Inversion Factor Zero Part One

The sky looked ominous. As ironic as that was, Lieutenant Devin Leach was in no mood for puns. Every puddle he trudged through threatened to soak through his boots. Of all the people in the detail, it was Leach who knew better than most the dangers of wet socks. Not only were they a morale drain, in this kind of climate they were more likely than not to set off a wide variety of annoying medical hazards. Normally, the lieutenant and his team would be wearing gear appropriate for the climate. But this situation was about as far from normal as any officer could imagine. Even in the best of circumstances, they were going to have to keep every piece of current technology they had hidden and replace their normal routine with something more contemporary.

According to their maps, the village was only a quarter mile away. It seemed strange they could see no cattle or people in any direction, even on the road. One would think that someone would at least be hauling wares to or from the settlement, or simply getting water, but there wasn’t a soul to be found. A breeze caught the tall grass and caused the posts of the nearby fence to creak.


“Negative, sir.”

The lieutenant’s second was a promising young Able Crewman First Class on his first surface mission. High-ranking fleet enlisted were in short supply given the sudden need for specialists of all stripes, so it fell to the up-and-coming crew members to take up the slack. The lieutenant’s four-person squad was as green as a spring pond, but like all officers Leach was a believer in the old adage of combat experience: “Nothing grows until it’s buried in fertilizer.”

Leach wasn’t a big fan of leading men in a line up an unfamiliar road. Fleet or not, all Skywatch officers were trained for surface warfare. All officer candidates were regaled at one point or another by stories of the redcoats marching into combat in formation, dozens abreast. It was surely a proper and disciplined and an altogether British way of waging war, but the English, and as it turned out the Japanese, French, Germans, Chinese and Spanish as well were disabused of its effectiveness by the passage of time and the inexorable march of military technology.

None could fail to recognize the excellence of her Majesty’s navies, and their dominance of a world’s seas for nearly three centuries. Her armies, on the other hand, at least in the lieutenant’s opinion, didn’t have quite the same reputation. Leach, still more centuries removed from musket and formation, performed the same calculus as the officers of the ancient crown when evaluating risks. He didn’t like leading men in a line up a road with wide open fields of fire in every direction in a potentially dangerous place. Granted, ACFC Tooley was a capable SRS tech. His equipment was in fine working order, and he had been advised personally by the Chief Signals Officer of a battleship. It still didn’t change the lieutenant’s attitude.

Somewhere a few hundred miles overhead, the starship Sai Kee was on station, coordinating heavily disguised landing parties at various points across central England. The lieutenant was quite sure Skywatch Command was going to be very interested to hear Commander Jayce Hunter’s explanation for her ship’s current position, to say nothing of the fact Sai Kee technically wasn’t even her ship. Up to now the admiralty hadn’t demonstrated much of a grasp of what the Perseus crews had been up against. It was pretty unlikely they were going to understand why the commander had ordered her frigate to pursue one man into humanity’s ancient past. Admiral Powers would get it. The others would probably be a little slow.

What both the lieutenant and the commander did know was that if Sai Kee failed in her current mission, the early days of the Second Praetorian War were likely to be rather unfavorable, and that was the optimistic analysis. In fact, if Hunter didn’t catch the maniac she had now chased across five hundred years of history, whatever remained of the human race would be unlikely to survive at all. If they did, the next thousand years were going to make the Dark Ages look like a Saturday Evening Post cover.

“Feels like we’ve walked into a history book, sir,” Tooley offered.

Leach sighed. “I suppose that’s one way to look at it. I hope we can find what we’re looking for and get out of here quick.”

“What are we looking for, sir?”

“Like Commander Tixia says, we’ll know it when we see it. I just hope these people don’t mistake us for shamans or something and burn us at the stake.”

“Are they that superstitious, sir?” Tooley didn’t sound like he wanted to hear the answer.

“If there’s any sanity in the parish, it will be domiciled at Saint Andrew’s. At least that’s what the library computer thinks. Three quarters of a click bearing two zero six.”

“I’ve got intermittent life signs, sir, but nothing I can lock in,” Tooley said. He looked frustrated, as if his tools weren’t quite showing the readings he expected.

“Lieutenant?” One of the squad riflemen indicated a sign along the edge of the road. It read “Ombersley – Population 308.” Although they were called “riflemen” by regulation, on this mission, the heaviest weapon they had was a TK-12. Concussion rifles were tougher to hide, and the last thing Leach needed was a disruptor wave taking out half of someone’s barn.

The sound of a crow’s call floated over the road.

“Well, at least the birds are home,” Leach said. “Remember your cover names and make sure all your rank insignia is hidden or removed. Weapons at 20% power. Watch your targets. Everyone here is a civilian.”

“Except one,” Tooley added.

“Except one.” Leach led the squad towards the nearest of the shadowy structures standing against the late day light.

Destroy All Starships is the companion series to Inversion Factor Zero!
Available now!

Starships at War

If you’ve been following my newsletter, you know that I’ve started a new series. It is a four-part prequel to my next military science-fiction novel series called Starship Expeditionary Fleet. The fourth and concluding volume Operation Nightfall is now available for pre-order and will be released just before Christmas.

I’ve received some messages asking about Starships at War, which is my first series. Starships at War is a six-novel series. Book Five, Jacks Full of Aces is still a work in progress. The reason I am starting a new series now is because there are certain events and plot lines in the first set of books that form the basis for events in the new series. I’m writing them simultaneously so I can weave these two storylines together and make the current prequel collection a complete introduction to the new storyline.

The next series will also be six novels. It’s a fairly ambitious story, which is one of the reasons I’m synchronizing the two as I go. I will release the first book in the new novel series in January followed by either Jacks Full of Aces or book two in the new series (whichever gets written first).

I’ve been averaging about 3000 to 4000 words a day pretty reliably for the last month or so, and I’m working towards higher daily counts and a more regular release schedule.

There have also been some questions about continuity. Starships at War takes place before Starship Expeditionary Fleet which in turn takes place before the new series. The books are in chronological order from Strike Battleship Argent through the prequel novellas and through the new series in book order.

This month and next month will be pretty much nothing but book releases and pre-order announcements. I think you’ll enjoy all the new aliens and ship types. I also think you’ll enjoy the adventures in the Atlantis Sector. Black out.

According to America’s Employers and their Robots, I Have No Marketable Skills

A friend of mine came to me with a problem last night. He was up against a deadline to send out a newsletter, and he only had one day to make it happen. The problem was, the addresses he planned to send the newsletter to were contained in more than 1700 individual e-mails. Extracting them one by one would take hours, and he just didn’t have the time. Surely there had to be a technical solution? After all, take a look around. Everyone has a computer in their pocket.

The thing is, the word “computer” has different meanings depending on your life experience. For example, when I heard the e-mails were contained in Microsoft Outlook, I groaned. Why? Because my decades of experience in these matters hath shewn that when it comes to doing something other than cutting off Netscape’s air supply, Microsoft isn’t really all that motivated. Meanwhile, their software is famous for fighting its users on the beaches and in the hills to prevent them from getting at their own data. That is if it isn’t already busy destroying that data.

