I’ve actually got two novels in my hopper–and for some reason, Chapter Six always breaks me down. I don’t know why I always get stuck there. The current one, though, is coming together better than the one I’d been messing with for a few years (which was a bildungsroman cum Dark Percy Jackson; I felt like I had a cool idea, but I sure didn’t want to compete with such a great guy as Rick Riordan, even if my stuff was much, much meaner). The present novel has a general outline and a detailed concordance that is proving to be a useful tool. I have one more chapter of ‘setting up the world.’ and then I can get down to the crime(s) that pull in the main characters. I even have an ending planned, and the critter is doing a nice job of writing itself in many ways. I don’t want to say too much because I know people steal like crazy off the Internet. Suffice it to say, I am playing to my strengths…writing what I know. It’s a mystery set just before World War I involving  an interesting female protagonist and her lady’s companion (who is proving to be an unexpectedly fun character to write). And yes, there’s a love interest, but he’s more of a friend for quite some time. The crimes are not too heinous, but I hope they are ‘clever,’ and I am trying to be quite historically precise on every…tiny…detail. That’s involving a lot of reading and research on the time and place (1913 Vancouver), which turns out to be quite the hotbed of plot threads. How did we write before the Internet?? I guess we just made crap up and hoped no one checked too thoroughly on our work.

The concordance is vital to my writing. Since it’s historical, I needed to develop ‘mini-bios’ for all the characters with things like their dates of birth and any important events during their lives, along with a timeline that covers the year before the start of the novel. I got my hands on train schedules, immigrant records (for names), period house plans, 1913-era dress patterns, and even articles on how the earliest hospital x-rays machines worked. I’ve reviewed where missionaries worked in China, and on my last visit to Vancouver, grabbed all the materials I could on the police during that time period. Will I get an agent? Will I be able to sell this? Who is my target market? I’m trying not to worry about those things and simply write well. I’m thinking this is going into ‘historical mystery’ and hoping the current fascination with World War I’s centennial will give me some selling power. But…that means getting it written quickly, and that’s not happening just yet. I’m cranking out, on average, a chapter a week. I’ll post general updates here. My best friend is a superb writer and editor, which is good for me, and I have a few friends in the business that may give me a hand if I beg. All I want right now is to have the complete manuscript, sitting on my lap in hard copy, before the end of January. That’s my goal, folks, and I’m sticking to it.

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I’ve hopefully concluded a 3-month contretemps with Choice Privileges. I redeemed some points back in June for an Amazon gift card. I waited the requisite 4 weeks–no card. I called and got the run-around, but was advised to wait 4 more weeks to be certain, and someone would follow up. It never happened. I finally called back again (waiting about 6 more weeks), got a bit more of a deflection, but finally, they agreed to reissue my points. However, they were quite grudging about it. “We’ve decided to reissue your points,” said the rep, “but only if you understand that this is a one-time only courtesy on our part, and that if you do use those points for a gift card that never arrives, we will not re-issue them again.” No thanks to me for being a customer. Nothing.

I told him that while I knew it wasn’t his fault personally, his script was terrible, and he needed to let his supervisor know that. A better response would be: “Ms. Andromache, we are sorry about the loss of your points and gift card. We are re-issuing you the gift card, now that we’ve investigated the missing points, and you’ll receive a tracking number so it won’t get lost. Our company policy is that unfortunately, we are not responsible for any losses in the mail, and I regret that it happened. I hope this card arrives with no problems. Again, we apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your patience resolving this issue. We look forward to your next stay with us at a Choice hotel property.”

So, that’s a second hotel chain knocked off my list. I used to LOVE Holiday Inn Express…until they botched a very important reservation, where it was not just me involved, but a group of about half a dozen people, with no remorse, no apology, and no concern shown. I haven’t stayed at one of their properties in almost five years now. (The manager would not return my phone calls, and some poor desk clerk tried his best to help–it was the manager who incurred my wrath when she lied and said she’d talked to me and resolved the situation when I went higher up. That was nasty icing on the cake).

