In my last post, I mentioned the idea that population immunity, or the total % of the population that has been infected, is a major determinant of COVID-19 spread. I displayed a chart of daily new cases in NYC and compared it to social mobility data, showing an apparent negative correlation between mobility and cases. My assertion is that population-level immunity is more important than many other factors in determining how fast the virus spreads. I’d like to add a little more support for that view here.
Another piece of anecdotal evidence comes from my second home, Los Angeles County:
From the above chart, you can see that the daily new case count peaked in mid July, even though lockdowns were enforced beginning in March, and a mask mandate has been in place since May. Yet from mid July, new cases have been steadily plummeting, even with little or no decrease in mobility since that time:
Now, anecdotal evidence is all well and good, but I much prefer statistical evidence when available, so I pulled some county-level data from a COVID tracking website, with estimates for the Rt value by U.S. county for each date during the crisis.
*I’ll note before giving the results that a more complete analysis than I’ve done would incorporate multiple variables (e.g. mask usage, mobility) to ensure I’m not picking up on secondary effects from correlated variables. Perhaps I’ll look at doing that in the future, but that requires substantially more work.*
I filtered the data to select only counties with a population of at least 250k, which gave me a total of 273 counties. I looked at the (smoothed) Rt values for every Tuesday during the crises, comparing them to the % of the population that had tested positive for COVID by that date. Here’s a scatter plot:
The correlation between these 2 variables is -0.52. Of course, there are many other factors that determine Rt, some of which are mostly random, but population infection rate (immunity) is clearly a large factor. Note that everyone agrees the total number of infected is much greater than the number of cases, though the ratio varies by region. With a 10x multiplier (typical for the U.S., I think) a 2% case rate implies 20% total infected.
Here’s a box plot comparing Rt for all instances above/below a threshold of 2% total case rate:
A statistical comparison of the 2 datasets gives:
The significance stats are somewhat overstated, as successive Tuesday’s numbers for each county will not be truly independent. But I’ve tried running these analyses by “undersampling” the dates (e.g. only using 1 Tuesday per month, or even less), and I still saw strong significance in all tests.
As I mentioned in the previous post regarding NYC, these high case rates don’t indicate real herd immunity. Instead, I suggest we stop thinking about herd immunity as a binary concept, and realize that for places with low population immunity, suppressing the spread is incredibly difficult, regardless of social distancing, masks, etc.
I believe we can now be confident that immunity from COVID-19 lasts for at least 6 months, whether an infection becomes symptomatic or not.
During much of the pandemic, all kinds of doomsayers and worry-warts have cried about COVID immunity disappearing. Here’s a paper that shows recovered patients that never developed symptoms were far more likely to lose their antibodies within 3 months than patients that got sick. With asymptomatic infections currently estimated at 40% of all infections, that could be a real concern.
We’ve also now seen several documented cases of legitimate reinfections:
Recently, though, a team of Chinese scientists published a paper that studied symptomatic COVID patients, showing that antibodies were still detectable 6 months after infection. But that still didn’t answer the question of lasting immunity in asymptomatic patients.
I believe we can safely say immunity will last for 6 months or longer in almost all people who are infected by SARS-CoV-2. Here’s why.
Back in April/May, I had a series of python scripts I ran daily which generated charts from curated COVID data in the U.S. One major phenomenon I noticed was that the trends in deaths/cases in New York were diverging greatly with the rest of the nation. New York deaths steadily dropped, while deaths in the rest of the nation continued to increase for quite a while before they finally peaked.
Given everything we knew at the time, I found this surprising at first. How was it that New York was able to get control of this, given all their inherent disadvantages, while the virus continued to spread around the rest of the country? Were people in NYC social distancing more? Was Andrew Cuomo some kind of hero?
No. Andrew Cuomo is neither a hero nor a competent governor. My hypothesis at the time, which I now believe has shown to be true, was that NYC had reached a level of public immunity necessary to keep the Rt of the virus below 1.0 (update: some more evidence on this). This is not to say they actually reached true herd immunity (which is what I originally thought before any of the seroprevalence studies were published). If NYC were to go back to completely normal, they would almost certainly see a surge in cases. But with some levels of social distancing, they have enough immunity to keep cases from surging.
