Teaser for my book The Deamon Boat, the education of a steampunk spy

Teaser = An advertisement that offers something free in order to arouse customers’ interest

Comments on this work are welcome.

The Daemon Boat
(The Education of a Steampunk Spy)

Character 0ne

The Porter knocked at the first class cabin door. The porter waited, standing stiffly staring at the door. The seconds dragged by. The Porter strained not to glance down the narrow hallway. It was late in the evening but being seen would complicate the mission. Glancing about and acting nervous would seal the memory of an unfamiliar porter in the memory of anyone coming down the hallway. The Porter felt the change in the floors vibrations caused by the airship’s engines straining to make some minor adjustment in course. The Porter knocked again then started to reach under the uniform shirt for the lock picks.
“Who is it?” called a muffled voice from the room.
The Porter gaped open mouth at the sound of the Courier’s voice. There had been enough drug in his drink to knock out three men. The heavily salted caviar that he had been enticed into eating would drive anyone to drink whatever was sat in front of them. The room’s occupant had drunk plenty of the drug laced wine.
The Porter called out, but not too loudly, “Porter, the tea you requested.”
The Porter could hear the sounds of the Courier shuffling to the door. The door latch clicked when the Courier released the lock.
The Courier slumped heavily onto the only chair in the tiny room as the Porter entered. The Porter noted that the bed coverings were disturbed from being laid on. The Courier’s evening clothes were rumpled and the shirt collar was open.
Quickly, the Porter poured tea into the cup on the tray. With stiff mechanical motions of a professional the Porter brought the tray up to the man sitting on the chair. The Courier snatched the cup from the tray and downed the tea. The Porter quickly poured more tea into the cup.
Was this man made of iron, thought the Porter?
The Courier inhaled more than drank half of the second cup of tea when his hands went limp. The cup fell from his fingers. The cup made a quiet bounce on the thin cotton covering of the floor. Slowly, the Courier slid off the chair and onto the floor.
Some tea had splashed on the porter’s trouser. Quickly, with a serving towel,the Porter dabbed the tea off the blue trouser leg near the white stripe. The Porter stood quietly, watching the Courier laying on the floor for two long minutes. The Porter pulled off a glove, reached down, and lifted the Courier’s hand. There was no pulse at the man’s wrist.
The Porter re-donned the glove, picked up the serving tray, and left the room quietly closing but not locking the door. The Porter marched steadily, not wanting to draw attention if seen. A dozen steps down the hallway from the Courier’s room the Porter turned abruptly and entered the cabin two door’s down from the Courier’s room.
The Spymaster sprang to his feet as the Porter entered the room. “Well,” he said.
“He’s dead,” said the Porter.
“Did you have to?”
“He was conscious, he opened the door, he saw me… I had too,” said the Porter.
The Porter pulled off her cap and ran her hand over her slicked down, short, boy-cut hair. “I didn’t touch anything as you ordered,” she said.
The Spymaster slipped out the room as the Porter rapidly pulled off the boy-styled porter uniform. She donned the wig and began layering on her dress that was laid out on the bed.
The Spymaster walked quickly and confidently down the hallway. At the courier’s room he grabbed the door handle, opened the door, then entered the room. He checked the dead man’s wrist. The hand was already cold. He frowned at how this death would complicate the mission and how ruthlessly efficient his agent was.
There were not many places to hide the plain looking leather briefcase the Courier always kept at his side. The Spymaster pulled the case out of the bedding.
Had the man been a good courier he would have stayed in the cabin with the door locked. But this courier had a weakness for a good smoke and a good drink. Smoking was only allowed on the smoking deck, a tiny open platform at the back of the command gondola. It was barely big enough for three men to stand while smoking. It was not easy to smoke standing on a platform ten thousand feet above the ground. It was made worse by the large fan blowing on you to prevent the fire suppression system from going off.
It was the Courier’s habit of having a drink after his one smoke for the day that was his downfall.
The Spymaster mused that his agent’s easy charm and wit had caused even him to relax his defenses. The Courier hadn’t stood a chance. He frowned, he was going to have to watch his agent closely, she was too good.
The Spymaster sat the briefcase on the miniscule table next to the chair the Courier had sat on. The Spymaster pulled open a set of midnight black lock picks. Even though the lock on the briefcase was excellence quality the Spymaster worked it open in under a minute with practiced motions.
The Spymaster frowned at the open case. The compartment built inside the bottom of the case was a different matter. The case, including the locks on the inside and outside of the case, were infused with triggers. Triggers that would destroy the papers in the compartment if any of them were tripped. Some of those papers were for a device code named crossbow, papers he had been ordered to obtain at all costs.
Working lock picks deep inside the dark cramped case would be asking to set off the booby trap. He had paid a Rouge Courier a  fortune for a set of keys to the inside compartment lock. More important, he purchased the sequence of key rotations to open the inside lock. The timing of the purchased of the keys had jeopardize the mission. The keys and the sequence had to be current. The sequence of key rotations changed each month. The meeting with the Rouge Courier minutes before the airship lifted off had gone wrong. The Rouge Courier thought he was so clever demanding more money at the last minute.  The Rouge Courier would have died then and there, but that would have alerted the other couriers and the Americans. Killing the Rouge Courier was a desperately needed piece of unfinished business he would have to take care of immediately after the mission. He must eliminate any and all witnesses, including anyone with information about this mission.
From an inside pocket of his jacket the Spymaster took out the key ring he purchased form the Rouge Courier. The ring held seven keys. It took several tries with different keys until one turned the lock buried inside the case.
The spymaster turned the key once to the left then to the right twice, then left. There was a loud snap. The spymaster yanked his hand out of the case but not fast enough. Flames shot out of the case. Pain engulfed the Spymaster’s hand as burning papers spewed out of the case.
In the blink of an eye the room was flooded with fire suppressant foam.
The Spymaster raced back to his room two doors down. He leaned against the inside of the door panting and clutching his hand in pain. His agent looked at him blank faced with one spooled heeled shoe dangling from her hand.

