This will all make more sense if you stay in a light link for translation, ScAnara sent, you may sit at the auxiliary station over there. A display activated, kind of like those banks of security monitors you see in the movies sometimes, but each one had a different view. One display was the exterior, which looked like one of the canyons around the edges of the mountains above San Bernardino, possibly on the north or eastern sides of the plateau where it drops into the desert. A second view was a hologram of the ship, which didn't look anything like any spaceship I was familiar with. The closest I could come was an elongated egg with the fat end as the front, the small end as the back, and the bottom flattened, with a pair of stubby triangular wings on either side of the rear two-thirds, starting at the widest point of the main body and widening only slightly before coming to an abrupt end slightly before the actual tail of the ship. A third view might be a three dimensional radar or sonar image, currently showing the topography of the land around us while above us floated various gnat-like sparks. My guess was that they were Earth aircraft. Other displays were gauges and status displays that I had no clue how to read. I noticed not only were there no windows, viewports, or anything of a kind used for looking out directly, there wasn't a main viewscreen, either. I supposed if you wanted or needed to see out, you brought it up at your own work station, like ScAnara had done for me.

This is an Explorer Cruiser, ScAnara explained, based on a Patrol Cruiser, largest of our military small cruisers. Patrol Cruisers and their smaller kin are designed for extended missions, generally used for military patrols between stars. For scale, we're just over 100 meters, Earth measure, on the major axis. Crew is usually 110 to 116, but we're a little under complement because we were in a hurry. Our family only has eight of these, and this was the most quickly available. Explorer versions sacrifice a little weaponry for better sensor and survey gear and an emergency backup siphon and converter.

Survey, prepare beacon drop as previously detailed. Navigation, plot a minimum trajectory spaceborne recovery, then beacon drop and homeward transition. Engineering, confirm Status Red. To me she sent Status Red is normal spaceborne operations. We've been maintaining it because we don't know what else might be in the area. We're about four grads from the nearest Imperial Survey Beacon. Close enough for it to be routine, if we are careful. If not, the universe is a big place. What she meant was that it wouldn't be difficult to get lost. According to survey, we're the first known Imperial vessel in this Instance. That doesn't necessarily mean we're safe. It means we don't know. There might be ston vessels lurking about, or possibly aliens of comparable capability. Nothing in-system, ScAnara explained, but with Vector Drive and Interstitial, they could have a corps waiting to pounce and we wouldn't have any warning until discharge. While linking with me, she had received several other communications. I couldn't keep track of it all. Not yet, but you will. Here we go.

The ship lifted off, smoothly accelerating straight off the ground upwards, then rotating so we were facing in our direction of travel, and no, I didn't feel a anything. You know how you expect to feel force when your car is accelerating, cornering or braking? We had to be maneuvering more violently than any earth car, plane or rocket, and I didn't feel a twitch. It was like Earth's gravity, or our own motion, didn't translate to any kind of force. We got to a point where we were maybe a few thousand feet up, and...

Blink! The exterior view changed. We were now in space. Earth was nowhere I could see. After some searching, I found a much shrunken sun in the distance, and a few small widely spaced irregular rocks around us. Your astronomers call these the Trailing Trojans, one sixth of the orbit behind the planet you call Jupiter. We're going to launch a beacon and recover our auxiliaries here. A roughly five foot radius sphere dropped from our ship, while suddenly four firefly sparks appeared around us in the radar display, arrowing in towards us. They had merged with the dot in the middle of the radar screen representing us before I saw any of them in the visual display. Their function was obvious as soon as I saw them - high performance fighter craft, and they were gorgeous. Not in painting or decoration, but in the manner of well-designed machines. They reminded me of diving falcons. Wide aerodynamic wings mid-body that were proportionally shorter than earth aircraft, small nacelles both over and under the ends of each wing. If you've ever idly wondered what it was like to fly one of the US's military fighters, you'll understand why I immediately had a serious lust to fly one. Think F-22 or F-35, and then consider what if they had way more thrust and weren't bound by atmosphere? One man Starbirds, military mark fiftysix. There are civilian versions, too, and you should be able to learn to pilot them. Oh, sweet Jesus, yes! The Starbirds swiftly attached themselves, one each above and below each of the "wings" of our cruiser I had noted earlier.

Interstitial in five seconds. I should probably mention that it was about this point I realized that ScAnara was piloting as well as commanding and talking with me. I later learned they did have the capability of separating the functions in particularly demanding circumstances, but generally the Empire expected the ship's commander to also be its pilot, and even when the functions were separated the pilot was less independent than any of the other subordinates. It was a long five seconds. It's one thing to know that imperial seconds were longer, but that didn't tell the little timer in your head to stop counting just as fast as it always had.

Copyright 2013 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

No matter what the song says, it does rain in southern California. All the damn time in March of El Nino years.

