crossing. They often carry power to an island along with phone and cable. But they can also be crossing oceans. There are two options about what to do with the sea-to-land terminus: hide it or fortify it. Or do both. All of the examples in my recent release At the Merest Glance are real, except for the Senegalese one. I found solutions precisely like the ones I used there, but was uncertain of the precise location it actually comes ashore there. In the book I talk about the WWII solution at Porthcurno, Cornwall, where they buried the cables and the operators inside a sea cliff.

Yes, there’s an entire, utterly fascinating infrastructure that underlies our oceans and connects our world together. I hope that it only grows.

For the Total Geek

A neat 3-minute video of how cables are laid under the ocean.

A 43-minute special on how cables are: manufactured, laid, and fixed that I found riveting despite the narration style.

All this for a few scenes in Shadowforce: Psi #3

At the Merest Glance

At the Merest Glance

Series: Shadowforce: Psi, Book 3
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Tag: Novel

Sometimes seeing is believing, sometimes it takes feeling as well.

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