Monday, October 21, 2013

All the pieces ready for George Jetson's tea at space restaurant...

Techtrepreneurs have done it again...and in a huge way. Space-X's grasshopper reusable test rocket took its eighth and last test flight on Monday, October 7th.

So what's so amazing about a rocket flying upward? After all, rocket scientists have been successfully launching tubes for decades.

The accomplishment is in the words "reusable" and "eighth." Until now, commercial rockets have been considered disposable. After all, without wings and bereft of fuel, what else can a multi-ton, ten-story tall vehicle do but fall back to earth?

Elon Musk, CEO of both Space-X and Tesla Motors, has committed himself and his fortune to changing all of that. As he explains, for mankind to successfully become a multi-planetary species, we must first learn how to access space safely and affordably.

Before Elon and Space-X stepped into what had largely been a government arena back in 2002, space-bound rockets cost approximately sixty million dollars each and were expected to completely burn up or land charred and useless in the ocean upon reentry to our atmosphere.

Imagine if every time we took a flight from the United States to Europe that we had to destroy the plane. Just how far along do you imagine intercontinental air travel would have gotten?

So, Space-X has been working diligently to build a reusable rocket...and they are almost there. The Grasshopper rocket soared 2,500 feet--a full half mile--into the air on Monday, October 7th, and successfully returned to its launch pad. Simultaneously, Space-X has been doing in-space re-ignition tests on their Falcon rockets, and Elon Musk has recently stated that his company now has all the basics needed to launch a rocket into space and return it safely to earth for reuse.

Now some would say that the space shuttles were already reusable...but not really. It took months, years sometimes, to renovate a returned space shuttle, and those repairs ran up bills of literally hundreds of millions of dollars. It was actually costing NASA more to reuse a space shuttle than it would have to simply send our astronauts up in freshly minted rocket ships.

No, what Space-X is talking about is new and breathtakingly revolutionary. They are potentially months away from launching the first fully reusable rocket ship into space, which means that for the first time mankind will be able to reach orbit for slightly more than the cost of fuel ($200,000) instead of the astronomical replacement cost of a complete ship.

Another company, Bigelow Space, has an entire collection of inflatable, orbital buildings ready for launch, and Space-X has contracts to take several of them skyward within the next few years. Since Bigelow Space is owned by a hotel chain billionaire, it's easy to understand how a George Jetson-style luncheon is not far from reality.

Friday, August 23, 2013

For god's sake, ask!

We are constantly barraged with sarcastic and ironic memes that point a finger directly at "the other guy." I sincerely try to limit that sort of thing, simply because I'm as flawed, if not more flawed, as everyone else.

The truth is that many people fall into the trap of using veiled or outright insults as a way to fight back against the "I'm ignorant and proud of it" crowd. I learned long ago, however, that using my superior size or occasionally superior intellect to skewer anyone was not only wrong but counter-productive.

There is no easier way to be remembered than to injure a body or ego. For instance, try to recall the three people you hate the most: chances are they come almost immediately to mind, bright and clear on the movie screen inside your head.

Every time you drop an insult, even those that seem minor or negligible to you, you are likely reserving a position on someone else's internal screen. Fifty years from now, you might still be there with the viewer gritting his or her teeth at the memory.

All of that said, in an encouraging not disparaging way, I would like to discuss a plague on social media. I'm, of course, referring to voices that proclaim nonsensical facts while simultaneously failing (or refusing) to absorb any additional, clarifying, or opposing information.

Throughout our lives, we have all met people who seem too embarrassed to ask questions. Some, I think, imagine that intelligent people read books all night or naturally brew knowledge in their sleep.

To this ill-informed group, asking questions is tantamount to admitting stupidity. The rest of us, however, know that just the opposite is true: inquisitive and ultimately knowledgeable minds are constantly asking questions and paying attention to the answers.

There are others who seem perfectly willing to ask, but then misunderstand or completely discombobulate what they hear. These are the folks who proclaim crazy, crazy things, like "once every thousand years the moon touches Mount Everest" or "dolphins are smarter than people and have an advanced city underwater called Atlantis."

Okay, maybe those aren't exact quotes, but I think you get the point. These folks might be well-intentioned and sincere but would definitely benefit from more listening and less talking.

Finally, there is another group. These are the folks who liberally misstate facts...and then go to the ends of the earth to defend them.

I have a friend who is much like this, sincere but not always right. She is often heard giving advice and making seemingly astute and almost secret observations.

I recently heard her announce that a local fashion store was going out of business (she knew this because she works in corporate finance and saw how the clothing stock was being steadily weeded down). Given that hundreds of cars surrounded that particular store every day, I found it hard to believe.

With no malice intended, I called the store manager and outright asked if they were closing. He laughed and said the reduced stock happened every year simply because they were waiting for new designer shipments while simultaneously placing clothing on sale to make room.

So what did my friend do when I told her? She accused me of being vindictive and intentionally trying to prove her wrong.

Not once during her angry retort did she ever acknowledge that the information had been false, nor do I think it was a point of concern in her mind. Though she's wonderful in so many other ways, her need to always be right and "in the know" often keeps people from appreciating her many other amazing attributes.

I should also mention another friend. He and I worked together when we were both in our mid-twenties (more than two decades ago). Tom was a great guy but had been totally absorbed by sports rather than scholastics in school.

On several occasions Tom mentioned that he had a great time the previous weekend and that he and his friends had been "belligerent" together. Tom, to his credit was often trying to expand his vocabulary, so the first few times I heard the comment, I chose not to embarrass him.

Probably the fourth or fifth time he misused the term, however, I made sure we were alone and gently pointed out his error. I'm a pretty big guy, 5' 10", lots of years in the gym, but Tom was even bigger, over six feet with a solid, athletic build.

Tom got angry, furious really. Though we were good friends, it seemed that at any moment a serious battle was about to break loose...but then something odd happened: Tom's eyes watered at the corners.

Anyone who knows me understands that I simply have no desire to upset anyone else. Life is challenging enough without adding to other people's woes. I would have preferred a fight to hurting Tom's feelings.

Tom then wiped his eyes and thanked me. He explained that he often felt embarrassed when around educated peers and that he was certain he had improperly used the word "belligerent" a hundred times in the previous month. In his mind, dozens of other people had allowed him to make a fool of himself.

If there was ever a fool among his friends, Tom wasn't the one. Today he is a well-spoken and successful business owner.

Though this post has gotten a little unruly, I simply wanted to encourage everyone to listen and learn as best you can. Ask when you're not sure of something, and take feedback with appreciation and attention.

If you have friends, family, making obvious misstatements, share the facts with them in private. We should strive to never hurt anyone's feelings, but sometimes silence can be more cruel.

I, for one, would find the social media landscape much more fun if it wasn't so filled with disinformation and bickering.

What do you think?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Damn it, you have to smile!

Photo compliment of Robot Island toy store,

I am closing in on my 49th birthday, and I have to say it's a milestone that I never would have imagined hitting when I was a young child. Things were not particularly easy back then and, for reasons that certainly don't matter as pertains to today's blog, I grew up probably a little too serious and somber.

What was the result of that? Simply put, I stepped into adulthood with relief and dove immediately into work and building a life.

I don't regret those years, and I have a wonderful family and comfortable life today because of it. But recently I decided that it was time to smile a little more often.

How, you ask?

That's the trick. It's not the same for any of us.

I know one thing, however: pretending to smile at things because others think you should is not likely the answer. Though there may be something to 'faking it until it's real,' I'd much rather see your smiles come from the heart.

A few minutes after this post, I will walk out of my office, onto a 60-foot porch, and see a hundred ducks waiting for breakfast. I'll smile the whole time I feed them and gaze out onto the brook and pond that sits just fifty feet from my steps.

My three cats and dog also break through any muted moods. Of course, my wife, children, family, and friends all illicit their share of smiles...but today I want to encourage you to fan your happy flames in ways that do not depend on relationships.

Why, you ask again?  It's simply because your joy, your happiness should be generated internally, which in turn will allow you to share it with the important people around you.

I'll give you a for instance: I recently started a robot and space toy collection. Lost in Space, Star Trek and dozens of other toys now take up more than half the shelves in my office. They exist for no other reason than every time my eyes pass that way, I smile.

I also keep old episodes of Casper the Ghost ready on Netflix. I have Richie Rich comics on the shelf above my computer, and I'm not afraid to break out old robot movie and TV shows from the 1950s and 60s. You should do everything in your power to rekindle that childhood joy that easily flickers and goes out if we aren't too careful.

I know it sounds awful in such stark terms, but we are all on an inevitable road to death. And we deserve to enjoy as many hours of fun and humor as possible before that final shovelful of earth is thrown on our grave.

You'll notice that I never once talked about how much you should spend on vacations, expensive watches, new cars, etc.... Sure, those things can be wonderful but it's not my goal to fill your life with financial and other stresses that can come from spending gobs of money.

I'd much rather see you buy Barbie dolls, GI Joe action figures, or even old hubcaps. You might pop over to your nearest shelter and get yourself a rabbit, cat, dog or any other pet that will generate endless hours of smiles.
If vacations are a stretch for you right now, take a walk down a woods trail, drive to a nearby beach, spend a few minutes staring at a mountain view. Fill your house with inspiring photos and art work (which you can find at garage sales and flea markets for very little cost).
The important thing is that we all strive to be as internally cheerful as possible. Do that, and you'll provide a gift to those around you as well.
Thanks for popping by, and thanks for the smile :-)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Steve Jobs, Ashton Kutcher--a bridge too far...

The reviews are starting to creep in and it seems to be a universal opinion that Ashton did a yeoman's job in his attempted portrayal of the man who literally changed the face of our tech and entertainment worlds. Unfortunately, however, Ashton's (and, more likely, the filmmakers') attempt fell short.
This author has not yet seen the movie but this blog is not intended to focus on the film so much as to discuss exactly what magical ingredient is it that Jobs possessed, and what is it that left such a void after his passing. Does anyone know?
Maybe we could first touch on Steve Jobs the person. Contrary to many of the things we have all heard, Steve Jobs was neither a villain nor a saint, and his personal life was littered with as many failed relationships as it is was filled with life-long, loyal friendships.
Regarding his first child, Lisa Brennan-Jobs who was born in 1978, Jobs denied being her father for two years while Chrisann Brennan, a Bay Area painter, raised their infant daughter on welfare.  A paternity test ultimately proved that Jobs was not sterile, as he had claimed throughout the legal battle, and that he was Lisa's biological father.
After his death, Lisa Brennan-Jobs described her father, Steve, as the glue that held their family together. Obviously, this means that any past transgressions have been forgiven, which rings true given that she was invited (and accepted) to live with him and her three siblings when she was a teenager.
In 1991, Jobs married Laurene Powell, who birthed their son Reed six months later. In 1995 and 1998, respectively, Erin and Eve became Steve's third and fourth children. Steve's entire family, including his sister Mona (whom he never knew until they were adults because he was given up for adoption before she was born) remember the family workaholic with great respect, fondness, and love.
In short, Steve was a good husband, father, and brother but, nevertheless, simply a man. Neither better nor worse than others.
So that leaves us still wondering: What was it about Steve Jobs that will be discussed, studied, and eulogized for decades and centuries to come? What exactly made this otherwise normal man rise to the level of icon and, dare we say, legend?
We live in a world filled with skeptics that have heard too many sales pitches and seen too many false advertisements to trust hardly anyone. So when Steve Jobs pitched real computer achievements that were even better than advertised, people began to notice.
To be clear, Apple was not a first, second, or even third-time success. It was a company that rode some decent highs and some pretty bad lows until 1985, which was when Jobs fell prey to a corporate coup that led to his removal from nearly all aspects of day-to-day Apple business and ultimately caused him to resign five months later.
After his resignation (an event that Jobs would later refer to as "being fired") Jobs founded NeXT in 1985. Because he cut all Apple ties in anger and short-changed himself in doing so, it wasn't long before Steve's wealth (a seven million investment in the new company) started to run out.