The most recent storm had finished blowing through earlier that evening. I didn't like working after dark, but the compliance reports just couldn't wait any longer. My boss, "Call me George" Martinez, had informed me that the EPA was crawling all over him and that if the hazardous usage and disposal reports weren't completed by the time he got to work in the morning, I would be joining the ranks of the unemployed. In blue state basket case California, in the middle of the worst economy of the last eighty years. Jerk.

Overall, Riverside's not a bad town. I've got a small apartment not too far from the UC campus. The complex is full of students with a smattering of old fogeys too poor and too stubborn to leave, and working class stiffs, not to mention hybrids like me. The ones I've talked to were alright.

But this wasn't there. The warehouse sits in a commercial district near where the 91 dies and turns into the 215 at the 60 merge. There are some rough people nearby, in the old twenties and thirties housing they threw up back before tract housing. Tiny lots, old decaying houses, ancient plumbing and wiring, never updated. Paint cracked, chipped, and peeling. Calling them Craftsmen would be implying a level of charm that simply didn't exist. Streets jammed with old junker cars. Chain link fences, neglected lawns, junk left wherever someone dropped it because it was too much effort to clean up. An occasional abuela put in a few flowers that just made the rest of the neighborhood look even more pitiful. Rough people, mostly poor hispanics with the occasional white trash or black, human refuse that just didn't have what it took to get ahead in the world as it had become. Some were disabled, most simply never applied themselves much. Get a second or third generation in there, and you got some real gangbanging. Easy path to see, damned near impossible to make it work into a real life worth living. Enough to make me appreciate my parents, who escaped that world and made sure I knew enough not to fall back.

The gangs had been cooped up inside most of the previous ten days. El Nino storms came through one after another. Maybe they wouldn't drown or freeze you, but they were cold, wet, and miserable - at least by the standards of California weather. Nobody came out when it was raining without a good reason why they had to be out there and then, but once it stopped a light jacket would keep you warm, and the hoodies would be out looking to burn off some energy. It's not like they had anything better to do.

And here I was, a 28 year old woman leaving the building all by myself in the dark just after eight-thirty with no one around. Just bad luck the four guys in jackets walking up the other side of the street at the exact wrong time. No key to get back in - damn "Call me George" to hell. I picked up my pace. If I could get to my car - beater that it is - and lock the doors there was a chance I'd be able to drive away.

Mistake. The hoodies started to run. Now there was some effort in it for them, things were looking worse for me. Cell phone, you say? I could grab the phone and push the number to dial 911, but it wouldn't do me a bit of good. Typical response time was thirty minutes. By the time the cops showed up, it would be long over. I was about to do it anyway when it happened.

I swear on my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that this happened. He looked like an Angel of the Lord, minus the wings. Hanging up there in the air. Well, not hanging - he was falling, though not like he was getting pulled - more like he was riding an escalator that wasn't there. At least six five, thin as a rail, with a softly glowing sword of all the improbable things. Wearing what looked like some kind of uniform, dark with lighter trim, cut like nothing I'd ever seen.

I don't know what he did to call attention to himself, but all of a sudden the 'bangers noticed him. Not just the 'bangers, but everything's attention was wrenched towards him as if someone grabbed our heads, sunk hooks into our eyeballs and made us look. Right down to the rats in the dumpsters.

That was enough for the 'bangers. They hauled out their guns and started banging away. The visitor looked puzzled for an instant, then the sword vanished, and I saw a flash from him. Something in his hand - didn't did get a good look at what it was. The gang members fell over so fast it was over before I could twitch. Damn! The guy was fast. I'd never seen anything like that even in the movies.

One look showed four lifeless bodies with blood starting to pool. The visitor lit with catlike grace, apparently as unconcerned as if nothing had just happened. I had a decision to make, and I did. I jumped in my car and got the hell out of Dodge. I didn't want to be anywhere in the neighborhood when the cops finally got there. I didn't stop to say thanks, I definitely didn't talk to him, I just jumped in and went. I didn't slow down until I was home. I might have run a red light or two; I really couldn't tell you with any certainty.

Copyright 2013 Dan Melson. All rights reserved.

For tolerably obvious reasons, our Morelli guests were kept confined in a special area of the ship; not really a jail or whatever they called a jail onboard a ship. Just spare crew quarters, modified for their use. Since I was their liason, I was summoned to the fabrication shop to hear the explanation of the shelter they planned for Motafo to prevent his death in the likely event his Council ordered him to be bombed. The set up the engineers came up with to protect Motafo was simple enough. They built a small bondsteel shelter and gave it a hull-charging unit. A battery, a life support system, and Motafo's own suit radio completed the setup. "They said they'd pick him up in a local day. Plenty of power to keep everything running for two, probably three days. Plug here, adapted to his suit's charger to keep him topped off. He'll get knocked around if they bomb him, but he should come through it just fine. Flip this switch as soon as he's sealed, use this wire to connect to his suit antenna. We recharged his suit, in case he needs the air and power in it. Tell him he might want to disconnect power and the antenna from his suit if he has warning of a bomb - It might transmit an electromagnetic pulse if connected. The whole thing will self-destruct when power gets to one iprime, in case they do actually pick him up."