Stay strong, write on.     Professor Hyram Voltage

The Unusual Equals a Story Idea

You never know when a story idea will hit you. Open up, look around and be on the lookout for the unusual, the odd, the interesting.

The other day I went into a store and bought an item for 99 cents. I handed the cashier lady a dollar bill. It wasn’t a 99 cent store. The cashier took out a black plastic marker pen that writes with a yellowish ink that they use for checking for counterfeit bills. She checked the one dollar bill. That is odd. Who would counterfeit a dollar bill?

I asked the cashier about checking the bill. She said they check all one dollar bills and they get a lot of counterfeit ones (pun intended).

That doesn’t make sense and that the germ of a story idea.

In a series of stories by Spider Robinson the barkeep would only take one dollar bills for a drink. Yes, the stories were written a long time ago and no I don’t think you could have ever bought a cup of plain coffee at Starbucks for under three dollars. The reasoning was who would brother counterfeiting a one dollar bill. My mother always said don’t miss a payment or cheat for a small amount, if you do they will lock you in prison for life, even if it’s just a dollar. If you steal a couple of million dollars you’ll be elected to congress.

Why is there no profit in counterfeiting dollar bills? It takes a very good printing press or copy machine and very good paper to counterfeit a dollar bill. Poor people, who are the only ones I could think of who would counterfeit a dollar bill, can’t afford the copy machine or the paper. If it takes thirty cents to make a counterfeit dollar bill you are making seventy cents per each bill you pass. It will take forever to make a fortune passing counterfeit dollar bills. The penalty is the same if you’re caught passing a counterfeit dollar bill or a counterfeit hundred dollar bill. They will throw you in jail for passing a counterfeit dollar bill, it’s a federal crime. So only someone in a bind or not quite thinking right would counterfeit a dollar bill.

I read that the counterfeiter gets 50 percent of the face value for a counterfeit bill when he sells them to passers. So the passer gets only 50 cents for each bill he passes.

People who handle money all day will spot a counterfeit bill if the paper is a little bit off in color or doesn’t feel right.People who handle money all day long know the feel of a real bill, so counterfeiters have to use good paper. The news report I heard says that the most counterfeited US bill is the 100 dollar bill, but that’s over seas. That makes a little more sense. Still the risk is high of getting caught.

The story could be about someone who passes counterfeit one dollar bills and why they do it. Or about the person that makes the counterfeit one dollar bills, and why they do it. It would be set in a complicated and dangerous world. Desperate people doing desperate things on the companies super copy machine.

Stay strong, write on.        Professor Hyram Voltage

The Tools of a Wrtier, the Computer

If you’re going to write great stories use great tools.