Enter billionaire Ross Perot, a man who believed less in NeXT the company than he did in this young entrepreneur who boiled with such passion. Ultimately, NeXT was to build the computer used to invent the World Wide Web at CERN.

In a sweet irony, in 1997 Apple purchased the successful NeXT company, which by that time had become a software-only designer. It's WebObjects programing became the basis for what would become MobileMe and the Apple and iTunes Stores.

In the meantime, starting also in 1985, Jobs had become deeply ensconced in a new movie venture called Pixar, which led to a string of hugely successful movies and ultimately to its all-stock sale to Disney in 2006. This sale not only solidified Jobs' profile on Forbes' Richest People in the World list, it also gave Steve ownership of 7% of Disney's stock, making him by far that company's largest stockholder (Roy E. Disney, by comparison, had a stake of only 1%).
It's time to recollect that we were attempting to define exactly what it was that made Steve Jobs such a successful businessman and icon to millions. It is likely that we have already stumbled across the answer, but maybe we should step back to that ironic NeXT sale to Apple to best illustrate the Steve Jobs "something" that turned out to be everything.
In 1997, when Apple purchased Steve's NeXT company, it also welcomed its co-founder back into the fold. A few months later, he again rose to the level of CEO and the projects and personnel bloodbath that followed is the stuff of nightmares and legends.
It is right around this time, as Steve Jobs rose from the ashes, that his laser-like vision and devotion to perfection became evident. Steve was no longer a drifter on the high seas of silicon valley, he was instead one of its captains, and this time he knew it.
Steve had for the previous two years already been riding his Pixar employees to a state of fear and perfection, and now he started to do the same with everyone at Apple. Projects and people who were not pushing the company to greater heights were thrown overboard as surely as those more successful, vision-supporting efforts were coddled and rewarded.
We don't need to relive every success that followed, which were myriad and continuous, but we do have to recognize that Steve Jobs 2.0 brought to the table a vision so strong that it literally seeped from the pores of his employees and from the company itself. For years, tech enthusiasts became glued to every word that Steve Jobs spoke, and the reason was simply that Apple's (and Pixar's) product releases always met or exceeded every expectation that their captain had publicly established. If Steve Jobs said you can expect something amazing in two, three, or four months, it happened, and it usually caused jaws to drop to the floor when it did.
Compare that with Tim Cook today. Has he ever inspired anyone with any single word or phrase?
Now, let's not make this a pile onto the poor billionaire event, but suffice it to say that Tim Cook spends most of his time dodging questions about what Apple is or isn't doing. And when he's not dodging, he's usually setting the audience up for low-expectations, of which Apple usually goes on to fall short.   
So the Steve Jobs void is two- or maybe three-fold: we miss his unfaltering vision of a bright and beautiful technological future; we miss his simultaneous ability to lead his companies to that exacting level of achievement; and, most of all, we miss the knowledge that no matter the storms or condition of the sea, our captain would always take us there.
R.I.P. Steve Jobs. We will continue to remember.
If you'd like to learn more about Jobs, Ashton Kutcher's new movie, click here:


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Holy #&$%! The underlying reason for 97 percent of cancers just discovered...

Readers know that this blog is dedicated to either authors or items of real science or news. I try not to fill this space with spurious articles or science too early in its infancy.

A recent medical discovery, however, seems to warrant shouting out the results a little early. Wednesday, the BBC reported that a team of scientists led by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the UK charted 21 major DNA mutations that are the actual creators of 97 percent of all cancers.

We should clarify that the mutations create the cancers but outside stimuli (like UV damage or smoking) cause the mutations. Once DNA is mutated, it becomes susceptible to tumor growths.

So what does this mean, exactly? Why is it important?

A simple example might come from law enforcement. An unknown serial killer might successfully kill dozens of people over an undefined period, but once law enforcement can zero in on the right clues they can often identify the criminal who is then taken into custody fairly easily.

In this case, it has taken medical science hundreds of years to find the specific clues or, in this case, 21 clues behind 97 percent of all cancers. From this point forward, medical experts around the world will turn their keen minds toward testing for these 21 DNA mutations and then reversing them or creating defenses that will stop cancer tumors from getting their initial footholds.

This breakthrough suggests that cancer could be reduced to a rare affliction--not the major killer it is today--within the next few decades, our lifetimes.

You can learn more about this life-altering discovery here:


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Mars colony IS happening! NASA testing menu on Mars astronauts in Hawaii...

There is a technological and cultural shift underway, and it is definitely extraterrestrial in nature. While most of us go about our Earth-bound lives, dozens of companies and countries are frantically scrambling to put together various Mars colony missions.

We have talked about many of those efforts in bits and pieces, and in a moment we will check out a Hawaiian study of six men and women testing isolation and food for a space trek. Before we go there, however, it might be worth asking ourselves why all of this is happening now.

In a word: Space-X. In 2002, Elon Musk started his Space Exploration company with the sole intention of rekindling mankind's passion for moving beyond our single-world existence.

He states that there are some very good reasons for roving further out into the solar system and eventually beyond, but first and foremost among them is that our species is a sitting duck for any planet-wide catastrophe, manmade or otherwise. Sure, pragmatists say life has survived on this planet for billions of years and will continue to survive, no matter what.

They would be right.

Unfortunately for the Cro-Magnons, dinosaurs, and saber tooth tigers that is little consolation. And I suspect our ghosts would also fail to appreciate pragmatic logic if and when cockroaches become the sole species on Big Ole Blue.

Aside from a species insurance policy, Elon Musk believes a multi-planetary future gives us something less tangible but even more important: hope. A future of space exploration is exciting and dream-worthy, whereas a dystopian existence on a single crowded planet might be categorized as hopeless.

So, what did Space-X hope to accomplish? Its goal was simple: send a greenhouse to Mars with the hope that it would catch the imaginations of world leaders and spur new interest in space. Somewhere along the way, however, Elon's company was forced to reduce the cost of building rockets, and those savings immediately attracted space payload interest.

In short, Space-X discovered that it could generate enough income to go further than launching one Mars greenhouse. It is now on a mission to become a transportation line to and from Mars and beyond. It hopes to become to modern society what the railroads were to the U.S. in the 1800's.

And, just like the railroad boom, space companies are flourishing and rushing to get their piece of the Space-X dream. Elon Musk is smiling because hope is alive and well.

Though the U.S. government has been nibbling ever-so-slowly at the Mars colonies cookie, it recognizes that mankind is now committed to making that leap. And so, as the grandfather with the most experience in maintaining lives in extra-terrestrial environments, NASA is busy solving the small but important problems, one of which is food.

The space agency has been developing special hybrids of vegetables that could survive and maybe even thrive in the thin Martian atmosphere. It has also been perfecting greenhouses for use on the red planet. Finally, it is now testing recipes and meal interactions among pseudo-astronauts who have been quarantined for four months in a special facility on a lava landscape in Hawaii.

It will be several months before the results of NASA's space food experiment are fully examined, but you can learn more right here:

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Lifeline or tidal wave? Newspapers hold their breath to see what Jeff Bezos will do…

Many years ago, shortly after the development of a quirky little thing called the internet, many of us heard friends talking about a company that was selling books on—of all things—the computer! Obviously, it was just some college kid trying out a wacky idea.

Fifty billion dollars of personal wealth later, Jeff Bezos can rest comfortably in the knowledge that he proved tens of thousands of us wrong. His company Amazon has forever changed the face of retail, not just in the U.S. but around the world.

Last week, news came out that Mr. Bezos (not Amazon) had paid four times more than current market value for the Washington Post, one of the most well-known and influential newspapers in the world. Of course, there are a few who say he bought a pig in a poke, that he just threw two hundred and fifty million dollars at a company well on its way to being swamped by a dying industry.

But then there are the rest of us, those who remember just how WRONG we were about that in-the-computer niche business that went on to become a worldwide marketing phenomenon. And, so, all eyes are glued to the staid old news company that could become…well, no one knows.

What we do know is that the Washington Post transaction will not officially close for another few weeks. While we wait, the journalistic world is holding its universal breath, one simple question on every mind.

Will a likely Jeff Bezos success be replicable, or will history replay itself and see all his competitors washed away?

Monday, August 12, 2013

We may soon be traveling in tubes at 3000 miles per hour...

If you've ever traveled from the East Coast to the West Coast by plane, then you know it makes for a long, long flight. Even in the first class seats, a full day of flying is just too much.

All of that may soon be changing, and once again Elon Musk (Space-X, Tesla Motors, PayPal) may be the personality behind a massive change. Shifting the paradigm is a term I've heard over the years; disrupting industries is another.

Regardless of how you label his efforts, Elon Musk is serving up civilization-altering ideas using technology that already exists. Some say he is Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Howard Hughes, all wrapped into a modern forty-two-year-old package.

So what's happening now? Simply put, Elon is doing it again.

For nearly a year he has been promising to reveal a high-tech option to California's planned high speed railway. The current plan calls for a super-fast train (built by 2029) to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in under three hours at speeds just over 200 miles per hour.

What's wrong with that? From Elon's perspective: everything!

Elon believes he could build what he calls The Hyperloop for 1/10th the cost. He also says it would easily make the same trip in under 45 minutes, would be Earthquake and weather proof, and could run entirely on solar power.

I know, I know. It's impossible, right?

Don't be so quick to judge. Elon Musk has already performed not one, not two, but three industrial miracles that have already changed our world.

He first thought it would be a great idea if there were a way to send money over the internet to any country in the world, without involving all sorts of complications like banks and Brinks trucks. PayPal now does exactly that and more.

Elon then decided that world governments were not doing nearly enough to improve the cost and methods of moving mankind into space. And so was born Space-X, a company that has revolutionized the entire space industry, both in affordability and in technological progress. Next up, according to company leadership: a permanent colony on Mars!

Of course, we also don't want to forget Elon's Tesla Motors. Even as a dozen solar car players have struggled or folded, Tesla has successfully brought long-range electric cars to market. Their Model S currently has customer waiting lists that are months long, and Consumer Reports called it the best car--not the best electric car--that they have ever rated.

Not bad for a tiny South African boy with science fiction dreams.

Today, Elon promises to release his plans for the Hyperloop, a 21st-century transportation system that is believed to consist of individual pressurized cars traveling inside an evacuated tube, likely using reverse polarity to keep the traveling compartments soaring, friction-free, above a magnetic rail.

If a can't-miss personality exists today, it's Elon Musk. And the fact that he's releasing his Hyperloop idea to the public, patent free, suggests that he's serious about displacing our current long-distance travel methods. He says if no one can successfully place the Hyperloop into mainstream use, he will do it himself as soon as electric cars are in every driveway and as soon as Mars has a human colony settled and growing.