Fortunately, the e-mails had been first collected by Gmail, which wouldn’t normally be much better, except that Google was practically forced not long ago to give users access to their own information so it can be exported elsewhere. This meant it was possible to download all 1700+ e-mails. So we ended up with a 7MB file crammed with raw e-mail data.

Remember my point about the word “computer” having different meanings depending on your experience? Well, I’m an old tankard-wielding grognard when it comes to computing. I do all my best work on Linux, which is a PC-compatible operating system largely inspiried by the UNIX system of the 1970s. UNIX was invented at a time when we used computers more for computing and less for posting our status on social media and browsing the web with an obsolete kludge of an application called a “browser” that for reasons passing understanding needs more than 1GB of RAM to operate correctly.

Now my friend wasn’t completely without options. He had a Visual Basic program that purported to do what he needed, but it wasn’t working properly due to errors in its variable declarations. This normally wouldn’t be a problem since I have voluminous experience with Visual Basic, except Visual Basic is a Microsoft product, and Microsoft software will not cooperate. It never has, it never will. In fact, it will fight to prevent you from getting your work done. Even if I had a way to load, debug and recompile a Visual Basic program in 2019 (oh dear), there’s no guarantee it would work. The term for this is “technical risk.” When you only have a few hours, you can’t rely on software that might work. You need software that will work.

So Linux it was.

I took a look at the e-mails. Each line with the address we needed to extract had the common label “E-mail address:” next to it. So I did the extraction job with one command. I used grep to copy all the lines from the big text file with that label in them. That gave me a file with all the addresses preceded by “E-mail address:” Then I opened the file in Emacs and replaced all the labels with a blank space. Now I had a file with a list of all the addresses. My friend needed them comma-delimited, which means all the addresses should be separated by commas instead of on their own line. So I used sed to remove the newlines and replace them with commas. The entire process took six minutes.

People often want to know “what’s the big deal about Linux? What can I do with Linux I can’t do with Windows?” Funny you should ask.

Why was it so simple on Linux and simultaneously close to impossible on Windows? It’s the same computer. It’s the same hardware. If the processor can do the work on one, it should be able to do the work on the other, right? Well, not so fast. Microsoft is in the business of making sure every PC has a copy of Windows glued to it and making sure every business on Earth is locked into Microsoft Office. They are not at all interested in solving problems with computers, so they don’t provide their users with the tools they need to get jobs like the last-minute newsletter done. Oh sure, you could try to do it with various Office applications, but it would be about the same experience as repairing a truck engine with your teeth. The first commercial versions of Windows were available more than 30 years ago. The system still doesn’t have even a mediocre text editor. The difference between Emacs and Microsoft’s Notepad are analogous to the difference between a bengal tiger and the bacteria under your refrigerator.

I will concede in advance that I have had my moments with Visual Basic and VBA. Visual Basic is one of the rare bright spots in the constellation of Microsoft products, along with DirectX and Windows 95. However, those few successes do not make up for the unholy siege of trying to get useful work done with their other products, or using the browser-that-shall-not-be-named.

But the newsletter project itself really isn’t the point. What I did yesterday afternoon wasn’t remarkable in any way when it comes to computing. Running the output of grep through a couple of pipes to remove newlines and comma-delimit a list of e-mail addresses is pretty basic stuff if you have the experience and you’ve been trained to look at problems in the Linux way. We’ve been doing things the Linux way for more than 25 years now. If you have an Android phone, so have you.

What I ultimately accomplished yesterday was to save a man a few hours of tedious error-prone hard work and deliver something important on a deadline. I used powerful tools to automate a task. I was able to do this because I’ve put a lot of years into learning how to use those powerful tools. My friend knows this, which is why my phone rang yesterday. When you need an engine, you call an engineer.

But according to America’s employers and their robots, I have no marketable skills.

Automating things has been the theme of my career, both as a contract programmer and in my own businesses. I wrote software that takes a plain text book manuscript and a cover image and compiles them into a validated EPUB3 electronic book that can be published on nearly any retail bookstore. Hand-coding an EPUB3 would take days, even for someone familiar with the process. You really have no idea how many apostrophes there are in a science fiction novel until you have to replace them all with HTML entities. Excel certainly isn’t going to help you. Being able to convert a manuscript to a book in a few seconds is one of the key reasons I’m able to publish so quickly and have a successful career as an author. Turns out readers appreciate a book that isn’t riddled with errors.

When I worked for a major firmware manufacturer, my team authored in-house software that automatically wrote makefiles for commercial BIOS images to install in retail PCs and laptops. The BIOS, or Basic Input-Output System used to be the first software that ran when you turn on a PC. The makefile was the list of instructions for an application called a “compiler” to build each BIOS image so it could be installed. Makefiles for such software could easily run to hundreds of lines. If there is a single mistake or typo, an hour-long build might fail. Multiply that by the hundreds and hundreds of test builds we were required to do for companies like Honeywell, Toshiba and Compaq, and a mistake could easily cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars, or millions if a faulty BIOS found its way into a production PC. Once we were done automating it, however, the errors were gone. The software we wrote perpetually saved the company millions of dollars a month.

But, according to America’s employers and their robots, I have no marketable skills.

I wrote an optical document processing system for a financial services company using, ironically enough, Visual Basic. Our task was to create a printer driver for each of the unique forms a car dealer might use to sell or lease a vehicle. The printer had to write name, address, mileage, etc. in various boxes on each form, and the printer driver’s job was to tell it where to move the print head so the information was actually inside the pre-printed box. When I arrived at this company, they were hand-coding the printer drivers with a ruler, a pencil and a calculator. When I left, they could scan a document, arrange the data fields visually on the screen using each unique form as a backdrop, and have my system automatically write the driver. Productivity went up more than 2000%. It took me three weeks to develop that system.

But according to America’s employers and their robots, I have no marketable skills.

My first job out of college was as a portfolio analyst at a boutique brokerage firm in Orange County, California. Our department’s job was to analyze a potential client’s investments and generate a snapshot based on the current prices of their holdings. When I arrived at this company, one of my colleagues was seated in front of Microsoft Excel with a calculator, adding up stock shares and prices. When I left, the VBA code I wrote in Microsoft Excel would automatically dial into a bulletin board service, download the prices and assign them to the appropriate holdings. This time, productivity went up 6000%. We took a backlog of 40 portfolios and knocked them out in an afternoon. The fees our brokerage earned with that system were staggering, to say the least, considering the impressive lists of assets our clients brought us. They easily took in an additional seven figures a year with my system. Probably more. Took me about a month to write and test the code. Plus the cost of a Compuserve subscription.

But according to America’s employers and their robots, I have no marketable skills.

Let’s be fair, and go back to the newsletter project. I saved a man a couple hours of work. Big deal. We saved the cost of three large pizzas. Fair enough.

