Amazing Journeys Online Episode 2: Fear…less

The arrow sliced the air. The rabbit turned its head, eyes widening. Socrates sensed he aimed true—until the head of another wolf appeared, jaws reaching for the rabbit. Only the arrow, intended for the rabbit, sheared the wolf’s ear and landed point buried at the feet of the hare. The wolf yelped with pain.

Socrates cursed, as he reached for another arrow, fumbled it, and watched it land in the high grass.

Father rabbit disappeared into the trees.

The wolf snarled at Socrates. Glaring, she crouched as if gauging the distance to her new prey. 

Drawing another arrow, Socrates’ hands shook. He suddenly felt a shortness of breath. The sun felt hotter. “Come on, breathe, breathe, breathe.” Repeating the word, he struggled to steady his limbs. The wolf’s calmness, as she stared balefully, sent a chill through his body. “You can do this. Take a breath. Hold, and…”

He released the arrow. The wolf leaped. The arrow missed badly. The wolf zigged and zagged, closing the distance. Socrates ran.

Placing the bow in an equipment slot, Socrates pumped his arms for greater speed. The grove was too spread out. The trees grew closer with each stride. His breath felt sharper as he pumped his arms. The fatigue bar was close to red lining, dropping below fifteen percent. When it did, he’d collapse and be wolf food.

His instincts screamed, ‘Dive!’ He tumbled right. The hair on the back of his neck tickled as he sensed then saw the wolf’s shadow rise over him. Its rear claws found purchase on his back, pushing off powerfully and leaving a searing line of pain. His roll became a sprawl, grass whipped sharply against his face and arms. Sweat slicked his back, enflaming from the wolf’s claws. 

A message box appeared before his face, translucent so that he could see his surroundings through the text: “You’ve been clawed by a matron wolf avenging its mate. 8pts damage plus one bleed point per minute unless bound.” Socrates was suddenly reminded that he was inside a virtual world.

Dismissing the message, Socrates breathing slowed, readied to sprint, and froze. The heavy growl in the wolf’s throat left the man drained of energy. His arms hung at his sides as his breathing slowly settled.

This was it, Socrates thought. First death in the game. Too soon to earn the “undying” bonus for lasting three game weeks, as he’d only been fully immersed in this three-dimensional world for three hours.

A couple strides away, Socrates spotted trees with climbable branches. But they might as well be a hundred meters with the angry animal in his way. Socrates racked his brain for a solution, any option that could save him. 

Suddenly, an idea came to him.

The wolf crouched, growling low in her throat.

The man reached into his inventory.

The wolf leaped.

Jaws closed toward Socrates’ head. He grunted with effort, shoving the bow into the wolf’s mouth, and used the animal’s momentum to push himself away. 

Reaching the first tree, he gripped the rough bark and scrambled up the trunk to the first branches, the second, and finally the third. Sitting exhausted, he looked down at the wolf. It bounded from broken bow to the tree.

Socrates smiled in relief that he was safe for the moment. He’d wait until the wolf got tired and left. His smile froze with horror as the wolf leapt and scrambled onto the first branch. She stared at him, and then the next branch.

Socrates muttered, “No, no, no…”

The wolf leaped, scrabbled with its claws, and…

The wolf climbed to the second branch. She watched as the man raised his legs and stood. She seemed to grin with triumph and expectation.

Socrates’ heart sank.

Here We Go Again!

