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The Legion of Angels series by Ella Summers is awesome.
Imagine the fall of our world is caused by superior beings called “Gods” and their enemies called “Demons” arriving and using Earth as a battlefield.
Imagine the kindness of the Gods, when they give the surviving cities protection in the form of magitech (a form of magic and steam technology) to raise barriers around them.
Imagine how wondrous the Gods must be, for deigning to protect us against the monsters they created to fight the demons. The monsters that went wrong, the creatures they lost control of.
Imagine the Legion of Angels. Is Leda Pierce impressed?
Yeah… not so much.
A Merkiaari Wars snippet by Mark E. Cooper
At the same time as Sebastian watched the Shan from afar, he observed Liz Brenchley hard at work on his special project. She was leaning on her office holotable, her elbows on the brightly lit surface displaying a schematic of his ship’s engineering spaces.
Liz cupped her face in her hands and groaned.
Sebastian manifested his avatar on the opposite side of the table and mimicked her posture.
Liz said, “Eeeep!”
It surprised a laugh from him.
She stood straight and gave him a mock glare. “I’m going to put a bell on you if you don’t stop sneaking up on me.”
“I’d like to see you try.”
“Don’t tempt me. I’d figure out a way.”
An audible alert to track activation of the holo emitters would work; simple to set up on her comp as well, but he would never tell her. It was too much fun popping in and out.
“What are you working on?”
Liz waved a hand at the table. “Your ship. The mods are way too complicated.”
“It’s the level of automation you’ve specified.”
“What about it?”
“It’s overly complicated for starters, and unnecessary to the ship’s operation.”
“It isn’t a standard vessel. Naval SOP doesn’t apply here. Think of it as a mobile Oracle Facility. You wouldn’t install me into something I couldn’t control, would you?”
“There are no buts.”
“There are!” Liz protested. “Oracle isn’t crewed. The ship is. You can’t expect your crew to sit on their hands all day, or sleep until you need them for something. We need to create a symbiosis between you as a ship, and your crew as people. They’re not passengers, and they’re not droids. You can’t treat them like that.”
Sebastian pursed his lips. “Actually…”
“But the Merkiaari use hibernation all the time.”
“They’re Merki. You won’t have a crew if you ask that of them. Humans have needs, Sebastian. We need to feel useful and appreciated.”
“I know,” he said a little defensively. “I feel the same.”
“Then put yourself in their place. You’ll want volunteers to go with you. That means they’ll need jobs that interest them, and make them feel needed. And besides, it reduces the mods I need to make.”
“You just don’t want to do the work,” he accused.
She raised a hand. “Guilty as charged, but it’s not that I don’t want to do the work, it’s that I don’t want to do unnecessary work.”
“What do you consider unnecessary?”
“The level of automation is off the charts. If I use your specs, you won’t need a crew at all, because I’ll be building an Excalibur-shaped recon drone.”
That hit home, and Sebastian had to consider Liz might have a point. Drones could be dispatched instead of a ship, but they were limited in scope. His child wouldn’t be happy piloting a drone. He or she would have the same emotional needs as Sebastian himself did. They would be identical twins, at least at first. He knew precisely what his child needed to be happy and feel fulfilled.
Find the Merki homeworld, and turn it into Kushiel’s twin.
“What do you suggest?”
“You had the right idea regarding CIC, helm control, and tactical. It makes perfect sense for you to control your own sensors, manoeuvring, and defence at need, but I think you should still man your bridge.”
“Not a very efficient use of personnel,” Sebastian said.
“That wasn’t a no,” Liz replied.
“I’m open to persuasion. What else have you got?”
“Your crew will be vipers I assume.”
“I imagine so.”
“Then the entire ship should be retrofitted with neural interfaces to allow them to operate ship’s systems remotely the way you do. It means you’ll have backup while reducing crew numbers.”
“Makes sense, but you’re increasing your workload not reducing it.”
“That’s not much of an issue. My guys did it on a smaller scale a few years ago.”
“Our courier ships you mean.”
Liz nodded. “This job is bigger. Courier ships are small and unarmed, but it’s just a matter of scale not complexity. I can do it no sweat.”
“You’ll be able to link with your crew via the net just as you can reach the vipers now, but you’ll still have all the holo projectors you asked for. You’ll be able to project your avatar anywhere on board to interact with them that way if you want.”
