Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

I’m sure you’re familiar with the old expression “the best laid plans of mice and men ofttimes go astray.” The quotation comes from Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse”, written in 1786. Probably the first known apology by a farmer to a field rodent, it relates his regret at having upturned the mouse’s nest while ploughing a field:

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane [you aren’t alone]
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promised joy.

About that “promised joy”… Last month, with eager anticipation, I announced the impending publication of my updated and expanded short story collection, Shards: The Omnibus Edition. The book had been written, edited, and laid out. At 740 pages, it encompassed the original award-winning Shards short story collection published in 2011 and nearly 200 pages of additional brand new material. It had been sent to the printer to be published on the release date as planned. And then…


The best laid plans of mice and men ofttimes go astray. The printer encountered a problem. The book was delayed. Robert Burns, looking down from the heavens about to dine on a haggis, chuckled. So did the mouse.

Shards: The Omnibus Edition: Available now (really!) at

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Mackenzie Mortimer Takes an Unexpected Detour in Time

An Excerpt from The Tomorrow Paradox (Book Two in The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer):

Mackenzie found himself standing beneath a lamppost. It was night, which surprised him because moments before it had been daytime. The streetlight illuminated the curb on which he stood and a portion of the cobblestone paved road running parallel to it. The road curved at a 130-degree angle and there were rows of two and three-story buildings on either side. Even in the dim light, Mackenzie could tell the buildings were far older than any he was used to seeing in Serenity Valley. Wherever he was, he realized, it wasn’t home.

Mackenzie perused the unfamiliar setting. The street was deserted, the shops closed, and the lights turned off in the apartments above the darkened stores. “I don’t understand. This isn’t Serenity Valley. I’ve never seen streets made of stones. But I set the watch exactly as Alex showed me.” Mackenzie ruminated. “The Morse code left behind by Gramps in his diary! What if those numbers were coordinates? When Alex entered them into the watch, they might have been stored in its memory, waiting for the time travel controls to be activated. Since we never deleted the entry, the controls homed in on those coordinates when I activated them, because Gramps’ coordinates had been entered before mine. Whenever I am, Gramps must be here, too. Gramps’ coded instructions must’ve been set to work only when the watch was set to travel through years, not minutes. When I tried to go back to my own time, it took me to whatever time Gramps was in. I’ve got to find him.”

A girl crouched in the shadows by some large wooden packing crates called out softly to Mackenzie. At first, he couldn’t understand what she was saying. Then, the nanoelectronic implant in his head activated its universal translator. Language recognized: Dutch. “Get out of the light, you fool. You must be addled to be standing out in the open under a streetlight after curfew.” Mackenzie’s universal translator had translated the foreign language into English in his mind.

“What do you mean?” Mackenzie asked. His translator automatically verbalized his thoughts in the same foreign language. In his mind, Mackenzie was asking next, “Where am I?” but the sentence came from his lips spoken in Dutch.

“Keep your voice down,” she whispered. “Loud voices travel far at night. Come here, away from the light.”

Mackenzie took a few steps in her direction. “Who are you?”

Before she could reply, two armed soldiers, one driving an Army motorcycle and the other riding in its attached sidecar, barreled down the street, stopping a few yards from them. The soldier in the sidecar shined a mounted spotlight on them. The driver shouted at Mackenzie: “Halt!”

Language recognized: German. Mackenzie frowned. First Dutch, now German? Where am I?

“Run!” the girl called out to him, turning to flee.

The soldier jumped from the sidecar and ran after her. He returned a moment later, having captured the struggling girl. He gestured with his gun for her to stand beside Mackenzie.

“Why are you out after curfew?” the driver asked Mackenzie.

“I didn’t know about the curfew.”

The German soldier snarled. “Everyone in Belgium knows about the curfew. If you are going to lie, at least make it a plausible lie. Show me your papers.”

“What papers? I haven’t got any papers.”

“And you, girl. Do you have a better excuse for being on the street after curfew?”

Her hand trembled as she reached for her identification papers. “I work at the bakery. Our shipment of wheat arrived late.”

“Surely, you were not baking bread in the evening? It would be stale by morning. I do not believe you, either. Your friend cannot tell us who he is and neither of you has an acceptable explanation for being out after curfew. I suspect you are with the Resistance, although you could be spies. No matter. I’m sure you’ll be more talkative at Gestapo headquarters.”

“Hertz,” his companion said, “I can ride behind you on the motorcycle, but the sidecar will only hold one of them.”

“That is not a problem,” the German soldier replied. “The Gestapo has ways of getting all the information it needs from either of them, so we need only bring back one.” He pulled his Luger from its holster and fired a single shot.

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Time is running out… fortunately, Mackenzie Mortimer has a few more minutes than anyone else!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Return of the Fox

An Excerpt from The Tomorrow Paradox (Book Two in The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer):

The sleek silver sedan pulled up to the curb outside the Mortimer Enterprises building. Mackenzie Mortimer stepped out of the car and straightened his jacket. He leaned inside and addressed the woman in the passenger seat. “Drive around the block a few times. I’ll phone you if it’s safe inside, and you can park in the garage and join me. Otherwise, drive straight home.”

“Mac,” she replied, sliding into the driver’s seat.

“No, Marlene, you can’t come with me, and yes, I’ll be careful.”

“That wasn’t what I was going to say.”

Mackenzie arched his eyebrows. “That’s what you always tell me.”

Marlene grinned. “So, you have been listening all these years, after all.”

“Then what—?”

“I was reminding you to kiss your wife before you go off on another adventure.”

Chagrined, the middle-aged man leaned into the car and kissed her. He stepped back, shut the car door, and watched his wife drive off. Mackenzie entered the lobby, surprised not to see any police in the building. He tensed, expecting the worst. His stress activated the TSR nanites within his body, and they quickly devised bionic improvements to his optic nerve. Mackenzie’s irises flashed as they scanned the lobby with his infrared vision for any traces of heat signatures. Seeing none, he walked toward the elevator.

As he passed the front desk, the concierge robot greeted him. “Welcome back, Mr. Mortimer. I hope you had a pleasant trip.”