Whenever it’s time to write I get this “here we go again” feeling. All the cool, neat ideas I have in my head make an immediate beeline for the door and I’m left with nothing. Even things I originally thought were pretty funny don’t sound that way anymore. Years ago I wrote a humorous piece titled Do Dieters Have Split Personalities? It’s about why it’s so hard to stay on a diet when success is just around the corner. The Ann Arbor News published it in their Opinion Section. They must have liked the piece because they gave it most of the page. If I redid the piece and freshened it up a little, would it make for a good submission to our Deadwood Writers’ Anthology? That’s where my problems began. Someone in our writers’ group insisted I should check with the Ann Arbor News to see who had the rights at this point in time. Originally that didn’t sound like much of a problem so I agreed. But it’s turned into a big headache. The next day, I sent the Ann Arbor News an email giving them the title of the story, the section, date and page number where it had been published. I told them I’d like to freshen the piece up a bit and submit to my writers’ group. I got a prompt email back saying: “That would be handled by our print group.” They included an email address and a name to send it to. I thought, this is going to get settled quickly. That turned out to be the understatement of the year. On March 9, I emailed Todd and explained the situation. No one answered. I waited a few days. By March 13 I realized that no one was going to answer. I sent an email to the nameless person who had told me to contact Todd in the first place. This time I asked for a telephone number. The response was complete silence. I decided to let this problem sit for a few days, hoping something would happen or I’d come up with a brilliant idea. By March 18, I decided to try phoning. I got the Ann Arbor News’ print edition number from Google and dialed. Jan answered. I asked to speak to Todd. She said she’d connect me. But all I got was his voice mail which wasn’t very helpful. I left my name and number. Then I called Jan back. This time I explained why I was calling and asked if there was someone else who could help me. Jan said yes. Actually, Mickey was the person who did this. She would connect me. The phone rang several times and then I got Mickey’s voice mail. I left my name and number again but didn’t have much hope that I would hear back from him. Then I had an idea. Frequently, people will respond to an email before they’ll respond to voice mail. I’ve never understood why. I called Jan back and asked for Mickey’s email address. I sent him an email explaining the situation. When I woke up Tuesday morning, I checked my email: lots of messages but nothing from Mickey. But, around 11:00 a.m., I got an email from Sara. When I saw that she is the Regional News Manager for the Ann Arbor News, I began to feel better. It looked like my problem was going to be solved after all. Sara wrote, “If you signed a freelance agreement with us, the copyright belongs to us. If you didn’t, you are free to rework it and submit it to your group. If you did sign an agreement, please let us know and we can give you a release.” Now, the truth is, I wrote this piece in 2008 and the only thing in my file is the piece and the 2008 cover letter I sent to Arny. 2008 was eleven years ago. How am I to remember if I signed a freelance agreement or not? I don’t think I did because, knowing me, I would have asked for a copy and put it in the same file with the published piece. The only thing I do remember is feeling nervous when I walked into the Ann Arbor News downtown, met Arny, and had the photographer take my picture. I shared this with Sara, minus the nervous part, and asked if she could send me a release to be on the safe side? I checked my email this morning and there was nothing from Sara. I decided to wait until 11:00 a.m. before printing copies of this piece to bring tonight. I also hoped I’d hear back from Sara in the meantime. This turned out to be a good plan. At 10:29 a.m. I got an email from Sara saying “Please feel free to rework and resubmit the essay to your writers’ group. You can use this email as official permission.” Mmmmmm… after 14 days, closure. Not only do I have the rights to my piece, I have written proof. Great! For once, this is not a case of “here we go again”.

Office Nerd #3

First Impressions of Mass Effect: Andromeda, Part 2

In a blogpost from 2017, I stated that I wasn’t able to play Mass Effect: Andromeda all the way through. And that I would when I obtained a computer that was more capable of running it.

Both wishes came true in February 2019—though I encountered a string of unrelated bad luck that kept me from trying out my new PC right away. When I finally got around to playing Andromeda again, I was happy to see I’d be able to continue the game that had been gathering dust for quite a while. Jumping back into Andromeda after so long, however, was a little jarring. For several days, I debated whether I should start a brand new game or continue with the current one. The latter option won when I regained a feel for the gameplay.

It has been quite an experience so far. After progressing the story on the Angara homeworld, I set out to tip the scales of a war on an ice planet called Voeld. This undertaking brought its own share of headaches. After exploring the planet for some time, I headed for the enemy stronghold to take it out, only to be deterred by a forcefield at the entrance.

I had to look online to figure out how to disable the shield—and got a bit aggravated when I found I needed to complete several quests to obtain a shutdown code. It had taken me some time and effort to reach the entrance and the idea of backtracking was frustrating.