Here’s a chart of NYC cases over time, smoothed by applying a 7-day moving average:
Now, some people will continue to argue that the real reason cases were brought down and remain low is that NYC is still locked down and citizens are still exercising extreme social distancing. What does the mobility data for NYC, provided by Apple, say about that?
Note that mobility in NYC hit bottom about a month before cases peaked. After the peak, as cases continued to decline, mobility continued to increase. (A couple of caveats: it would be better if the mobility were measured as year-over-year, instead of indexed to Jan 1. Also, the cases shown are impacted by testing availability).
What’s especially important is that even 6 full months after the mobility trough, we haven’t seen any real surge in COVID cases in NYC. If a significant percentage of people infected with COVID were to lose their immunity after 6 months or less, symptomatic or not, we’d almost certainly see some surge in NYC by now.
Given that the number of genuine reinfections worldwide has been limited so far, I’m now guessing that immunity will last a year or more. Of course, that’s less certain at this time.
This is supposed to be a SF blog. Now, you might think SF stands for sci-fi, but that’s not quite right. The well know acronym for sci-fi & fantasy is SFF, which I see as two distinct (though sometimes overlapping, I guess) genres. I write fantasy, but not much sci-fi. I do sometimes talk about actual science, though, so SF = science & fantasy. Not to be confused with science fantasy, which is a blending of the two genres, as in Star Wars.
Anyway, back to the politics! With a dash of science!
So you may have heard of this guy named Trump. This post really isn’t about him, it’ll just seem like it to begin with. Believe me, I’m as sick of him as you are. Anywho, last night I saw a tweet pop up in my timeline that riled me up a little bit:
I’m no fan of Trump, and I believe he’s handled the pandemic poorly, like he’s handled most aspects of his presidency poorly. But the idea that governors and mayors, be they Democrats or Republicans, have failed so badly only because Trump hid information from them is ludicrous.
So I snarked back just a bit:
Yes, the reply tweet with my Amazon receipts is mostly a joke. Even so…
Let’s go through a timeline of events from January to early March. I bet I can convince you that you don’t need a PhD in STEM like me to see that state and local government leaders should have seen this coming, with or without Trump’s actions.
Note that all information laid out below, to the best of my knowledge, was publicly available to everyone on the date provided, not retrieved from a secret government database months later.Oh, except the irrelevant and stupid personal references.
Jan 7, 2020: China announces a cluster of pneumonia cases attributed to a novel coronavirus.
Jan 15: Japan reports a confirmed case of COVID-19.
Jan 20: The U.S. reports its first confirmed case of COVID-19, a man who recently traveled to Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. South Korea reports its first confirmed case, a Chinese woman.
Jan 21: Taiwan reports first confirmed case.
Jan 23: Strict Wuhan lockdown begins. South Korea reports its first case of a resident.
Jan 28: Taiwan reports its first case of local transmission.
Jan 30: The U.S. reports its first case of local transmission, from a man to his wife in Chicago.
Jan 31: Spain reports its first confirmed case, a German tourist. Italy reports 2 cases in Rome, a pair of Chinese tourists. Italy suspends travel to/from China. The U.S. announces travel restrictions to/from China.
Even before February, we’ve already seen reports of local transmission in 3 nations outside of China.Think about what that means, given that most nations lacked reliable tests at that point.
Feb 1: Hong Kong announces that a man who has recently traveled on the Diamond Princess has tested positive for COVID-19. In the following days, after the ship was quarantined, hundreds of passengers would test positive, even though nearly half of the patients had no symptoms at the time.
Feb 4: South Korea suspends travel to/from Hubei Province, China.
Feb 7: Kevin flies from Los Angeles to Milwaukee, getting plenty drunk in the process. But he may have imbibed more than just alcohol that day…
Feb 14: Kevin watches Contagion for the first time ever… WHILE HE WAS SICK, MIND YOU, I WONDER IF THAT COULD BE RELEVANT IN SOME WAY.
Feb 19: Iran announces a cluster of confirmed cases in Qom.
Feb 21: Italy reports its first cluster of local cases (northern Italy).
We’ve already observed clusters of major spread in many parts of the world, even as major nations like the U.S. were failing/refusing to test anyone who hadn’t recently traveled to Wuhan, China, regardless of symptoms.By now, if not earlier (yes, earlier), you should be able to see that the cat is out of the bag, or the genie is out of bottle, or I’m out of booze, or something like that.