I’ve had the best luck with Hilton and Marriott properties for ‘regular’ travel (hello, I can’t afford to stay at Omni or Fairmont too often, both of which were amazing)–and both the Marriott and Hilton loyalty programs have thus far earned me rooms in some very nice places. Returning from a long trip a few years ago, a Marriott employee went out of her way in rural West Virginia to help us when my son got suddenly very ill; she contacted a local drug store and got us numbers for the emergency clinic, making sure we had ice brought to our room, and was just a genuinely nice person (it was one of the worst cases of strep throat the PA said she’d ever seen when we got to the clinic the next morning). Hilton/Hampton employees were particularly nice after the death of my father and during the settling of his estate. We got to know each other quite well since I was there for about a week. (I also need to say that the one time I did have a special need/request, it was honored, even if it was a bit odd–no feathers).

I probably should have been more polite to the poor guy on the phone (I didn’t yell; I just told him I thought their resolution wasn’t particularly customer friendly)–I realize this is beyond his control. But–his tone had no empathy; rather, it was perfunctory and blunt. Again, there wasn’t a single variation of “I’m sorry for the inconvenience.” Even if didn’t make any real difference in relation to the missing card, it would have been nice to hear. His script was more to the tune of “I have to reiterate to this lady that if a second card goes missing, there’s nothing further we can do.” I do think there is a way to say both–or at least sound like you are sincere. So–for the price of a $50 gift card, they’ve permanently lost me as a customer. Because I travel so much, people often ask me for my opinion on hotel chains. Wonder if he/they realized that I will be passing on their lack of customer empathy to all those friends and co-workers who ask me where I stay on my travels….Bazinga!

As an educator of 20 years, mostly in higher education, people often ask me what I would change about our current education system in the U.S. Five years ago, I would have said it’s fixable. We can reform it within. I can no longer say that. Those of us who teach college are seeing problems that we cannot fix. Here are my top picks for ways to make the U.S. education system a much better one, or at least start the process of change.

1. Treat teachers like the professionals they are. This includes a salary comparable to other professions that require a four-year degree and a professional internship. Ideally, as part of their professional development, all teachers should be encouraged and supported in obtaining a master’s degree as well—not for the increase in pay, but for the intrinsic increase in knowledge.

2. By the same token, make the standards for teacher education and qualification rigorous. Raise the GPA for admission to candidacy, add a fifth ‘supervised’ year of training under a mentor teacher (i.e. the new teacher is autonomous in his/her classroom, but has an experienced guide who can help them with the common problems of first-year teaching), and create a set of meaningful certification criteria that has reciprocity across states. Have yearly evaluations that include periodic observations, portfolios, and interviews rather than putting so much emphasis on students’ test scores or a once-a-year observation. If a teacher is to be considered an ‘expert’ in a specific academic discipline, he or she should hold a master’s degree in that subject as well.

And here is an addendum to colleges of education or other institutions who grant teaching degrees: Make your teacher education candidates work for it. Don’t ignore your undergraduates in favor of your research or grad students. Make sure you focus on giving students in teacher education in-school experiences plus sharp thinking and problem solving skills. Encourage their growth and creativity. Be picky about who you allow into your programs. Do not allow teacher education to be the major people choose when they can’t get into nursing school (sad, but true). Make it be the major that your best college students actively seek out…and if there is competition for limited spots, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

3. Catch the weakest K-3 students early in the education process. Get them help sooner, not later, and be willing to compensate the educators for the after-hours time they spend with these students. Provide a dedicated special education teacher, as needed, to every classroom, rather than one for every four or five classrooms. Additionally, a well-trained aide should be a part of every classroom at least through 4th grade.

4. Get over the concept that all children are destined to go to a university. They aren’t. We need qualified, energetic, and dedicated professionals in the service industry. For whatever reason, America often attaches a negative stigma to students who want to be plumbers, electricians, and bricklayers. This is unfair. Personally, I could not perform any of those tasks—and I am very thankful to have skilled men and women I can pay for their work. (My plumber is a lady, by the way).

5. Stop using a business model in education. This means getting rid of NCLB and Race to the Top, cutting back on the high-stakes testing, and abandoning ideology like Lean Six Sigma, which was great for engineering and nuclear power plants, but lousy when applied to people.

6. Find a way to equalize education spending across the country. The system is broken when children in more impoverished states are given X dollars per pupil, while in wealthier states, the spending is 3X dollars, for example. Education, for whatever reason, usually gets the ‘cut’ when a state has budget issues. Education should be the last thing from which funds are ever cut.