Knowing Elon, we might want to think about selling our airline stocks.

Watch the news today for the big release. In the meantime, you can learn more about The Hyperloop transport system here:


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Elysium is science fiction filmmaking at its gritty best...

Elysium is one serious and surprisingly solid science fiction story placed against a backdrop that is just a few degrees shy of breathtaking. Neill Blomkamp and Matt Damon have together created a film that is destined to entertain audiences for years to come.
Blomkamp dipped liberally into his gritty District 9-style dystopia to create 2154 Los Angeles, a devastated remnant that is representative of the great cities that remain on Terra firma. What was once a dazzling metropolis is now a labyrinth of overpopulation, poverty, and desperation.
On the orbiting satellite Elysium, however, the wealthy enjoy a much different existence, one filled with beauty, luxury and, most importantly, health. This pampered sliver of mankind enjoys instant access to state-of-the-art medical technology that can cure virtually any ailment while also extending life by two and three times the average of the unfortunates crawling around on the dying planet below.
Max Da Costa (Damon), an ex-con, is supposed to feel fortunate to have one of the few jobs in Los Angeles, and the truth is he does his job building surveillance robots as best he can. But after being trapped in a room flooded with fatal radiation, he is fired and forced to sign a liability waiver in return for medication that will ease his pain during his last five expected days of life.
Doomed unless he can access the amazing technology in the sky, Max seeks out a criminal mastermind from his past. He makes a deal for portage to Elysium that involves being outfitted with cybernetic implants that will allow him to steal technology from the company that literally stole his life.
Without going into a description filled with spoilers, let’s say that Max is in for a hell of a lot more than he planned. The visuals are spectacular and the logic holds up better than we’ve come to expect from Hollywood.
The acting from everyone including Jodie Foster is solid, and the ending will leave you with a lot to think about. Elysium gets 9 out of 10 stars from me.
You can learn more about Elysium and see the movie trailer right here:

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Interview with spiritual author Cesar about his YA novel Boy Who Dreams...





Today, in the Forum, we have a fascinating spiritual writer who goes simply by the name Cesar. He’s here to talk with us about his YA novel Boy Who Dreams.

Tim Greaton: It’s great to have you with us, Cesar. I guess the best place to start would be early in your life. I understand you had a shocking experience when you were a child. You could tell us about it?

Cesar: I remember being at my grandmother’s flat in Portsmouth as a child, I guess I would have been about seven or eight and I was searching for my Transformers toy and looked under an armchair only to find a head staring back at me. It was a ghost, I guess. Although, now, these many years later, I am unsure whether it actually happened or not. Either way, I chose to include this story into my book Boy who Dreams. The same thing happens to the character, but at school.

Tim Greaton: Many authors are bubbling wells of creativity. The same is true for you. Could you tell us about your other creative pastime?

Cesar: I really enjoy painting Celtic art onto canvas and furniture. My favorite of my paintings is the Celtic tree with interlocking branches and hundreds and hundreds of perfectly shaped dots that form Celtic patterns of leaves.

Tim Greaton: What genres do you read? 

Cesar: Though I read most genres, it’s mostly YA or fiction. Sometimes I do read historical or psychology books, as they interest me a lot, too.

Tim Greaton: I count at least five of your books available now. Could you tell us a little about some of them?

Cesar:  As you mentioned, we’ll be talking about the Boy Who Dreams today. That was my third book. My first book, Prayers Poems Songs was a collection of thoughts and prayers that I wrote when I was a teenager.  My second book, Book of Prophecies, was probably the first published book of its kind since Nostradamus in the 16th century.
To see the rest of Cesar's interview right now, visit

Friday, August 9, 2013

How would you like your steak...printed or Petri dish?

A certain author has been a vegetarian for going on twenty years. Now, it's true my choice was first made for health reasons (lower rates of heart disease and cancer) because a close friend had just died of a brain tumor, and my wife and I took care of his toddler children for a day while his wife dealt with her loss and the funeral arrangements.

However, I could easily have made the same choice for animal humane reasons, for environmental reasons, or even for just plain fear of steroids and other livestock food additives. It would appear, however, that the time may soon come for me to revisit the entire issue.

The current technological revolution will soon produce actual steak, fish, and chicken in lab-grown environments. And, though slightly farther out on the horizon, 3-D printers will soon be assembling proteins, piece-by-piece, not unlike the way food was created on the starship Enterprise.

So the real question is: how long will it take for these new technologies to move into mainstream acceptance? How long before you and I will actually add these foods to our weekly purchases?

I believe the sea change for lab-grown and printed foods will happen fast, making them the choice for the majority of us almost as soon as the processes are universally available and affordable. No surprise ingredients and no slaughterhouse horror stories--that's a hard combination to beat, especially if flavor and texture is top notch.

You can learn more about the $330,000 lab-grown burger that was just eaten here:

To see where the 3-D food printing technology stands, check out this article:

By the way, both of the above articles appeared in THE Washington Post. Should it surprise us that Jeff Bezos (Amazon Owner and fifty-billionaire) just purchased the paper that commonly reports on the cutting edge of technology? My money says it will soon be the tech-paper of record for much of the world.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Absolutely True! NASA is working on Star Trek-ish Warp Engine!

There have been teasers floating around about this for six months now, but we now know it is true: NASA has begun investigating a possible warp drive to send spaceships soaring at faster-than-light speeds. The impossible dream has now become the investigated dream.

Elon Musk of Space-X hinted a few months ago that he believed faster-than-light travel was impossible but that it might be possible to bend space in some fashion so that two distant points would effectively be much closer together. Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking have both published books that along the way attempted to simplify the concept of flexible space.

The best example I have ever heard (which originated with one of them) goes something like this: imagine our solar system as a huge piece of black rubber stretched across space. Now imagine that someone has pinched and pulled out one section of the rubber: that is what a planet or the sun looks like.

The point being: gravity already has a slight warping effect on space and time. I suppose a warp drive might artificially increase that pinching effect.

In any event, this is simply one more example of how science is finally getting around to revolutionizing human existence in the big ways that were envisioned by science fiction writers starting more than a hundred years ago. With changes like this on the horizon, there is reason to believe the current worldwide economic doldrums will pass!

To learn more details about NASA's efforts, click right here:

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Mars colonists meet in Washington State to prep for one-way trip...

Space enthusiasts rejoice, because for the first time in human history a race is underway to colonize another world. Remember, our last space race was simply to orbit the Earth and visit the Moon, but currently there are at least a dozen organizations prepping real Martian colony plans (there are a couple dozen viable space colony programs afoot if you include plans to colonize the Moon).

We have talked about the various Mars programs by NASA, the European Union, Space-X, and others, but it's been a while since we talked about the Mars One program. Here's the Mars One description from "Mars One is a non-profit organization that plans to establish a permanent human colony on Mars by 2023. The private spaceflight project is led by Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp, who announced official plans for the Mars One mission in May 2012. [1]"

On Saturday, August 3rd, a group of 50 applicants for the program gathered at George Washington State University to discuss the permanent colony that will begin launching one-way colonists in 2023. This program is non-profit and is already receiving gobs of funding from corporate sponsors.

Why are corporations interested? Simply because Mars One is going to be the first extra-terrestrial reality program ever created.

While we watch colonists train, fly, and settle on the red planet, corporations will be reaping the advertising rewards of millions of viewers around the world.

You can learn more about Mars One right on their website here: You can learn more about Saturday's meeting in Washington right here:

Monday, August 5, 2013

Avatar, the #1 movie of all time, will have three sequels...

The latest box office tally for James Cameron's masterpiece Avatar has it earning $760,507,625 in the U.S. and Canada and $2,782,275,172 worldwide. Yes, that makes it the number one movie of all-time.

In case you're curious, Cameron's Titanic takes the #2 international slot, and it's #3 domestically, behind Gone With the Wind, which is #2 domestically adjusted for inflation.

If you'd like to see all forms of movie box office charts (including how much each actor's movies have earned) as well as weekly box office numbers and news be sure to save to your favorites. It's a must-see site for movie fans.

James Cameron's team has just announced that there will be three--not two--sequels to the blockbuster of blockbusters. Production for the next three Avatar movies will simultaneously begin in 2014, and they will be released in December of 2016, 2017, and 2018.

You can find out more right here:


Sunday, August 4, 2013

We relived a scene from Stephen King's Pet Cemetery....

Thanks for stopping by.

I posted a note to my Facebook followers today, letting them know that my daily messages can now be found on Pinterest. Feel free to swap and share however you like.

Those daily images are "free share" and so are my words. If you make T-shirts or some such thing, let me know and I'll spread the word for you here and around (royalty free, of course, as long as you buy a Tim Greaton book sometime in the next twenty or so years) :-)

This morning, I spotted an exciting news article about a cure for Alzheimer's being close. I would have blogged about it, but in my quick perusal it seemed that this miracle drug still has a little ways to go.

I promise we'll talk about it when it gets closer to mainstream availability. In the meantime, you can learn more here:

I'm sorry to say that our rabbit died on Thursday. He was deathly ill this spring, so I placed him in a large 8x10' grassy pen, which was attached to an 8x10' shed.

Somehow, even after the vet failed, he came out of it and seemed to enjoy the last couple of months. I noticed he was sluggish the last week or so, however.

Anyway, we will miss Rascal/Fuzzbucket/Fuzzy. We will also eschew any further rabbits, largely because my wife is allergic to them (which Rascal taught her) and because it's sad to have them spend all their time alone.

Unless they are siblings or grow up together young, they tend to fight with each other, or so I'm told. Also, males will eat their young if they are left together after the tiny ones appear.

Finally, we have the story of ghost cat. My son came into my office, mid-week last week, and said that an elderly neighbor was at the door.

An orange tiger cat had been found dead a few houses down. We have two orange tiger cats, one having been given to us by my daughter a few weeks back (for reasons I have yet to fathom).

Anyway, my seventeen-year-old son and I followed the woman to the body, where my son unequivocally stated, "That's Molly." Because she was so skittish, new, and tended to spend most of her time in his room, I acquiesced.

Though she looked a little thinner, I thought it was because she had been squished in traffic. Sadly, we brought her home and buried her.

Not long after we put the shovels away, my son appeared in my office again, face white, with one of the most confused and frightened expressions I have ever seen. "Dad, Molly is purring in my room."

Figuring we were either reliving a scene from Stephen King's Pet Cemetary or that I had gone from hardworking writer to perverse pet corpse thief, I decided to call the police. They informed me that they had been looking for a dead cat spotted by a driver and asked if I would mind digging it back up.

I proceeded to do just that, and was thankful that I had buried the poor thing in a trash bag so my transgressions had not soiled its fur. I did, however, explain to my son that IF the bag turned up empty, the police would be leaving with the undead creature purring in his room.

Unfortunately for the mystery cat, and some poor family missing their pet, the body was still there and available for travel when a policeman arrived. My son and I promised not to steal any more furry corpses just before he drove away.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

How can you disrupt your industry and our world?

Our world is teetering on the edge of a precipice, and on the horizon is a gaping black pit known as hopelessness. This blog and its author are known for optimism so this is an odd way to begin a post, but it's imperative that we identify the problem before we prescribe a solution.

When we say hopelessness, we might also mean "less hope." Here's a litmus test: do you believe that life will be better for your children, your grandchildren, your nieces, your nephews?

If your answer is yes, then you might find this post pointless. Unfortunately, too many of us have felt just the opposite.