“Are there any police officers on the premises?”

“Negative, Mr. Mortimer. Would you like me to request some from the Serenity Valley Police Department?”

“No. Thank you, anyway.” Mackenzie sighed. Artificial intelligence still had a long way to go. He phoned Marlene. “There’s no sign of any police presence in the building. I’m heading upstairs to see Dad and Alex. Go ahead and park in the garage but don’t come up until I know what’s going on. The police might yet be on their way.” He entered the elevator and ascended to the penthouse.

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Time is running out… fortunately, Mackenzie Mortimer has a few more minutes than anyone else!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What Awaits Young Mackenzie?

An Excerpt from The Tomorrow Paradox (Book Two in The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer):

“I told Dad to use my watch to return to his own time.” Alex shook his head. “But you know what he’s like. Do you think he’ll do it? Or will he try to be the larger-than-life hero, as usual?”

“Mackenzie’s loyal, but he’s not stupid. He knows he’s out of his depth and there’s nothing he can do. He’ll have no choice but to use the watch, and in doing so, permanently remove it from the grasp of the authorities.”

The pinging of the videophone interrupted their conversation. Alex glanced at the phone. “It’s the secure line. There’s only one person who could be sending us a scrambled call.” He accepted the incoming call and an image appeared on the screen. “Dad, that looks like your car’s interior. Are you back from London?”

The driver had only a touch of gray in his sideburns and looked far younger than his sixty-three years. “Marlene and I landed an hour ago. We were going to stop by the house but I thought I’d call and see if you were still at the office.”

“It’s not safe here, Dad. We have a situation. The authorities, or at least Lysander Bryant and his son, are heading here to search the place and arrest us.”

Mackenzie Mortimer sighed. “I’ve had trouble with Bryants since I was in grade school. Lysander’s father, Tucker Bryant, was the schoolyard bully who made my life miserable until we eventually became friends. Have you activated the contingency plans?”

“Yes, Grandfather and I are doing that now.”

“Don’t worry, we can be at the office within twenty minutes. I’m sure the Fox can buy you enough time to get rid of any incriminating evidence.” The video screen went blank.

“You were right, boy.” Raymond chuckled. “Mackenzie Mortimer always has to play the hero. Still, I feel much better now that he’s home. I have complete confidence in your father’s abilities to deal with the Bryants. The Fox has gone up against much tougher opponents than Lysander Bryant, and he’s outsmarted every one of them.”

Alex nodded. “Dad is amazing. Even more so, now.”

“What do you mean?”

“As I was growing up, I formed a picture in my mind of what Dad must’ve been like when he was my age. But now that I’ve met young Mackenzie, I can see when Dad was a boy he was nothing at all as I had imagined him to be. How does that boy we met develop the necessary skills to turn into a saboteur and anti-corporate freedom fighter, attacking the governing bodies in the guise of the mysterious Fox?”

“I found young Mackenzie to be quite intelligent and resourceful, for his age.”

Alex shook his head. “No, that’s not it. Dad has a certain… hardness within him that enables him to do what he does. He’s like tempered steel that’s been forged in a furnace. Something made him that way. Something changed the boy I brought back from the past into the Mackenzie Mortimer of today. When young Mackenzie returns to the past, he’s going to encounter whatever that traumatic or momentous event was, and without the time viewer, we won’t be able to help him. He’ll be entering that forge alone, and it will shape and mold him into the man we know. I wonder what it was.”

“You could always ask your father, but I doubt he would speak about it. I saw the difference in him; even in the depths of his depression, I knew something had changed him long before Vanessa’s death or the bankruptcy. But he would never acknowledge it, and I had been absent for so much of his life that I didn’t feel I had the right to pursue it.”

“I suppose if he wanted us to know what he’d gone through, he’d have told us. Still, I wish he had, so we could have warned young Mackenzie what awaits him.”

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Time is running out… fortunately, Mackenzie Mortimer has a few more minutes than anyone else!

Monday, June 20, 2016

But… You’ll Die.”

An Excerpt from The Tomorrow Paradox (Book Two in The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer):

Mackenzie leaned in to Gemma, with a concerned look on his face. He whispered, “What are you going to do the next time Brandy needs a vital organ you don’t have two of? You’ll have to make a decision then, whether to give up your life for Brandy. If you leave now, you can go anywhere in the world, and never fear having someone cut out your organs.”

“Don’t you see, Kenzie. I have everything I’ve ever wanted, everything I could only dream about. I have my freedom, my individuality, and a family.” She looked at Brandy, Victoria, Drake, and Lysander. “Admittedly, a rather dysfunctional family, but aren’t they all?”

“But the next time Brandy falls ill and needs a transplant…”

“Then, I’ll be there for her. But not because I’m forced to. But because it will be my decision; my choice. That’s what freedom is all about. It doesn’t matter if the outcome is the same; it’s all about having the choice.”

A pained look filled the 13-year-old boy’s face. “But… you’ll die.”

Gemma noticed Mackenzie’s agonized expression. She reached out and stroked his cheek. “Everyone dies. Even clones. What’s important is how you live, and what you do with your life. I watched a brave boy stand up to his father and say, ‘If you have the power to make a difference when no one else can, then you have a moral obligation to do so.’” She reached out from her hover pod and hugged Mackenzie. “Thank you for giving me the freedom to make my own choices.” Then, she whispered, “You’d better go now. Once Brandy has recovered, Drake will refocus his attention on your family. Go do whatever you have to do, Kenzie.”

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Time is running out… fortunately, Mackenzie Mortimer has a few more minutes than anyone else!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Who Let It Out? Suppose It Runs Away?

An Excerpt from The Tomorrow Paradox (Book Two in The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer):

On the trail of the chronal radiation residue, Drake had arrived at the park. He was following the path when he looked up and saw Brandy with Gemma and Mackenzie. He blinked, as if to clear the image from his eyes, thinking he was seeing double. The girl beside his sister was her identical twin. He knew that wasn’t possible, since he was Brandy’s lone sibling, but then the epiphany hit him: Brandy’s twin could only be her clone.

Drake jogged toward them. “Brandy!”