What if I save 1000 people a couple hours of work? That’s a lot of pizza. How about 50000 people? What if I wrote software that saved 50000 moderately well-paid office workers four hours of work a month? Say each of those workers makes $20 an hour. That’s four million dollars a month. Can I do it? Well, I’ve been automating things my entire career, right up to yesterday afternoon. Along the way, my employers and clients have saved millions upon uncounted millions avoiding errors and even more millions selling investments with the documents and electronic components my software wrote for them. In the words of Montgomery Scott, “would that be worth something to ye?”

Apparently not, because according to America’s employers and their robots, I have no marketable skills.

Trolls Traps and Treachery Chapter One

The following is a free chapter from book two in the Kings and Conquests series Trolls Traps and Treachery

“What exactly is “plan B?'”

N-Gate Five’s Chief Information Officer had found himself in several more than unsettling situations since his boss had become interested in the idea of obtaining a controlling share of Fairly Unusual Games. Martin LeBlanc was no slouch when it came to understanding the vagaries and basic value proposition of modern technology. He and Len Griffin had built N-Gate into one of the industry’s most formidable marketing machines, complete with a portfolio of more than 2000 semiconductor-related patents.

One thing LeBlanc had to admit, however, was that microelectronics were a lot easier to understand than gaming culture, and it seemed his company’s most recent big project was far more dependent on bros and message boards than it was on leading the way in chip design.

Griffin leaned back in his rather expensive chair and stared at nothing in particular. He had made a habit of calling impromptu meetings with senior executives of late, and while many of his biggest accomplishments had taken place in similar conferences, the most recent brand of meeting had been more like a wide-ranging discussion of abstract ideas than business plans.

“Jay had to start his character over. He chose most of the same options and he’s back to level two, but at this point he’s probably hopelessly behind the rest of the player base. Lori is still level 14 and Mike just made it to level 15, but everything they’ve done so far has been in a bubble of our own making. They don’t have enough open-game experience to accomplish much yet. Fortunately, my little team of toadies isn’t the only pot I have simmering.”

“I didn’t expect it would be,” LeBlanc sighed. “Is all this work really worth it?”

“Martin, if we win this video game contest, or whatever you want to call it, we own a controlling share of a company projecting 11-figures next year. I’d say that’s worth the minimal amounts I’m spending to get there.”

“That would be great, if we had some idea how to win. This thing seems like it’s all over the place. Players are cheating, stuff is being sold in the game and out, and the media is treating it all like it’s some kind of worldwide music festival.”

“It is. These things are home to millions of people. It’s where they socialize, and based on what we’ve seen, a lot of them are more than happy to just sit in town and make leather bags, horse saddles and potions all day while they chat with their friends. Only four percent of the player base has exceeded level six, and that’s why I think my back-up plan is so important.”

“What plan?”

“I hired a second team of gamers with my own money. I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want the first team to think they had the option to slack off. I still don’t want them to know. My star player on “Team B’ is level 19 and is about to unlock a whole new set of abilities.”

“How much is this going to cost us?”

“I set aside five million dollars, but until it pays off, it won’t have any effect on N-Gate’s business. I only want reimbursement if we manage to get hold of those shares.”

“What makes you think this guy can succeed where Jay didn’t? What’s your plan for dealing with Wyland and his super-avatar?”

“There’s a lot more going on here than just the contest. I think Wyland planned this out more meticulously than we first believed.” Griffin stood and walked to his in-office wet bar to pour a drink. “Fairly Unusual built three foundational technologies alongside Kings and Conquests. The first is the game’s engine itself, which they developed in almost total secrecy without alerting anyone to their budget, features or anything else. Totally blindsided the entire industry.”

“An awfully big risk,” LeBlanc replied.

Len sipped his Macallan Scotch. “It was a stroke of utter marketing genius. You know I pride myself on pulling the fast one in the marketplace, but the idea of promoting something by keeping it a secret? The sheer magnitude of the announcement forced everyone in the media to cover it breathlessly. That drowned out all the other voices. By the time the complainers and the competition got to the microphone, it was too late. Wyland had four weeks of positive press and enough income to survive the launch window. This guy is going down in history as the only executive crazy enough to use a bankruptcy filing as a PR stunt. That’s just deranged in so many ways. The business equivalent of playing dead, no pun intended. Wyland pulled it off like an 80s magician.”

“How do the other technologies fit in to the marketing plan?”

“Somehow they also developed an augmented reality mobile app that allows players with registered accounts to not only pursue game objectives, quests, crafting and other kinds of entertainment in the real world, it also allows players to identify each other if they choose, meaning Fairly Unusual has taken their own social gaming network out into the real world. That alone is enough to make the company worth buying, but then they went and did something I don’t think even I can wrap my head around.”

“The 3D printers.”

“Exactly. Somewhere along the way, Wyland got it in his head he could turn his own players into a manufacturing division. So he designated certain treasures as “real-world-lootable’ and had them designed not only as three-dimensional graphics, but also as three-dimensional objects complete with ornaments, polished textures and a patented materials science that is years ahead of anything else. Even the experimental firms can’t do what Fairly Unusual can do today. Right now in every living room in America, fifth graders can manufacture their own in-game merchandise.”

Griffin set the drink on his desk, opened a drawer and produced a gleaming translucent crystal sphere set in an upturned bronzed dragon’s claw that formed its base. The dragon scales were made of delicately polished semi-circular layered ebony and the pointed nails were made of solid, flawless poured bronze. The entire affair was set on a circular base of Italian black marble and lettered with sterling silver inlay. He set it on the desk and sipped his drink again while LeBlanc stared.

“This is the Omniscient Dragon’s Eye,” Griffin announced. “It’s a level 14 treasure for any class that advances far enough in the scrying skill tree. Most of the players who get this end up as warlocks. See the way it’s made?” The N-Gate CEO turned the object over and showed LeBlanc the three dimensional reinforced micro-honeycomb lattice used to construct the materials themselves. “See that fine pattern? This process is only possible with Fairly Unusual’s 3D printers. It’s the completely new additive manufacturing process they patented. They didn’t announce this. They didn’t publicize it. Nobody saw it coming. Further, if you look at this material under a powerful enough microscope, you’ll find the honeycombs themselves are all inscribed with tiny logos and patent numbers tied to a unique data key, which is the second process they patented. These things can’t even be knocked off!”

“It’s a physical object, Len. We could get a LASER scanner and convert it to a virtual mesh, then map the materials and reproduce it within millimeters of its original size and shape.”

“Sure, we could get the size and shape and the materials, but ours would be instantly recognizable as the knock-off. We can’t replicate the material or the pattern and we can’t duplicate the data key that corresponds to the patent number and logo. What these guys did is practically magical, Martin. They take a common material out of the real world like Italian marble and they arranged it into a form that makes that common material absolutely unique. I wonder if you realize what this means? This object,” Len held the Dragon’s Eye up for emphasis, “cannot ever be duplicated by any science: Past, present or future. It’s alchemy. Rocks into gold.”

“Where did you get this?”