In comparison to twenty years ago, it's harder to earn money, more money is needed, and job/business prospects seem to grow tighter, even bleak with time. Some would say that our world is swirling around a very large economic drain.

It doesn't have to be this way...and this author is not convinced it will be. "Why?"

We need only to look at Elon Musk for that answer. Elon, as readers of this blog know, is the founder of Tesla electric cars and Space-X, the space exploration company that is actually profitable and cutting the costs of getting into space every single day.

Past blogs will talk a little about those efforts, but what we're focusing on today is what is commonly known as disruptive technologies. But what does that mean?

Disrupt simply means to upturn or replace, and that's exactly what Tesla motors is trying to do: it's trying to replace gasoline engines with all electric cars. Profit is not the motive for Tesla, getting the entire population driving electric cars (whatever the brand) is their sole goal.

Space-X is doing the same exact thing...only with cost reductions and quality improvements. They are perfecting materials and technologies to get us into space more cheaply and safely (next up is a reusable rocket that can return to Earth and land on its own legs, which will reduce the cost of launches from sixty million to three million, or less).

Of course, both companies need to pay the bills and seek to make a profit as they grow and develop, but the key here is that profit is only a secondary (though necessary) consideration along the way to the main goal: to change their industry dramatically.

So, that's our point. The internet has disrupted everything from mail, to phone, to banking, to shopping. The list is nearly endless.

But has the internet improved our lives?

It has if you consider email is instant and free. It has if you consider that few people pay long distance charges anymore.

It has if you like the convenience of checking your bank balance, paying your bills, or even scanning checks at home to deposit them. The internet has also improved things if you consider that matching a cup and saucer from your grandmother's china set might have been impossible twenty years ago, and today you can find one in minutes or less.

Finally, I would like to point out that people all over the world can now learn, communicate, and enjoy the benefits of a modern life through minicomputers known as smart phones. The third world finally has a shot of catching up to the rest of us.

There are still thousands of industries that need someone to shake them by the throat and drag them into the 21st Century. Change can lead us to a bright future with improved jobs, wages and life for everyone.

What's required?

That's a great question, and only you can answer it. Technology exists to change everything, and if we will all step up and change our companies, our workplaces, our hobbies, we will find huge improvements sweeping this world.

Is there a better, more efficient, more profitable way to do something at your place of work? Tell the boss and make it happen.

If you own the company, look for incremental changes. Stack up one hundred tiny one-percent changes and you've disrupted your company and chances are your industry by one hundred percent.

Disrupting our world has provided tens of thousands of high-paying jobs to people in the United States while also earning Elon Musk billions of dollars.

What can you do? Are you up for the challenge?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Researching pressure cookers earned one family a visit from Homeland Security...

We often think of ourselves as living completely free and private lives, but here in the U.S. (and no doubt to some extent in all countries) that is not entirely true. Michele Catalano of Long Island, NY found out the hard way.

She and her husband were researching pressure cookers for a family recipe and the word got out. The police say that they received a tip, but it's at least as reasonable to assume they pulled her search history off the internet.

Now, fortunately for the Catalanos, their interest in pressure cookers was innocent but had it not been, many of us might feel entirely differently about the invasion of privacy. Safety versus freedom, freedom versus safety: it's an equation that is rising to the top faster than many of us realize.

The recent spate of "government secrets" being released by U.S. citizens is very likely the tip of the iceberg. The U.S. government does spy on all of its citizens, but the real question is: do we want it to; is it worth the tradeoff to avoid other 9/11-types of events?

This author remains highly-aware and concerned but undecided. How about you?

You can find in-depth information about the Catalanos and their ordeal here

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Scientist who cloned Dolly the Sheep may bring woolly mammoth back to life...

We have talked about the possibility and maybe even the likelihood of extinct species being brought back to life. Of course, many of you remember the famous T-rex and raptors from the Jurassic Park movies.

What many may not know is that there is a veritable race to clone exotic species underway. The real question is not will it be tried, because that is happening in many labs around the world even as we speak. The real question is 'Will it work?'

DNA degrades over time and after thousands of years has missing pieces. In the Jurassic Park movie they solved that problem by combining DNA with that of a frog (if I remember correctly). In real life they are trying all sorts of things, including using an elephant's DNA to bridge the gap for a woolly mammoth.

You can find out more about Sir Ian Wilmut's thoughts on his chances for success here and information about the 2015 next installment in the amazing movie franchise can be found here

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Remember when life was filled with endless possibilities...

There was a time that we all believed we would be famous sports players, movie stars, or leaders in other fields. If every child who ever had such a dream saw it to fruition, this world would be stuffed full of...


What would have happened if we all achieved our wildest dreams?

There are some that would say mediocrity is necessary for achievement to shine by comparison, but maybe, just maybe, we could have pulled it off. Maybe there really could be a professional baseball team in every city. Maybe we could make ten movies a day, just to keep all the "famous" stars busy.

Imagine if everyone you knew were reaching their highest potentials. Regardless of what that future of "everyone succeeds" would look like, it would be a magnificent world.

We would likely already have settlements on every planet. We might be flying instead of driving to and from work.

Wars would be a thing of the past, and hunger would be nothing more than a distant memory studied by successful and productive historians.

So what do you say? Start right now and imagine yourself reaching that potential!

Take a few minutes and recollect those childhood dreams. Now breathe new life into them!

It's not too late to get that degree. It's not too late to open that business you always dreamt of owning.

All it takes is a decision.

Breathe deep...and live!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Make excitement part of your life...

Let's face it, we all get bogged down in life sometimes. What we don't realize, however, is that an existence of challenges and meeting challenges wears us down.

It peels away tiny bits of us, a layer at a time, until we are nothing but shells, shadows of our former selves. If you have ever wondered where your childhood wonder and fascination went, this is exactly what we're talking about.

That's not to say we're unhappy or maybe not even dissatisfied, it simply means that there is a sliver of this life (maybe much more) that we're missing. What would it be like if every Christmas was as magical as your best one during childhood?

What if every day was like your best birthday ever? It can be like that, but we have to remember to find the excitement that we lost.

Did you ever collect sports cards, dolls, plastic dinosaurs? If so, go get some right now and put them on a shelf at work, at home, wherever you will see them daily, preferably hourly.

Are you worried what people will think? Oh, contraire: every time someone asks about your collection, you'll smile with your response.

What about trips? Do you travel? 

What if that's not in the budget? Then take a walk, ride a bike, sit at the nearest beach or mountain ridge.

Go see a movie for no other reason than because you can. Have you ever seen an advertisement for play or comedy show that that piqued your interest...well, go!

Notice, we haven't referred to jumping out of planes for the first time or even surfing when you can't swim. Excitement simply means smiling.

Find a smile every day and hold it for as long as possible.

Your life is worth it!


Monday, July 29, 2013

You've got a lot of great days ahead of you. Make them count!

It's an overcast Monday here in Southern Maine. It seems that we've had a lot more rainy days this year, which of course doesn't upset the ducks too much.

Speaking of ducks, one of our domestic breeds disappeared for a few days two weeks ago, and when she came back it was with five little ducklings trailing behind. Over the next week, one disappeared.

Then last week, two more went missing...on the same day we saw two blue herons coming and going from our pond. A little quick internet research confirmed that ducklings were on the menu.

That day, I caught the remaining two babies and put them in a bird cage that used to house a parakeet. Each morning they sit near the water so their mother can see them.

Each night we bring them back on the porch or in the house. We hope they'll be large enough to let free in another couple of weeks.

Have a great Monday, everyone!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Deadly Weight Loss by Angelica Raea is now out...see this amazing opening scene...

Deadly Weight Loss by Angelica Raea is out now! And, if you haven't had a chance yet, you won't regret taking a minute to check out the opening scene.