"You're not worried about them figuring out the tech?"

"Amn, the only thing they might figure out that they don't have now is the hull-charge unit. Even if they do somehow keep it intact, the only thing they might learn to use it for is hull charge." "Amn" meant 'someone of higher rank not in the chain of command.' I doubted that I ranked the engineer in any way; he wore the gold disc of a Section Private while I was a civilian specialist. Doubtless he was just being polite.

"Not the capacitor?"

"Amn, that's the one thing it's impossible to disconnect from the power supply and self-destruct."

Point taken. I knew I was no engineer; I'd only been exposed to Imperial tech at a distance myself. I hadn't even saved up enough for my own converter. At home, I still cooked all my own meals. If I lived to be a thousand, I'd never sample half the food and drink recipes available in Hamthar Four's public database. That said, I was already missing my Diet Dr. Pepper; maybe I'd figure out how to buy that recipe for my personal use. "Thank you. Motafo may be an alien, but he doesn't deserve to die because his leaders are a bunch of useless leeches."

"We all feel sorry for him. The situation isn't of his making, he's simply a convenient scapegoat."

We didn't have long to wait after that. The Morelli had responded to Sergeant Mitrisa's request for routing by telling her basically, 'Get there as fast as you can.' Ambassador DeelKonosh said showing off our capability would be a good thing, so Mitrisa put us stationary at an altitude of two isquare in a single Vector. From there, we could have landed in a little over a minute if she'd wanted to risk high-power maneuvering during a landing, but instead she hovered in place while she had the shelter loaded in the cargo bay of a cutter for transport. A second cutter was tasked with bringing Motafo (and incidentally me and two escorts) to the surface.

I'd worn an Imperial survival suit before. It was basically a skin-tight mesh with a layer of stretchy padded material next to the skin, and a metallized exterior layer. Small backpack with a siphon, converter, and air reservoir for eight or ten minutes, radio,and a glassteel helmet completed the ensemble. The siphon provided power, the converter kept the air reservoir full. If either the siphon or converter failed, you had until the air reservoir ran out to find a supply, but it generally wasn't much of an issue in the situations where you wore one. A cheap solution for the problem of going into zero pressure in a controlled situation; only the plumbing was uncomfortable.

It occurred to me to ask, "What if I fart?"

Private Mosser answered, "Assuming it leaks up to the helmet somehow, hold your breath until the converter clears it out. Twenty seconds will handle the worst of it. You're lucky; it takes longer for one of these." The two of them were wearing Planetary Surface combat armor. He was a big guy anyway, about 190 centimeters Earth measure, broad shouldered and heavy built. Even Private Justila, twenty-five centimeters shorter out of armor, loomed over me like an ogre. Combat armor really only added about fifteen centimeters of height, but the suits were so bulky it seemed like more.

"Must be tough if you're in a combat situation, and your eyes are watering."

"That's part of what datalinks are for," Justila responded, "Helping you target and keep track of threats you might not be able to see."

Motafo's eyes were enlarged. "I must say, you sound like you have experience."

After I translated, Justila responded, "Yeah, been there, done that. Ripped one in the middle..."

Mosser interrupted her, "Let's not burden him with too much information. The plumbing handles solid and liquid well, but gas sometimes leaks. Leave it at that."

"Better than what we Morelli have," Motafo remarked, "The only thing to clear our suit environment is our own lungs."

Must be rough - especially as the Morelli ate more vegetable matter than humans. Still, I understood what Earth's primitive astronauts contended with before the Empire found us had been essentially similar.

It took Mosser and Justila about thirty seconds after we landed to haul the shelter out of the other cutter and set it down on the desolate, airless surface of the Morelli's outer moon. It was emplaced even before the cutter that had carried it down from Hamthar Four departed soundlessly. The shelter still had plenty of mass, but the gravity here was so light I had trouble walking. The two military people, however, had training in light gravity. I picked my way over to the shelter and explained to Motafo what the engineer had told me a half-hour previous. There was barely enough room inside for the two of us in our suits. "No sensors, but my understanding is we'll be keeping you updated by radio." Fortunately, Morelli were a burrowing species - claustrophobia was not one of their problems.

"So I wait and hope."

"And unplug yourself if we warn you of a bomb. We don't know what damage an electromagnetic pulse might do to your suit or radio, but inside the shelter and without direct connection, you should be well-shielded."


"I hope that your Community welcomes you back. If we do not see each other again, I wish you well, Motafo of the Morelli."

"And I you, Tessa of the Empire."

I shimmied backwards out of the shelter, and Mosser closed the hatch. There was no air to transmit the sound, but Motafo should be getting an indicator he was sealed. I started picking my way back to the cutter we'd arrived in.