“Your crew will operate and maintain the ship in the usual way. You’ll have the normal complement in engineering with the full set of droids an Excalibur class heavy normally carries. You’ll be able to control those in a pinch, but all being well you shouldn’t need to intervene.”
Sebastian studied the schematics and thought about it.
“It allows the crew to be useful, Sebastian, not just cargo,” Liz pleaded anxiously. “Come on, I know you can see that’s an advantage. You’ll look after each other. You’ll be partners.”
He looked up at that. Did she realise how much he craved social interaction? He didn’t think so. Gina knew, but Liz didn’t have a neural interface. He’d never been intimate with her the way he’d been with Gina. He’d quite literally lived in her head during his installation under The Mountain.
Sebastian knew Gina better than she did. He had perfect recall, and had a copy of everything she’d ever thought. Every memory, every dream and emotion she’d ever had was lovingly codified and saved in his centrum. Safe for eternity. His friend would live forever in him. His saviour would never be forgotten while he lived.
“You want me to approve your changes?” Sebastian finally said. His brief introspection had gone unnoticed, though thousands of nanoseconds had passed.
“There’s no point continuing if you don’t.”
“Very well. I approve,” he said. “The next step is acquiring a ship.”
“Not informing George?”
“Not yet. He’ll have questions and we don’t have all the answers yet.”
Liz frowned. “Who does?”
“If anyone can jack an Excalibur under the navy’s nose, it would be him.”
“Quite,” Sebastian said. “OSI will be my next stop.”
“You’re going now?”
“I’m already there,” Sebastian said, and smiled.
Mark E. Cooper
A Merkiaari Wars snippet by Mark E. Cooper
The snow fell gently to hide the slaughter. Not a breath of wind disturbed the peace of the dead. The blackened craters were turning white again, and the red ice had finally succumbed. So much blood spilled. It seemed impossible to hide it all.
A Titan in the distance patrolled the tree line. It turned a searchlight on to spear the night and fired its PPC at something in the forest. A tree crashed to the ground and another took light, its resinous sap eagerly fuelling its own pyre. The searchlight wandered back and forth for a few moments before going dark. Silence returned as the pilot continued his patrol.
Tei’Shima sat quietly crying in the dark, watching the snowflakes add their weight to hide the horrors of war. Her tears sparkled blue in the light of the stasis cabinets all around her. In the Harmonies hundreds of kah on the battlefield stared at the ground where they’d died. They didn’t care that their corpses were no longer there.
Tei’Shima had never seen so many kah in one place. The battlefield was thick with them. Some hovered above craters as if standing upon ghostly ground. Some had already joined their ancestors, while others fought their dissolution as hard as they’d fought for anything in life. Merkiaari or Human or Shan. None would win this fight.
Mark E. Cooper
Julia rose out of the dream realm like a tired swimmer from the depths. She opened her eyes panting and gasping. Sweat rolled off her in rivers despite her chattering teeth. Her entire body ached with need. A need that if fulfilled would kill her as sure as a sword in the gut.
It was her personal poison. She needed it. It was killing her. Yet without it she’d die screaming in agony. The need was worse than the pain. It was two edged. She needed it like oxygen, and also needed it to find Renard. That elusive dead man she could only meet in the dream realm. He’d shown her possibilities she needed to know to survive the coming conflict with Mortain. She’d accept any amount of pain to keep Keverin safely by her side.
Julia stared at the clouds, nerving herself to go back. She needed a moment in the real world. She’d spent years in the dream, learning how to make it show her what she wanted, yet out here less than a season ago she’d been dancing with Keverin in the palace. Time ran different there. She needed these lucid moments to remember he was alive. Not dead, or old, or crippled. She needed to remember the terrible visions she’d relived over and over for years were only dreams. Just shadows of shadows. They could be averted. Would be averted, when she went back and tracked Renard down.
Julia turned her head to study her escort, and fix the moment in her memories. She needed the imagery for navigating the dream. Most were mounted, some walked. All wore tan leather tunics and trousers. The closest ones had colourful beads decorating their clothes. They rattled as they walked. The noise was soothing, and the colours bright to her tired eyes. They were shamen. The warriors didn’t have noisy beads; they had swords sheathed at hips, but wore them the way Hasians did, hanging from a belt not thrust into a sash like her adopted people. They had round shields hooked to saddles, and carried spears with one end resting in their stirrups. Everyone had feathers or beads in their hair.