Deadly Weight Loss
Tropical sunlight slanted down through the skylights as Samantha Collins pounded through her twentieth exhausting lap on the resort's indoor track. She noted with satisfaction that she had lapped the tall Norwegian who usually gave her a good run for her money.
Erik had little reason to hurry, however. He had already achieved his contractual weight loss goal and would be aboard the mainland ferry that afternoon.
Samantha kept her jealousy in check. In seven more pounds, she too would be signing out of Caribbean Weight Control’s torture camp forever.
As far as she was concerned, CWeCo and its brutal staff could all go straight to hell. And she would happily have sent the head researcher, Doctor Scott Hanson, down the fiery chute first.
A brief vision of his fat body being stuffed into a tiny metal shaft made her smile.
Screw you, Dr. Hands!
Dr. Hanson was known throughout the facility as a middle-aged letch, and the thinner his female patients became, the more interest he took in their bodies. As women neared the ends of their contracts, they avoided the infirmary altogether, anything to escape his smug smile and wandering fingers.
Samantha had already endured two of his examinations and, regardless of whether he had a nurse there or not, the next time his hands went anywhere near her breasts…it would take more than a leering, female assistant to save him. She only wished she had done something the last time—
Damn drugs!
CWeCo’s thrice-daily cocktail of pills and thick shakes were as toxic as they were nauseous, and Samantha was convinced they were playing a big role in screwing up her thoughts and reflexes. And it was all in the name of developing new weight loss therapies!
 How could Samantha have imagined ten, five, even two years ago that she would have become a guinea pig for the likes of Doctor Hanson? And, bizarrely, she still couldn’t piece together exactly how it had happened.
With high school and college sports it had always been easy to keep the pounds from collecting. Then as a member of adult field hockey and basketball leagues as well as a daily swimmer, she never needed to count a single calorie.
Not even those hard partying years when she and Jack had first met had taken much of a toll. Sure a pound or two, but nothing that would have warranted being stuck in a place like this.
It used to be so easy: just toss on a pair of running shoes and hit the streets two or three times a week; no fat, no problem.
It must have been right after Jack got arrested!
“You really are looking great, Sam,” came Erik’s thick Norwegian accent as he jogged off toward the men’s locker room. Tall and wide at the shoulders, but with skinny arms and legs, he was definitely not her type; however, he had proven himself to be a good friend over the last few months.
As an employee of the UN in the Orient, he also had a unique perception about where the metal pods had come from and why. According to a council of Tibetan monks, they had seen the pods in their dreams a full three days before they appeared, and the scary part: they believed that millions of the “soulless creatures” that built them were now on their way to Earth.
 The Chinese government put enough stock in the monks’ warning that they had added five million additional soldiers to their active army since the pods had arrived. Jack would have said, “Five thousand or five million, the number makes no difference until someone figures out the technology behind the damn things.”
Samantha grimaced.
Instead of allowing Jack to continue his work on the problem, the U.S. government—our government—dragged him away like a common criminal!
She waved at Erik. “Send a search party if you don’t get my email by the end of the month.”
Sadly, she meant it. She had never wanted anything so much as to get away from the weight loss research center and its brutal staff. Even her short stint working as a counselor for troubled teens at the Saco River Youth Detention Center in Maine had been pleasant compared to the last three and a half months in Central America.  
She slowed to massage a stitch in her side.
“Collins, why are you stopping?” the morning trainer boomed through his bullhorn. A short, fit man with blunt features and a fierce Spanish accent, he was probably Honduran and possibly ex-military. “You have four more laps. Pick up the pace!”
“Give me a Taser and a billy club,” she muttered, “and we’ll see how you like running ‘til you drop.”
“Good one,” a chunky man beside her wheezed as she jogged by.
“Are you sassing me, Collins?” the trainer barked.
“God forbid,” she breathed and lengthened her strides.
After two more laps, her mind settled into the familiar Mobius strip of questions about how she had wound up here. No matter how many times she examined her past, the pieces wouldn’t fit.
Disjointed scenes from her life flitted through her mind, but none came with a recollection of eating habits cascading out of control or of getting fat. She brushed sweat from the bridge of her nose.
A mild headache had started. Why couldn't she remember?
I remember everything clearly, up until Jack became obsessed with that pod.
“Collins, I’m not going to warn you again. Either speed it up or you’re getting five more laps.”
“I love you, too!” She increased her tempo.
Samantha continued to ponder, but her memories jumbled together like a grade school collage. She remembered being thin at college graduation, thin when defending her job as a guidance counselor at the Biddeford Middle School, and still thin when being called before the board of overseers at the youth detention center.
She even remembered having a slender figure when climbing atop one of the tables at her sister Becky’s wedding a month after getting fired for breaking a teenage boy’s nose at the youth center. So what did that leave?
Could too many martinis have made her fat? 
As expected, her headache had become a fiery-edged, pounding migraine, but she forced her thoughts to continue churning through the past. Somehow, inexplicably, she had packed on one hundred and twenty pounds the few months from the time Jack got arrested to when she had signed the Caribbean Weight Control contract.
But that would have meant she gained thirteen pounds each week! 
One donut for every dollar I spent trying to fight the government.
No, she had to be missing something.
Maybe the gains had been more gradual and she just hadn’t noticed. But she clearly remembered fitting into her college blue jeans at Becky’s reception, right after she had fallen onto the cake.
It made no sense! She slammed her eyes shut and fought the urge to stop jogging and clamp her hands around her throbbing head.
A wrecking ball was slamming side-to-side in her skull. Who ever heard of getting headaches from thinking?
Every patient at CWeCo, that’s who.
Stubborn, she continued examining her memories. This was important!
Regardless of the when, she thought she understood the why. She remembered the incredible financial stress the attorney fees had put her under—first draining their savings then forcing her to take out two equity loans.
She hadn’t fully understood just how deep the hole had become until she had to pull cash advances on all three credit cards in order to hire the third attorney firm in as many months. All told, it had only taken four months to burn through nearly ninety-eight thousand dollars.
By then, the U.S. government had moved Jack to a secret facility and refused to reveal anything about its location or how long he would be there. As her last attorney—a NBA-tall woman with graying hair like wire fibers—had explained, Homeland Security was a term the government used when it wanted to break its own laws.
Though the woman filed a dozen different appeals and complaints, Samantha and Jack may as well have been living in a despotic, third world country. The courts rejected every effort.
The judges universally accepted the FBI’s position: Jack may not have been a terrorist, but by making multiple attempts to open the alien pod that hung two feet outside of their bedroom window, Jack had “placed the entire U.S. population at risk.” 
Those accusations would not have hurt so much if the exact opposite had not been true. It was Jack’s concern for the entire population’s safety that drove him to ignore the certified notices delivered to every U.S. citizen:
“Upon penalty of law and for the safety of communities, the pods are not to be disturbed in any way.”
Never mind that every government scientist and engineer in the country was actively trying to access the body-sized cylinders that hung motionless as if mounted on invisible metal shafts. According to news broadcasts, the U.S. had even tried ramming two nuclear warheads into one pod hanging above the Pacific Ocean, and the missiles had not so much as scratched the shiny surface.
As far as Jack was concerned, every human mind and hand should have been turned toward unlocking the alien canisters that hovered fifteen feet above every landscape on Earth. Unfortunately, the lawmakers disagreed.
Fear of the alien technology drove most people to give the pods a wide berth. Not only had Jack and Samantha’s neighbors stayed clear, they had phoned in multiple government complaints.
“They’re here to take us over!” Jack had warned anyone who would listen. But everyone assumed the government would take care of it.
A fat, nice job they did of that!
Lungs moving in ragged rhythm, Samantha finished up her twenty-fourth lap. That made four miles for the day. She seized a towel from the leering trainer’s hand and wiped the sweat from her dripping forehead as she headed for the showers. Along the way, an obese woman with dark-rimmed glasses and flaming red hair was just emerging from the sauna.
"Hi, Samantha," she said.
Samantha knew she should have known this woman but, as happened a lot at CWeCo, she couldn't put a name to the face.
"Samantha, don't you remember me? It’s Carol. Carol Blackner."
Recognition crept into Samantha’s mind. Carol had left the Caribbean Weight Control clinic almost three months earlier. The last time Samantha had seen her, she had been at least a hundred pounds slimmer and ready to leave the island.
What insanity had prompted her to return? Samantha remembered Carol’s last day clearly now.
It always happened like that when people returned: the final day shined brightly in her mind while older memories faded away like mist in the night. Her drug-addled mind like a veritable sieve, Samantha couldn’t recall a single other time that she and Carol had been together.
Surreptitiously, Samantha inspected the woman’s corpulent body. Her stomach hung several inches over her yellow shorts; her thighs were so thick she had to stand with her legs splayed at an angle, and her pale calves were thicker than Samantha’s thighs.
CWeCo fails again. 
It didn’t seem possible that Carol could have gained so much weight in just three months. The weight loss facility might have been successful in helping people in the short run, but the system obviously fell apart when they returned to their normal lives.
“How was your trip home?"
"Nice." Carol patted her wide hips. “But I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t get hitched or anything, because I somehow let myself go again.” Her eyes dropped in shame. 
Samantha stared at her friend’s chubby face; something wasn’t right. Carol wasn’t just fatter, she was different somehow.
Hair? Glasses maybe?
No, but something.
Carol’s eyebrows rose.
Samantha smiled and looked away.
“I see things haven’t changed much around here,” Carol said. “Lots of workouts and the staff are as mean as ever.”
Reprobates and sadists would have best described CWeCo’s doctors, trainers and security guards, which made Carol’s decision to return all the more baffling. Samantha kept the thoughts to herself.
“So when did you get back?"
“Yesterday." Carol started to move away. "Sorry to run off on you, but I'm scheduled for a new, super calorie-burning swim program. Guess I’m one of the first guinea pigs.”
“We’re all guinea pigs,” Samantha reminded her.
“Well, it was great seeing you again,” the big redhead said. “You look fantastic, by the way."
You mean the same way you looked a few months ago?
As Samantha absently patted her flat stomach, she watched her re-inflated friend waddle off toward the pools. She still couldn’t place what had changed—but definitely something.
Shaking away the indecipherable thoughts, she went into the showers. Her mind had been hazy since the day she had arrived at CWeCo’s tropical research facility, but lately it seemed to be worse.
She felt like a character in a novel that skipped every other page. Unfortunately, she had not figured out what she could do about it.
She had made the mistake of mentioning her jumbled thoughts to a nurse two days earlier, but the burly man had simply said, “Maybe we need to keep you here for an extra month or two, until your thoughts clear up.”
Samantha got the message. She clammed up.
No way would she spend even one extra day in this god-awful place. Once she met her contracted weight loss goal, she intended to get as far and fast away from Doctor Scott Hanson and his peons as was humanly possible.
Many CWeCo patients came to suspect there was something wrong with the island facility, but Samantha knew that the things that went on here far surpassed wrong and maybe even bordered on sinister.  Sure, like everyone else, she had signed up for the program of her own free will; after all, how could she have turned down four months’ free room and board and an opportunity to pay off nearly fifty-six thousand dollars of her and Jack’s legal debts?
The promised return of her sleek figure was just an added bonus. Of course, the man at Caribbean Weight Control’s Portland, Maine office had never mentioned that their experimental fat camp was not only outside the U.S. but all the way down in Central America, off the coast of Honduras.
Nor had he revealed that the place was run like a boot camp, complete with nightsticks and Tasers for added incentive. Worst of all, the little weasel had failed to reveal anything about the facility being totally cut off from the world: no communications, zip.
No, he had instead made the program sound like a few nights stay in a luxurious spa. But now, after having spent the last four months of her life here, Samantha did not understand why CWeCo had not already been bankrupted by an avalanche of lawsuits.
Every weight loss volunteer she had ever met claimed to be regularly mistreated and many agreed that abuse bordered on torture.
So why do so many of us come back?
That was the part that really baffled her. Since she had arrived, she had known at least two dozen people who had slimmed down, left, and then returned to the Caribbean Weight Control facility. And those returning patients represented only one of the many CWeCo mysteries that ate at her.
