Instagram Update

Hey Echoes,

In a weird attempt to increase my social presence, I have joined Instagram. I’ll be posting photos taken on my trips there. It will be a preview for whenever I am working on another vagabonding story or a trashy story. It will also be a repository to remind me what I should be writing about. So, come join in on this awkward social experiment!

CJ’s Instagram


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Twitter Update

Hello Echoes,

Well, I did it! I have joined twitter, so you have more ways to connect and interact with me. It’s also another way to get news about the work I’m doing when I don’t have time for a lengthy blog post. See you out there!

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Red Touch Yellow

It was a foggy morning. It was still, but I heard the murmur of the city just beyond the low tree line. The fog isolated me from the residential area not too far away from the wetland trail. Fewer people were out on this gray day to enjoy nature. I was out here and I photographed an animal I had hoped to stumble into again. I thought I saw a coral snake on a bike trip in the area earlier in the year, but I was moving quickly and only wanted to avoid running it over. This time the little snake was stretched out on the trail, and I was only hiking. So, I got a few pictures, before it disappeared into the foliage. The close pictures are a little blurry, but I took them quickly, before I lost my model.



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A Shout Out

Hello Echoes,

I would like to take this opportunity to give a shout out to a dear friend who runs Five Day Photography. He recently returned from a cross-country road trip. He took some amazing pictures, building up his portfolio. Check out his journey and give him a like.

Just Laugh,

CJ Staryk

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Chapter 9: The Shadow

New to the story or need a refresher, check out the Table of Contents!

“There you have it, Eric,” President Jim Marsen said as he slumped back into his chair. His right elbow rested on the table, his fingers holding a phantom cigar.

Eric gazed at the thin LCD screen on the center of the table. The probe’s diamond shape visible from low orbit. It was old footage from the Theseus before the Curtani attacked.

“And you think it is still out there?” Eric asked.

Jim nodded. “Looking for a new place to set up shop. Its pattern appears to be seeking out habitable worlds. Well, worlds with a suitable atmosphere, at least.”

“A terraforming probe,” Eric said in a whisper. “But every other time the probe jumped, this time it imploded.”

Jim stood up from his chair and stepped next to his colleague. “Yes. The military is assuming that was a defense mechanism.”

Not worthy.

“Not certain,” Eric mused.

“What are thinking, Eric?”

“It did nothing to prevent the Curtani from landing on it, nor did stop our team. It imploded only when we got inside and it had scanned us.”

“Searching for something?”

Eric nodded. “Something familiar.” He passed his hand over the screen, returning to an earlier slide depicting the probe’s zigzagging path through this quadrant of the galaxy. With a deep exhalation, he exclaimed, “Not possible.”

“That’s what our chief investigator thought too.” Eric felt a smile cross Jim’s face. “We are only somewhat versed in your father’s work. It’s hard to find these days.”

Eric craned his neck closer to the red line. “That is a fair assessment. Wild, debunked hypotheses are usually not the best investments.”

Jim chuckled and placed a hand on Eric’s shoulder. “And yet, you believed it.”

Eric craned his neck to Jim. “No, I was just interested in the similarities between three different sentient species in three different systems. It could support common evolutionary traits among distant, life-bearing worlds.”

“Even down to city planning and philosophy?”

“Possibly, a lack of communication does not mean separate civilizations wouldn’t follow similar architecture and philosophy, similar to pyramids and ancient Earth civilizations.” Eric stood up.

“So, does Management seem to think the probe is interested in these extinct cultures?”

“We don’t know. It is one hell of a coincidence.”

“And there is no evidence of a previous civilization on this rock?”

“Also, we do not know. We are assuming so.”

The LCD display switched off and the room lights bathed everything in a dull yellow.

“Since you’re onboard, I’ll bring you to meet the rest of the research team.” Jim headed for the door. “Follow me. I’ll show you why the probe, or another probe, is still out there.”