Julia licked cracked lips. She rolled her head back to see the sky. She was burning up, yet shook with cold. The furs heaped over her should be stifling, but shivers wracked her exhausted body. She couldn’t move her arms. The travois she lay upon bounced and swayed as the horse dragged it over frozen snow-covered ground. Kerrion had tied her onto it with ropes to prevent convulsions and a fall, but she felt trapped not safer.
The sky above was still grey and contemplating whether to drop its contents on her or not. Why not, she thought sluggishly. She’d had worse than a little snow, and it might cool her down. A spike of pain crackled through her poor body, and she took a ragged breath to scream. She gritted her teeth so hard she feared they might shatter. No dentists out here. The thought might have been funny if the fear hadn’t been so real. She held her breath and grunted. Better than a scream. Screams attracted attention and more tancred. She needed it. Badly needed it, but she wasn’t ready to go back to the dream.
Julia released her breath as the pain ebbed, and tears leaked from her burning eyes. She couldn’t wipe them away and the realisation made her sob harder. What a stupid thing to cry over. She should save her tears for her humiliation at not being able to clean herself, or for the pain, or for her dual addictions. All were worthy of tears. Tancred would kill her, but so would magic one day according to Lucius. Both were addictions she couldn’t live without.
She strained to satisfy one of her cravings, but her personal talisman remained just out of reach. The Olympic medal spun and glittered, sending its promise of power deep into her psyche along with it’s golden light. There it sat in her mind’s eye, mocking her behind its invisible wall of tancred. She lunged for it, and felt the slippery surface of the wall beneath imaginary fingers. She tried again, and again, and again, unaware of the grunts of effort each attempt elicited from her cracked lips.
“Oh God, not again,” Julia whispered as pain crackled through her body. “Hnnnoooooo!” she screamed, unable to hold it in.
Julia panted and turned into a wet noodle, unable to do anything but breathe. That had been her own damn fault for trying something so stupid. What would she have done with her magic anyway? Kill herself probably. Maybe she could just hold it, the craving whispered, tempting her to keep trying. She could hold it and not use it. The second wave of pain arrived to punish her thoughts. She’d made it worse by exerting herself.
“Hnnnoooooo!” she screamed. “Hnnnoooooo!”
Kerrion arrived with a bottle of tancred, she eagerly accepted the offering like a baby sucking on her mother’s teat. She clamped the damn thing between her teeth to prevent him withdrawing it, and whimpered when he refused to tip it high enough to get more than a taste. The pain was building. She sucked on the bottle, but barely a dribble entered her mouth. She had to let it go.
“You still have pain?” Kerrion said, sounding shocked.
Julia nodded weakly, and panted as the agony ebbed.
Kerrion offered the bottle again, and this time tipped it a little higher. She got a real taste this time. The acrid fumes flooded her mouth, and the drug burned its way down her throat to lodged sullenly in her belly. Tancred, the disgusting, addicting, life-giving, pain-numbing, elixir she hated.
He withdrew the bottle.
“Oh God thank you… thank you… thank you,” she whispered as tears leaked from her eyes.
“How do you feel now?” Kerrion asked kindly.
“Terrible,” she croaked.
“You still have pain?”
Another cramp hit. “Hnnn! Yesssss,” she gasped.
“I cannot heal this with magic. If I increase the strength of the drug, you’ll never be free of it. You could die.”
“It’s… it’s all right… I’ve had… I’ve had worse,” she gasped.
Kerrion looked sceptical.
Julia didn’t have the energy to explain her history with tancred. She wanted Kev to hold her like last time. He’d cradled her in his arms, and talked to her while she screamed Malcor’s walls down. His voice and touch had saved her sanity. She needed him to do it again.
“I want Keverin,” she pleaded. “Please. Take me to Kev. I need him.”
“Your man?” Kerrion asked.
Julia managed a jerky nod.
“I don’t know where he is. Do you know of a Hasian named Navarien?”
“Yes… he… hnnn!” she gritted her teeth to prevent the scream escaping. “He was the general—the leader that tried to take Athione—my home from us. I killed his men and sent him back to the Hasa.”
“Well done! This man is killing my people, everyone in the north. He’s a vile creature that kills his own men and laughs while he does it. He allows them to use children for sport and—”
“No,” she whispered tiredly. Her head rolled from side to side. Her strength was fading. “He’s my enemy, but he’s an honourable man. A very great general for his people. He spared Lucius… my friend… I need Kev. Take me home to Kev. I need… need him. Take me home.”