7. Create a balance between national and local standards. No one is saying that children in South Carolina need a year-long course in the history of Idaho, or that you must teach physical science in 7th grade and life science in 8th grade. But have some broad national learning objectives for all subjects; then, allow states to determine how they would like to structure and teach those objectives, making them specific and applicable by and on the local level.

8. End social promotion—and by the same token, stop holding back children who are capable of working ahead in a given subject. Add some flexibility to the ‘age/grade’ system, such as letting the 2nd grader who is reading on a higher level spend ELA time in a 3rd grade classroom, or the 3rd grader who hasn’t yet mastered 2nd grade math concepts, but is doing well in other areas, drop back for just that one given subject.

9. Quit promoting bad teachers to administration just to get them out of the classroom, and end the practice of nepotism in promotion. A good educational administrator must first and foremost be a good teacher. Learning to lead and administrate is a skill acquired after several years in the classroom as a teacher.

10. Lower the student to teacher ratio, and regardless of the budget, do not eliminate art, music, PE/recess, and foreign languages from the curriculum. Overwhelming evidence shows that exercise, creativity, and studying a second language are good for the brain and the body.

11. Encourage faculty to engage in creative teaching techniques and collaborative teaching. Offer incentives to teachers who lead these endeavors.

12. The love of standardized testing is so deeply ingrained in U.S. culture, it will be impossible to eradicate it completely. But cut back on it. Consider a nationally-normed test given across a span of time, such as 2nd, 6th, and 8th grade, not every year.

13. Get parents deeply involved–in education. Not just in extracurricular activities, but in supporting their children getting homework done, reading their heads off, and being responsible (according to age and other logical expectations).

14. Finally—whatever new system is put into place—allow it time to thrive and adjust before claiming it doesn’t work or is ineffectual. The most touted educational system in the world, from Finland, took 30 years to perfect and had a lot of bumps along the way.

Plagiarism Sucks

Posted: 23/09/2014 in Rants and Raves

I sent this note out to students. About five across two classes have plagiarized. Not only were they unashamed when caught, they were unapologetic. They wouldn’t discuss it with me. One tried to ‘rewrite’ her work and resubmit it. They disgust me. I detest them. I’m ashamed to be in education right now because it is so fraught with bureaucracy and buzz words and ‘protecting’ the student. Fellow students, by the way, are just as angry–they are asking me, “I saw someone’s post, and clearly, they stole stuff off Wikipedia. Did you see that?” All I can say is, “Yes, and I followed the rules in my syllabus.” When I started teaching, it was about helping people grow and learn. It was about how could I best achieve that. Now, it’s all about ‘success rates’ and ‘documentation of critical thinking by giving students an assessment of how they ‘felt’ about the assessment.’ I technically can retire in 12 years. I am trying to figure out a way to shave that down a bit. I am starting to hate (yes, I know–strong word) and dread every day I work and every paper I have to read. I am a glorified tech support person who also gets some money to enable students, not teach them.

I made the religious notation because in their personal introductions, a huge percentage of my students commented how important their religion was to them; it’s not normally something I’d even mention. It sickens me that so many of them wear religious regalia and still cheat. One of my cheaters is a nurse. Does she cheat on other things, I wonder? I personally think plagiarism or cheating is despicable and wish anyone who did it would be summarily kicked out of college. However, there’s so much due process to protect students, they get a 0. That’s about all I can do that will actually stick unless they are repeat offenders. We couldn’t even get a file started to keep a record of repeat offenders in different classes. It’s insane.

Dear Students,

Being a student can be very challenging. It’s often made more difficult by life circumstances. I was in grad school and teaching when my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died, at the same time I was going through a divorce. I stuck with school and finished, even though that semester wasn’t my best work. This past January, my father died after a long illness at the same time we were without power due to the ice storm. I was taking two programming classes–and withdrawing from them was the best option for me because I got too far behind to catch up. I kept my professors informed, but I took responsibility for my decisions–they were my choices.

However, one thing I HAVE NEVER, EVER done, in 10 years of school and through 3 degrees and 4 additional courses in math and computer science for personal enrichment and through a LOT OF “PERSONAL STUFF” is plagiarize. If you want examples and a definition, READ YOUR SYLLABUS. I was recently singled out and complimented by the dean of social sciences for my clear explanations on what plagiarism is and what consequences it incurs. Plagiarism is dishonest. It is lying. It is cheating. If you consider yourself religious in any way, think of it as immoral and wrong and the same as stealing. If you commit plagiarism, that’s the same as going into a store and stealing something another person has worked hard to make and produce. Let’s not mince words here.