Feb 23: Kevin watches Outbreak for the first time since he was a teenager. (it’s just as good as he remembers)
Was that trip down memory lane fun for you? Hope so.
I don’t claim to have predicted that here in September, many of us would still be working from home, or that bars & restaurants would still be closed by government mandate in many places in the U.S. By February 14th, when I had my Valentine’s date with Contagion, I had fully accepted that I would get COVID this year (assuming I didn’t have it already). The infection fatality rate (IFR) for COVID is clearly much higher than the flu, but it now appears to be well under 1%. We know (have known since January) that the IFR is heavily age dependent, and anyone under 65 is highly unlikely to die or even need to be hospitalized. I honestly thought we’d try a few extra precautions, get people to wash their hands more, maybe wear masks at times, then just power through. Hoo boy was I wrong about that part.
On another point, I don’t believe that earlier lockdowns would have been beneficial anywhere in the U.S. except for New York City (eh, maybe Detroit/Chicago). In fact, in places that saw very little early spread, I think early lockdowns may have been harmful. What we really needed was a lot more testing a lot earlier. Even then, the blame lies more with the CDC and the FDA than POTUS or state/local officials.
But the whole point of this dumb post is that if you think public health officials and governors/mayors couldn’t have seen a major pandemic coming without the information available only to POTUS, well… I have something rather insulting to say, but I think I’ll keep it to myself, just this once.
…right about now I understand the hatred, or at least the general disdain for the so-called experts.
Once upon a time, I wrote a book I titled THE OBSIDIAN PYRAMIDS, which featured a villain named Ben Tobagho. In the first few drafts, though, his name was Don Tobagho.
When I started working on this project, I knew that creating interesting villains was one of my weaknesses. My previous antagonists were generally the old-timey, black-and-white, Lord of the Rings I’M EVIL BECAUSE I’M EVIL villains. So I decided to model the antagonist for this book after something I think is really shitty and terrible, and yet is something many people are attracted to for *somewhat* understandable reasons.
And so Don Tobagho was born. A populist leader who had genuine reasons to hate his own enemy, the “enemy of the people” in his own mind.
Now, the thing is, I chose his name only because it sounded dramatic in my mind. Months later, I realized I had heard a similar name, somewhere, sometime (while drunk, imagine that!). Doctor Mantis Toboggan was a pseudonym Danny Devito’s character, Frank Reynolds, played in one or two episodes of Always Sunny. I didn’t mean to steal any such name, it just happened.
Only trouble is, Don Tabagho’s initials are DT. I honestly didn’t even think about this until the third draft, when I considered how other people might view him as a stand in for POTUS. I try to make my books as apolitical as possible, even though I’m still going to take aspects from society that I find interesting. So Tobagho the villain stayed as he was, but Don became Ben.
I’ve written another book since then, with a different villain. I still hate populism, but just right now I’m probably more sympathetic to it than ever. I’ve been following the COVID-19 crisis to an obsessive level. Of course you have, too, but how many spreadsheets and python scripts do you have and update daily? I HAVE MANY MULTIPLE OF THEM.
A few weeks ago I started to record my current thoughts and projections, along with reasons for why I changed my mind on each day. I don’t think anything I’ve recorded looks embarrassingly bad, but here’s the thing: based on yesterday’s new info, I’m more uncertain than ever.
A large group of top-level researchers published a serological test study estimating that Santa Clara county had a COVID-19 prevalence of around 2.5%-4.5%. One of the most confusing elements of this whole thing for me is that this area’s official data show very low prevalence. Given the characteristics of the county, I thought it should be one of the hottest spots in the US, if not the hottest spot. And yet… almost nothing. Officially.
The authors of the paper claim the official data misses a massively large amount of cases. This may be true, but collecting this type of data is really difficult, and who the fuck knows if it’s correct or even means anything. Here’s good check on the issues with the study for anyone who’s interested.
So here’s my takeaway on all of this: not a goddamn one of us knows anything about this, other than that we don’t know much about it. Studying this thing is really hard. Different regions and populations will differ greatly. About the strongest conclusion I can draw from this is that the infection fatality rate (IFR) needs to be put in context. Given the age/health dependency of COVID-19 deaths, each country/state/region/city will be different.