"Good day to my friends of the Empire," I heard Motafo say, as I reached the ship, "I have activated the life support unit and tested its product. I should be comfortable until the arrival of the Community vessel."

"Good to know," I replied. I entered the human-sized personnel hatch and it closed behind me.

What the hell? I sent to the pilot via datalink, Mosser and Justila are still outside!

Relax, they're staying to play nursemaid, just in case.

I heard nothing of this part of the plan!

Because what you don't know, you can't spill , Mosser himself sent. Don't worry, Hamthar Four has moved to stationary orbit overhead. Even if we have to haul the alien along with us, our suits can make it in ten minutes or less.

How come you're not wearing Guardian insignia?

Because I haven't earned it yet. But auros, which includes telepathy, is the first of the disciplines operants learn.

What if they bomb you?

Combat suits are plenty to protect us from primitive atomic weapons. We'll be fine.

Which was about the time I felt the cutter dock. Imperial ships could move if they had reason, but I hadn't felt any flutter in the onboard gravity. So far I never had, but for some reason I kept expecting to. The personnel hatch opened again, followed by the door to the control cabin. A dark-haired, olive-skinned woman I didn't know exited, gesturing to me to precede her out the door. I popped my helmet, still feeling outraged, "Why didn't you tell me?" I demanded of her in Traditional.

"Because the Ambassador said not to," she replied, as if it were as simple as that. When I stood there dumbfounded, she shrugged and passed by me, unconcerned.

Copyright 2023 Dan Melson. All RIghts Reserved.

Excerpt One is here

Excerpt Two is here

Excerpt Three is here

On Getting Rich Quick in Real Estate

I keep running into people who paid money for a get rich quick seminar and are looking to buy property for zero down and immediately sell it for a $50,000 profit. Somebody With A Testimonial Told Them How It Could Be Done.

Sorry folks but the people with the real secrets to getting rich don't sell them for $199 at the Holiday Inn. They didn't do it during the stock market bubble, and they're not doing it now in real estate. As I told people back then regarding the stock market, don't confuse a rising frothy market with investment genius. And that rising frothy market has now changed. Deals like that do happen, but they're always less common than the People With Testimonials will admit, and they are snapped up quickly. Usually they never make it as far as the Multiple Listing Service. Before they're even entered into the database of available properties, they are sold, and they rarely fall out of escrow because the people who buy them know what they are doing.

Consider, for a moment, yourself on the opposite side of the transaction. You're not going to intentionally sell your valuable property for less than it is worth, are you? And if you're buying, you're certainly not going to pay more than market value, are you? Remember that Wile E. Coyote ended up at the bottom of the canyon under a rock for more reasons than that the Author was on The Other Side. "Super Genius!" Says so right there on the label. But betting large amounts of money on The Stupidity Of The Other Side is a mark's game.

About the only reliable source of "quick flips" for profit are distress sales. In no particular order, most of these are people in foreclosure, estate sales where neither the estate nor the heirs can keep the payments up long enough to sell normally, and where somebody's been transferred and has to sell now. The requirements are that they have large amounts of equity, not short sales or even lender-owned property, and the need for a quick sale.

These people get mobbed by prospective buyers, and by agents looking to represent them in the sale. Everybody wants something for nothing, and one of each group is going to get it. One agent is going to get a transaction where if it gets as far as the MLS, all he's got to do is type it in and bingo, the buyers will line up. One buyer is going to get to buy for a price less than other comparable properties. Usually, they're the same person. The multimillionaire brokers all usually each have at least one going on.

The issue for these buyers in distress sales that is rarely addressed until it gets to actually making the deal is that they're going to need a certain amount of cash that they are prepared to lose. Putting myself in the position of the person who has to sell, I'm not going to give this person the sole shot at buying if I'm not pretty certain he can deliver. The only way to measure this is cash - how much they can put down on the property. How much of a deposit they can make that I can keep if they can't qualify. Remember that in this case the one thing a distress seller cannot afford is a buyer who can't consummate the deal quickly - unless the seller is going to get to keep something substantial for the experience. If you don't want to buy on those terms, than at that price someone else will. The multimillionaire real estate brokers, for instance. There are a lot of people who make a very good living at foreclosures because they go around from foreclosure to foreclosure offering cash for price below what it would otherwise sell for. Matter of fact, they pretty much saturate the foreclosure market. The chances of a seller in this position accepting an offer without a substantial cash forfeiture for nonperformance are basically identical to the chances of them having a listing agent that doesn't understand the situation. And quite often, that listing agent makes an offer themselves, in violation of all that is ethical.