“How can you say that?” another voice said, one out of Julia’s sight. “He’s a monster! Thousands are dead in the north; their corpses left unburned and covered by snow.”
“I say it because it’s true. I watch Navarien in the mirror sometimes. I know he…” she grunted as another cramp hit her. “…he’s an honourable man.”
“Let her rest, Darnath.”
Kerrion offered the bottle again, and Julia gratefully sucked down another vile mouthful. She hated herself for being weak, but she needed it to leave the fucked up shell her body had become. She was done here. If she couldn’t have Kev in this world, she’d have him in the next. In the dream realm. She was so done here.
The pain receded, or was it her? She was still awake, sort of, but everything was hazy and disjointed. She was on her way out. Kerrion walked by her side and talked to another shaman, but his voice faded in and out. The world slowed to a crawl. She watched a snowflake hover before her eyes seemingly suspended in time. She wasn’t dreaming yet; she was almost sure she wasn’t. Another snowflake replaced the first and slowly made its way to land on her face. She blinked it free of her eyelashes, but another joined it.
Kerrion’s hand appeared an inch at a time like a stop motion film, and brushed them away.
She blinked fuzzily up at him. “Your poor face.” He was hideously burned. “So sorry about your face. Bet… bet that must’ve hurt.”
Kerrion shook his head in puzzlement.
Julia was floating now. She eagerly embraced it. This was it, she was going. She floated gently into the sky. If she reached over there—a place in her head—she could fly away to Athione. She could see exactly how to do it, though she’d never tried anything like that before. The pattern was there, bright and glorious.
Oh… she could fly away to Kev for real if only the gold thing would come to her. She fumbled for it, but it kept getting away. She nearly had it a couple of times, but it squirted from her grasp like a piece of slippery soap.
Julia let the drug have its way, and drifted above the troop carrying her empty body away. She looked down at the pathetic thing on the travois and pitied it. Small broken little girl. She looked away to the horizon and felt her heart’s desire calling to her. She felt him there. The drag marks in the snow led straight to him. He was just a thought away.
Keverin enfolded her in his strong arms. It was a memory, but one she could make real in the dream realm. It had been night. Atop one of Athione’s towers. The huge banners flapped and cracked above and behind them. She heard them… there… She felt him enfold her in his arms from behind… there… and she turned in the circle of his arms to look up at his face…
Nearly there… and…
Mark E. Cooper
Ripped from our world to theirs, will she be their savior or their destroyer?
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Julia stood outside Athione’s vault. The steel barred gate stood a pace or two ahead, and beyond it the wooden door Darius had warded. Davos stood guard nearby. He couldn’t see her of course, but she smiled at him automatically. He was Moriz’s son-in-law.
The memory of Moriz’s death crashed into her, and anger flooded her mind. Rage as hot as a smithy’s forge flashed into her thoughts, and the world wobbled. That’s what it felt like. It wobbled and flexed around her. The walls rippled as if she were a rock tossed into a pond. She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself.
Since coming here she’d experienced these spells of unreasoning anger a few times. Living through disaster after disaster without being able to change the outcomes were part of it, but it was also knowing nothing she did here in dreams mattered. She was Demophon’s captive. She felt like a brain in a box without a body, dreaming of real life but unable to experience it.
Julia breathed deeply and centred her thoughts on Keverin. He was her anchor. Remembering his strength and love for her always worked. In her mind they danced and danced and danced, holding each other forever, the music never ending. Never apart. Never alone. He was like her universe. She’d been brought to Deva by Darius for him, and she’d stayed for him, and she’d fought for him, and she’d die for him, and…
The world flexed once more and slammed back into solidity. Moriz and Halbert were gone. They were with Udall and so many other dear friends. Gideon would say they were at God’s side now. Was it wicked of her to hope He would send them back? Like Dirl, Kev’s ancestor, Moriz and Halbert would find each other again and get up to mischief together. That way she might find them. It was wicked and self-centred, but she prayed for them to come back to her.
The world tilted and rocked under her feet.
Julia sighed and stopped thinking that way. It was wrong, and… it was wrong. She couldn’t heal death, and certainly not without magic. In this place, she might summon their spirits and trap them here without knowing it. She didn’t know enough to say it wasn’t possible. It was a world of dreams after all. Anything might happen here.
Mark E. Cooper