“It came out of that printer,” Griffin replied, nodding at the Kings and Conquests “treasure station” sitting along the opposite wall near the bookcase. It was a humble-looking device that distantly resembled a cross between a blender and a small refrigerator. “Took an hour to make. Do you know what this is worth? I posted a picture of it on Blibber a couple hours after Mike looted it.”

The classy gold-embossed Kings and Conquests logo was a nice touch, Martin thought. “If it’s unique, I’d say you got some offers considering the hype level right now. Anyone else try to print one of these?”

“Far as we know, this is it. I expect it’s possible to print a second one, but they have to come out of KNC Treasure Stations. Someone offered me $40,000 for this. We could probably make a living just sweeping the game world for these “real-world-lootable’ treasures and selling them at auction. Hell, we could open up a museum for these things and charge admission!”

Martin’s eyebrows rose, surprised at his boss’ sudden energy. N-Gate management hadn’t been this interested in a competitor in ten years. “This really has you wound up, doesn’t it?”

“Martin, the medical device market alone is worth billions. That printer over there can already make rudimentary transistors. It can make electrical circuits. The patent Fairly Unusual obtained on this micro-lattice makes this object nearly indestructible. We took one of the bases off an action figure we printed from the KNC gift shop the other day and gave it to some guys in our fabrication shop. They put it in a hydraulic press and subjected it to six tons of pressure. It didn’t even chip.”

“Why? What makes these things so strong? Did Wyland invent some new alloy or something?”

“Pound for pound, the honeycomb is one of the strongest structures in nature. When constructed to the tolerances that machine over there is capable of, these objects become incredibly resilient. The lattice inside here is 300 micrometers from center to center. This thing could probably stop a bullet.”

“So it has military applications as well.”

“Right now one of the most powerful micro-industrial technologies known to man is being used to make cartoon action figures. I want this. I want to own it all. Our research and development guys could take one of those machines and build the future with it. I’m going to make sure N-Gate is leading the way.”

Martin picked up the Omniscient Dragon’s Eye and examined it, taking care to study the sparkling golden KNC logo, patent and game information hewn into the plaque set in its base. Even the lettering had the same superfine lattice texture. As he turned the object around, a glimpse of lavender light flashed from inside the clear crystal-like globe. He turned it back and saw it again. By positioning it just so, a hologram appeared inside the orb. It was yet another representation of the winged sword-and-shield Kings and Conquests emblem.

“Is it true they’re capable of working with precious metals? We know that’s already possible with current-generation 3D printers.”

“True, but what Treasure Stations do is the next step. The current generation creates a mold which is used to shape the metal. It’s crude but it works. These things superheat gold, silver and about ten other kinds of metals in nearly any combination and then apply it with a high precision jet almost exactly the same as their layer applicator. Their first demonstration of the technology was writing the preamble to the Constitution in 18 karat gold on a piece of black wood. In cursive. They’re planning to donate it to the Smithsonian.”

“Where did they get the funding for all this?”

“That’s a very good question, Mr. LeBlanc.” Len swiveled his chair to look out the window.

“Imagine the merchandising they can do with this. Imagine renting this tech out to the nearest comic book company,” Martin mused, still marveling at the one-of-a-kind treasure in his hands. “Or the nearest aerospace manufacturer.”

“There have been two industrial revolutions, Martin,” Len said as he took in the view overlooking downtown Santa Monica and swirled the ice in his drink. “The first replaced the human hand with the machine and replaced manpower and horsepower with steam power. The second is the one we grew up with. The iron triangle of middle-class economic progress: Mass media, mass marketing and mass production. The engine that built 20th century America. But the fundamental weakness of the second revolution was the fact the first can of soup cost investors ten million dollars and the second can cost them ten cents. It worked, but it was its own barrier to entry. It locked too many people out of the crown jewel of capitalism: ownership. It’s like the blockbuster film business. No room for fun or experimentation because guessing wrong puts the studio out of business.”

Martin wandered over to the Treasure Station and fiddled with the controls.

“But that thing right there on that table is the third industrial revolution. No factory. No need for rail lines and big dirty machinery to get products on shelves. In fact, no need for shelves at all any more, since the advent of e-commerce has created infinite shelf space. Mass production has been replaced by custom production. Right after mass media was replaced by the search engine.”

“And now all that’s left is mass marketing.”

“You know what the funny thing is, Martin? Mass marketing was almost the first to go.” Len looked up from his long gaze at the nearby bay and smiled wearily. “Remember shareware? That was the marketing mechanism that was supposed to turn zero-cost duplication and zero-cost distribution into an advantage, and it almost worked. First company that was successful with it made a million bucks a day.”

“Zero cost marketing,” Martin mused again. “The El Dorado of capitalism.”

“Word of mouth is free and the only advertising worth paying for. Or so I’ve heard,” Len chuckled. “Ultimately, it all comes down to product quality, and I have a feeling when the Treasure Station is through destroying mass production, it’s going to turn around and put a stake through the heart of mass marketing too.”

Encounter at Demon Skull Chapter Five

The following is a free chapter from book two in the Jessica Halloran and the Ajan Warriors series Encounter at Demon Skull

The Warrior of the River’s breathing was too fast for her to remain as quiet as she wanted. Night had fallen and she had chosen an excellent hiding place, but she was certain that the stale, sour air would soon make her wheeze or cough and give away her position.

She could hear something approaching from the direction of the outer ruins. Between her and whomever or whatever it was loomed a massive sandstone pillar: One of the huge bulwarks that formed the outer ring of the broken arena structure.

Up to now, surprise had been her ally, and she was once again prepared to utilize it. Alanna glanced up to judge height and angle, then she shifted her weight. Across the ground she could see four long shadows cast by the flickering torchlight moving towards her position.

Now or never.

“He took this path,” the Huntress said, pointing along the ground where the Chronicler’s Lantern cast it’s colorful light. “The dirt and rocks are burnt, but these are the tracks of one man.”

“What were those tracks in the inner ring?” Ranko asked, referring to the center-most region of the half-mile-wide pillar-encircled centerpiece of the Gorian Ruins.

Shannon just kept walking. Ranko took a breath to repeat herself, then her words became a troubled look. The Huntress still couldn’t hear. She reminded herself they needed to find Talitha as soon as they could.

“There’s lots of little cracks in the ground,” Cici said. “Everywhere those big monster feet were, the ground is all broken and smashed together.”

“Whatever it was, it must have been–” The Warrior of the Storms saw the faintest quicksilver flash overhead. Something had flown over them. She turned quickly and took up a defensive stance, holding Thundercaller across her body. Then a delighted expression replaced her frown.


Shannon and Cici turned and saw the Warrior of the River standing in a graceful pose only a few yards away from them, the smooth surface of the Quarterseeker fighting staff gleaming from behind her right arm. Silhouetted by the orange light of the torches, Alanna looked taller, even dire.

“Hi Alanna!” Cici exclaimed joyfully. She started forward, but Shannon held her back. Alanna’s threatening posture was matched only by the powerful glare in her purple eyes.