During her four months at the facility, she had seen dozens of patients abused, beaten, restrained, and occasionally dragged away, not to be heard from again; but who were they going to tell? Given that the Honduran government barely survived the pod riots that had swept the world a year ago, it seemed unlikely it would give a second thought to complaints from a few unhappy, fat westerners on some island off its coast.
But to have Carol march right back in, ready for more CWeCo abuse—it did not make sense, not after she had experienced what this place was like.
Samantha now understood that she should never have volunteered for the weight loss trials, but she had been in a fragile place back then—depressed over Jack’s imprisonment, disgusted with her weight gains, and to top it all off she had been facing a growing mountain of debt and an impending foreclosure on the home that she and Jack had purchased together as newlyweds. Thinking back on it, it was amazing that she had not done something even more stupid.
What…like volunteering to test granite parachutes?
She forced herself to relax as the warm shower water washed the sweat away. Normally, another spinning or aerobics class before dinner would have been required, having reached ninety percent of her weight loss goal, the last few hours of the day were hers to do with as she chose.
She rubbed her still-throbbing temples. An early dinner and some extra sleep sounded good.
By the time she finished toweling off and brushing her hair, several newcomers had congregated at one end of the locker room. “D’you see what happened at lunch?” a deep-voiced blond asked the others.
Weighing well over three hundred pounds, she wore a tiny pink bikini that should have been a crime even in a place like CWeCo. Folds of her corpulent skin hung over the narrow strips of floral material, both top and bottom, making it look almost as if she wore nothing at all.
A few months earlier, Samantha had looked nearly as bad—minus the ridiculous bikini. One thing was for absolute certain, when she left this place she would never again pack on the weight; good food and lots of exercise to the day she died; that was the way it would be.
“I don’t know what he did,” the obese woman continued, “but four guards dragged him away. That poor man kept screaming, ‘I’m not fat! I’ve never been fat!’”
“Was he fat?” a bloated brunette asked.
“Not from where I was sitting,” the blond said, pulling a bikini string from beneath a fold of skin under her arm. “The fella looked pretty slim, so I’m thinking maybe they starved him crazy.”
 “I swear all the skinny patients around here are crazy,” the brunette said. Her CWeCo sweat suit was stretched tight and soaked with perspiration. “Yesterday, I saw a twig of a woman take a thirty-foot dive straight onto the patio. The trainer claimed she got dizzy and fell, but I saw it. That petite, little thing looked straight down at the concrete and swan dived, face first.”
Samantha retreated out the back locker room door. She had no desire to get dragged into newbie questions that she could not answer.
The truth was thinner people—coincidentally those who had spent more time at CWeCo —did seem less stable than the newcomers. Maybe it was because they had observed the same CWeCo inconsistencies that nagged at Samantha.
 For one thing, where were the miracle drugs? For all the pills and goop that they were forced to ingest, weight loss at the clinic still came down to the age-old, simple formula: restrict calories and increase exercise, neither of which required drugs or weight loss trials.
Rubbing the Taser burn on her elbow, Samantha knew she should have kept her eyes down when she passed a tall, dark-skinned nurse. But she was sick of being treated like a criminal.
She glared at the fit woman who then began to follow her. In no mood for another lecture, Samantha hurried toward the dining room, but as the corridor curved to the right she darted into a smaller hallway to the left, which led toward the esplanade and ultimately to Dr. Hands’ office.
Only twenty feet down that corridor, she ducked out a service exit onto the beautifully landscaped courtyard between the exercise arena, the esplanade and C-wing. She dropped behind a cluster of ferns and waited.
Five minutes later, she strolled casually out onto the walkway that skirted the patients’ side of the island. A slight ocean breeze carried the scent of salt in the air.
The path led past the two-story exercise arena and circled around the back toward the dining hall’s rear entrance. She stopped and leaned into the tall cyclone fence that faced a brilliant expanse of blue.
Evening sunlight sparkled across the Caribbean, giving the momentary impression of a huge crystal ball. “Where is my Jack?” she asked softly.
Rage erupted like a geyser. She and Jack had lived good, responsible lives, both pursuing educations—hers in counseling, his in aeronautics engineering—and then taking up stable career paths. They had been perfect citizens, so why had this happened?!
She gripped the wire fence and glared at the distant alien cylinder standing sentinel a few hundred feet out over the water. Everything had changed the day those confounded pods had appeared.
Without them, the worldwide panic would never have happened, and Jack would not have felt an obligation to uncover the technology behind the eerie, coffin-like machines. At the same time, all the world governments had moved to calm their citizenry, and the United States had gone so far as to say that it had thoroughly investigated the cylinders and found them to be completely inert—safe.
Jack’s contacts at the Department of Defense disagreed. No one had been able to pull one of the damn things apart to see what was actually be inside—weapons or otherwise—and it seemed almost certain that they were not manmade. 
So Jack committed himself to doing what the government could not. He built staging up to the alien pod and began investigating it with all manner of testing sensors from his lab at Northeast Aeronautics.
He had already found three seams in the pod casing when the first FBI notice to “immediately cease and desist all interactions with the alien artifact” arrived. Jack ignored the warning.
“It’s on my property,” he had told Samantha, which technically was not true given that the pods—refuting every known law of physics—sat in midair exactly fifteen feet, three inches above any ground-level surface. “Besides, I think one of our diamond cutters from work might actually open it.”
Samantha gasped. The pressure in her head had grown unbearable.
She fell to the ground and struggled to hold onto the memories that seemed to roll away like spilled marbles. The image of Jack ripping up his third FBI notice slipped away until all she could see was the stern set of his unshaven jaw.
Soon that image, too, was gone. But how had she remembered so much?
Anger, came the instant answer. If I get angry enough, I can move past whatever the hell barriers CWeCo has put into my head!
Though she hated returning to the hazy state of mind this place caused, she took solace that she now knew how to recreate that moment of clarity. If anger was the key, Lord knew she had more than enough of that.
Getting to her feet, she took one last glance at the pod. Maybe a quarter mile offshore, it hovered above the ocean like an upright bullet—
A bullet that may one day puncture the heart of the entire human race!
Late-day sunlight glinted off its shiny finish. It had been months since Samantha had given the otherworld harbingers any serious thought, but staring at the eerie coffin shape made her wish Jack had been allowed to finish what he started.
She returned to the paved walkway and gazed at the deadly coil of razor wire that topped the security fence. If CWeCo was nothing more than a weight loss company, why did it feel the need to keep them locked in like hardened criminals?
The sound of multiple footfalls came from behind her.
Spinning, fists up and knees bent in what she hoped would be a convincing fighting crouch, she was embarrassed to see two large men in CWeCo sweat pants and T-shirts wheezing as they jogged to the dining room. The shorter of the two smiled and nodded on his way past.
Without the second chin, he might have been cute. Samantha dropped her fists and looked up to see the nurse from earlier staring down from the windows of the “staff only” second floor of the exercise arena.
Patients weren’t allowed anywhere near windows.
Lord forbid we actually see how fat we are.
She gave the woman the finger and followed the two men through the double entry doors into the cafeteria. Bright and clean, the large room consisted of eight rows of painted gray steel stables and matching benches that stretched several hundred feet to the right.
Though the hall was mostly full, its patrons were even more subdued and library-quiet than usual. At first, Samantha thought it might have been a difficult workout day or smaller-than-usual dinner portions that caused the hush, but one glance toward the walls explained everything.
Black-garbed security guards stood every few feet around the dining hall. Samantha was sick of them.
She moved toward the food line, each station staffed by a stern kitchen worker dressed in light blue. She grabbed a plate and smiled at a tall, dark man known for being especially somber.
“I’ll have the apple pie and ice cream,” she told him.
He responded with a small scoop of smashed orange that might have been squash or sweet potato.
“I was hoping for vanilla,” she said.
The man, who had not once in three months uttered a single word to her, leaned over the glass food protector and said, “Ya want ta be watching yaself, lass. People gots a way ta be runnin’ inta trouble ‘round he’ya.”
“You think I’m a target?”
She had pissed off that nurse, but…
The nearest female guards stood like the Queen’s Guards at Buckingham Palace, pretending to stare into space but really watching her in their peripheral vision.
“I suppose that’s what I get for being a loud mouth.” Then turning back to the food server, she smiled and added, “They should see me when I’m drunk.”
The tall man moved away. Either she had been dismissed or he didn’t want anyone to notice they had spoken.
“I guess chocolate ice cream will be fine,” she said to his retreating back.
Peas, spinach, and a small cube of what might have been chicken loaf (one of the many mysterious foodstuffs in the place) joined her clump of orange paste. Oddly, no one ever complained about the mostly vegetable choices on the menu.
Equally strange was that nearly every CWeCo patient claimed to prefer healthy food. She had never met anyone who admitted to having been a junk food junkie or a binge eater.
But that obviously couldn’t be true or there would not have been so many obese bodies crowding the dining room seats. Samantha, a vegetarian since high school, had weighed nearly two hundred and thirty pounds when she first stepped onto a CWeCo scale.
The maddening part was that she still couldn’t recall a single fat event in her life. Obviously she had put on the pounds, but when? 
By the end of the serving line, her plate was still only half full. Patients were expected to cut their food intake as the pounds melted away, so her grumbling stomach would have to settle for a child’s portion.
She spun and scanned the tables until she saw an empty seat near several teammates from her morning basketball game. As she drew near, one of the new players, a man who everyone called Snake, waved her over.
Though he was still thirty or so pounds overweight, he had a solid jawline and a full head of dark hair. She guessed him to be in his mid-forties but it was hard to be sure.
Handsome, he had a broad smile that reminded her of Jack. Her husband’s blond, blue-eyed perfection flashed across her mind.
Jack, please be okay!
She struggled to keep his image in her thoughts, but it melted away as quickly as it had come. She fought the haze and focused on holding his memory.
His face reappeared through TV-like static. Her head instantly began to throb.
 Her knees trembled from the effort.
“You okay?” a balding man with drooping cheeks asked from the seat to her left.
Samantha nodded and let Jack’s image fade. She took a deep breath and settled onto the stool across from Snake, giving him a weak smile.
“You were looking great at the game this morning,” he said in the customary hushed dining hall voice. “And that jump shot was really something.”
“Thanks,” Samantha said. Though she was not yet ready to give up on Jack, it felt good to be noticed for her returning fitness.
Snake had been around for at least two and a half months, but she hadn’t really noticed him until they were assigned to the same game times on the basketball court. He had a great jump shot, but what had made her notice him was how he always offered her the water bottle first.
His eyes also had a way of following her, much the way her dad had always watched her mom. It was a look that portrayed both approval and pleasure, all mixed into one, and it made her feel good about her appearance.
If only her mind felt as healthy as her body. For the dozenth time, she wondered if the various nightstick and Taser incidents of the past few weeks might have had something to do with her increasing incidents of confusion.
So far, the nurses had not broken any of her bones, but their cruel reprimands for being late or not exercising hard enough would haunt her dreams for many years to come. Someday, they would all, especially Doctor Hanson, pay for what they had done to her.
Though her attorneys had been unable to retrieve Jack from whichever deep, dark hole the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had shoved him in, Samantha suspected they would have more success with a straightforward corporate lawsuit. Who knew, she might actually get enough CWeCo money to get Jack out the next time.
Assuming he’s not already out.
She knew that was wishful thinking, but it gave her strength to keep moving forward each day.
"Hi, Sam."
Samantha turned to see the sleek form of Kerra approaching. They had traveled to CWeCo on the same Boston to Honduras flight and had sat together on the ferry to the facility’s private island.
As Kerra placed her orange plastic tray on the table and settled down beside her, Samantha smiled. Her eyes traveled up and down the dark woman’s petite frame; between them, they had lost the weight of almost two other people.
"I need to talk to you," Kerra whispered. Her lower lip trembled as she settled stiffly into the open seat.
"What is it?"
"It’s this place,” Kerra said. “Nothing is what it seems to be."
Samantha felt a pang of empathy for her olive-complected friend. Suddenly she remembered the locker room conversation about the woman who had dived to her death.
 Knowing how depressed and confused she herself had been feeling lately, Samantha was suddenly worried for Kerra. “Did something happen?” she whispered.
"It's just—” The dark haired woman glanced up to see if anyone else might be paying attention, but the nearby diners were all engaged in their own quiet conversations. “It’s just that people keep coming back to this hell hole. It makes no sense."