Eric followed Jim down several intersecting corridors. They stopped at a heavily guarded door. The troops saluted Jim and rushed to open the doors for them.

The research lab inside was a buzz with activity. Several scientists were crowded around LCD displays of the probe, the current planet they orbited, and recordings from recent events. Eric walked quickly passed one such recording of his own corneal implants. He saw Emb in it. A LCD projection of a spherical star map was in the center of the room. A red line shot meandered through the projection with a several large red spheres connected by the line. A young, short-haired blonde woman was locked in conversation with a taller, light-blue skinned Metamorph at this projection.

Eric swallowed hard. He fought back tears.

“Lieutenant Nascern, this is Eric Reeves, the xeno-researcher who survived the latest encounter with the probe,” President Marsen, stopping a few feet from the Metamorph.

The woman’s voice trailed off into a murmur. Nascern, the Metamorph, turned and stepped forward and presented his hand to Eric.

Eric shook Nascern’s hand with a weak grip. The woman stepped up beside Nascern.

Nascern motioned toward the woman. “This Dr. Cynthia Morse. She is my brightest post-doc on this assignment.”

Jim shook her hand, Eric followed.

Morse stammered, “I’m so sorry what you had to go through. I can’t imagine . . . ”

Eric’s response was flat. “Don’t try.”

Morse dropped the rest of her statement. She pulled her hand from Eric and stepped back.

Eric leaned toward Jim. “Why am I only being introduced to this team now?”

“There wasn’t time, Eric. You were called up quickly to rendezvous with the Theseus while we were still in route.”

“So, expendable.”

“I wanted you on this mission.”

“I doubt the Board agreed with your call.”

“They did not.”

Nascern clapped his hands together and cleared his throat. “So, now that you are part of the team, what do you wish to know?”

Eric stepped passed Nascern to the star map. The points on the map were labeled with the names of the systems the probe had visited.

“How have you been tracking it?” Eric mused.

“We aren’t,” Morse replied, moving next to him.

Eric raised an eyebrow. “Really? Are you just following a hunch that it’s tracking a series of lost civilizations that my late father discovered?”

Morse shied away from meeting his gaze. Eric felt his chest swell. He was nearly a foot taller than Morse. He chastised himself, he must have sounded like his doctoral advisor many years ago. Good one, Eric.

Jim nodded at Nascern and the Metamorph stepped to Eric’s left. “Yes, we have been tracking it. We have new tech that can track a ship through phase space.”

Eric’s eyes widened.

Nascern continued. “It is still a bit glitchy. We have techs working on it as we move. Refining it. That’s how we tracked it out here. Well, I should say we are tracking a disturbance, the techs call it the ‘shadow’.”

“The ’shadow’?”

Nascern grinned. “The probe doesn’t travel alone, it has a shadow.”

Nascern motioned Eric to follow him. He headed toward a console near the back of the room.

“The phase sensors are not fine tuned enough to follow something as small as the probe.”

“But I was told it has grown larger at every system it has entered.”

Nascern raised a single, slender finger. “Yes, after it arrives. When it phases, it is the same size. That’s why we do not believe it was destroyed with this last implosion.”

“So, it has a mother ship?”

Nascern stopped at the console and a holographic projection appeared in the air before them. It was a red mess to Eric. It depicted a visible representation of static, phase static. Phase space had long been too noisy to see behind its mysterious curtain. The only thing any vessel could do when jumping was to ride a gravity line from its entry point into phase space and its destination point in real space. Like walking a tight rope over a gorge in a windstorm blindfolded. If a vessel strayed from its navigation points in phase space, they could be lost in the static, forever.

Nascern passed his hand over the console and refined the red spherical image. He filtered out the noise of phase space and revealed a black image. There was still enough noise that the mass was an irregular, amorphous shape.

“That is our probe’s escort. It is estimated to be about three to four times larger than this survey cruiser.”

Eric whistled. Out there just beyond the time and space was an amorphous shadow looking over them. What was it contemplating?