“Drake! What are you doing here?”

“This is the spot I told you about, where there was a large burst of chronal radiation yesterday. But that’s not important now. What’s your clone doing here?”

“Her name is Gemma. We’re spending the afternoon together here at the park and then I’m going home to get ready for my date with Zack.”

“Have you gone nuts? You’re either hanging out with that dodgy character or strolling through the park with a clone. And not just any clone… Your clone. Who let it out? Suppose it runs away?”

“Drake, Gemma’s not an it… She’s a person. She’s family.”

“Brandy, you’ve been out in the sun too long. That’s your clone… your only clone. She’s the insurance policy your grandmother took out for you when you were born. If you have another attack, she’s the only thing that will save your life. That clone must be returned to the institute immediately to ensure your continued well-being.”

“I told you, Gemma is not a thing, and there’s no way I’m letting her be taken back to that horrible place.”

Drake grimaced. “You’re my sister, and I’m determined to protect you in spite of yourself.” He pulled out his phone. “I’m calling Dad to have the clone picked up.”

Hearing Drake’s intentions, Gemma became visibly frightened, and turned to Mackenzie.

Mackenzie felt as protective of Gemma as Drake did of Brandy. “I won’t let you do that.” He lunged at Drake, knocking the phone from his hand. The two boys clashed, each defending the girl he cared about. Gemma and Brandy watched helplessly, concerned, as the two boys wrestled on the ground.

“We’ve got to do something,” Gemma said, seeing Drake climb atop Mackenzie. “Drake is older and bigger than Kenzie.”

“I’ll pull my brother off him to give you two time to run away. We’ll meet again after you upload what I gave you.”

Gemma’s eyes reflected her appreciation. “Promise we’ll meet again.”

“We will,” Brandy promised, before rushing to pull Drake off Mackenzie.

With Brandy’s help, Mackenzie was able to kick Drake away from him and he scrambled back to Gemma. “This is ridiculous,” Mackenzie said. “We’re leaving now.”

Drake stood and peeled his sister’s arms from him. “You’re not going anywhere with that clone.”

With his left arm wrapped around Gemma’s waist, Mackenzie reached for the controls on his wristwatch. “Sorry to disappoint you.” He pressed the watch stem and twisted it clockwise. Mackenzie and Gemma slipped into Q-Time, but to Drake and Brandy, they appeared to have vanished.

“They disappeared!” Brandy exclaimed.

Drake’s app pinged wildly on his discarded phone, as it lay in the bushes where it had landed. “I thought he looked familiar; he’s the kid from the jewelry store!” Drake exclaimed, realizing Mackenzie was the time traveler he’d been seeking. “Brandy, who is he? What’s his name?”

“I don’t know,” she lied.

“Why are you protecting him? Don’t you realize the danger you’re in every minute your clone is missing from the institute?” Drake crawled through the bushes and recovered his phone.

“You’re not going to call Dad, are you? There’s no point, now… There’s no one here for him to capture.”

“I don’t need to call Dad yet. I’ll wait until I have the clone within sight, and as a bonus, I’ll deliver Dad his time traveler, and maybe even the Fox, within the hour. Whoever he is, that kid made a big mistake using his time travel device this close to my app. It’s already processing the data and giving me the real-time longitude and latitude coordinates. It’ll take a second to cross-reference the geo-coordinates with a city map of Serenity Valley and… Presto! Now to zoom in on the map. They’re downtown. I recognize that building: Mortimer Enterprises.”

“Drake, please don’t…”

“You’d better head back home or you’ll miss your big date. And don’t try to warn them I’m coming; I know where they’re based. They won’t be able to hide once Dad finds out. I’m going there first to try to get them to turn the clone over to me before Dad has the cops storm the place. I don’t want your clone damaged by some trigger-happy rookie cop, otherwise I would call Dad right now. But if you warn them and they run, your clone could get killed.”

Brandy shivered. “Drake, please don’t let anything happen to Gemma. I won’t contact them if you promise not to let Gemma get hurt.”

“Neither of us wants that. Once I confront them and reveal I know who they are, they’re bound to give me the clone. I’ll keep her safe and get her back where she belongs, even if it means losing my chance to snare the time traveler for Dad. You’re the one who matters most to me, Brandy. Now go home. I’ll bring back the clone, and with any luck, in a few hours, I’ll be able to tell Dad who the time traveler is and where to find him.”

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Time is running out… fortunately, Mackenzie Mortimer has a few more minutes than anyone else!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

I’m Not Good Enough

An Excerpt from The Tomorrow Paradox (Book Two in The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer):

Mackenzie glanced up from the park bench where he was sitting with Gemma. Skyscrapers blocked out the clouds and the sun darted between the tall buildings, as if playing a celestial game of hide and seek. “The first time I came here, I was so small that I thought this was a jungle. I was afraid a lion was going to leap out of the bushes and eat me. Now, it’s turned into a concrete jungle.”

Gemma grinned. “At least, you don’t have to worry about lions.”

“You’re the one who looks nervous.”

Gemma fidgeted. “Maybe she’s not coming. Her bodyguards may have stopped her.”

“It’s only a few minutes after four. She might be held up in traffic.”

Gemma wiped away a tear. “It was silly to think she would show up. I’ve seen how she lives; for a few days, I was Brandy Bryant. She has wealth and status; she lives in a mansion with a housekeeper and a chauffeur, and has a room filled with designer clothes and expensive jewelry. Why would someone like that give me a second thought?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m a clone. I’ve lived my life in an empty room, sleeping on a cot, wearing a generic clone uniform… Uniform may be too kind a word for a night shirt that comes down to your knees. I’m just saying, Kenzie, I’m not good enough for someone like my original to waste her time with.”

“Don’t ever think that,” Mackenzie snapped. “You’re worth a thousand Brandy Bryants. You’re clever and resourceful, funny, spirited, and you’ve spent so much time on the neural net that you probably know more than anyone I’ve ever met.”

Gemma looked up at him. “You’re sweet, Kenzie.” The clone sighed. “But it doesn’t change the fact she’s not here. I guess we should head back.” Gemma stood.