Samantha nodded. "I’ve noticed. Maybe they do it because they need more money.”
Kerra turned to face her. Her black hair was parted slightly off center and shined with good health.
The dark rings beneath her eyes, however, clearly illustrated that not everything was well. Her voice trembled with her next words.
"What about the mirrors, Sam?” she whispered. “Why haven’t we been allowed simple mirrors in our room or even one large mirror in the bathrooms or locker rooms?"
The answer came to Samantha's mind immediately because it was the same answer they had been given when they first arrived: mirrors were bad for their self-image; it was better for them to sense their weight than to see it.
"Something is not right, Sam. My memories and this place—nothing is adding up. Even my recollection of meeting you on the plane on our way out of the States doesn’t seem quite right."
“What do you mean?”
“Can you remember a single other passenger on that flight?”
Samantha thought for a moment but could think of no one other than Kerra. For the briefest of seconds, she wondered if Kerra had been sent by the staff to investigate what she knew or suspected, but she immediately discounted the idea.
Obviously, they had begun to sense the same problems with CWeCo. The only good thing about this place was that soon they would have met their contractual weight loss goals and would finally be free of this godforsaken place forever.
"Memories are overrated anyway,” Samantha said with a forced smile.
Kerra’s eyes bored into her. “You don’t believe that,” she whispered.
“I was joking,” Samantha said softly. “Seriously, I know exactly what you mean. But trust me when I say you should not discuss any of this with the nurses. I mentioned something a couple of days ago and they’ve been watching me like a convict ever since.”
Kerra motioned furtively with one finger for her friend to lean closer. Then she cupped her hands over her mouth so only Samantha could hear.
“I snuck some salad dressing back to my room and used it to polish one of the floor tiles last night. I thought if I could just catch a small reflection—”
“Did it work?” Samantha asked, fascinated that she hadn’t thought of something similar.
“I think so,” Kerra said, “but it was after lights out, and I figured I’d get a good look at myself this morning. But a worker woke me out of a sound sleep when he wacked me with a crowbar twice before he used it to rip up the tile.”
She pulled up her sleeve to show Samantha two huge black and blue splotches on her forearm.
“Were any of the nurses there?” Samantha whispered.
“Nurse Abingdon.”
“I know her,” Samantha whispered. “She usually does the morning roll call in my wing. She always seemed meaner than the others.”
“They’re all cruel,” Kerra said.
“That’s true,” Samantha agreed, remembering her multiple Taser run-ins over the last few days. Suddenly, eating didn’t have any appeal.
She pushed her untouched tray away and glanced up. Snake and her other basketball teammates were already gone—
Almost as if something frightened them away.
Her eyes wandered the dining hall and found that most of the security guards were openly staring at her and Kerra. Why in God’s name did a weight loss clinic need security people, anyway?
Nothing about CWeCo made sense, and she got the distinct impression the powers-that-be didn’t like it when their guinea pigs figured that out. She tapped her friend surreptitiously on the thigh.
“Don’t look now,” she whispered, “but they’re watching us.”
“Nothing new. They’ve been watching me for weeks. I’ll just be glad when we’re out of this place.”
The two friends fell silent and Kerra picked at her meal. Samantha kept glancing around the room.
More guards had arrived and all were unmistakably focused on them. When Kerra glimpsed the increasing number of staff, her hands shook so badly that she had to drop the fork to her plate.
“This isn’t good.” Kerra’s voice quavered. “What do we do?”
“What’s next on your schedule?” Samantha asked.
“I-I’m not sure. I was thinking of reading.”
“Why don’t I walk you to your room?” Samantha offered.
Samantha offered to take care of the trays, but Kerra grabbed her own and followed her to the end of the serving station where excess food—which almost never existed—was dumped into a large plastic bucket. They left their plates and trays on the stacks beside it.
“I’m sorry I didn’t have vanilla ice cream for ya,” the tall server from earlier said to Samantha. His eyes flicked toward the surrounding guards.
“No problem,” Samantha told him. “I’ll expect strawberry shortcake next time.”
The tall man nodded. “I’ll see ya next time.”
As they ducked out the same back door that Samantha had used on the way in, Kerra said, “What was that all about?”
“A warning, I think,” Samantha said. “Maybe you and I should stick together until we get out of here.”
“You don’t have to ask me twice,” Kerra said.
“How close are you on your contract?”
“Eight pounds,” Kerra said.
“Seven for me, but I’ll wait an extra day or two for you if I need to.” Even as the words left her mouth, Samantha feared she might regret them; a lot could happen in a few days at CWeCo.
Though there were several security guards on the outside path, no one bothered them as they made their way to C-wing. Similarly, they were not given undue attention on their way up to Kerra’s room on the second floor.
Samantha had not been there before, but all CWeCo patient rooms were exactly alike: four walls, twin bed, small table where the staff left pajamas out each night and a workout uniform each day. Other than the one door leading into the hallway, that was it.
Because they were allowed no personal possessions and because changes of clothes were provided twice daily, there was no need for a closet or bureau. They also did not have private bathrooms and, instead, shared a common lavatory for each wing.
“You’ve done amazing things with the place,” Samantha said glancing around the bare white walls.
“Interior design is my passion.” Kerra broke into her first genuine smile of the afternoon. She lifted the paperback novel from her pillow and read the cover, “Eloise Finds Fitness and Love.”
“They don’t leave much to chance around here, do they?” Samantha said.
“Definitely not,” Kerra agreed, tossing the weight loss fiction back on the bed. “I feel kind of silly making you come all the way over here.”
“It’s no problem,” Samantha said. “I’m next door in D-wing anyway. Why don’t I stop and pick you up first thing in the morning? We’ll figure out which workouts we’ll do when I get here.”
Kerra smiled. “Maybe we could swap schedules: mine one day, yours the next.”
“Sounds good,” Samantha agreed. “And how about you forget polishing anymore tiles? I’ll buy you a huge mirror before we get on the plane home.”
Kerra gave a weak smile, but the fear in her eyes was unmistakable.
After leaving her friend and passing a surly female doctor, pushing a serving cart filled with medications and nutrient drinks down the hall, Samantha couldn’t shake the feeling that she should not have left Kerra alone. Upon reaching her room, she found the same Eloise Finds Fitness and Love  novel on her pillow.
The staff discouraged most inactivity, including reading, so books were replaced with a new title each day. They also circulated the same exact title to every patient each night, no doubt to ensure that there were no secretive novel swaps.
What a crime that would be!
Samantha tossed the novel to the floor and flopped onto her bed. She tried to reconcile the similarities between Kerra and her feelings about not just CWeCo but also about memories not adding up.
Her friend had also been experiencing the same headaches whenever she tried to piece together the details of her past. But maybe the craziest thing of all was that Kerra also could not remember ever being fat.
That can’t be a coincidence!
But what did it all mean? It was like a trying to complete a puzzle with half the pieces missing.
Already feeling a new headache coming on, but unwilling to give up, she focused on the brief reunion with Carol Blackner. Something about the plump redhead’s appearance had not been right, but what?
She clamped her eyes shut and attempted to ferret out a comparison memory from Carol’s previous stay at CWeCo, but she may as well have been trying to dredge up someone else’s memory. No image came.
The really frustrating part was that Carol was only one of many returning weight loss patients who seemed similarly wrong in Samantha’s mind. Beyond a sense that their appearances were not quite right, the most baffling thing of all was trying to understand why in hell any of them came back.
No one in their right mind would have returned to the tropical camp’s prison conditions, certainly not after having been slapped, kicked, or Tasered, as happened to virtually everyone unfortunate enough to have signed a CWeCo contract.
Over an hour passed and her head felt like a battered ping pong ball by the time Doctor Shue pushed a stainless steel cart into her room. Short, thin and bald, he was the least imposing member of CWeCo’s staff.
"Ready for another tasty nightcap?" he asked, his deep voice reverberating off the walls of her tiny room. 
Samantha sat up and examined the tall glasses of blue liquid that lined the top of the cart. "I'd prefer a glass of engine oil," she answered.
"Come on, Samantha. I think we're getting closer. Though we haven’t quite licked the headaches, you haven’t passed out in the last two weeks.” The doctor paused. “You haven’t, have you?”
Samantha shook her head but remained silent. As far as she was concerned, Carribean Weight Control had learned as much about her as it was going to, at least until a court subpoena arrived on their desk at headquarters.
“A little more time and we'll also beat your headaches.” Dr. Shue smiled encouragingly. “Just bear with me. Soon, we’ll have you feeling wonderful."
He was likeable.
"Okay, let’s try your latest magic potion." Samantha accepted a small paper cup with four various-sized pills inside and grabbed one of the tall glasses of blue paste. She tossed the pills into her mouth and chased them down with the blue slime that tasted more like bathroom cleaner than medication.
“See that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“Easy for you to say.” Samantha’s stomach threatened to revolt.
Doctor Shue accepted the empties, placed the glass container in the original rack and dropped the small paper cup down into a chute in the center of his cart. Samantha was still fighting her gag reflex as he rolled away whistling Bobby McFerrin’s “Don't Worry, Be Happy.”
Surprised that she remembered not only the name of the song but also the original artist who sang it, Samantha wiped blue foam from her lips, closed the door, and collapsed onto the bed. Why wouldn’t her personal memories come that easily?
She was still puzzling over that question when, after only a few minutes, she fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.
The next morning, a powerful sense of foreboding accompanied her to the second floor of C-wing. Kerra was not in her room.
Panicked, Samantha rushed to the nearest nurse. Young and attractive, until his smile displayed rotten teeth, the nurse explained that Kerra had tried to commit suicide the night before.
“That’s not possible. She was fine last night.”
“I not like telling you this sad news,” he said in halting English, “but poor lady was very upset when they remove her away.”
“So she’s alive!”
“Si, she was conscious.”
“Where is she now? I want to see her.”
“She go to…clinic. I sorry, but patients are not okay to leave this skinny place.”
He was right. Clients were not allowed on the eastern, hospital side of the island.
There has to be a way!
Sure, Kerra had been unhappy and even frightened the night before, but she had not been suicidal. Samantha thought about the patient who apparently had dived face-first into a patio.
Obviously, some people were driven to do such things, but it did not seem possible that Kerra could have undergone such a drastic emotional change in just a few hours. No, it was more likely that the staff had done something.
But what? Though it earned her half a dozen cross looks, Samantha skipped her ten o’clock basketball game and instead returned to her room.
She needed time to think and wished, not for the first time, that she had access to a cell phone. She desperately wanted to get a hold of some outside authority that could check on Kerra, but even if she had a phone, who would she call?
Though their flight had landed in Honduras, Samantha had no way to know if CWeCo’s island even fell under Honduras authority. She also couldn’t imagine that the already overwhelmed military regime would have any interest in helping anyone at, as they would see it, a wealthy foreigners’ fat camp.
Samantha knew what she had to do. Though patients weren’t allowed to leave the fenced-in western side of the island unless it was for medical treatment or to return home after completing their contracts, she intended to ignore that rule.
The only way to make sure Kerra was all right was to visit the hospital. Still, Samantha wished she had a phone or some other way to communicate with the outside world.
CWeCo’s first-day indoctrination videos claimed, “Communication with anyone outside the resort is prohibited, because exposure to your past environment could make lasting weight loss problematic.”
Her personal weight loss therapist, a tall, lanky woman with a German accent, had added, “I fear outside contact would bring back memories of Jack, which would cause you unnecessary stress. For now it’s best to concentrate on getting you back in tiptop health."
Had everything else about CWeCo been on the up-and-up, Samantha might have accepted that answer; however, given the island camp’s widespread cruelty, she had to believe the communications ban more likely served Dr. Hands and the corporate suits to whom he answered.
Samantha knew only one patient who had actually visited the hospital. That older man, who had been hospitalized for a broken hip several weeks earlier, had come back claiming the island was not about weight loss at all.
Instead, he believed they were all guinea pigs in an elaborate psychological test for the U.S. Military. After only a few hours of spreading his far-flung suspicions, the nursing staff had wheeled him back to the eastern side of the island and later claimed he had returned to the United States “to recover from his hip injury.”
Two more CWeCo patients broke limbs the following day, and whether or not the injuries had been intentional, both “patients” were now wandering the facility, one with a cast on her arm and the other with a plastic brace on his ankle. Sadly, they would be forced to stay longer in the CWeCo facility because the injuries would make it harder for them to lose their contracted amount of weight.