Anywho, bringing this back to my main point about how populism sucks because experts are experts for a reason and science is awesome but some of us suck sometimes, and by that I mean all of us suck most of the time…
Nate Silver is maybe the best known “data scientist” in America. He clearly puts a lot of effort into what he does, but I’ve at times had issues with his methods and thoughts. I’m pulling this chart from his (not his alone, other smart cool people are working on this, too) well-known website:
It’s now been long enough that, even as uncertain as things still remain, we have strong reason to believe these guesses are far too low. Given the death count (undercounted by some unknown amount) 21 days after the date given here (and assuming the average time from infection to death is about 3 weeks, again uncertain, but that’s my best guess as of now), the actual infection rate at this time would be over 2 million.
Now, it would be silly to criticize the “experts” for getting this wrong. I’m from the future here, and I still think the uncertainty on the actual infection prevalence here is really large. But here’s what these amazingly smart (ass) “experts” deserve criticism for, and why maybe, just maybe, we should possibly stop listening to (some of, not all!) these chuckle-fucks: look at the bottom half of that graph. A majority of these experts put their confidence intervals so tight that the best guess we have of the true number now – from the future, with much better information – is so far off that any person would have been willing to bet their life, and the life of everyone they care about, that it could never happen. And yet it appears that it has.
Less than a year before I defended my dissertation and received my PhD, I told my advisor I felt like I knew absolutely nothing. I was an arrogant ass going into college, even more so after I got my MS. And then after a few years working on my own little narrow corner of the research world, and seeing everyone else working on their own, I realized how little I actually knew. And the thing my truly wise advisor said to me when I told him that: that’s it, now you’re ready to become a doctor(ate).
It was a wonderful life lesson that required most of my twenties to learn. This jackass virus has made me feel it even more now than ever. But from goddamn near everything I’ve seen on social media and other sources such as FiveThirtyEight, a whole hella lotta people need to learn that lesson.
I don’t know if we can beat this virus until we do.
Or possibly, I hate NaNoWriMo? I guess it’s all the same, really.
I skipped NaNoWriMo last year, as I was focused on revising THE OBSIDIAN PYRAMIDS, which I’m still trying to sell. I hadn’t planned on doing it this year either, though I’m just over halfway through the first draft of my current WIP, PLAGUE OF CATACLYSMS. But I’ve been writing much slower on this WIP than normal, and I felt I needed some kind of motivation to push me to write more words per day.
When I logged into my account to set up the page for the new WIP, I noticed that I had created a project and tracked my progress for each of the last four manuscripts I’ve written. I hadn’t realized that before looking, but this stretches all the way back to my third MS, THE BOOK OF TERRORS, all the way back in 2012.
I’ve posted on this before, but I’ve never been a binge writer, and haven’t come close to writing the goal of 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo in any previous attempt. My best attempt is only 25,000. Lame, I know.
I can say with full confidence that I’ll never “win” NaNoWriMo, and you know what? Oh, well. I’m sure other people have fun with it, but it really just ain’t my thing. After two days, I have a whole 1,099 words, on pace for 16,485. I do hope to write more than that, as I’m trying to finish the first draft of Plague before the new year. I started the month with 60,000 words, targeting 110-115k for the full first draft. I’d like to return the the Chicago writing convention I’ve attended previously this upcoming summer so I can do at least a couple pitch sessions, and I figure I’ll need at least six months of revision before I’m ready to start querying agents on this MS. This is assuming, of course, I don’t get any offers on Pyramids before then. I just sent out another round of queries to 8 agents this week, and I have 9 left on my list.
If I can match my all-time best of 25,000 words in November, I’ll be pleased, and that should put me on pace to finish in 2019. But we’ll see…
I’m not a big fan of cliches, and the phrase “so close, and yet so far away” has always seemed silly to me. And yet, it describes my most recent experience in querying pretty well.
I’ve been trying to sell my most recent finished manuscript, THE OBSIDIAN PYRAMIDS, for almost a year and a half now. I’ve queried about 35 agents, and I did 2 verbal pitch sessions at a writer’s convention in Chicago last summer. If you haven’t read my earlier posts on this book and others, THE OBSIDIAN PYRAMIDS is the seventh full MS I’ve completed, and the fourth book I’ve queries agents on.