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Time is running out… fortunately, Mackenzie Mortimer has a few more minutes than anyone else!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

I Never Realized How Hard Choices Were

An Excerpt from The Tomorrow Paradox (Book Two in The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer):

“There’s only one option: we use the watch, but not to freeze time. It’s time for me to say goodbye to my father and Alex, so I can bring you home with me where you’ll be safe.”

Gemma looked conflicted. “I can’t go, Kenzie. Not now, not yet.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve just met my original. There’s so much I want to learn about her. I’ve been looking forward to seeing Brandy again, today. I have an opportunity to get to know her… I can’t walk away from that.”

“It’s too dangerous, Gemma. You’ve escaped twice; if they recapture you, they’ll make sure you never escape again. You need to stay hidden until we can travel back to my time.”

Gemma flashed him a bittersweet smile. “Do you remember the day we met? I told you I didn’t have any family and you said that wasn’t possible. You couldn’t understand being alone in the world, without ever having had a family or friends, and I couldn’t comprehend why it puzzled you. I didn’t get it: the whole concept of family. Sure, I had watched it in holo-vids, but I never appreciated that special feeling of being connected to another person. Clones lead a solitary existence. We don’t have friends, and we don’t socialize. We’re not raised by parents and we don’t grow up with brothers and sisters. But yesterday, when I came face-to-face with Brandy, I felt it. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. We shared a connection; and it was stronger and more powerful than anything I’ve ever felt. I don’t want to lose that bond.”

Mackenzie frowned. “All right, I’ll take you to meet Brandy today so you can spend some time with her. But I have family back home that I miss and need to get back to. It’s been great seeing my father again and meeting my son, and it’s good to know that one day I’ll get to see them again when I’m grown up. But this isn’t my time and I don’t belong here. I can’t stay here forever. I’m going to leave soon, and you’ll have to choose whether to come with me or stay here.”

“All my life, as a clone, I was never allowed to make any choices.” Gemma pouted. “I never realized how hard they were.”

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Time is running out… fortunately, Mackenzie Mortimer has a few more minutes than anyone else!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Uh Oh! Zigs Has Figured Out the Truth

An Excerpt from The Tomorrow Paradox (Book Two in The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer):

Alone with Mackenzie, Zigs decided to confront him. “Do you read much? That’s a silly question, I suppose. Kids these days watch holo-vids and surf the neural net. Reading books is passé. But when I was a boy, I read lots of books. They were gateways to adventure. Alice tumbled down a rabbit hole and found herself in a peculiar Wonderland; later, she fell through a mirror and found herself in another Kafkaesque environment, inside the looking glass. A Kansas twister transported Dorothy Gale’s house to the strange and wondrous land of Oz. I grew up reading adventures of children transported to places that defied the imagination. I envied them, curious as to what it might be like to be a stranger in a strange land. I imagined it must have been exciting, even if dangerous at times. Yet, from the moment Dorothy arrived in Oz, all she desired was find her way back home. Homesickness is a powerful emotion.” Zigs handed Mackenzie the photograph. “Do you ever miss them?”

Mackenzie looked at the photo and gasped. He couldn’t hide the glint of recognition in his eyes.

“Why, Mac? I can’t believe Raymond would sanction plucking someone from the timestream. If the authorities found out, it would be the end of Mortimer Enterprises, but more importantly, it has the potential to create untold temporal paradoxes.”

Mackenzie grimaced. “I guess there’s no use denying it. Alex traveled to the past. It wasn’t the first time I had encountered a time traveler. The first one disintegrated before my eyes, and later, someone from the future left me a present – the ship in a bottle that I later gave to you.”

“I used to collect bottled ships.” Zigs reminisced back to his childhood. “I remember that one. It was illuminated by solar power. There was nothing else like it in my collection.”

“That’s because nothing like it had been invented yet. It came from fifty years in the future. I didn’t realize when I gave it to you that there was a bomb planted inside it.”

“A bomb?” Zigs shook his head. “I don’t remember any bomb.”

“I was with you when it exploded. I used my pocket watch to get us out of your house. I expanded the chronal energy field around us. We were safe as long as we were in Q-Time, watching the explosion unfold in slow motion. But you tried to go back to your room to get something. Your leg extended outside the field, into real time. It was caught in the explosion and the shrapnel embedded in it.”

Zigs’ eyes glazed over. “The day my leg was injured, I woke up in the hospital. They said it was a gas main explosion. I didn’t remember anything. I still don’t remember the explosion.”

“I never forgave myself for that. I should have known better than to give an artifact from the future to a little boy. The trip through time must have made it molecularly unstable.”

Zigs shook his head and turned away. “No. I overheard Alex telling Raymond he planned to travel to the past to leave that bottled ship for you. I stole it and duplicated it in a 3-D printer, adding a time bomb inside.”

Mackenzie gasped. “You planted the bomb? Zigs, why would you do such a thing?”

“To kill you.”

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Time is running out… fortunately, Mackenzie Mortimer has a few more minutes than anyone else!

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Man in the Moon

I think I’ve figured out what’s wrong with our country. It can be summed up by today’s Huffington Post headline “Bernie Sanders Gives a Speech Divorced from Reality.” The writer can’t understand why Bernie Sanders is continuing to campaign in the Washington, DC primary after the media and prominent Democrats like President Obama have anointed Hillary Clinton as the presumptive Democratic nominee.

He glosses over the word “presumptive”. The fact is, there will be no Democratic nominee until one is selected at the party’s convention next month. Neither candidate received enough pledged delegates to win the nomination through primary votes. The winner will be decided by the super delegates at the convention. Since the super delegates are all Establishment politicians, they will likely vote for Clinton. But there’s the rub: “likely” doesn’t mean definitely. Anything can happen between now and then to cause them to change their minds, or something could happen to remove the candidate from the race: Ed Muskie, Thomas Eagleton, and Bobby Kennedy were all expected to be on the Democratic party’s ticket in their respective races. It’s unlikely that the current FBI criminal investigation will come to a head before the Democratic convention, but if it did, super delegates might have to rethink their position.