© 2018 C.J. Staryk. All Rights Reserved.

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Not Dead . . . Yet

Hey Echoes,

I did not intend to be quiet this long. I’m a bit ashamed of it. Life has been busy and not entirely pleasant. High stress, high anxiety, and major depression do not make good writing companions. In any case, my soul searching was put on hold for a long moment of wallowing in self-loathing. It’s still there, but I need to move forward. This whole site was partially made for that purpose. I lost sight of that. I lost sight of a lot these past few months.

I tried getting advice or help from a number of people, but it always felt hollow. Although, I am thankful for the assistance. I did realize that using another’s crutch is not going to help me. So, I’m attempting  a more relentless approach of throwing off the fear and diving headlong into life again.

I have updated the table of contacts for the Artifact, so all the chapters are easy to find again. I need to do an edit on A Terran Problem to make the next two chapters work better, which should be coming out soon. It’s a public work in progress, so there was always the chance for a change here and there.

Also, NaNoWriMo is coming up in November and I will dive into that again. Shooting for a total of 50,000 written words this year!

Anyway, I will chat with all of you later.


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Life in the Way

Hey Everyone,

This is just a quick update. I’m still writing and have plans to keep posting here. I just ran into a few snags in the real world this summer. My real job really kicks into high gear for the summer and it has been exhausting.

I’m also writing a short story for a friend’s site. I hope it will get accepted and I’ll be able to send you the link when it happens. It’s been tough going, but I think I found my stride.

I may do some small flash posts about observations I make in my daily life. Exploring something wonderful from the ordinary. If anything, it will help keep these fingers writing and you entertained.

Personal issues have also slowed me down a lot. I’m working through them. I’ve wondered whether or not to make them part of the blog, but that requires a level of vulnerability I’m unprepared to present. It deals with mental illness, which is personal. On the other hand, if I could show it in ways others could understand, maybe I can be another light on things that have been left in the shadow for too long.

Thoughts to ponder.

You’ll hear from me soon enough,


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Brazos Bend: There be Gators

This year, I made a second trip to Brazos Bend State Park. I was there to find alligators as my last trip was unsuccessful. I arrived at the park early, and I headed out to the trails near the lake. I took an early detour along another trail surrounded by tall oaks. I love the oaks in this park. They are tall, old, and draped with Spanish moss.

Afterward, I hit the trail looping around 40 Acre and Elm Lakes. I assumed that the alligators would be hard to spot in their natural habitat. I regretted not bringing my binoculars along to catch sight of the beasts. Turns out the binoculars were not needed. I rounded the bend out of the moss-covered oaks and saw this beast just feet from the trail, sunning itself.


It was such a surprise that I froze in place. After the shock had passed, I gave it a wide berth and continued on. Warily keeping an eye out for alligators anywhere in the vicinity, especially on the sides of the trails, I saw them everywhere, near the trail, in the water, and resting on distant islands.

The last photo in this collection is my favorite. The branches appear to be a small shrub as if the alligator attempted to disguise itself.

I snapped several pictures of water fowl species on the edges of the trail too.

On the trail, I noticed striking dark brown bisecting the trees near the trail. It was another water line. I went to Brazos Bend two years ago after flooding rains had soaked Houston, and I saw an ankle-high water line where the Brazos River overflowed its banks, flooding the park around it. This nascent water line was nearly eye level with me. This is evidence of the flooding that occurred after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, moved north, and nearly stalled over Houston. It was incredible how high the water may have been. I wonder how fast it flowed. It was humbling. I wondered how many adult alligators got displaced due to the hurricane.

The picnic areas where the trail begins, and where my day ended, were filled with more large oaks. So, I will end this post where it started, in the shadow of these looming giants.

© 2018 C.J. Staryk. All Rights Reserved.

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Chapter Nine: Everything I Know

Follow the links to other chapters in this story here.

Darren’s knuckles were raw, bruised, and bloody. It had been awhile since he had enjoyed giving a good beating. Sometimes, Esmeralda had a good idea Darren could really sink his teeth into.