I’m not one to give up in either case. After a short break from Andromeda, I dived back in, completed the needed quests to infiltrate the stronghold, and proceeded to eliminate the enemy units. I did get a scare at one point when I was watching what looked like an entry point in the ceiling—only for the enemy units to come up through the floor instead.

It was a little disappointing to find that eliminating the stronghold was only a side quest rather than part of the main storyline, but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable for me. For the remainder of my time spent playing Andromeda that day, I focused primarily on completing side quests for the Nexus space station, the planet Eos, and for my crew members.

The next day I played was likewise spent completing side quests, of which there are a lot. My next headache arose when my save file from that entire session was corrupted and all my progress was erased. I’ve since had to do it all over.

One of the funniest things I’ve encountered was when I accidentally drove my vehicle off a cliff. Each time the game loaded me back in, it was in a bad spot that resulted in the vehicle falling into the same abyss over and over.

Overall, I like that the game has so much content or environments to explore. The jungle planet Havarl is particularly beautiful. I aim to experience as much as I can rather than rush my way through the game.

My only nitpick would be in regards to my character’s appearance. The way her lipstick is applied gives her a permanent Joker-esque smile. And her eyes are visible through her eyelids—a gaming term known as clipping—when she blinks. I don’t know if this is a widespread problem with the game or if it’s due to how I personally modeled my character’s appearance. But I may find out with my next playthrough.

I don’t know how long it may take me to get through to the ending, but I look forward to seeing what awaits me. And I hope to see a sequel to Andromeda someday that expands on this sci-fi series I love so much.

Our Book (Part 3 of 3)

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” St. Augustine

On Thursday at sea, Roger and I filled our day with socializing, playing games, and learning the basics of Spanish in a class. Our team won the morning Catchphrase Challenge. I participated in the line dance class even though the ocean was rough. It was hilarious dancing while trying to maintain my balance.

Our Friday bus tour of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico included a visit to a tequila factory. The tour guide showed us how they used to make tequila and how the process has been modernized. We were given generous samples of about five different flavors of tequila. I opted out of the tasting experience. Roger enjoyed it. Some of the tourists purchased bottles of tequila to take home, but Roger just purchased a bottle of a special hot sauce.

During our island themed lunch, we were treated to a performance of Mexican dancers and a rider on a prancing horse. When they asked for audience participation, I happily volunteered to dance with one of the performers.

In the evening, Roger and I sat in on the Music Trivia Game Show with “Barry from Boston,” a piano bar entertainer whom we enjoyed listening to several evenings on the cruise. This night Roger and I tied another player in the game. Barry asked one of us to play against Cliff for the grand prize. Roger insisted I play for the team. Cliff and I played Name That Song. Barry gave us clues to a song he selected but didn’t play. I started by saying, “I can name that song in 12 notes.” Cliff countered with 11 notes. We continued until I got to 4 notes and said, “Name that song.” Cliff not only named that song, he sang it. I had no idea what that song was. Cliff won the grand prize of a Panama Canal lapel pen. Cute!

Saturday was spent at sea. Each evening on the Holland America Cruise ships, the room stewards would leave towels folded in the shape of an animal on the bed along with two chocolate candies. The passengers enjoyed that so much they requested a zoo of towel animals. Before breakfast, we were treated to the sight of over a hundred towel animals – monkeys, snakes, octopi, turtles, walruses, swans, rabbits, orangutans and many other animals – on the lido deck in the deck chairs, around the pool, and hanging from the ceiling. Even large elephants, each made with a blanket and towels, were on display. I was so impressed with their exhibit that I purchased the towel animal book for my granddaughter who likes origami. The book illustrates step by step directions on how to make the animals.

It was surprisingly cold on Saturday, and the ocean was too shaky to join the cha-cha dancing. We spent the time socializing, playing games, and eating the delicious food. After dinner, we joined Barry from Boston in his show tune sing-alongs.

Our fun-filled Panama cruise ended on Sunday when we disembarked in San Diego, California. While there, we could see nearby the Midway, which is a retired aircraft carrier. We took a direct flight home crossing back through three time zones. Exhausted, but happy, we went to sleep early knowing we experienced a marvelous chapter in our book of travels.