You don’t need a Mac computer to write. Get it out of your head right now. You don’t need an Ipad, Ipro or Mac. The computer you have doesn’t make you a writer.

You can write a book or a bunch of books with a pencil and paper. I know one mystery writer with a bad case of arthritis that writes his books out in long hand on a legal pad and then his wife types the book out. A real family business.

The reason a writer needs a computer is to write faster. Anything that makes writing easier, less labor intensive is good.

“Writing is the hardest thing you can do.” John Turdy.

Mark Twain is credited with writing one of the first books written on a typewriter. Early type writers were expensive, the ribbons they used were very expensive. Early typewriters jammed, and jammed often. They were great, dead tired and half drunk a typewriter made your writing legible. It may not have made sense but it was easy to read.

Typing on a keyboard, even with only two fingers, is still faster than hand writing and much less harder on the writing hand.

There are laptop computers available for $150.00, new. You don’t need an expensive name brand computer to write. Readers don’t care about the publisher of your book. They sure won’t care about the computer it was written on.

Issac Asimov wrote great books on a TRS-80 computer made by Radio Shack using a program called electric pencil. Don’t worry if your no name brand computer runs Linux, write. How many gigabytes of memory did a TRS-80 have? Did you know a TRS-80 held 16 kilobytes of memory so it takes 62,500 Trash 80s to hold a gigabyte of memory.

Get a computer with a real keyboard. The on screen keyboards of tablets take up too much space on the screen. You need that space for your words. Separate keyboards also put words on the screen much faster. More words equals more books. Remember a writer’s motto; better living through more books.

The most expensive computer in the world is worthless if you don’t write.

Don’t let not being able to use a computer stop you. You can talk your book. There are services that can transcribe your audio recording for you. The big draw back is you don’t talk like you write. It also gets expensive to have the work retyped over and over for each edit. The cost of transcribing is coming down. Still you will have to do many edits but, when edits cost you, you write better to start with and work much harder to make each edit the best edit it can ever be.

Pocket audio recorders are cheap and there is free audio recording software for a computer available. Just get a USB microphone, plug it into your computer, and talk away.

Write on, draw on. Professor Hyram Voltage.

Bummer sticker; Better living through more books

The Tools of a Writer, Paper

If you’re going to write great stories use great tools.

Go out and buy a notebook right now. Buy one that you will keep with you. Writing on the back of an old envelope is OK if your desperate but you’re a writer. Instead of always searching for a scrape of paper to write on, be the person that family, friends, coworkers, and complete strangers go to when they need something to write on. Buy a bunch of cheap pens at the dollar store to. If they bum a piece of paper off you they’re going to want to borrow a pen. If you’re going to lose a pen make it a cheap one, not your good writing pen.

The most important paper you can have is a notebook that you use. An expensive fancy notebook is like costly embossed stationary, nice to have but, too expensive to use. A good notebook should be small enough that you always carry it around with you and large enough to hold lots of note and big enough to write in. Don’t pay too much, a writer’s notebook will fill up fast. The brand, the color of the cover, whether it has a stretchy band to mark the last used page or not doesn’t matter. You’re a writer, write in your notebook. Fill it up and then get another one.

Don’t get colored paper or a notebook with colored paper. After the first page that bright purple will look hideous. Be easy on your eyes.

I carry a small shirt pocket notebook for taking note everywhere and keep a seven by nine and a half inch college ruled, spiral bound 300 page notebook handy for longer writing like journaling. It doesn’t need to be a Moleskins, the store brand is good enough. The notebook will only last a couple of months.

For editing and reading out loud nothing beats printing out your work on clean white paper. A laser jet is much cheaper than an ink jet so get recycled printer paper. The recycled stuff doesn’t jam like the virgin stuff.

Experiment with different papers. If you find one that works stick with it. Buy in bulk, you’re in this for the long haul. Many authors say that it takes a year to write a novel and printouts for every major edit, writers group meetings or table reads will eat up paper.

Hide a ream of copy paper in your desk at work for when the copier or printer runs out and you have to print something right now. Keep a ream hidden at home for when someone needs to print out a late term paper and forgot again to buy paper to print it out on. There’s always the room mate that uses up all your paper and doesn’t tell you about it. Paper panhandlers are everywhere.

Have some business card made up. List only your name and a throw away email address on them. They’re great for writing down quick notes to give to someone. You can get business cards made up cheap or even free. Don’t get glossy business cards. Ink will not write or stick on glossy paper. Don’t completely cover the back of the card with graphics, leave room to write on it.