I’ve taught 20 years. I’ve heard ALL the excuses (and they usually fall into one of these categories):

•    “I’m so busy, I just took a shortcut.”

•    “My personal life is hard right now–a lot is going on.”

•    “I didn’t know it was a problem. I thought it would be okay just this once.”

•    “I wasn’t clear on what you meant by how to cite sources in writing.”

I don’t care about your excuse. I don’t care about your reason. I do care about you not doing it–ever. Read the syllabus again. Ask your advisor. Ask tutors. I have had about five students commit some sort of plagiarism this semester. They have received the consequences. Possibly others have done it and not yet got caught–trust me, you will get caught at some point.

Make sure you do not copy and paste work from the internet. Make sure you cite your sources. Make sure you ASK if you are ever unsure if you are doing it right.

There is never an excuse. Never. I will make sure you are given the harshest consequences possible. I am aware and watching. Think about that before you are tempted to commit plagiarism.

Dr. Andromache

PS: Yes, I am quite furious. The thoughts of someone stealing another person’s writing and hard work is absolutely infuriating to me. I find it abominable behavior and have zero respect for anyone who would do this.

Son Among Thy Sons

Posted: 12/10/2012 in Fiction
Tags: , ,

Author: Andromache

On first meeting, Colonel Sutton-Fiennes didn’t impress medic Ian McGowan, a ten year SAS veteran. Another officer with another title—he’d seen his sort before. But given the situation—Corporal Carruth had to be exaggerating, half a million dead, couldn’t be right—McGowan pushed his initial impression away. The man was willing to don a CBRN rig and walk right into poor, bombed out, radioactive London, and that meant the git had some courage, regardless of his fancy name. It was only after their Super Lynx took off heading south with its two patrols aboard that McGowan got a good look at the thirtyish-year old colonel (and how had he gotten that rank, exactly, was queer), and it was the man’s eyes that made him wince. He didn’t know how to say it; hell, his dad was the schoolteacher and his elder brother the university scholar with the big words, but those eyes…they appeared ancient in the face of a man so lithe and young, as if he’d not merely seen dead people…more like unnumbered deaths and suffering so dreadful, one knew he’d never speak of it, not to a wife, a lover, or even a comrade in arms. McGowan had seen images of men in the Great War, and that was the closest thing that came to describing how Sutton-Fiennes’ eyes seemed to him. That face had witnessed things beyond dying, pushing toward a brink of utter loss, the absence of youth, innocence, and sanity, a soundless void of misery. McGowan wondered where in the hell he’d been stationed before Benson, or even if that really was his base of operations.

By the time they’d disembarked the ‘copter and crossed the shaky Vauxhall Bridge, with engineer Ryan cursing softly at every step, and seen hundreds of charred bodies steaming in the August heat, McGowan had a newfound respect for Sutton-Fiennes. Nothing escaped his notice, and when he’d taken off his suit, for God’s sake, and stood down a large crowd of hungry civilians, egged on by some idiot American tourist who probably would be dead in a few days anyway, McGowan had to admit the colonel’s courage was both huge and genuine. He himself, only a few months back from Afghanistan, with the most grueling training the British Army offered, had been ready to say sod this mess and get the hell out of there. Westminster Abbey’s great rose window lay in pieces. They’d seen the southern side of Westminster Palace, home to the heart of the nation’s government, blasted into a rubble heap, but McGowan couldn’t bring himself to look towards the south bank, where Lambeth wasn’t so much a shell as a crater.

Even as they cautiously made their way inside Parliament’s halls, he had little hope of finding anyone alive, much less someone who had soaked up less than 200 rads and had a chance of living…assuming they weren’t buried under tons of granite. McGowan stayed near the rear, checking bodies, finding nothing to save, or only someone so close to death, they weren’t even conscious. But then Sutton-Fiennes heard a moaning sound, and lo and behold, the money grubbing secretary of state for Wales, Gillan, had been saved from imminent death by a trip to the well-protected loo. He and Hudson, the other medic, got her stabilised and ready to move out. Further down the hall, the chancellor of the exchequer, Osborne, and the deputy PM, Clegg, had been in one of the interior halls having a discussion–probably heated–and again, though the thick walls had damaged them both quite a bit, they’d prevented the worst of the radiation from seeping in as well.