It’s a long shot. But it’s not impossible. Gerald Ford became president of the United States without anyone voting for him to hold that office. Talk about a long shot. For that to happen, the vice president had to resign due to a tax fraud scandal (the first time a vice president had ever resigned), Ford had to be chosen as the new vice president, and then the president had to resign (an event unprecedented in American history). But it happened.

JFK looked at the stars and promised to put a man on the moon within the decade, something deemed impossible throughout mankind’s history. In 1969, American Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

In the darkest hours of World War II the allies did not accept reality and surrender to the Nazis. They fought on. The tide of battle turned and they won.

The Greatest Generation – individuals who grew up during the Great Depression and fought in World War II – didn’t view the world through a prism of defeatism. They faced tremendous adversity but they did not give up. They weren’t quitters. They personified the word “perseverance” and when the going got tough, they simply got tougher. When told they couldn’t, they tapped into the same energy and enthusiasm that Barack Obama channeled decades later and said “Yes We Can!”

Perseverance and dogged determination against overwhelming odds is what’s led to some of the greatest individual and national achievements and accomplishments in American history. It is the source of American Exceptionalism – America itself was an experiment in democracy the world had never seen and most did not expect to last. These are qualities Bernie Sanders brings with him from his generation. They should not be mocked by the Huffington Post or others; they should be emulated by all Americans because the way to succeed and to get things done is not by giving up – it’s by persevering against the odds until you no longer can. This isn’t a case of Don Quixote tilting at windmills; it’s more like looking up at the man in the moon and realizing, sometimes there really is a man on the moon.

The Truth About eBay

I’ve been an eBay member since 1993 which, if you do the math, is 23 years – a good customer by any measure. However, I’ve informed eBay that I will no longer be doing business on it site. After you hear why, you may wish to take your business elsewhere as well.

I listed a collectible item for sale that was rapidly increasing in value due to anticipation about the premiere of a television show related to the item. This meant the greatest buyer interest was during the period immediately preceding the premiere, which happened to fall on Memorial Day weekend – coincidentally perfect timing for people home from work to browse on eBay. Someone bought the item for $500 and eBay sent me a notice telling me I now owed the auction site $50 in selling fees. And then the trouble began.

eBay’s validity as an auction site relies on two principles that it has established and trumpeted throughout its site and in its marketing: (1) a bid is a legally binding contract, and (2) it has established a member feedback system to alert users of members who do not follow its rules. eBay is a sham because it turns out neither of these two bedrock principles are valid.

The buyer effectively took my item off the market during its peak selling period for a week. Then, I received this email from the buyer: “I was wondering if I could please cancel my bid on this item? I had bid on it over a week ago and in the meantime I have found a nice one for a great price that I have purchased.” So he entered into a legally binding contract to purchase an item from me, thereby preventing me from selling it to anyone else, while he shopped around locally and found a better price. This type of behavior is explicitly prohibited in eBay’s rules and with good reason — if buyers could cancel their winning bids simply because they found a better price on or off line then the majority of sales on eBay would fall through.

Now I’m not completely unsympathetic. There are, to my mind at least, acceptable reasons why one might need to cancel a sale. But “I found a better price somewhere else” isn’t one of them. Still, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, so I looked into the buyer’s profile. Was this a minor or young adult who made a rash impulse purchase or who didn’t know what he was buying? No, it turns out the buyer was an adult who owned a brick-and-mortar store that specialized in selling such collectibles. He knew exactly what he was buying and probably had his own buyer lined up locally who backed out.

By not paying for his winning bid not only was I losing money but so was eBay. Surely eBay would insist its member honor both the contract with me and his own contract with eBay in which he had agreed to abide by the auction sites rules. Nope. The best eBay would do was to open an “unpaid item case”. It reviewed the situation and “resolved the case in my favor.” Does that mean I got paid? Nope. All that meant was that I no longer owed eBay the selling fees for an item the buyer never paid for. Well, duh. That was a no-brainer. We could have figured that out without going through a four-day dispute process.

Was the deadbeat buyer banned from eBay? Nope. Was he punished in any way for violating the site rules and breaking what eBay constantly calls “a legally binding contract”? Well, you tell me. eBay said the buyer would receive a “negative strike”. Would it appear on his profile to warn others? Nope. Negative strikes are invisible – no one sees them. But if you get two or three of them, you may not be able to bid on certain sellers’ items for a brief period of time. Note these limitations: multiple strikes, only affects certain items, and then only for a limited period. But this buyer has only received one negative strike so that means… Nothing. This is eBay’s version of the “one free bite” rule. So for breaking the rules and breaching two contracts eBay rewarded him with an invisible Scarlet Letter that had absolutely no effect on him.

But wait! What about the eBay feedback system? Surely I could leave negative feedback on the deadbeat buyer's profile warning other sellers that he buys items and doesn’t pay for them. This is important information for other sellers to know and in fact underlies the foundation of the feedback system. Except it’s a farce. Worse, the feedback system is a lie and a misrepresentation. This particular buyer has 263 positive ratings and 0 negative ratings, which would lead any seller like myself to believe he is an honorable buyer. Here’s the lie: when I attempted to leave my feedback, the site would not allow me to do so. I phoned eBay and a representative explained sellers were not allowed to leave negative feedback for buyers (however the reverse was not true, buyers could leave negative feedback for sellers). This was not the case when I began using eBay in 1993 but along the way this policy has been implemented. So that means it is impossible for the buyer to have anything but a positive rating. Think about that. eBay’s much vaunted feedback system is a sham that misrepresents the very thing it is supposed to describe: the integrity of the user. The buyer can screw over a seller with impunity and negative feedback will never be displayed on his profile.

So eBay is an auction site that states its bids are contracts, but they are illusory contracts at best because purchasers can back out without penalty. eBay’s feedback system misrepresents the integrity of buyers, contrary to its stated purpose, by not allowing negative feedback to describe unscrupulous behavior by buyers. Still want to sell your item on eBay? Think again.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Monkey Business

By now you’ve heard the tragic tale of Harambe, the mirror image of King Kong in the eyes of everyone but the men who shot and killed the gorilla. Where Kong was a rampaging beast, Harambe was, by all accounts, a gentle giant; where Kong was a mass of mindless fury, Harambe was a contemplative intellect. Kong grew up as a wild beast in the jungle, while Harambe lived his entire 17 years in captivity. Kong carried off the helpless woman Fay Wray; Harambe was peaceably residing in his own habitat when a three-year-old boy intruded upon it. But in the end, both gorillas shared a common fate: death at the hands of human riflemen.