Write on, draw on.                        Professor Hyram Voltage


The Tools of a Writer, the Pen

If you’re going to write great stories use great tools.

The basic tool of a writer is the pen and pencil. Warning when you use good tools be like a bank. Trust your friends but, chain your pens down. Pens have legs. They’re like little children, when your not looking they run off.
Your most basic tool is the pen. Even if you’re like me and do your heavy writing on a computer you need a good pen. A good pen is one that will start writing when you do. If you have a pen that skips or takes drawing a half dozen circle before it starts writing then get rid of it (leave it where a fellow worker or writer will pick it up). A pen that you have to fight with is a frustration and writers don’t need more frustration. I have enough independent characters to provide all the frustration I can handle.

A good pen writes a clear line in a dark solid ink color that is easy on the eyes. The ink dries quickly and doesn’t smear.

I use Polit G-2 gel pens with an extra fine (0.38) tip. The thin lines from the 0.38 tip makes the ink last. The line it makes are dark, clean and easy on the eyes. The cartridge in the pen holds lots of ink and the pen feels good to hold and use. Thicker tips like the medium and larger leave enough ink on the paper to smudge before the ink dries.
You can use any old pen you find laying around but it’s a tool. Use the best tools you can find. As a starving writer you can surf around and score pens form many places. Many businesses use pens as advertising. The more prestigious the business the better the pen. Financial businesses have the best pens. Advertise for them, give their pens legs.

I suggest you find a good reliable ball point pen and stay with it. Be aware that there is a pen out there that I accuse of false advertising. I was using one of this brand’s of pens and the pen stopped writing. The worst thing a pen can do when you need to write. The cartridge looked full of ink. You could see the black of the ink through the clear plastic barrel of the pen. Shaking the pen and soaking the end of the pen in water didn’t help. I took the cartridge out of the pen. I cut off the end of the cartridge below the ink line with a pair of wire cutters. I expected to get ink on the cutters but, when I examined the cutters there was no ink. I looked through center of the cut off piece and saw daylight even though the inside of the cartridge was black. I cut up the rest of the cartridge and it was empty. The manufacturer had painted the inside of the cartridge black, so black you could not tell if any ink had been used. They could be selling pens that were only half full of ink and you wouldn’t know it.

I don’t recommend using fountain pens. I like fountain pens but, you forget and take it on an airplane and you will find out why it’s called a fountain pen. The low air pressure inside an airplane will cause the ink to fountain and fill the pen’s cap. When you pull the cap off the pen you’re going to have ink all over the place (mainly on the best shirt you own, and I use waterproof ink that doesn’t come out). You don’t have to get on an airplane, driving from the Salton sea at 112 feet below sea level to Boulder Colorado at a mile above sea level can get you a pocket ink fountain.

If you prefer the easily changeable laid back style of a pencil, I suggest you try a Palomino Blackwing 602. They’re expensive at almost a dollar a pencil but, they are a smooth writing pencil and they have a huge replaceable eraser. If you’re more into an engineering style of writing try a Pentel Twist-Erase in 0.9 mm lead mechanical pencil. It feel good in my hand and is rugged and durable.

If you have to have a fountain pen try a Noodlers Nib Creaper flex pen with Noodlers X Feather black ink. You can get these at The Goulet Pen Company at www.GouletPens.com. You can also call them at 804-368-0482 from 9am to 5 pm EST. The chat feature on the website works well to. Many of the 4.5 oz. bottles of Noodlers ink come with a free pen. 4.5 ounces of ink lasts a long time. Clean the pen after you buy it and before you fill it with ink. Goulet has several videos on YouTube about caring for your pens.

Write on, draw on.        Professor Hyram Voltage


Bumper sticker;

Hi Oh, Hi Oh, It’s off to write we go.

Recycling soda cans Bullfeathers

Back in the 1960s me and a couple of friends we riding in a car a couple of miles outside of town. We passed two people walking along the road picking up soda bottles. My friend sitting by the passenger door threw his soda bottle out the window for the two to pick up. We were immediately pulled over by the CHP and he was given a ticket for littering. No good deed goes unpunished.

In the 60s soda bottles got you four cents. This was from the bottler, with no government help. Today you get five cents through a government  process.