At the end of January this year, I received my first ever request as a reply to a query. I sent in the current version of the MS, and a little over 3 months later, the agent responded with a revise and resubmit request. She said she loved the concept, and that the MS had a ton of potential, but gave me two general criticisms on the writing (too much internal dialogue, and not enough description to go along with the external dialogue). I spent almost two months revising based on those comments, then sent in the new draft at the end of June.
This morning, I received a reply to the submission. Sadly, a rejection. The agent did say she thought I did a good job of revising based on her feedback, so at least I have that to provide some level of comfort.
I went from a 100% rejection rate in the slush pile to an R&R and (I think) almost an offer with a single agent. So close. And yet, now I’m essentially back to square one. I have about 15 agents remaining on my list for THE OBSIDIAN PYRAMIDS, and none of them have ever heard from me before. Starting over from scratch, so far away from getting an offer.
I was a pantser. Full on discovery writer, gardener, whatever you wish to call it. With my first two books, I started writing them. That’s it. I started with word one and just kept going.
Many years later, I consider myself a pretty heavy plotter/outliner. I HAVE MANY SPREADSHEETS.
Someday, I should talk about my evolution in this aspect as a writer, but that’s a much longer, more involved blog post. For this, I simply want to put down in words as it happens, in case this goes horribly wrong, or horribly right, what I’m experimenting with on my new WIP.
Back in 2007, when I was still (sort of) young, when I started writing my first book, for a few days, I tried writing two books. At the same time. When I’d never written (finished) a book before. Seriously.
It was dumb. I gave the unfinished book a working title of Hell’s Gate. I think I wrote about 10,000 words in it, but unlike every other MS, I tried writing it out of order. It’s a strange concept to me now, and I found with that it was much easier to stick with my other project, The Doorway, by writing linearly. Like normal. Strange, but…
I’m doing it again. Kind of.
I’ve been working on my newest creation, Plague of Cataclysms, for some time now. Way too long, given that I haven’t started writing the first draft yet. But I have written a few scenes. I’ve decided to try playing around with each POV character at once, in her/his opening scene. And heavily revising before moving on, which is something I never really do.
I’m doing it because I want to work on character voices before I really dive in, and also because I want to practice with some fundamental aspects of writing I think I’m weak on. I’m not sure how this will impact the finished product, but I hope it makes me a better writer in the long run.
The outline is far from finished, and I still have worldbuilding details to work on. I count what I have as the zeroth draft. I feel like I’m pretty deep in this thing, but I still don’t count this as a start of the WIP.
So I guess the question is: Am I pantsing or plotting? In between? Or some freaky, mutant combination of the two?
I’ve spent more time working on my most recent MS, The Obsidian Pyramids, than any other book in my past. It even feels like I’ve spent more time on this one than the others combined. Unfortunately, the querying process hasn’t gone much better than before (though I did at least receive a couple personalized rejections for the first time ever, so maybe I should count that as a win).
But the world moves on, and the time approaches when I need to focus on the next project. I’ve worked on my next book a fair amount (mostly pre-writing), but I haven’t been able to get myself to stick with it consistently like I have in the past. Part of that is my career – I started a big, new project a month ago and I’ve been devoting most of my evenings working on it. But the hardest part is convincing myself I’ll find more success with book 8 than numbers 1-7. Creating a novel takes a lot of time and effort, and it can be hard to ignore distractions and put words to page (screen? hard disk?) when I expect only a handful of people will ever read it.
Still, I must push forward. I am excited about the premise, and I think the characters should be pretty awesome, but even though I’ve spent a good deal of time “designing” them, and I know about them, I don’t know them, know them yet. Not like my already-written characters. These new people seem so distant right now.
Anyway, I just sent out round 3 of queries for TOP, so now I hope I can get myself to fully focus on my new WIP, The Plague of Cataclysms. At the very least, I think I’m winning with the title…
As in pitching a book to a lit agent in a pitch session, not baseball. Though the Brewers pitching staff has been quite good this year, especially the bullpen.
I’m headed down to Chitown tomorrow to my first writers conference, and I signed up for two pitch sessions with agents. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but as it’s now here, I wonder what I was thinking when I decided I would try to sell my work by talking to people. In person. Oops.