And that was the first moment McGowan saw a glimpse of hope in the colonel’s ageless face. It hit him in the gut, even though the look was subdued and fleeting. He, a medic who’d steeled himself for a decade to feel nothing as he stuffed shreds of mortal flesh back into their proper cavities while shrieks and screams, human and otherwise, rose and fell around him, noticed an unfamiliar twinge of emotion. Was it empathy or pity, pride or patriotism? McGowan could never explain it, not then, not after. He didn’t even know what made him speak up, let alone what happened next. All he knew was that he couldn’t let the colonel’s face turn back into that façade of bitterness, well hidden.

“I’ll check the people on down these next few corridors, sir. Why don’t you stay here with Hudson and the deputy PM? I’ll have Lambert watch my back…not that I think anywhere in here is going to put up a fight.” Sutton-Fiennes nodded, seeming to know intuitively that McGowan recognised something perhaps better than he himself did, that maybe the deputy PM needed someone with a fancy rank to tell him the horrible reality of the city outside.

McGowan and Corporal Lambert checked corridor after corridor, finding a total of eight more civil servants who appeared to have a good chance of survival. After he’d given a dozen more something to ease their pain and inevitable passing, with Lambert studiously looking the other way, offering both protection and privacy, McGowan himself was numb. Maybe it was Unidentified Female #6 he logged into his mobile, who was probably about his age and pretty, or at least she had been, that crawled into his psyche and squatted there, stopping any remaining feelings. The dark stains on her lips accented her pale, smooth skin and reddish brown hair. She smiled briefly at him, knowing he was an angel of death, managing a slight squeeze of his hand before her tawny eyes closed. He wanted to ask her out, go to a pub, maybe play darts, possibly kissing that mouth which would look so lovely in a slick, wet shade of plum gloss. He did not want to watch as she took a last ragged breath, but he did. Better me than the colonel, McGowan thought, over and over and over that next hour as he moved from victim to victim. Those eyes of his can’t take any more death.

By the time they’d transported the survivors out to the abbey garden where the Westland Merlin waited (with Clegg stubbornly insisting on walking and talking the whole way), the entire team was emotionally withdrawn, but still supremely cautious, just ready to be done. The survivors were on their way to hospital in Birmingham, and the team was making its way back towards Vauxhall when McGowan heard the distant strains of a choir boy, his voice mature but not quite broken into the timbre of a man, echoing from within the abbey walls:

    I heard my country calling, away across the sea,

    Across the waste of waters she calls and calls to me.

    Her sword is girded at her side, her helmet on her head,

    And round her feet are lying the dying and the dead.

    I hear the noise of battle, the thunder of her guns,

    I haste to thee my mother, a son among thy sons.

Sutton-Fiennes’ stride did not break, not even for an instant, though the tones were clear and strong, worthy of warrior’s tears. And McGowan wondered if it was because he merely had not heard, or simply that he had heard it far too many times before.

Author: FB Marchinton

Near the village of Thundridge, Hertfordshire, a stately Carolean country house stood on a quiet family estate, much as it had for the past 300 years.   It was the residence of Baron Victor Sutton-Fiennes III, and had been for over a third of that time. Baron Thundridge’s advanced age was not a product of clean living – how could one so old look scarcely over thirty – but of his unusual parentage. Victor was never sure who his true father was. John Sutton-Fiennes, the third Baron Thundridge, was a parent both in the eyes of the law and of his son in every way that mattered, save genetically. No one was any the wiser until Victor met a woman at Cambridge who revealed the fact that the lad’s true father was in fact a deity – an honest to goodness god. The woman knew this because she was Athena and adopted him as one of her own. In doing so, she awakened the divine side of Victor’s nature, granting him some most unusual abilities. For instance, he had powers of perception and a keen intellect that would make Sherlock Holmes appear merely average by comparison. He could pick up languages almost as quickly as a teen could learn the lyrics of a favorite song. The new association also granted him a lifespan far beyond any mortal.