Ranko cautiously put a hand on Cici’s shoulder. It was a silent signal the Ajan Warriors had developed for situations just like this. The Warrior of Stone understood and willed her Lantern’s light to brighten until they could see their friend clearly. Kishi watched the familiar older girl expectantly, his ears standing straight up.

As the light crept far enough to illuminate them, the Huntress noticed smudges of dirt, scorches and burns along the arms and legs of Alanna’s raiments. Her torn sash and the huge purple bruise on the left side of her face were further signs: Alanna MacLeese had been in at least one, and possibly several vicious fights.

Ranko wondered if Alanna had fought all alone. She wondered how scared her friend must have been. Then she felt a chill. Alanna neither approached them nor even seemed to recognize them.

The Crimson Champion was confident in her own combat abilities and in the sheer power of her weapon and heavy armor, but deep in her heart she knew the Winterdancer was a very dangerous and unpredictable opponent, even outnumbered four to one.

“You okay there, boss?” Ranko asked tentatively while very gently adjusting her own stance for maximum protection against what she knew were Alanna’s favored opening attacks. She realized too late that Alanna would recognize the escalation, and she muttered self-criticism through gritted teeth. It was a rookie mistake. Reina would not have approved.

The Warrior of the River responded in kind. She spun her Staff in a quick flourish and caught it behind her right shoulder, moving her right foot back and centering her weight. Ranko recognized the battle stance instantly. The Winterdancer’s words were colder than the ice she commanded.

“You will not deceive me again.”

Her Captain Chapter Two

The following is a free chapter from book 12 in my First Kiss Romances series Her Captain

It was the first time Jericho Steel had been in a civilian grocery store for the purpose of buying food to put in his own refrigerator in almost twelve years. The place was unfathomably huge compared to most base facilities, and positively cavernous compared to a ship’s mess.

He wandered for a good fifteen minutes, trying to orient himself to the idea that any building could devote hundreds of square feet to bread. Children ran around the displays. Mothers sorted coupons and noodled on their phones. The occasional father would drift by, only marginally supervising his kids and intent on finding the 78th item from the list of 78 items given to him by his wife so he could go back to whatever he was doing when she suddenly announced the immediate need for an expedition to the store.

It was all very parochial and normal. It was the kind of environment he was going to need to get used to again. His orders had come through, and he had a year off before his next assignment.

The politics of Navy promotions never ceased to amaze him. For all intents and purposes, he was stuck at his current rank. Despite his exemplary performance and the many missions he had accomplished nobody but a handful of other officials would ever know about, the idea of promoting a man his age to a flag rank was out of the question.

Congress had a say. The president had a say. Ninety other flag officers had a say. But there was a statutory limit on the number of admirals allowed in the Navy, and there were men with many more years in who were simply ahead of him in line, even if the most dangerous thing they had ever faced was a committee briefing. That was the long and the short of it. Jericho Steel didn’t relish the idea of a desk job anyway. Men like him with duties like his didn’t wear stars on their shoulders.

Instead they wore “U.S. Navy” T-shirts and showed off their physiques while performing routine tasks, which was what the captain was doing when his grocery cart ran into hers. Well, he was also trying to find the mustard. The yellow kind, not that weird expensive gold stuff that inevitably had some kind of spice in it that turned a hot dog into a sudden need for a fire extinguisher. One of his Super Bowl party guests once suggested ketchup, but the look Jericho gave him silenced any further such heretical talk.

It was her. The girl from the party. Things were a little calmer now. She was far and away more attractive than he remembered. Her eyes gave her face a delicate sadness that practically demanded comforting. He couldn’t be sure, but he suspected she hadn’t smiled in some time. Nevertheless, she had a softness and a glow about her that stirred something in Jericho he hadn’t felt in a very long time.

“I’m so sorry,” she gushed, moving around the cart and attending to damage that wasn’t there. The apology was a bit much, even for someone trying to emphasize it.

“It’s fine. Really.” He spoke as reassuringly as he could. She wore a white sweater, teal capri pants and rather expensive-looking flats. She put a hand to her face and her breathing got shallow and frantic. When Jericho put his hand on her arm she flinched. It was then he noticed the half-healed bruise on her wrist. He decided on the spot to keep his mouth shut. Things were obviously bad enough. The best course of action was to change subjects.

“It’s my first trip and I’m not all that experienced with the rules of the road yet. Just moved in on Colorado Street.”

For the first time, he saw hope in her expression. “We have a place on Colorado. Sixteen Twenty-One.”

The idea of a young woman giving anyone her address in a public setting like this was enough to raise every antenna the captain had. It was a distress signal as real as any battlefield transmission he had ever heard. She might as well have drawn a flare gun and opened fire at the ceiling with it.

“We’re neighbors then.” He smiled. “I’m in Sixteen Seventeen. Watching the place for a friend between assignments. He bought his new wife a really expensive honeymoon and I don’t think we’re going to see them for a while.”

She looked at him with a hint of astonishment mixed with confusion. It was as if she weren’t entirely sure how to react to what Jericho would have agreed was pretty lame smalltalk. After enough time had passed that the possibility of an uncomfortable pause became likely, she replied.

“Cassie Morgan.”

“Nice to meet you again. My apologies I didn’t get a better chance to introduce myself at the party. You were at Max’s party weren’t you?”

She nodded shyly. “He invited everyone in the neighborhood. We almost missed it. I wanted to go to the wedding but I–” Apparently she decided against going further into whatever subject she was about to bring up.

Jericho noticed she meticulously avoided saying “we.” He decided to avoid the subject as well.

“Maybe you can help me,” he said. “Apparently, the world has invented sixty-eight kinds of mustard since my last trip to a grocery store. And you’ve got yellow mustard in your basket. Can you tell me where you got it so I don’t ruin my next sandwich like I did the last one?”

The raised-eyebrow expression combined with his jaunty grin actually drew the faintest hint of a smile from her. “It’s over there,” she said softly as she gestured. Jericho couldn’t be sure, but it seemed it was the first step in drawing her out of her hiding place.

“You’re a wonder, Cassie Morgan. If I get lost looking for the baby potatoes, can I call you?”

She pushed her cart away and let her hair fall to cover her face before she hurried off. Nevertheless, the Captain was fairly sure he had seen the real smile she was trying to hide.

Strike Battleship Marines Chapter Ten

The following is a free chapter from the first book in my Starships at War military science fiction series Strike Battleship Marines

Annora Doverly knocked on the door of the executive inboard cabin. It was rare for the captain to summon individuals to his office. Everyone on board Argent knew by now her captain was far more comfortable with the idea of ad hoc conversations wherever he happened to find the people he needed at the moment. Whatever this was, it was about as formal as it ever got.


Jason was seated at his desk, surrounded by paperwork. His cabin was somewhat better decorated than the average officer’s, since he had made a habit of gathering trophies and souvenirs from his many travels as a pilot and flight officer. Several dark wooden shelves of memorabilia were arrayed behind him. He was wearing his blue and gray fatigues, which only added to Annora’s unanswered questions. Jason Hunter almost never wore true combat gear aboard ship. He preferred his officer’s duty uniform or some combination of academy sports organization t-shirt and workout gear. Silvered eagles adorned both collars and cover. He looked older and much more business-like than normal. Annora decided this was likely not an invitation to banter.