Anyway, I’ve seen some conflicting advice regarding how to go about the pitch, so I probably won’t do it right. My pitch is about 45 seconds in length, provided I don’t break down in tears in the middle and need time to recover. When I was in college and needed to give presentations, even including a couple at academic conferences in foreign countries, I always thought I did a pretty decent job, and never really felt that uncomfortable. But with those, I had visual aids to help guide my thoughts, and the stakes weren’t quite as high if I did a poor job. It mattered, but it didn’t mean crippling rejection over a book I slaved away for 17 months on.
Oh, and I wasn’t sitting directly in front of a single person who will probably want nothing more than for me to leave so she can get the damn day over with.
But we’ll see how it goes. I’m stuffing a portable box of wine in my laptop bag so I can start drinking the instant I’m done shaming myself.
After 17 months of hard work on my most recent MS, The Obsidian Pyramids, I sent out my first round of queries seven weeks ago; four rejections so far, but I’m still waiting to hear on four others. I also decided to enter #QueryKombat last minute. We’re supposed to hear who made the cut (64 out of 428 entries will make the tourney) next Friday.
I’ll try to keep track of my query adventures here, starting by posting the current version of my query and the first page of my MS (this is essentially the submission to #QueryKombat).
Twelve obsidian pyramids have stood since before memory, conferring arcane powers upon those who seek them out. Most who pursue them become Endowed, acquiring one of twelve special abilities. But a few unlucky initiates are instead marked – physically and spiritually – as Accursed, and are treated as little more than animals, thought to possess stained souls.
Alaeric Helskor is one of those unlucky few. After years traveling lost and alone, he’s visited by a mysterious shadow-woman who grants him the unique ability to temporarily siphon Endoweds’ powers – but only after he’s slain an Endowed of matching ability. Promising him redemption, she convinces him to travel to Lake Celes, where a self-proclaimed prophet named Ben Tobagho has taken control of ancient ruins that contain the secrets of the pyramids and their creation.
After an Endowed poisoned his daughter years ago, revenge sparked in Tobagho’s heart; he now plots the destruction of the pyramids and the end of the Endowed, playing on the fears and jealousy of normals – men and women who’ve never visited the pyramids. When the shadow-woman prompts Alaeric to steal a mystical artifact from within the ruins, he quickly makes himself Tobagho’s enemy.
As Tobagho’s vitriolic message spreads and his power grows, Alaeric becomes caught in the middle of the ensuing war between Endowed and normals. To save the pyramids, and the shadow-woman who granted him his powers, he must expose Tobagho as a fraud. But the prophet holds all the cards, and Alaeric must decide if redemption is worth his life.
THE OBSIDIAN PYRAMIDS is a 110,000 word adult high fantasy that melds the western-style setting and innovative magic of Brandon Sanderson’s THE ALLOY OF LAW and the morally flawed yet likeable characters of Scott Lynch’s THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES.
I work as a portfolio manager for Crabel Capital Management, and I earned my B.S, M.S., and Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from Marquette University. My greatest writing influences include Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, and Jim Butcher.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Alaeric pressed his body against the rock outcropping that concealed him, fingers wrapped around the hilt of his sword. He controlled his breathing, keeping it slow and calm. The eerie silence of the late afternoon was loud in his ears.
Below, the woman who’d been tracking him picked her way along the gully. Her blood-red hair stirred as a slight breeze picked up, and she glanced around, eyes wide and alert for anything – not the look of someone who assumed she was alone. Days since he discovered her, this was the first time he’d managed to gain the advantage and get a good look at her.
She was quite striking. Beautiful, even. She wore tight, black leather pants and a matching jacket, with a small bedroll strapped to her back. She walked with an otherworldly grace, one that made her appear out of place among the stunted plants and rocky, dry terrain. Like a thorny, vibrant flower in a dying, unkempt garden.
A Dancer. No doubt about it. She floated over the uneven ground Alaeric had stumbled and struggled his way through a few hundred heartbeats earlier. A high-level Dancer, at that. Too high for Alaeric to sense how many pyramids she’d seen.
This complicated things. For a time, when he first noticed the signs, he’d wondered if he was imagining the woman’s presence in his wake. The djinn knew he was having a fuck of a time distinguishing real threats from fake these days. But even when he’d convinced himself someone was tracking him, he’d still held out hope it was a simple brigand. Simple, but persistent. Alaeric may not have looked like much of a target, but out here, in the lonely and vicious Miraji Desert, some folks were desperate.