Not that he couldn’t be killed, of course. Two world wars and numerous engagements since nearly proved that. True to his benefactor’s patronage, Victor was a wise warrior, serving as an army officer before joining “Special Branch” as an intelligence officer. Years went by, and Special Branch evolved into a compartment of MI6. To keep up appearances, he added numbers to his name at appropriate intervals, with government and his own cunning ensuring that all the paperwork was in order. Thus, “Victor Sutton-Fiennes III” was into his third life as a retiring nobleman, having been the fourth, fifth and now sixth baron of Thundridge.

On this pleasant May morning, Victor was ensconced in his wood-paneled study, paging through one of the several books that surrounded his laptop as if laying siege to the modern technology. He was writing a letter to a colleague, taking him to task for what he regarded as a sloppy error in his comparison of glosses in Farsi and Classical Sanskrit.

His mobile buzzed. After glancing at the screen, he picked it up.

“Elizabeth?”

“Victor.”  The voice came over with little inflection. If any of his other colleagues had answered in such a monotone, he would have braced for trouble. Elizabeth was different. She was a super-genius who could collate impossibly disparate motes of intelligence and assemble them into a big picture… but found it difficult to connect a person’s facial expression with the proper emotion.

“How are you?” That was a close to small talk as Victor could manage over the phone, and only because it would lead directly into the reason for the call.

“I’m on leave for a few days.”

“Would you like to get out of the city?  You’re room’s always open.”

“Thank you.”  There was a pause.

“Would you like a lift?”

“No, I’ll take the coach. If it’s on time I’ll transfer in Ware and be at Thundridge at 1314.”  Chances were she had memorized the timetables some weeks ago.

“See you then.”  Victor hadn’t expected a response, but waited until the line went dead before switching off his phone.  Elizabeth’s birth name was Victoria Melton; her father, John Melton, was a child of Athena, and very young when they served together back in the forties. His daughter, while brilliant, was a social cripple, and didn’t enjoy the usual soirees and seasons that noble girls usually expected. In spite of this, the goddess adopted her as she had Melton and Sutton-Fiennes. Victor always thought of her as his niece.

The baron mentally reshuffled the next few days. Barring a call from Vauxhall, there was nothing pressing that couldn’t be handled from home.  He picked up the small radio from its charger on his desk, and tapped a number.

“Yes, your lordship?” a voice crackled from the handset.

“Yes,  Thomas. Miss Tracey will be arriving this afternoon. She may be staying a few days. Can you see that her room is ready and Mrs. Garrett is informed?”

“I’ll see to it, sir.”

“Thank you.”

***

While she was a capable driver, Elizabeth Tracey preferred to take public transit when there was a choice. It wasn’t because she liked the other travelers; they were confusing, loud, contradictory creatures who too often tried to strike up conversations or otherwise get in her way. No, she liked to be able to ponder with her whole mind – which was impossible while driving, as several near-wrecks had proved.  She liked to think without distractions. Even her Spartan apartment in Bloomsbury suffered from an infestation of noisy neighbors that were never completely quiet.

That was why she often went to stay with Baron Sutton-Fiennes  – Uncle Victor, as her father insisted she call him. After his death, the baron suggested she drop all titles and simply use his given name. His house had a superlative (and secure) internet connection, but with all the quiet one would expect from a country home.

Still, public transit had drawbacks. Today she had to wait an hour for the Roydon coach to leave.  The passengers were terribly inefficient; they could have debarked at each stop in half the time if properly motivated. Clearly, they had nothing better to do than amble. As a result, the bus pulled to the curb in Thundridge at 1329 – a full fifteen minutes late. Nonetheless, she often struggled with accepting the unacceptable, and was slowly getting better at it.

 ****

Elizabeth sat on the bench, her small suitcase behind her feet, and waited. Unconsciously, she noted the cars in the lot across the road, their tag numbers, and which ones were occupied. She estimated the temperature and wind speed, and plotted the vectors and speeds of the pedestrians in her vicinity.

Among the scents of petrol , yesterday’s rain, and the bed of flowers  upwind of the bench, one scent gradually passed through her mental filters and garnered her conscious attention. Her inhumanly sharp sense of smell detected a faint, slightly sweet, almost fruity odor. She inhaled deliberately; the smell was there, but underneath was sourness, faint but growing stronger by the moment. She glanced around.