Samantha could not shake the feeling that the original man with the broken hip must have witnessed something he should not have. Though she found it hard to believe the United States military would have used a Honduran island as a base of operations, her experience fighting Homeland Security in the courts had taught her that the U.S. government was not as pure as it may have once been.
Regardless, whether or not CWeCo was a government front, something was not right. Thoughts of Jack returned.
Where was he? She pulled her legs up onto the bed, leaned against the wall, and pressed her hands tightly against her temples.
Try as she might, that moment of crystal clarity by the hurricane fence outside would not return. Blurry visions of Jack ricocheted inside her head.
If only she had a phone, she could find out if her attorney had news. Maybe Jack was free and searching for her right now.
Damn it!
If they had had a normal relationship, her sister would already have come looking for her, but the last time they spoke, Samantha had dumped an entire cup of beer on her wedding singer’s amplifier. Ruining his shitty rendition of “Love Hurts” by Nazareth seemed the least she could do to the jerk who had grabbed her ass twice during the reception.
Needless to say, her sister Becky had refused to even look at her for the rest of the reception filled with more growling 1970s rock lyrics, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar.
Like a cockroach caught in the light, the memories skittered away. Her mind drifted to recollections of television newscasts of the riots that had spread like a cancer across the world in the days and weeks following the bizarre appearance of the alien cylinders.
She also had disjointed memories of arguing with various neighbors as Jack pounded, pried and even tried to burn his way into the silver pod that hung like a giant science puzzle outside their bedroom window. She remembered how full-time troops had taken control of the big U.S. cities—L.A., Chicago and New York—while the National Guard spread throughout the rural towns in an attempt to calm the fears that were the inevitable result of humans suddenly realizing that they were neither alone in the universe nor the most technologically advanced race.
Suddenly, humans had gone from being King of the Jungle to potential prey for an unknown but powerful predator.
Just as some of the backstory was starting to make sense, Samantha’s thoughts jumbled together like the alphabet bits in a cereal box. Her headache was back at full throttle.
She rapped the back of her head against the wall, but rather than deflect the pain behind her eyes it just created another separate headache and twice as much pain. Worse, her memories had scattered.
Something about television?
“Just work right!” she muttered, slapping her forehead several times.
The moment, whatever it might have revealed, had passed. Once again, she was left with vague sensations of having a past but with no clear images or timelines. She felt like a child playing with toy blocks, and each time she built something, it would fall apart and tumble to the playroom floor, leaving her with pains shooting like steel arrows into her cranium.
Gripping her throbbing temples, she tried to focus on what had happened to her friend. Though the CWeCo staff seldom released any information, rumor had it that the on-duty nurse saw a knotted sheet dangling from the top of Kerra’s closed door, then when she opened it Kerra fell unconscious to the floor with the other end of the sheet tied around her neck.
Another few seconds and she may have died. Was it possible she had had a psychotic reaction to her evening cocktail of medication?
As understandably paranoid as Kerra was, could another direct threat from one of the nurses have sent her over the edge?
It didn’t seem logical. Like every other patient at CWeCo, Kerra was used to being shouted at and Tased on occasion.
Bruised from being struck with a crowbar had been something else. Maybe that same worker had returned to her room to finish what he had started.
Samantha tried to envision how that scene might have played out: the worker would have come barging in with a cart loaded down with a variety of tools and materials, possibly expecting to find another polished tile. Kerra might have said something sarcastic and then—what, the worker would have lunged at her, half-strangled her to death then tied a sheet around her neck to make it look like a suicide?
No, it did not make sense. It was true that the staff—from the janitors all the way up to Dr. Hands—were largely cruel and despicable in how they treated the patients, but Samantha could not see a construction worker taking it upon himself to severely hurt Kerra a second time.
She had never been the type to make smart remarks or to take an intentional stand against the staff—not like me—so why would anyone have attacked her? And if not that, what would have prompted Kerra to hurt herself?
A nurse could have said something threatening; that was common enough.
But how would that have driven Kerra to attempt suicide? Then again, why did people do any of the things they did; like, who would have thought that so many men and women would have volunteered for this insane weight loss study?
Who would have thought I would?
She had done it because those goddamned alien pods had driven her life into a corner! If Jack had not gone crazy trying to open one, she would not have raced to the brink of financial ruin trying to save him from the goons at Homeland Security.
Maybe that’s when I started eating.
She tried to envision herself sprawled out on the couch, gorging on junk food and soap operas, but the vision wouldn’t stick. Even without clear memories, she knew it could never have been like that!
“Oh, no,” she said aloud, “your fondness for cottage cheese and alfalfa sprouts must have done it.” The sad thing was, she did like cottage cheese and alfalfa sprouts.
So when?
What did it matter? Obviously, she had ballooned out and that’s why Dr. Hands and his CWeCo minions from hell wanted her.
Wanted me?
 Why did that feel so right to her, as though the company had come looking for her? She searched her memory and felt the throbbing behind her eyes grow until it was like a booming gong.
Then, in direct opposition to her efforts, all her memories of signing with CWeCo—everything—dissipated like mist. Her past was suddenly as impenetrable as a concrete barrier.
Stop this!
She exhaled and allowed the pain in her frontal lobe to ebb. She didn’t need memories to tell her what had brought her here.
Obviously, she had somehow found out about CWeCo and its volunteers-for-money program; then, in the name of paying off debts, she had signed the contract. That was it—nothing worth blowing her skull apart for.
As for how she had gained the weight; obviously, that had also happened. She clearly remembered all two hundred and twenty-seven pounds of her standing on Dr. Hands’ scale the day she arrived.
Thankfully, over a hundred pounds of that weight had already been burned away, and before long she would be able to say goodbye to this horrific place forever. Then she would find Jack!
Suddenly, as if an invisible hand had thrust a memory straight into her head, she saw Jack dressed in dark blue coveralls and sitting behind a glass window at the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas. The emotional pain of seeing him there was nearly overwhelming.
And the feeling of betrayal and being used by her government was exacerbated by the sinister grin on the face of the FBI agent who stood behind him.
“Hey, babe,” Jack said.
“Why?” was the only word Samantha managed to utter.
Jack wiped away a tear and shook his head. “I couldn’t leave it alone, Sam. For all we know, an alien species is taking over our planet. I needed to try. We all needed me to try.”
In that moment, Samantha would have done anything, spent any amount of money to help her husband get free of the government’s clutches. He was a goddamned hero, not some criminal to be thrown into prison.
Unfortunately, the system never saw it that way. Not one of the three attorney firms she hired had been able to offer even a glimmer of hope.
Instead, that had been the last time she had seen her husband, and that may well have been the last time he had breathed North American air. It was not long after that when her first attorney, an older man with a hunched back and a kindly smile, had informed her that the government was refusing to release any information about Jack’s whereabouts or the charges against him.
Three attorney firms, more than ninety thousand dollars, and a contract with CWeCo later, and she still had no idea where Jack had been taken. Nor did she know if he had or would ever be released.
Was it any wonder that when the weight loss company offered not just to clear up her debts but to also give her a place to get away from all things Jack, she had leapt at the chance? It had been her chance to regroup and come up with a fresh plan of attack.
Some plan, she thought, rubbing her temples.
After the second male nurse showed up at her door with his Taser ready, Samantha grudgingly returned to her daily workout schedule, which included spinning, swimming, basketball and running. To her surprise, the exercise distraction was welcome—anything to keep her mind off from constant worry for Kerra.
Unfortunately, her fear for her friend intensified when she arrived at the cafeteria that evening and discovered the tall cook was gone. Of course, there were a hundred good reasons why he might not have been there—day off, family emergency, working a different shift—but she had a nasty suspicion that someone had seen him talking with her and that had led to the loss of his job.
She spotted Snake sitting with a small group of friends at one table, but something about the way he had disappeared so quickly the day before made her distrust him. It had never occurred to her before that some of the patients might actually be CWeCo employees spying on the patients from inside. If so, maybe Snake had overheard the dinner conversation with her friend the day before.
Maybe that, not a suicide attempt, was the reason the CWeCo staff had taken Kerra away.
Regardless, Samantha found an empty seat at one of the farthest tables. Judging from the size of the bodies around her, these were new arrivals, which meant it was unlikely she knew any of them, and that suited her fine.
Silently, she ate half her meal before calling it an early night. Just like the day before, there were an overwhelming number of black-clad guards, and most seemed to take an inordinate amount of interest in her.
Veiled glances and footfalls followed her all the way back to her room. Was this her night to disappear? She envisioned two nurses holding her arms and legs while a third wrapped a sheet around her neck and tugged it tight.
Not if I can help it!
“How are you?" Doctor Shue asked two hours later when he wheeled his cart into Samantha's room. As always, the painted metal surface was covered with several rows of tall glasses, this time filled with a sickly green liquid. "Next best thing to Southern whiskey," the doctor joked.
"Decided to change colors again, huh?" Samantha said.
"Got to keep you folks hopping," he replied with a smile. "I’d hate to have you get too bored with us. Tonight we have a special snack: a bit like eggnog without the egg or the nog.” He handed her the paper cup with half a dozen capsules and tablets, as well as one of the green drinks.
Samantha dumped the pills into her mouth then brought the glass awkwardly to her lips. She coughed and purposefully spilled the drink on the breast of her white night dress. After jumping back and spilling another good amount, she caught Doctor Shue staring at the mess on the floor and used that moment to spit the tablets into her free hand before surreptitiously dropping them on the bed behind her.
“Damn it!” she exclaimed, holding her half-glass of green slime up. "My whole day has been like this. Should I take another one?”
Doctor Shue adjusted his glasses and assessed the remaining green fluid. “No, you should be fine. Go ahead and finish that, and I’ll have someone come in and clean up the mess.”
Samantha gulped down the remaining thick fluid and handed him the empty glass. As he rolled the medicine cart away, she wiped the green foam from her mouth and tried to imagine how she would avoid taking her pills and the colored goop the following night. Maybe she could secrete a plastic bag into her room and force-heave the entire mess back up.
She retrieved the pills from her bed and waited for the cleaning staff. It wasn’t long before a young nurse with a crew cut knocked and came in with a bucket and cloth to clean up her spill. Probably under twenty, he had a severe case of acne and moved in a gangly, teenage manner.
After he finished wiping up the thick, green puddle, he stared at her well-endowed chest with wide eyes.
“It’s not a wet T-shirt contest,” she said testily. “Get your eyes off my stain.”
Not fast enough, his eyes climbed past her collar and finally to her eyes.
“I could get you a new night gown?” he offered, a faint grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. She had a momentary vision of him sniffing and rubbing against her used clothing.
“No thanks. I’ll be fine.”
His eyes fell back to her green-stained assets.
Having had more than enough of CWeCo for one day, she spun him by the shoulder and thrust him out the door. “I’ll call the on-duty nurse if I need anything else,” she said before slamming the door closed.
Immediately forgetting the hormone-filled adolescent, she knelt beside the bed and pulled back the tightly tucked covers and sheets. It only took a few minutes and one broken nail to rip a one-inch slot in the mattress seam, where she then inserted the unswallowed pills.
After tucking the bedding back in, she stretched out to wait for 9:00 pm and mandatory lights out. Normally, she would have slipped easily into sleep, but a sense of foreboding kept her awake long after the single overhead bulb flickered off.
Samantha startled awake to see a bluish fog filling her room. It smelled of lilacs and lemon disinfectant. She struggled to keep her eyes open, to stay aware.
Moments later, she lost the fight and fell back into a deep sleep, a sleep accompanied by a high-pitched squeal and a sing-song chant: “Your friend Jason Hurlburt is the same as he's always been. Your friend Jason Hurlburt is the same as he's always been.”
When Samantha woke the following morning, memory of the fog nipped at the edges of her consciousness, and she got the distinct feeling that several people had surrounded her bed during the previous night. She probed the dreamlike recollection but could not drag it into the full light of consciousness.
She grabbed her pillow and took a deep whiff.
Flowers and disinfectant!
So it had happened....
The rest of Deadly Weight Loss can be found right here!
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