Harambe was a western lowland silverback gorilla, classified as a critically endangered species. The zoo had hoped to breed him. Gorillas are social animals and live in family units. They are also highly intelligent. Koko, a female lowland gorilla born in captivity in the San Francisco Zoo, has learned American Sign Language and knows more than 1000 signs; she understands 2,000 spoken English words and her I.Q. has been documented between 75 and 95.

Cincinnati Zoo employees shot and killed the rare gorilla after the three-year-old fell into the gorilla’s enclosure. The child tumbled 10-to-12 feet into the moat surrounding the habitat and might have drowned had it not been for Harambe. Videos posted on YouTube show Harambe dragging the boy out of the rushing water from the artificial waterfall to a spot of standing water. The boy was with the gorilla for about 10 minutes before the gunman arrived. This video was shot in that 10-minute period, during which time the 400-lb. gorilla had ample opportunity to harm the child if he had wanted to. You can hear the crowd screaming but the gorilla remained calm, at one point holding the boy’s hand and then pushing him on the backside to stand him up. At no time did the gorilla threaten or attack the child. Some argue the gorilla did a better job of caring for the child than the boy’s mother, who allowed a three-year-old to wander off at a public zoo. The boy was not harmed by the gorilla (he received scrapes on his forehead and elbow from the fall); the gorilla was shot and killed (causing children at the zoo to cry); the neglectful mother was not shot.

World-renowned primate expert  Jane Goodall said “It looked as though the gorilla was putting an arm round the child — like the female who rescued and returned the child from the Chicago exhibit.” Goodall was referencing a 1996 incident at Chicago’sBrookfield Zoo when a 3-year-old boy fell into the gorilla den and Binti Jua, a female gorilla carrying her own baby on her back, picked up the boy and brought him to a service gate. Frans de Waal, director at Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Living Links Center, said “Harambe was mostly protective...There was no moment of acute aggression, as also admitted by the zoo director. If the gorilla had wanted to kill the child, one bang of his fist would have done it. People have no idea of their superhuman strength. Yet, he didn’t perform any killing move.” In a similar incident in September 1986, a British boy fell 20 feet into a gorilla pit at the Durrell Wildlife Park on Jersey island in the English Channel and was knocked unconscious. As in the two subsequent incidents, the crowd feared the gorillas would harm the boy, however Jambo, a male gorilla, watched over him as he regained consciousness until rescuers arrived. 

Zoo officials argue they had no option but to shoot Harambe. I don’t buy the argument there was no time to use a tranquilizer dart, when the gorilla was with the boy for more than 10 minutes. If this were an aggressive, violent animal, the boy would have been dead within the first 60 seconds. A far greater risk was posed by firing bullets anywhere near the child, where a bullet could hit him, or ricochet and then hit the boy or anyone in the crowd. I also question the wisdom of shooting a 400-lb. gorilla and hoping it does not fall on top of the boy standing between its legs. Finally, while the gorilla was not aggressive, had it been shot and merely wounded it would have become disoriented and lashed out in pain and anger at anything near it – especially the child. There is nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal.

I think the zoo killed Harambe because it was more concerned with the prospect of a lawsuit for negligence in allowing the zoo visitor to fall into the gorilla pit. It did a cost-benefit analysis and decided it could mitigate any damages from a negligence suit if it took dramatic action to “save” the child, regardless of whether the threat of imminent harm was high or low.

The real culprit in this case is not the gorilla but rather the zoo for its negligence in the construction and design of the enclosure and the mother for her negligence in allowing her child to wander off in a public place. How does any responsible parent allow a three-year-old out of her sight? Yes, I realize toddlers will toddle; that is what the law calls foreseeability (non-lawyers call this the Homer Simpson “Duh!” moment). You know your child is likely to wander off, which is why you have a duty of supervision when you bring your toddler to a zoo filled with wild animals. The child’s mother, who ironically works for a Cincinnati daycare preschool, should know this. Suppose the child had not fallen into the pit but had instead fallen into the hands of a child molester? That’s why parents must always watch their kids in public places. Duh!

The boy climbed through a three-foot fence and toddled across another four feet before falling. That’s not a split-second. What was the mother doing? Taking a photo, according to witnesses. And even if the child had been in the clutches of a child molester (someone with both the ability and intent to harm the child, unlike the gorilla who lacked any apparent intent), the authorities would not have immediately shot and killed the human because they place a much higher value on human life than on animals... despite the fact that gorillas are an extremely intelligent species and this particular one had been raised for 17 years in the zoo, so zoo officials knew Harambe’s history and behavior. This is a litigious debate, not a moral one, being played out with the negligent zoo and the negligent parents attempting to misdirect attention from their own respective culpability by making the “big bad gorilla” the villain in the story.

It comes down to this being a judgment call that was executed with poor judgment. Had the circumstances been different – If the gorilla had jumped out of the enclosure and grabbed the child; or if this had been a gorilla with a known history of aggression; or if the action were taken the moment the boy fell into the pit before we saw Harambe spend 10 minutes without harming the child; or if Harambe had made any aggressive move or shown any aggressive change in his attitude or behavior; and if there were no less drastic methods available, then there would be a better justification for shooting the rare animal. But this was the “gentle giant” Harambe, not King Kong.

The difference between Harambe the gorilla and man is, that given the opportunity, Harambe chose not to kill. By his restraint, he proved he understood civilization far better than his hairless cousins.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Once or Twice

An Excerpt from The Tomorrow Paradox (Book Two in The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer):

Alex turned off his headlights, as he approached the Simulacrum Institute. He parked under a large oak tree about 50 yards from the entrance. “I’ll wait here. Don’t waste time; find Brandy and bring her to the car. I brought a more powerful version of the scrambler I gave you before; it has a wide enough range to scramble their cameras and recording devices, so we won’t be leaving behind any evidence of our visit. Be sure to wipe off any fingerprints.”