“Annora Doverly reporting as ordered.”

“Thank you, doctor. Be seated.”

The expression on Annora’s face was one of an officer expecting the other shoe to drop. Once she was comfortable, Jason set down his paperwork.

“I just got some good advice from a hero of mine, so I’m going to cut through the formalities. I’m replacing you as executive officer, effective immediately. I’m also appointing Zack Commander Space Wing and bumping his number two to DSCOM flight leader.”

It was like being hit in the chest with an artillery shell. Annora tried her best to conceal her emotions. Her first instinct was to interpret Jason’s statements as a reprimand, but she knew better. At least she thought she did. She didn’t reply right away.

“I could say it was the admiral’s call, and I’d be right, but he didn’t make it an order. So it’s my call.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Skywatch Command has been anxious about us since we crewed Argent. We’ve all been doing double duty. We’ve also been short-staffed since Jupiter Five, and now that we’ve got a chance to prepare, Powers wants this operation’s capital platform at full combat capability.”

“Komanov wasn’t kidding when she said we were getting our pick of the store. Fleet finally decided a fighting doctor wasn’t regulation?”

“I’m not busting you, Annora. Having an SAR command officer on my ship is a privilege not many captains get. It will earn us both a lot fewer raised eyebrows around the fleet if you’re my Chief Medical Officer and you can train us both a qualified science staff. We’re going to need them if we ever get in range of the Raleo system.”

Annora had to admit the sudden change was startling but it did promise to take a fairly heavy burden off her shoulders. “Who is taking second chair?”

“Jayce nominated Sabrina Mallory. I agreed.”

“She’s junior to both Moo and myself.”

“She’s not a marine ground forces commander, nor is she a six-time decorated doctor and SAR officer. She’s got advanced weapons training and she comes highly recommended.”

“Jason, I respect your sister more than you know, but you can’t train command officers in combat like this. Fury is a fine ship, but she’s not a battleship. Commander Mallory has no space wing experience and no amphibious assault experience. Hell, she was just promoted from lieutenant a couple of weeks ago! She’s got a year of school to finish before she takes command of a capital vessel. There’s a hundred problems with this, any 99 of which could sink any chance we have before we get out of sight.”

“She has two days. I’m relying on you to hit the high notes and leave the book study for a time when we’re not up against the wall.”

“Am I out of the command rotation?”

“Yili is in line after her promotion. Zony doesn’t want command yet, especially after being pushed into the role at Bayone. She’s not confident in her abilities, and I’m already forcing the issue with too many others. I want my SAR wing at full strength, and that means both the Tranquility and Nightwing crews and the entire Angel inventory need a leader. Without being too blunt, you’re not going to have time to run the whole ship. What you are going to do for me is bring one hell of a lot of juice to Argent’s emergency crews.”

“Do I keep my rank?”

“Annora, you’re not being busted. I want someone with your experience in charge of Sickbay and my science section. In six months you’re going to be eligible for promotion to captain, and I can’t think of a bigger step for you than to have your choice of medical assignments. We knew we were short staffed when we took command of this battlewagon. You did your duty far beyond any call, and you took the slings and arrows when certain fleet officers took advantage of your conflicting responsibilities. You’re one of the best officers I’ve ever known, and you are by every measure the best combat pilot on this ship. You are the only officer in Skywatch history to assume command of an abandoned battleship under enemy fire. I will appear before any promotion committee in the future to enter my formal recommendation. You know that.”

“I guess they can’t call me Doctor Blood any more,” Annora sighed. “I can’t say I’m not disappointed, but I want what’s best for the ship, Jason.”

“I would expect nothing less.”

Annora finally decided to ask about the winces she had noticed on Jason’s face from time to time. “You’re upset we couldn’t go after Moo on our own.”

“I don’t like asking for help after bringing on 4800 reinforcements. I don’t like being told Second Marines isn’t up to the job. So yeah, I’m a little uptight.”

“We can’t invade Bayone yet. Half our strength hasn’t even unpacked.”

“But we can find a disabled ship. At least that’s what my loadout says we can do. It bothers me when I’ve got 35 decks of trained personnel and the mission always calls for the three guys who don’t have their shoes on yet. It occurs to me this ship is still bleary-eyed and dragging, so it’s time for me to do some old-fashioned ass kicking before we go back to Bayone. We’re going to finish what we started.”

Doverly took that last remark as an implication Hunter wasn’t going to lightly tolerate another lost crew member situation without an operational Search and Rescue wing.

“What are my orders?”

“Same as before. Hughes autopsy. Find me something I can use against Atwell. As my Medical Chief I’m ordering you to utilize whatever force is necessary to protect our evidence. I’ve already notified Commander DeMay I want him and his crew to grant you and your team full access to Dunkerque’s records computers and sensor banks as necessary. Per my orders you are also as of now the ranking strike fleet medical officer.”


“Admiral Powers has graciously provided us a set of choice transfers from Skywatch Medical Command. They’re due in our last arrival, so let’s get a list sorted and transmitted before the next watch rotation. I want both Tranquility vessels fully staffed, I want the Nightwing ready for action and I want Deck Sixteen to be the pride of the fleet when it comes to combat hospital facilities. There is nobody else in Skywatch who can do this, doctor. I need you and your team squared away in 24 hours, because there are nearly 900 marines in this formation about to go to war.”

“We’ll be ready, sir.”

“Very well. Send in Commander Mallory.”

Annora opened the cabin door and nodded. She slipped past the younger officer, who looked about as confused as the doctor had been a few moments earlier. Sabrina came to attention as Annora closed the door.

“Sabrina Mallory reporting as ordered, captain.”

“Very well. Be seated.”

Mallory stepped around the designated hot seat and sat rigidly with her cover in her lap.

Hunter grinned. “Sit at ease, commander. Now you’re making me nervous.”

Sabrina tried to relax, but she wasn’t entirely successful.

“By order of Skywatch Command as of zero nine hundred hours Vicksburg time you are ordered to the post of executive officer of the battleship Argent with the rank of acting commander. Congratulations.”

“Aye, captain.” Mallory felt as if she had just been hit with a hundred volt shock.

“You have my permission to speak freely.”

Sabrina held her breath. She was sure her face had changed color at least twice in the ten seconds since she had been given the news. “I was just promoted, sir. I’m not sure I– I mean perhaps there is someone else–”

“There’s nobody else. I need a full-time executive. Commander Hunter has recommended you for your own command on at least three occasions. You’ve been at the top of Fury’s promotion list for two months. It’s time.”

“But my post was aboard a cruiser, sir.”

“And now you are in command of a battleship crew.”

“Aye sir.”

“We’re going to war in two days.”

A ball of ice landed in Sabrina’s abdomen and spread throughout her legs and arms.