A couple of days ago I was taking my afternoon walk around the park and there was a aluminum soda can laying on the grass. There were other people in the park. It’s busy place. The can was for 16 ounces of green tea and it looked like it had been there since the night before.

People use to fight over a beer can laying on the ground. People use to stop their car, get out, and pick up soda cans laying by the road.

What happened? Inflation. In the 60s a nickel was still made from nickel. Now, the metal, nickel cost to much to make money out of. Or is it money isn’t worth enough to make it out of something valuable.

I’m still waiting for the five dollar plastic piece that Robert A. Heinlein talked about in his science fiction books that he wrote in the 950s.

If the State of California is going to do something about litter and get people to recycle then it has to admit that there has been inflation since the price of soda, water and beer can-and-bottles was set back in the 1970s. On top of that an article in Scientific American detailed how aluminum soda and beer cans are now made with less aluminum than just a few years ago. Have the recycle dealers changed the amount they pay per pound? Or are people who take their cans in get less than the price per can because the cans weight less.

Recycle, the public says Bullfeathers. Make it worth it.


Write on, draw on.    Professor Hyram Voltage


Writing in a coffee shop; Bullfeathers

Writer after writer write or blog about the wonders of writing in a coffee shop. Don’t believe it. The other day the city was paving the street in front of where I live. The road would be closed most of the day. The noise from the road crew last time they did this was bad being only a couple of meters (12 to 20 feet) from the street. The smell of hot oil and tar was not something I was looking forward too on a warm fall day.

I packed my tablet and headed for the coffee shop. I opened the door to the coffee shop, stopped and turned around. I went back to the car and got a jacket. It was nice outside but inside the coffee shop was almost as cold as the inside of my ice box. A good move by the manager to sell more coffee. They were selling a lot of coffee. The staff was bouncing around and the drive up window had a steady stream of cars going through.

I had been to the coffee shop before and this time they had bagels. With a bagel and some tea I sat down at a table in the middle of the shop to do some writing. I would have liked to sit in the corner near the only electrical outlet in the shop, but the same guy that was hogging the corner table last time was at it again. At least this time he wasn’t hogging two tables. He had the same old suitcase on wheels with him. I would need the power outlet in a couple of hours. The old battery in the tablet doesn’t hold as much charge as it use to.

I should have brought head phones,  but I don’t have a good pair that would block out the loud but not objectionable music. The singing distracts me, and I believe it would distract any writer. Writing is hard work and you need every brain cell you have working on your writing.

Didn’t get good and started when the police arrived and arrested a person sitting outside the coffee shop. Great stuff to put in a story, but I’m not writing that type of story.

Then two elderly gentlemen came in and started talking. Being a little older they had hearing problems so they had to talk loud over the music. It wouldn’t have been so bad but one guy had to tell the other about how he cheated his ex-wife out of child support by semi-voluntarily getting laid-off.

Other writers talk about how much writing they get done at coffee shops. They either have thicker skins than I do or live in fantasy cities where ordinary troubles don’t occur.

All I can say is Bull-feathers.

Write on, draw on.                 Professor Hyram Voltage.

The Drought Impacts Police Cars

The sheriff department provides police services for the town next to mine. I was driving home yesterday and a sheriff’s car past me. It was dust covered, dirty. At first I thought the officer might have been driving down dirt roads of a farmer’s field to get the car that dirty. The sheriff’s budgets is so tight they are still driving cars not SUVs.

A second patrol car past me by and it was just as dirty. Then I realized that they were saving water due to the drought.

Bagel alert

The other day I went into Starbucks to do some writing. The weather outside and at my house was hot and ridiculously muggy. Starbucks is air conditioned and my house isn’t.

I’m not suppose to have caffeine which limits the choices of what I can order at Starbucks. I walked in and ordered a bagel. Personal rule I buy something every hour and a half when I use a place like that.

Starbucks has no bagels, they’ve been recalled. Recalled. I know a little about cooking and to mess up a bagel till it’s dangerous to eat takes hard work or enemy action. We’re talking thousands and thousands of bagels.

The next day I went to Noah’s Bagels. Not as noisy, had WiFi, not as many tables. Both places had air conditioning and both times I got writing done.

Write on, draw on.

Professor Voltage

Responding to my readers

This blog is being changed to a responsive format to make it readable on mobile devices. The changes are not going well. Stay tuned. Currently trying to get images to show on Home page. Not have much luck with that.

Write on, draw on.  Professor Hyram Voltage