Two men and women, all mid-20s, had just trundled up to the bus stop. Their overstuffed,  rolling suitcases were propped against the back of the bench. She deduced from their faint sheen of sweat and elevated breathing that they had trotted some distance to the stop. That they were Americans was evident as soon as they spoke.

“No, that wasn’t the Hereford bus,” said the blonde man, rubbing his stubbled chin and looking through a sheaf of papers.

“Hertford,” corrected the woman looking over her shoulder. She pronounced the word as it was spelled, not as the natives would say it.

“Whatever. It was going to someplace called Royston.  It’s the Hertford-Royston line.”

“Well, it’s coming back through, right?” the second woman,  a short bottle-blonde, asked.  The first woman began rooting around in her waist pack.

“I can call the B and B, see if they know,” she said as she pulled out a mobile phone and a ragged business card.

The fourth member of the group, a dark-haired man, looked…surly?  Withdrawn?  She couldn’t be certain, but there was no doubting his slight tremor and pale complexion. The others looked tired, irritable, or both, but all looked healthy. Elizabeth was certain that the dark-haired American was the source of the odor, and all indicators pointed to a diabetic with a dangerous drop in blood sugar.

Elizabeth was torn. Within moments of her diagnosis, she had determined the most efficient course of action. She should walk up to the group and inform them that their companion needed immediate assistance to stave off an acute and potentially life-threatening condition. But this was a social situation, and her father and mentors drilled two imperatives into her. First, don’t talk to strangers without good reason. Second, never tell a civilian something that another civilian couldn’t determine based on the equipment at hand. To her, this was a good reason. But she was confident that even a doctor couldn’t diagnose an imminent sugar crash based on odor, and from a distance. Her thoughts continued circling between what should be done and what she mustn’t do. When she saw the trembling get worse, and the man’s eyes begin to glaze, she realised that she was about to get another option.

 * * * *

Victor’s business at the country club took longer than anticipated. Old Mr. Colton’s request for a contribution to a scouting charity digressed into a ramble down memory lane. When he glimpsed the bus pulling off the A-10, he knew he had to cut it short. After a few more minutes, he politely extricated himself with a promise of a contribution and agreement that Hertfordshire wasn’t what it used to be.   He eased his slate blue Aston-Martin onto High Road and headed into the village.

As he pulled into the village hall parking lot, he saw Elizabeth. That she didn’t seem to notice him was his first clue that something wasn’t right. Rolling to a stop, he looked more closely. She was fidgeting, looking down, but sending quick, sharp glances at a group of tourists next to her. His keen eye and long experience with his “niece” told him she was clearly disturbed about something, but probably failed to reconcile what she wanted to do with what might be socially acceptable. Just before Victor shut off the auto, Elizabeth stood up and began walking very rapidly down the road. She had left her bag under the bench. No intelligence operative would do that – not in this day and age – without a very good reason. He whipped the DB9 around and pulled out into the road. Elizabeth turned as he pulled alongside. She yanked the door open and bundled herself inside.

“There’s a – he’s – I need juice!” she shouted.  Bewildered, he nevertheless gunned the engine. Luckily, the village shop was only 100 meters away. As he once more braked to a halt, he heard her terse “Turn around!” as she bolted across the road and into the store. By the time she ran back out, he was in the near lane, ready to roll. Panting with exertion and excitement, Elizabeth hit the seat hard and slammed the door with her free hand.

“American… hypoglycemic… no one noticed yet.” She held a Ribena box and a package of biscuits. The latter began to fracture in her nervous grip.

At the bus stop, Victor saw a figure sway and fall against another. When they pulled up, the dark-haired man was sprawled on the bench and thrashing weakly, with the other man and two women talking rapidly to him and each other. The baron stopped the car beside the bench.

“I’ll handle this,” he told his passenger, and got out and walked quickly around the car. Immediately he could smell, even stronger than the rising stink of fear, the sweet and sour scent that caught his friend’s attention.

“Well, you seem to be having some difficulty,” he said, affecting an air of the friendly, helpful official to both calm the panicking tourists and project some authority. Three voices answered back. He heard the words “collapsed,” “diabetic”, and “passed out” in the din.

“Low blood sugar, is it? I think maybe this will help.”  He turned back and took the juice and biscuits from Elizabeth’s outstretched hands. Inserting the straw, he held it up to sick man; with the encouragement of everyone, the man took a few halting sips. Victor stepped back, pulled out his mobile, and contacted the rescue service in Ware.