Get religion about this point: There is ALWAYS a reason for a low asking price. Usually, a noticeably low asking price should be even lower than it is. Unless they're a philanthropist looking for some random person to donate money to, this seller wants to get as much for the property as they can. What they're hoping for is a buyer who doesn't know what a really bad situation they're getting into. "A cracked slab? How bad could it be?" is probably the classic example of this (The answer was about $300,000 in one case, but it could be as low as $20-25k). These sellers have been dealing with the situation. They've had a reason to become intimately familiar with the problems. They're hoping for an unsuspecting buyer whose agent wants an easy transaction and will not explain to them, or simply does not know, what those buyers are getting themselves into. I could certainly keep my mouth shut and do more transactions, easier, if I didn't take the time to tell my buyers everything I know about what they're getting into. I just had a buyer who loved the floor plan so much on a property with mold infestation right out in the open that he wanted to make an offer, even after I told him "Anywhere from ten to two hundred thousand to fix, maybe more, and probably at the upper end of that because you can see how it has spread". Luckily, his wife talked him out of it. The universe knows that most of these good deeds don't go unpunished. But that's what I'm theoretically getting paid for, and as often as I do my job and it causes them to get angry and I don't get paid, it's preferable to the eventual consequences of not doing the whole job and getting paid for it.

There's a newsletter I get from the State of California every three months. It's always got a long list of people who are losing their licenses. So if your agent tries to really explain something like this, listen to them. They're not trying to talk you out of the Deal Of The Century so that someone else can get it (the Deal of the Century in real estate comes around surprisingly often if you can afford it). They're trying to make certain you go in with your eyes open. It's likely to be a better agent than the guy who thinks "Okay, I've told you that the hill is known to be unstable, so I'm covered. It's not my fault that you didn't instantly understand that this means it's likely that one day it will fall on your house."

(On the Mold House: In the meantime, I called and left a message for the agent, and she returned my call and left a very accusatory, defensive message about "What is the documentation for your accusation of mold damage?" Opening my eyes, you silly ostrich - it's clearly visible - Eeewww! - right there, and there, and there, and there's moisture coming out at the bottom of the wall downstairs. My guess is that it's coming from the standpipe in the walls of the upstairs hall bath. I look forward to seeing her name on the List of Dishonor)

The typical property where there is real potential for quick profit is going to require work. Work as in physical labor that you're going to have to do, or pay someone else to do. Not to be sexist, but "The husband died (or became disabled) and the wife couldn't keep it up," is a cliché because it is so common. Sometimes the work is easy - carpet, new paint, clean up the yard and bingo! The property jumps in value! Sometimes the work is harder, and the profit is larger. And sometimes the buyer is basically going to have to tear the house down and start over. There is always a reason why the seller didn't do the work so they could make the profit themselves. Sometimes it's because they're lazy, sometimes it's because they can't. Sometimes it's because the work was risky, sometimes because it was expensive, and sometimes it's because the seller can get some poor fool to buy it who doesn't realize that they're going to have to make an investment that isn't worth the payoff.

Copyright 2016 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

Sorry this is late. There was some behind the scenes drama; the server the website was hosted on had a crash and the website had to be migrated and for boring technical reasons I couldn't log in to some functions for a while.


It's quite fashionable in some quarters to brag about the low interest rate of your home loan. One question every good loan officer hates is "What is your lowest rate?" usually the first thing in a phone conversation. People think that this sort of rate shopping is going to help them. The fact is that it almost ensures they are going to get ripped off or worse, as millions of people have discovered in the last few years - and most of them don't understand that this attitude is precisely what got them into the toxic loan that ruined them financially.

First off, everybody doesn't get the same choices. As I've said before, somebody who can prove they make enough money, has a solid history of paying their debts, and offers the lender a situation where there's 30 percent equity (or more) gets a different set of choices than somebody who can't prove they make enough money, has a questionable history of paying debt, and wants to borrow 100 percent of the property value (or more).

Second, different loans get different rate-cost tradeoffs. The loan that most people seem to consider the most attractive loan, the thirty year fixed rate loan, is always the most expensive loan out there with the highest rate/cost tradeoff. Why? Because on top of the cost of the money, you are essentially purchasing an insurance policy that says your rate will not change for thirty years. Even when long and short term rates are inverted there is a premium charged for the thirty year fixed rate loan. It makes a certain amount of sense; insurance policies are never free, and the thirty year fixed rate loan is the most desired loan out there. Simple economics: Higher demand equals higher price. Goods perceived as more valuable carry a higher price tag. So if you're looking for a thirty year fixed rate loan, and all you say is "What is your lowest rate?" you are likely to get quoted a rate attached to some other sort of loan, or even a phantom, 'in name only' rate that isn't the real rate you're actually paying interest on. Even today with negative amortization loans gone, there are replacements which may not be quite so toxic, but are certainly nothing you actually want to be signing a contract for. There is a tradeoff between types of loans, where you pay for more features with a higher interest rate. To get thirty years of insurance that your rate and payment won't change, you must pay the highest interest rate. If you want to argue with me, consider the meltdown we've been having these last several years caused by toxic loans. If interest rate (or worse, payment) is your only data point from the various loan providers you talk with, you are likely to do business with the one who quotes you the negative amortization loan, not the thirty year fixed rate loan. Matter of fact, the loan provider who tells you about the loan that you really wanted is least likely to get your business in this scenario, because you're ignoring the important context of the tradeoffs involved.