“There’s a pair of silver leaves in this for you if we win. I will notify the crew. We’ll set aside time for a honeymoon later. Do you have any questions?”

She considered asking but decided against it. “Not at this time, sir.”

“Very well. You’re with me. I have the first of three technical briefings today on Flight Two.” Hunter attached his commlink and snapped his utility belt before checking his sidearm. “We’ll need to get you properly outfitted and armed. Let’s go.”

Sabrina desperately tried to avoid looking like she was running along behind Hunter as he made his way to the lifts. More than once she heard crew members and officers alike shout “attention on deck!” Dozens and dozens of personnel froze and stood at attention as he passed them in passageways, cabins and compartments. The ship seemed unusually crowded, which wasn’t surprising, since Argent’s head count had increased by a factor of six since the last Bayone engagement.

Finally they reached the lifts. Hunter spent the interval fiddling with his commlink. Sabrina felt like there was a ten-thousand-watt spotlight following her around. She knew Argent’s command structure. She had been a junior officer only a few weeks ago. How could she possibly command this behemoth? She was aboard a flying city!

The magneto-lift descended twenty-two levels before arriving on the Flight Two loadlane. There were hundreds of people working the deck. Two yellowjacket fighters were suspended by magnetic arms in the center of the ship’s central launch facility. One group of technicians was re-arming them while another was cycling their fuel components. Behind the angry-looking Jacks loomed one of the heavy gunships of Tarantula Hawk Green. Its wings were raised in a belligerent pose. A maintenance crew was hurrying in and out of her side entry hatch with electronic analysis equipment. At the far end of the flight bay were nine more Wildcat fighters parked next to several racks of Bullfrog compression torpedoes.

“Duncan!” Hunter shouted over the din. “What’s Command One’s status?”

Sabrina was busy trying to take it all in when she heard a near-deafening honk. Bright white headlights surrounded her in a stark glow. She found herself in the way of a full-sized truck. After running a few more steps, the fuel transport lumbered past her and pulled up under the wing of one of the Jacks. Finally she caught up with the captain again.

“Six more hours, sir!” Duncan Buckmaster was wiping grease off his hands with a small rag. In his work gear he looked like a cross between your favorite bartender and a linebacker with a beard.

Sabrina could not get over the sheer size of it all. At the extreme far end of the deck was an immense open bay. Beyond it was the blackness of space. Thirty stories overhead, white LED light bars were arranged in a grid across the ceiling and its six enormous service lifters. Flight Two was the largest of Argent’s three launch facilities, covering an area of more than 12 football fields. The forward section of the deck housed three oversized railtunnels, each capable of launching corvettes, gunships or Mackinac drop-ships for armor and ground vehicles. They were the heavy variations on the smaller fighter-only launchers on the ship’s lateral flight decks.

Beneath the commander’s feet was the rest of the Flight Two facility, housing roughly one-third of Argent’s fighters, ten corvettes, all 26 gunships and half of her 68 Paladin mechs, along with their weapons, fuel, spare parts and machining facilities. Unlike the pure warship design of a vessel like Fury, Argent was a hybrid, capable of fighting well in both ground and space engagements. And now that she was fully equipped, the new battleship could launch and direct nearly 200 spacecraft and deploy as many as 900 marine mechanized infantry.

“Duncan, I’d like to introduce you to our new executive officer. Sabrina, this is Duncan Buckmaster, Chief of the Battleship.”

“Welcome to Argent, ma’am,” Buckmaster nodded. It went without saying he wasn’t going to offer her the opportunity to cover her own hands in grease. “Honor to serve with you.”

“Nice to meet you in person, COB,” Sabrina replied. She had only seen that many service stripes on a uniform in person once before in her career: Her father’s. If she were being honest with herself, she would have admitted Buckmaster reminded her of him a little.

“The Gatos are still banging their cups about those new missiles, sir. Now the arming mechanisms are turning themselves off unexpectedly.”

“Item sixty-three hundred on my list of eight thousand things to do, Master Chief. As soon as I get the commander up to speed we’ll be a little less frantic around here. When you get a chance, can you chase down Lieutenant Roscoe and have him report to my deck two cabin at 1300?”

“Aye,” Buckmaster replied.

“Is my technical briefing still in there?” Hunter asked as he headed for the launch tunnel.

“Hell no,” Buckmaster replied. “Someone might steal it!”

Hunter rolled his eyes and made a dismissive gesture at the grinning crew chief. Sabrina realized she had been left behind again and ran to catch up.

They Look Human

By now we all know there’s a robot reading your resume when you apply for a job. It explains all that has confused the job seekers of the world for the last 10-20 years. Everybody knew there was something wrong. We just didn’t have the facts. When it comes to finding work in America, facts seem to be rather scarce. But now that we know, we can evaluate where we stand.

Where we stand is on the brink of societal and cultural disaster. Our entire civilization is built on the fundamental principle that a man who wants to work can find work. He may not start out at his dream job. He may not start out making much, either. But he certainly isn’t going to be confined to an Internet job board, clicking “apply instantly” buttons and being lied to until he starves.

Until now.

Our civilization and future are both being destroyed in a small room containing two chairs, a desk, a hiring manager and a job candidate. What happens in that room is the foundation of our entire economy. If the candidate can’t successfully navigate what happens in that room, no homes get sold, no cars get bought, no man marries a wife and no children are raised in two-parent homes. That room is where the American Dream gestates. Without it, all that our ancestors fought for is gone.

But our problem is more fundamental. Nobody can get in to that room. There’s a robot at the door barring entry. So it no longer matters what happens in that room, because nothing happens in that room.

There are six million people in this country who not only want to work, but have, in some cases, spent decades building the skills and experience to be effective at their jobs. These are people who can start making their employers money the very moment they sit down at their new desk. If we tolerate the status quo as it stands today, these people will never work again. Six million people is the combined population of Chicago, Houston and Sacramento, all sitting idle for the rest of their lives: Their talent, knowledge and skill wasted.

The “application tracking system,” as it has come to be known, was inserted into the hiring process by so-called “employers” without notice. The traditional job seekers had no idea they had been placed on the other side of a firewall by the companies that claimed to want their “marketable skills.” It stood to reason, of course, for those of us who have witnessed the increasingly vindictive way employers began to excuse themselves from the responsibility for their former employees about 20 years ago. Layoffs following higher profits became the dominant-tonic chord progression of American business after the dot-com crash. It was almost as if executives had some kind of vendetta against technology workers. But I have about as much proof of that right now as we had for application tracking systems ten years ago. A robot reading your resume? What a crazy idea!

Exactly how is the ATS evaluating your resume? Do you really believe it’s just looking at keywords from the job ad? It’s not looking at anything else? Do you really believe employers with an agenda can’t tune an ATS to exclude applicants based on any criteria they choose? How about zip code? How about age? Want to know how quick I can program a computer to figure out your age within five years?