Phineas’ nose was broken and bleeding. Blood vessels erupted in his eyes. Darren had popped out a couple of Phineas’ wooden teeth. Phineas clinched his mouth closed, grinding his existing teeth into each other.

Darren raised his fist again.

Phineas fell on his knees, raising his open, bloody palms toward Darren. “All right, all right, you win! I’ll get you or tell you whatever it is you need to know!”

Darren stood straight and smiled. “Well, that was all I wanted.” He rolled his shoulders proudly. “Now how about we get your-pathetic-self back on your feet.”

Phineas batted away Darren’s open hand and stood, his knees popped as they bent then straightened. He stumbled to his chair. Phineas winced as he touched his jaw and chin.

“A fine interrogation, Darren,” Phineas said, through a groan. “I’d be proud if I wasn’t in such pain and completely heartbroken. Your own blood, you would do this to your own blood?”

Esmeralda shot a glance down at Darren.

“We’re not related, it’s a guild thing,” exclaimed a wide-eyed Darren.

“I thought I was done with this,” groaned Phineas. “I’m a legitimate businessman now. I’m an arms dealer.”

“Oh, Phineas,” Darren said, coyly, “a legitimate arms dealer, who shifts shipments of his own lord’s weapons into the hands his lord’s enemy’s. Spiders would have trouble spinning the web you’ve woven.”

Phineas smiled through broken teeth, blood dripped from his bottom lip.

“You’re probably gonna need these back.” Darren placed the wooden teeth on the desk.

“Thank you, my boy.” With a wet grunt, Phineas spit blood on the wooden floor. “So, you gonna tell me why I got a beating? Usually you have to demand a question, then I defy you, and then you beat me to a pulp until I talk.”

Darren cracked his knuckles. “Yeah, sorry about that, old chap. That was personal. You have a good, lucrative gig here and you hire that rotten cur of a man, Jacob.”

“He said yes to the job, you were nowhere to be found.”

“Oh, you looked for me first?”

“My best pupil, why wouldn’t I?”

“Thanks, boss.”

Phineas nodded.

“Boys!” shouted Esmeralda.

“What happened to Jacob? You give him a beating too? I haven’t seen him in days. He was my point man on another arms deal.”

Darren shrugged nonchalantly. “He gotten eaten by the thing that attacked the city. I think I saw one of his eyes still blinking at me in it.”

Phineas absently arranged some parchment on his desk. “Shame.” He slapped the edge of the desk with his fingers. “Well, there is an opening now.”



Darren shrank from Esmeralda’s shout. His voice dropped. “Yes, of course. Look, Phineas, we need information on one of your clients. She’s deceased now so you don’t have to worry about her coming for you. We know her as Claire—” Darren turned and motioned to Esmeralda.

“Davanni, Claire Davanni.”

Phineas raised an eyebrow. “Why do you want information on her?”

“Have you not been listening to the word on the street, or has your legitimate business made you blind?” Darren retorted. “She was responsible for the recent terror unleashed on this town just a week ago.”


“That’s the name.”

Phineas shook his head. “Such a good person. Very straightforward, always knew what she wanted and would pay pretty good prices to get it.” Phineas stood from his desk and walked to a bookshelf full of black, leather-bound books. “Quite a shame. She was one of my more reputable customers, never had a problem with her.”

“She apparently took issues with cats,” Darren mumbled.

He pulled a thin leather book. “Ah. Here we go. She wanted a lot of rare earth materials, but nothing that couldn’t be gotten through more legitimate means.”

“So, why did she choose you?” Esmeralda asked, arms folded across her chest.

“Well, she had a specific source she wanted all of the materials from. Some group in the mountains south of here. She sent the money and they sent the materials. There was a lot of correspondence between them as well. I just happened to be the discrete middle man.”