The boys nodded. They dashed from the car to the entrance of the Simulacrum Institute, stopping at its cast-iron gates. Mackenzie tugged on the gate. “That’s solid. We could climb it, but those spikes along the top look sharp as knives. One slip and we’ll be sliced open.”

“I’ve got this.” Zack pulled two hairpins from his pocket. “It’s a simple pin and tumbler lock.” Zack bent one hairpin open at a 90° angle, bit off the rubber tip, and slightly bent the end of the hairpin. He twisted the other end into a makeshift handle. Zach took the second one and bent the entire hairpin a third of the way from the top. He stuck it into the lock to use as a lever to hold down the barrel, and inserted the first hairpin above it, using it to force the movable lock pins inside the cylinder upward.

Moments later, Mackenzie heard a click and Zack gently pushed the cast-iron gate open. Mackenzie was grudgingly impressed by how easily Zack had broken into the institute, bypassing its security. “You’ve done this before, haven’t you?”

Zack’s face betrayed a coy smile. “Once or twice.” He repeated the process, picking the lock on a glass door leading to the lobby. “When I get the door open, there will probably be an infrared beam about six inches from the floor in the doorway. Make sure you step over it, otherwise it will trigger an alarm.”

“Once or twice, huh?” Mackenzie saw the beam Zack had warned him about and carefully stepped over it.

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Time is running out… fortunately, Mackenzie Mortimer has a few more minutes than anyone else!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

They Breathe, They Think, They Feel… They Suffer

An Excerpt from The Tomorrow Paradox (Book Two in The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer):

“Brandy, did you know your grandmother used a sample of your DNA to have a clone grown?” Mackenzie asked.

“Yes, Grandma explained that to me when I was a little girl. I always envisioned the clone existing inside a giant fluid-filled tank, hooked up to air hoses and tubes – an unconscious, nonsentient biological organism. Grandma likened it to a plant that lives and grows, yet is unaware of the world around it. She told me how plants exist to provide us with their fruit, and clones exist to provide us with their organs. The way she explained it, it made perfect sense.” Brandy buried her head in her hands. “It’s not like that, though. I saw the clones. They’re not plants; they’re people. They are sentient, like us. They breathe, they think, they feel… they suffer.”

“Your clone escaped from the institute,” Mackenzie said. “The police thought you were her and that’s why they took you to the Simulacrum Institute. I met your clone. Her name’s Gemma. She looks just like you. We became friends, and I don’t want her to be captured and taken back to that place, because if she is, they’ll cut out her organs and she’ll die.”

“You’ve met my clone? I’ve never thought of her as a person; merely as a thing. Does she have any personality?”

Mackenzie laughed. “More than most people. She’s a smart-ass who’s addicted to holo-vids, although her latest addiction seems to be clothes shopping. I’m afraid she’s been using your credit to make a fashion statement. Of course, when I met her, the only clothing she had was the same nightgown you’re wearing.”

Brandy looked down at the thin garment. “This was all she wore for fifteen years?” A tear ran down her face. “She can’t go back there. No one should have to live like that, in that horrible place.”

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Time is running out… fortunately, Mackenzie Mortimer has a few more minutes than anyone else!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

How Can You Be from the Past and Not Know Anything About It?

An Excerpt from The Tomorrow Paradox (Book Two in The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer):

Mackenzie sighed. “At least you’re safe, but we have to figure out a way to return the real Brandy and get you back to Mortimer Enterprises.”

Gemma pinched his cheek. “I miss you too, sweet cheeks. But I’ll be safe for now with Granny Carmichael. You’re the one in danger.”

“What do you mean?”

She pointed to Drake. “That hottie with half my DNA says he’s tracking a time traveler so his father can make an arrest. His biological sperm contributor is a police detective hunting time travelers and the Junior G-man with daddy issues wants to make him proud.”

“Junior G-man?” Mackenzie asked.

Gemma rolled her eyes. “How can you be from the past and not know anything about it? When this is all over, you and I are going to have a Bonnie and Clyde gangster holo-vid marathon. The important point is, somehow, Drake’s found a way to home in on your watch.”

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Time is running out… fortunately, Mackenzie Mortimer has a few more minutes than anyone else!

Friday, June 3, 2016

I’m Just a Weak Girl

An Excerpt from The Tomorrow Paradox (Book Two in The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer):
A determined look crossed Gemma’s face. “The longer the crooks have to wait for the cops to meet their demands, the more bored and tired they’re going to get. I know what that’s like. They’ll let their guard down and we can rush them.”

“Brandy, don’t be silly. That’s too dangerous. You’re just a girl, and a weak one at that, recently out of the hospital. There’s no way you could overpower one of these guys. If I get a chance, I’ll take it, but promise me you won’t do anything foolish.”

Gemma grinned. “Who, me? I’m just a weak girl.” I didn’t escape from a lifetime of captivity to be held captive by these two clowns, she thought.

“Hey, you two!” one robber called out to them. “Quit talking. You, boy… Get over there.” He motioned to the other side of the room, where the clerk and his partner were. “Don’t even think about planning to escape. Remember, even though the two of you as hostages gives us more leverage with the cops, we can still guarantee our getaway with only one of you. If either of you tries anything, I’ll shoot the other.”

Drake snarled at him. “If you didn’t have that gun…”

The robber chuckled. “Tough kid, huh? But are you bulletproof?” He pointed his pistol at Drake and watched the boy’s face turn ashen. “Then, you’d better behave. Now get over there.”

“Drake, do what he says.” Gemma watched the robbers, biding her time.

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Time is running out… fortunately, Mackenzie Mortimer has a few more minutes than anyone else!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Having My Sister’s Tongue in My Mouth Could Scar Me for Life

An Excerpt from The Tomorrow Paradox (Book Two in The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer):
Drake Bryant entered his half-sister Brandy’s bedroom. “You look chipper today. I bet you’re glad to be out of that hospital.”