What if an application tracking system is capable of monitoring your applications to many different employers at once? What if it’s keeping track of how many resumes you send out in a given time interval? How hard would it be for that ATS to be provided a threshold number and then to automatically blackball you after you reach your maximum number of applications in a week? A month? Ever? The employer could justify it by saying you’re a spammer, or that you’re desperate. They don’t want desperate people. So they’ll just blackball you.

What if they set up their ATS to reject if you’ve been rejected by another ATS? How hard would it be to tag you with the job market’s version of the scarlet letter forever? What if they reject you for having a resume that’s too good? What if they start analyzing the data to see which days of the week most successful applications arrive and then reject everyone else? People who apply on weekends probably have a job. Others probably don’t. Which do you want, boss? *click* –poverty and desperation for all.

In other words, after employers turn the job application process into a numbers game, they can start punishing you for treating it like a numbers game. You’re no longer looking for a job you want. You’re just looking for a job. The higher they turn that dial, the more impenetrable their ATS becomes. It’s not a mistake it’s called an application tracking system. Of course, that’s an Orwellian euphemism. Let’s call it what it really is: a firewall.

What else could a vindictive employer do with a hostile ATS? Could they set a minimum credit score? That’s ludicrous! Employers can’t get access to your credit score without permission! They would face legal trouble if they did that! They don’t have your credit score! What a crazy idea!

How hard would it be to reject resumes based on surnames? Or based on whether you have an accent in your surname? Or based on your e-mail address? Are you using gmail? Reject. Are you not using gmail? Reject. Could an ATS be programmed to prioritize applications if a competitor is listed in a candidate’s employment history? What if it performed a public records search and pulled up your divorce? Or your personal injury case from that slip and fall at your flower store last year? Or the police report from your car accident? Or the legal dispute you had with a former employer over their repeated attempts to illegally exploit your intellectual property? Reject. Reject. Reject. Reject. Employers don’t want colorful people in cubicles. They want obedient, unremarkable drones. Obedient, unremarkable people don’t show up in public records searches. They have 35 followers on Twitter and live alone.

I’ve written eight novels. That alone is grounds to reject every application I ever file. A guy who writes novels might get ideas. Might get uppity in a meeting. And we can’t have that.

But they want rock stars also.

What if the ATS just does a Google search and rejects you if you do show up, or alternatively rejects you if you don’t? Either condition could be a red flag depending on how paranoid and resentful your recruiter is. What if you have a common name and the ATS mistakes you for someone else? Reject.

Want to make it even more sinister? What if the ATS qualifies you the way social media companies qualify ad audiences? What if it rejects all Android phone owners in favor of iPhone owners? People with iPhones are generally more affluent, and affluent people are preferable to some companies and some hiring managers. You really don’t want to know how easy it is to find out which kind of phone you own.

What if I told you I can guess your income based on what TV shows you like? What if I told you I can guess your age the same way? Favorite band? The kind of computer you own? With the right tools, a savvy advertiser can zero in on your front porch with a half-dozen pieces of seemingly unconnected information. Remember the last time you passed around one of those “list your favorites” surveys on your favorite social media platform? Ever take a poll on social media? Are you in a group? Which one? If more than one, how are they related? How long do you think it would take to connect that to your e-mail address and then to your exact identity and your credit report? About eight trillionths of a second.

Don’t overthink it. The robot doesn’t have to be right. It just has to be close enough.

Know what the best part is? You’ll never know it happened. Without a massively expensive legal siege you’ll never be able to prove the little black box blocked your job application on grounds having exactly nothing to do with your qualifications, skills or experience. It can make a snap judgement about your life based on conjecture, statistics and theory, and then it can declare you unemployable and relentlessly enforce its decision forever and there is nothing you can do about it no matter how many graduate degrees you have.

The robot does not care about your qualifications. All that matters is whether your resume is fictional enough to beat the filter. That’s what gets you the interview now.

Lest you console yourself with the notion this is as far as it will go, I am here to tell you this doesn’t even begin to demonstrate what is in store for future generations. You see, real jobs have become privileges for the favored few. That’s why everyone else has two or three pretend jobs to make ends meet, all underpaid. Anyone who has been paying attention for the last 30 years knows how rapidly someone can become “more corporate than thou” if they snuggle deeply enough into that leather chair and can hide behind a receptionist, a key card and a general counsel. Once the rabble has been quietly locked out, how long will it be before you are legally required to avert your eyes if you actually encounter someone who is salaried? You probably thought the Matrix was just entertainment, and that dressing the agents in suits was all in good fun. It was a warning, not science fiction.

Your kids will never have a real job.

I’m not going to let the universal basic income people off the hook here, either. UBI is the last echoing click of the shackles that will be eternally fastened to your wrists if we allow this to continue. If you yearn for free money in place of the opportunity that once existed in America, you yearn for a prison. The same goes for you if you think borrowing scooters, cars and places to sleep with an app are good substitutes for owning a home and independent transportation. If you own no land, you have no future.

Back in the 1980s, we were all entertained by Kyle Reese and his cryptic warning to Sarah Connor about the future. The line has been exploited for humor, parody and dramatic prescience for decades.

“That thing is out there. It can’t be reasoned with. It can’t be bargained with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop. Ever. Until you are dead.”

That line isn’t really very funny any more, is it?

LinkedIn Won’t Save You

I’d like to think this long string of articles about the job market is just a phase, but the more I dig, the more articles like this one I find.

A young man posted his resume on LinkedIn and it went viral. Jackpot, right? Wrong. 1280 shares. Still no job. Fifteen in-person interviews. Still no job. How can this be?

Well, it is, and unfortunately this isn’t a rare occurrence. We’re all being told day in and day out how great the economy is and how everyone has a job except you. But what we’re being told and what several million of us are actually experiencing are two different things.

Fifteen interviews from a viral LinkedIn post should be more than enough to get past what the article calls a “lengthy and draining” job hunt. Except it’s not, and that should be distressing for everyone, especially those of you who are fortunate enough to be employed.

The article points out that according to Jobvite’s Recruiting Benchmark Report, only one in eight candidates who applied for a job in 2017 got an interview. It also notes recruiters spend an average of six seconds on each resume.

Time to wake up now. Your kids are next.

Black out.

All This and Fraud Too

This clip is instructive. Although it was part of a fictional television series, you are deluding yourself if you think this was composed in a vacuum.

Don is trying to get his dream job. When Don tries to go through the front door, he gets “oh, you’re the fur guy,” and “I threw out your portfolio” and “I ignored them. That’s my message to you.” That’s the modern job search in three sentences. Don Draper, of course, turns out to be a legend, but so far, the boss is never going to know, because it’s far more important to stomp on people than it is to find new talent.

Keep this in mind the next time you see a job ad that asks for “passionate guru rock stars.”

Since the front door approach isn’t working, Don has to employ subterfuge. So he admits he’s skipping out on his boss, admits he was lying about being in the building for a meeting and then gets the boss drunk at ten in the morning and lies twice more in order to get a job that didn’t exist until he lied it into existence.

Keep this in mind the next time you see a job ad that asks for “passionate guru rock stars.”

Black out.