“That’s it, keep sipping it,” he encouraged after ringing off. To the group in general, he added, “He should feel a little better in a few minutes, but I’ve taken the liberty of calling for an ambulance. If he can hold the juice down, give a nibble of biscuit.”  Each one thanked him earnestly for his assistance, but he waved it off.  By the time a siren announced the ambulance’s arrival, the patient had regained some of his faculties, though his wife and friends would not let him rise off the bench. Victor, his duty done, dropped the luggage in the boot, slipped into the car, and drove into the parking lot across the way. There he turned around, and waited until the emergency vehicle pulled up before sedately passing it and easing up the street.

“How do you think you did?” he asked at last, still watching the scene through the wing mirror.

She hesitated, replaying the last few minutes in her mind. “Well enough, I suppose. I couldn’t tell him he was sick without the awkward questions. Still, I really should have acted sooner. ”

“You figured out a solution in time.”

“I didn’t think I should carry my bag, should I?  I mean, it would have slowed me down. And I needed my hands empty. And I was sure it wasn’t a diversion. You want me to check for tampering? ”

“No, Elizabeth. I think it was fine. Besides, I was there when you left. Really, it’s fine. He would have been in serious trouble had you not worked it out. You did well.”  He smiled to reassure her. “Tell you what, if you like we can ‘debrief’ over tea. Mrs. Garrett is just…” he paused, as he noticed two people standing in the middle of the road ahead. One was pointing at them. It took another second before he recognised them as the local shopkeepers.

“Elizabeth, did you pay for those biscuits?”

Project Arondight is a team of Scions–the earthly children of godly parents (either born or adopted). The team operates under the auspices of SIS (aka MI6) and the command of Brigadier General Arthur Craddock. The current team members are:

Rebecca Bernstein (Code Name: Arkangel, daughter of Bast):

Rebecca is about 26 and the youngest team member. She is a Scion of Bast. She is fluent in English, Arabic, and Hebrew and holds a degree in law from the University of London. She’s an excellent administrator, but lacks some dedicated field experience.

Elizabeth Tracey (Code Name: Aegis, daughter of Athena, alias Victoria Melton)

Elizabeth Tracey is an alias for Victoria Melton, a third generation Scion of Athena (adopted; her true godly parent is Zeus). She appears to be around 30, but is actually over 50 years old. Her grandfather was a WW II hero. She is cool, calculating, and ruthless, but very skilled in seeing the big picture and coming up with strategic plans. She is idealistic despite her seeming lack of humor. Her father was friends with Sutton-Fiennes. Aegis is sort of the team mastermind and to outsiders appears to have symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome. Sutton-Fiennes suspect this is some sort of curse by Hera, tired of her husband’s philandering ways….

Rupert Jones (Code Name: Dyrnwyn, son of Heimdall, alias Anthony Summers)

Rupert Jones is a former SAS assassin. He’s deadly with a lot of weapons, including his bare hands. He attended a polytechnic school and also is skilled in basic mechanical engineering. He is chafing a bit at his current ‘guard duty’ assignment and wants to be more in the heart of the action. Although he looks to be around 40, he’s over 70 years of age.

Helene Peacock, Baroness Stornoway (Code Name: Ascalaon, daughter of Aphrodite–adopted, alias Emma Burton Redford)

Helene Peacock has a public persona and writes best selling romantic historical mysteries. She is beautiful and quite witty for a woman born in the 1870s. In her spare time, she writes romantic mysteries. Her role on the team is social, but she can contribute to a fight when necessary. She’s good at getting the team into places where the others may be out of their comfort zone. Like Sutton-Fiennes, she has had to ‘disappear’ and then reappear later in a new identity.

Victor Sutton-Fiennes, Viscount Thundridge (Code Name: Glaukos, son of Athena–adopted)

Victor is from a minor English noble family that gained fame as soldiers; his first war was, in fact, the Great War. Except for some downtime between 1944-64, he’s followed in the family business. Victor, however, is much more of a strategist and likes to ‘think ahead’ of the enemy. He finds the current situation especially disturbing as the attackers did not target any classic ‘symbols’ of the British Empire, but rather seemed to plan a slow, lingering death for London and its immediate surroundings.