Phineas handed the book to Darren. “You may find something in there. The materials came from specific mining towns to the south. I mean, I could have gotten her the materials she needed from anywhere, maybe even cheaper, but she wanted it from these mountains.” Phineas shrugged. “Brand loyalty, I guess.”

Darren opened the ledger and raised an eyebrow when reading over the coded transactions. “Phineas, you haven’t changed your code in years.”

“Well, no one has cracked it, my boy.”

Darren turn several pages scanning several manifestos. He lifted the book close to Phineas’ face and shut it inches from his nose. Phineas sneezed with a start.

“Thanks, old man.”

“Looking to keep my face intact, my boy.” Phineas smile, but his tone cooled.

Esmeralda reached over the two legitimate thieves’ heads and grabbed the ledger from Darren’s hand. “We will be on our way now.”

“Well, you heard the lady.” Darren feigned a smile to his mentor. He tipped his hat. “Be seeing you. Get a clean cloth for that nose.”

“Will do.” Phineas response was flat.

Darren backed toward the door, when he heard footsteps, a lot of them, heading toward the hall outside.

Darren tilted his head quizzically. “You plan on showing us the way out, Phineas?”

Phineas grinned. His face angled into a scowl. Blood still dripped from his mouth. “You’ll be floating downriver when they are done with you.”

Darren heard a heavy scuffle outside the door. Muffled shouts followed by rushing footsteps. The footsteps halted, Darren heard swords draw. The sounds of repeated blows were followed by heavy thuds.

Phineas stood, his scowl breaking.

Darren smiled at Phineas, locking eyes with him.

There was a heavy thud on the door. It creaked from the wait. Phineas fell into his chair, eyes wide.

More muffled shouting. There was a second heavy thud on the door, the top hinge came lose.

“What?” Phineas mouthed.

“I think you have a complication.” Darren said.

Another heavy thud and the door collapsed. Two burly men, crumpled with it. Marcus stood in the door way, bruised and bloodied, holding a third large man by the back of his neck. The man was unconscious blood flowing from his red-stained hair. Marcus half waved with his free hand.

“All of them?” Phineas’ voiced cracked.

Marcus motioned slightly into the hall. “There are a few more in the hall. Good lads, pretty strong.”

Marcus dropped the man he was holding. He hit the floor with a groan.


Darren bowed with a wild swing of his arm. “We will take our leave now. Thanks for the info, boss.”

Phineas only stared, mouth agape.

Darren enjoyed that.

Marcus presented his hand to Esmeralda. She placed her hand lightly in his and he helped guide her around the bodies and out into the hall.

Darren walked out last, stepping on the groaning bodies.

He stopped at the door frame and winked at Phineas. “Thanks for the help.”

© 2018 C.J. Staryk. All Rights Reserved.

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Capturing the Angry Sea

For all the research trips I have been on, none feel like my days in the coastal North Atlantic. My challenge on every trip had always been a way to capture the grandeur of the ocean. On a November trip, we were assailed by high winds and high seas. The trip was full of difficulties, but I managed to snap this picture while on the back deck. I braced myself against the ship as the waves rocked us and took several photos near the ship’s crane as the sea thrashed us. This photo has it all, the remnants of the waves that rolled over the deck, the angle of the ship, and the horizon high above in the picture. After this picture, I walked into an enclosed work area on the stern deck and a wave smashed into the hull. The water spilled over the covered workspace, inundating the deck where I been snapping pictures. Just a few seconds too late and I would have been soaked and chilled to the bone.


The ship was the R/V Delaware II, a NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) research vessel. She was decommissioned a year or two after this photo. I had spent six cruises and a total of 96 days with the ship and her crew. I developed quite attachment to that rust bucket. Just so many stories to tell.

Also, if you check the Wikipedia page on ocean waves ( there is an older photo of the Delaware II in rough seas. I feel a swell of pride knowing that this humble vessel is even immortalized on Wikipedia. Not a bad fate for a research vessel.


© 2018 C.J. Staryk. All Rights Reserved.

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