Third and most importantly, for every situation and every loan type, there is more than one rate available, a set of tradeoffs within the same type of loan. Why is this, you ask? It seems obvious to you: Why not just choose the lowest rate, which has the lowest payment? It takes a little examination to see why.

The difference between the rates is in cost of the loan. There will be a rate called par. This is the rate at which the lender will loan you the money straight across. They don't charge you any money (discount points) to get a lower rate. They don't pay any of the costs of the loan. Getting a loan done really does take a minimum of about $3300 in closing costs (actually, that figure is for California, which believe it or not is one of the cheaper states to get everything done in - every other state I've done business in has higher closing costs), plus whatever the lender makes in order to do your loan. Whether points and closing costs are paid out of your pocket or added to your mortgage balance, you are still paying them. Indeed, when shopping for a mortgage, the phrase "nothing out of your pocket" from a prospective loan provider should immediately put you on guard. I explained at the end of the last chapter some of the legal fiction about why it's not always bad, but it should put you on guard. It needs at least one of two further phrases, "and nothing added to your mortgage," or "no costs at all," before it really means you aren't paying thousands of dollars. Why? Because loan officers have learned to sell loans based upon the cash that people have to pay, which is not the same thing as the actual cost. I've had people tell me they didn't pay anything for a refinance, when they had over twenty thousand dollars added to their mortgage balance. That money is every bit as real as cash out of their wallet or checking account. The only difference is they're pretending you're not paying it despite the fact that you are. Don't know about you, but I'm a lot more kindly disposed towards the person who tells me something is going to cost ten thousand dollars when that's what it costs, than I am towards the person who pretends it's not going to cost anything despite knowing full well it's going to cost ten thousand dollars.

Getting a lower rate (assuming it's for the same type of loan) costs more money in terms of upfront costs. In all the years I've been reading rate sheets, I have never once seen an exception to this, from any lender. It's firmly grounded in the laws of economics. For rates below par, you must pay discount points. This is an upfront incentive to a lender to give you a rate lower than they otherwise would. Every situation is different and should be analyzed with numbers specific to that situation, but as a rule of thumb: Unless you're getting a thirty year fixed rate loan and you have a history of keeping loans at least five years before sale or refinance, you should avoid paying discount points if you can, and accepting a rate with a bit of yield spread to offset origination is probably a good idea. The lower payments you get, quite simply, are usually not worth the cost of adding points to your mortgage balance. People who don't qualify for 'A paper' may not have this option, but more people qualify 'A paper' than think they do. These days, with true subprime essentially extinct, it's 'A paper', what professionals used to call "A minus" which is essentially for people who barely miss qualifying A paper, or you fall all the way to 'hard money' - and that's if you have the equity. Otherwise you get nothing.

The money you pay for a rate lower than par can be paid out of your loan balance, or it can be paid with cash out of your pocket, but it will be paid if you want that rate. If you keep the loan long enough, the lower rate will pay for itself, but those costs for the lower rate are an upfront cost and sunk into the loan whether you keep it long enough to break even or not.

If you were to spend (for example) seven thousand dollars on an investment that only returned four thousand dollars before you sold it, most people would have no trouble seeing that it was a bad investment that lost money, but they have a much harder time seeing this with seven thousand dollars added to the balance of their loan that only returns four thousand dollars in lowered interest charges before they voluntarily refinance. When you refinance (or sell), the benefits to that previous loan stop. The lowered interest rate you bought for those dollars is gone, and is irrelevant going forward. But if you rolled the dollars to pay for discount points to get the better rate into your loan, they're still there in your loan balance. Not only that, but the higher number of dollars in your loan balance means that you are going to pay more in interest charges going forward. The higher loan balance keeps costing you money, even after it has been refinanced. If you sell and buy something else, it means you're going to have fewer dollars available, and therefore the loan balance on your new property will be higher and you will be paying higher interest costs because of it.

Copyright 2015 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

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This is set in the Empire of Humanity, about 35 Earth years after Imperial contact. The first excerpt is here, and the second excerpt is here. It's currently a novelette, but I'll probably re-work it at some point into a longer story. For time-line comparisons, Joe and Asina are towards the end of their Windhome Bay assignment (See Building The People), while Grace and Asto are in the military/Merlon's Eyes (between Working The Trenches and The Invention Of Motherhood)


"The rest of you could try to disappear," Motafo suggested, "If they do what they said, you can always step forward later."

Tessa noted that none of them were pleading family, mates, or children. The Morelli were a matriarchal society; males such as these four owed taxes and labor to the Community, not to any specific female. Matings were transient, the young were raised by females alone. Males were the workers and laborers, females were administrators and executives, networking their relatives for advantage. Only in the military and a few other 'dangerous' professions was there any path for a male into positions of authority, and even there, oversight from females was pervasive. Hashot had been a ship's commander - but it had been female Councilors who gave him that rank and command of Dominion, not Warleader Jafinto.