Gemma gave him the once over. He must be Drake. She grinned. Whoever he is, he’s hot. “I couldn’t wait to break out,” Gemma deadpanned.

“You certainly dressed for the occasion. Is that a new outfit?”

Gemma beamed. “You noticed. I printed it yesterday. Do you like it?”

“Sure, but it’s more extravagant than what you normally wear.”

“You’ve got that right.” Gemma smirked, thinking back to her skimpy clone uniform. Realizing for her disguise to work, she needed to look as much like Brandy as possible, she said, “Now that I’m home, I’ll wear my usual outfits.” She opened her closet door. “Which ones are your favorites?”

Drake shrugged. “You know better than to ask a guy about women’s clothing. But I’ve always thought these two here look nice on you.”

Gemma noted his choices so she could change into them later. For her deception to succeed, she had to be Brandy Bryant. The irony was not lost on her that, as in the Simulacrum Institute, she would still be unable to express her individuality.

“There must be a full moon tonight.”


Drake shook his head. “It’s an old expression; something you say when people are acting weirdly.”

Gemma felt uncomfortable, afraid Drake had become suspicious. “Who’s acting weird?”

“Your grandmother.”

A wave of relief swept over Gemma. “Oh?”

“She actually seemed pleased to see me. She even had a plate of cookies waiting for me. I hope they weren’t poisoned.” Drake chuckled.

Aha, Gemma thought. I’ve seen this holo-vid before. Drake must be the bad boy boyfriend that Brandy’s grandmother disapproves of. Her eyes traced the contours of his body. My original has good taste; I definitely approve.

“She was buttering me up because she wanted me to find out if you were all right. She said you weren’t yourself when you came home. I may not be one of her favorite people, but she knows how close we are and she thinks you’ll tell me if anything’s troubling you.”

“It’s true I wasn’t myself when I came home.” Gemma smiled at the irony. “But I’m much better now that you’re here.” She recalled all the romantic holo-vids she had viewed on lonely nights at the institute. Gemma approached Drake and hugged him.

Drake hugged her back. “Wow, you must have really missed me since yesterday.”

Gemma ran one hand down Drake’s back until it settled on his rear end. She squeezed it and locked her lips onto his, forcing her tongue into his mouth.

Drake pushed her away. “Shadzooks! What are you doing?”

Gemma looked at him in surprise. “Like you said, I missed you. Didn’t you miss me?”

“Of course I did, but not in that way.” He wiped his mouth with his shirtsleeve.

Despite having seen countless holo-vids, Mackenzie Mortimer was the only other boy Gemma had ever kissed. “Did I do it wrong?” the naïve clone asked.

“A joke’s a joke, but you took it too far. Having my sister’s tongue in my mouth could scar me for life.”

Sister! Gemma gulped. Attempting to pass as Brandy was more complicated than she had realized. She forced a laugh. “At least I didn’t lose my sense of humor in the hospital.”

“I’m sorry, you’ve been through a lot and you can still joke, while I’m moody. I tried to tell Dad my theory about the time traveler but he blew me off. Mom tells me it’s because he’s absorbed in his work, but I know better. I realize he loves me, but he doesn’t respect me as a person. He treats me like a kid and doesn’t take me seriously.”

“Time traveler?” Gemma’s pulse quickened.

“Yeah, it won’t be long now before I’ve tracked him down and exposed his identity so Dad can arrest him. That’ll make Dad appreciate me.”

Gemma grew concerned for Mackenzie and his family. They had sheltered and protected her and she felt obligated to do the same for them. She didn’t know if they were the ones Drake was tracking, but Gemma figured anyone looking for time travelers posed a threat to the Mortimers. “Why do you say it won’t be long?”

“My app has locked onto his time travel device. The next time he activates it, assuming he’s not in a shielded area, I’ll know where he is, and thanks to my latest improvement to the program, I’ll be able to track the device even after he’s turned it off. It will lead me right to him. I’ll trap the Fox in his lair.”

Gemma felt her stomach turn. Her first day disguised as a human was not turning out well at all.

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Time is running out… fortunately, Mackenzie Mortimer has a few more minutes than anyone else!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Walls Are Closing In

An Excerpt from The Tomorrow Paradox (Book Two in The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer):

Brandy paced back-and-forth across her new room at the Simulacrum Institute. Her bare feet marked off 12 paces from her cot to the farthest wall. She realized her bathroom at home was larger than her new living quarters. She longed for a window or even an unfamiliar face. Days earlier, Brandy could not have imagined a more confining incarceration than the Serenity Valley hospital. But at least her hospital room had had a steady influx of friendly nurses and doctors; this was solitary confinement.

She tried to contact Drake but was unable to access the neural net. “If only that annoying noise would turn off.” She looked around the barren chamber. “Not even a holo-vid or anything to read. What am I supposed to do in here?” She lay on the cot for an hour and tried to sleep, but found she wasn’t tired. She got up and paced around the room. She measured its length and width, and then walked diagonally, counting the number of steps from corner to corner. Brandy sat back on the cot. For several minutes, she hummed in tune with the ambient noise until it began to give her a headache. Brandy stared at the wall, the drab gray wall, and noticed a few hairline cracks showing through the paint. She eagerly examined all the walls, counting and mentally recording the number of cracks. Before long, there were no more cracks left to count. Brandy had never been this bored in her life. She desperately wanted to speak to someone… anyone, but there was no one to talk to. In the hospital, there had been chatty nurses and high-spirited candy stripers, and Drake had visited her every day, but in this place… Brandy wondered if she would ever again see her brother or anyone else she knew.

She lay back on the cot and stared at the ceiling. She missed Drake and her grandmother, she was lonely, and she was bored to tears… And it was only her first day at the Simulacrum Institute. Worse, she feared she would never be released. Brandy Bryant stared down at the lettering on her nightgown. “Property of Simulacrum Institute. Do they mean the nightgown or me? It might as well refer to me. They’re in control of every aspect of my life, as if they own me. Will I ever be free again, or will I have to spend the rest of my life stuck in this room?”

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Time is running out… fortunately, Mackenzie Mortimer has a few more minutes than anyone else!