"If you're certain about that, we'll do our best to insure your survival." The Ambassador spoke their dominant language at least as well as Tess. None of the Morelli had learned more than a few words of Traditional. To be fair, none of them had the advantages of being operant, either.

"That would be appreciated, sir."

"I'll ask the ship's commander to see to it." The Ambassador left.

"Any ideas how they're going to keep him alive, miss?" Cosur was nothing if not practical.

"Nothing detailed, no. My planet has only been a part of the Empire for a few years. You're our first non-human close neighbor - I understand the bright star system you call Mamoshin is known to us as 'Capella'"

"You think they're going to try and conquer us?" That was Sajopil.

"Understand I'm just a grad student, hired to learn about you. But according to what the Ambassador told me, his job is to prevent having to conquer you."

"You think we're just bugs beneath your feet?" Motafo reacted.

"Your Community is more advanced than my own people were, before the arrival of the Empire. We hadn't even a colony on our own Moon. But according to what we're told, the Empire is enormous. I don't really understand it, but those Earth people who do find the claim credible. Some have visited Imperial worlds. Others have joined the Imperial military. What disputes have arisen about Imperial truthfulness appear to be matters of opinion. They act as if they've plenty of experience contacting new civilizations."

"Why did they want you, but not us?" Motafo demanded.

"I don't know. They told us we're the same species, that we're a lost colony, result of a ship that got lost. They even claim to have found the remains of the ship."

"So they want you because you're the same species, but not us because we aren't?"

"That's my understanding."

"So they're species supremacists?"

"Could be," Tess admitted, "But it doesn't seem right. According to them, there are large numbers of non-human neighbors they coexist with. But they did have to fight an immense war to conquer First Galaxy." There was no word for 'galaxy' yet in the translator, so it rendered the word in the Empire's Traditional in which she'd spoken. "Supposedly took thousands of years. That's what they claim anyway."

"What's that word? The one you used after 'first'"

"Galaxy. A large mass of several sixths of stars. This one is shaped like a spiral with several arms."

"Galaxy," Motafo supplied the missing word. Tess duly added the word and its translation to the database. "Wait one heartbeat. Do you mean to tell us The Empire is in more than one galaxy?"

"Sixty-four galaxies in their Home Instance is what they claim. Only this one in ours so far."

"You're using 'instance' in a way I'm not familiar with. What did you mean, 'instance'?"

"I'm not certain," Tess began, accessing her datalink for a definition, "I've been told it's from a metaphor of some sort. Give me a few moments." Unfortunately, the explanation left her more at sea than before. "The best I can do seems to be 'a unique three dimensional experiential universe embedded within the eleven primary dimensions of reality,'" she parroted, "But don't ask me what that means. I'm a linguist, not a physicist, and I'm not sure how much I'm supposed to be telling you. I do know there are potential penalties for sharing Imperial technology."


That was an answer she knew, "Because it can do tremendous damage. They are crystal clear about responsibility for actions."

Copyright 2023 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

Mister Stuart opened the door to the interrogation room back up, gestured to Ramirez to take me away, and went off, presumably to rescue Julie. Ramirez, for his part, grabbed me by the arm and 'escorted' me to the holding tank as roughly as he could contrive.

The tank was an open area separated into cells by bars and not much else. Each had four bunks attached to the 'walls' two sets each of above and below. There were already three occupied bunks so I simply climbed into the fourth, the upper bunk on the right, the side 'behind' the cell door. It had neither pillow nor blankets; I presumed one of my 'roommates' had appropriated them. Mr. Stuart had instructed me not to arouse the other inmates, so I simply made myself as comfortable as I could under the circumstances.

I wasn't asleep yet when the lights suddenly blew out.

I had just time enough to think, this is not good when my cell mates jerkily got out of their bed in unison, like human marionettes on invisible strings, illuminated by the low, eerie light of computer monitors from the room next door.

The only way to make it obvious I wasn't the aggressor in whatever was about to happen was to stay right here in my bunk and scream, "Guards! GUARDS! GUARDS!" There was no immediate response. I kept yelling it anyway. It made the theater of what was going on undeniable. In the dim light, I noticed the inmates in the other cells also moving jerkily, like someone was controlling them.

"The guards can't help you now," a low growling voice issued from every other throat in the room. In the darkness, it sounded sibilant, like a snake. "You have angered the God, and you shall be made to pay."

I'm not going to kid you, I nearly lost control of my bladder I was so scared. But suddenly it was like all the strings were cut; the marionettes broke free. I supposed there had to be limits; they couldn't all have been minions of the Mad God. They hadn't accepted his bargain - he couldn't make them do much.

The lights were still out in the room. A few of my fellow detainees fell over, but most managed to preserve their balance, shaking their heads and asking questions that were variations on "What just happened?"

I was not going to attract attention to myself. I just lay there pretending nothing had happened. The mental state of my fellow detainees being what it was, none of them realized I was 'odd man out' before others had returned to their beds. Now that it was over, I had to admit I was glad the Mad God had tipped his hand - now I knew he was gunning for me, and was at least forewarned of other attempts.

Maybe half the other detainees had returned to their beds. The rest were milling about in the low light trying to figure out what had happened, talking to each other. Two of the other three in my cell had returned to their beds. The third, a huge slab of meat, stalked the small cell in the shadows trying to find someone to vent his wrath on. "You! What did you see?"

"I woke up standing on the floor in the dark, same as everyone else," I said.

"I didn't see you!"

"It was dark and I was behind you. I didn't see anything I could do about whatever it was, so I went back to bed."

He probably could have taken offense to that if he'd really wanted to, but he didn't. His gaze lit on something else, and he left me alone. Eventually, he gave up his search for something to lash out at. But the lights stayed off and none of the guards came to investigate. I hoped things weren't as bad as that omen presaged, but there was only so much my mind could worry the situation without more information, so eventually I fell asleep.

Later, I woke up to the sounds of people replacing the lights in the room. They didn't seem interested in answering a couple of questions other detainees asked, and nothing else seemed to be going on at the moment, so I after half an hour of trying, I managed to get back to sleep.

I woke up the worst kind of alone.

The alarm went off, same as usual. My arm was across her as I woke up, my befuddled mind thinking Wow, guess that wasn't just a dream. I managed to reach over and hit snooze in order to cuddle up, just the way we used to before getting up to start our day, just a few minutes with each other, before I realized something was very wrong.

What I'd woken up with wasn't a living, breathing woman.

I bellowed an inarticulate cry of panic and scrambled backwards out of bed, stumbling over the blankets on my way out of bed, but also ripping them off what was in bed with me.

Once I was free of their entangling grasp, I looked at what was there on the bed: a dried, desiccated corpse, long dead, eyes shrunken in, skin sagging, pitted. Intact as far as I could tell, but dead for years. Only the honey-blonde hair was unchanged, still the young, wavy style it had been the previous evening.

I wasn't going to pretend I understood, but it was clear I had to do something, and once I got over my initial panic, I knew who to call.

"Hello, Larry!"

"Mark, what are you calling about at such an early hour? You know I don't get to the office before eight-thirty!"

"Yes, Larry, but this is different, and I need your help now. I woke up with a corpse in my bed this morning!"

"Mark, I must not be awake yet. I could have sworn you just told me you woke up with a corpse in your bed, and I know that can't be true!" I started to tell him it was true, and he talked over me, "I know it can't be true because you wouldn't have called a securities lawyer over a criminal matter that didn't happen. Are you understanding me, Mark?"

"I didn't kill her, Larry!"

"Of course you didn't, Mark, because I must have misunderstood what you were saying. You couldn't have told me you woke up with a corpse in your bed because you didn't, and you wouldn't be calling me if you had."

"Larry, you're the only lawyer I know that I can call at this hour of the morning! Help me, here!"

"Mark, if such a thing did happen, the only advice I could give you would be to call law enforcement right away and not to say anything - and I mean nothing at all, no matter how innocent, until you can get a lawyer who knows what they're doing in these sorts of cases. Cops will lie and will try to set you up. I'd recommend Morris Silver, if he can take you. If not, he'll know someone good who can"

And then he hung up.

Well, shit.

So I looked up Morris Silver, and dialed their number. It was still early; it took a couple minutes with their phone tree to get the answering service on the line. I left my name and number, they said someone would be in touch as soon as possible, and read me some standardized advice like it was off a standard form, the central point of which was to tell anyone "On the advice of counsel, I decline to answer any questions or make any statements until my attorney can be present." Standard boilerplate.

I was steeling myself to dial the police when my phone rang.

"Hello, Mr. Jackson, I'm Julie Ingmar with Morris Silver and Associates. What is the nature of your difficulty?"
So I explained what had happened the previous evening. "I know how this is going to sound, but last night about ten PM my ex-wife called me at home. I hadn't seen or heard from her in seven years. I have no idea how she knew my number or where I lived, but she did. She fed me a story about how she needed to hide from some people for a few days. One thing led to another, we ended up sleeping together. Then I woke up this morning with a corpse - only it looked like it had been dead for years. Dried out, mummified, except for the hair. That was exactly how it was last night, so I'm pretty sure it was Diane. My ex."

"I see." I could hear the skepticism in her voice. "Have you called the police yet?"

"I was just about to. Look, Ms. Ingmar, I know it sounds like something that came out of Hollywood. I deal with enough of those folks to know. But I'm not stupid enough to jerk around my own attorney. You have to be able to deal with whatever the police investigation discovers. You can't do that if I don't tell you the truth about what I remember."

Copyright 2019 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.


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Setting The Board

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