Culture Shock, SIM 11 and more …

22 Oct

Hi, everyone

Good news first – I’ve completed the first draft of Culture Shock, Book 13 of The Empire’s Corps. I plan to do the editing and upload it on Monday, although I’ve caught a little cold and this may be delayed (hopefully not before I go to the US on Thursday.) The provisional title for Book 14 is Wolf’s Bane.

Culture Shock Chris changes

And, seeing I keep being asked these questions, the next project is The Sergeant’s Apprentice (SIM 11) and Work Experience will be out in audio format on 4th December, barring accidents or unexpected problems.

My current planned schedule is The Sergeant’s Apprentice, We Lead, The Zero Blessing (new YA series, something I wanted to try earlier) and The Fists of Justice.

And remember, this is probably the last week to reserve a book at HONORCON. See you there!


Book Review: MAGA Mindset

20 Oct

MAGA Mindset: Making YOU and America Great Again

-Mike Cernovich

In the last few months, much has been written – including by yours truly – about the rise of Donald Trump. Attempts have been made to explain his appeal, ranging from paeans to his political skill to appalled denunciations of anyone willing to say, in public, that he (or she) is a Trump Voter. Even when Trump appears to flounder, his campaign picks itself up and keeps going. This book tells you why.

MAGA Mindset is not specifically about Trump, although – as you might have guessed – it discusses Trump and his appeal in some detail. Instead, it is a background study of the present-day cultural conflict – I would really call it a civil war – within America and, in at least some aspects, the rest of the West. Such an assessment is long overdue, yet often lacking. Politics, as always, cast a long shadow over any such assessment.

Trump is, at least to some extent, the inevitable end result of the current political and cultural situation. Having secured their grip on power, the elites – both Republican and Democratic – have used the power of social disapproval to crush their opposition. Accusations of everything from racism to Islamophobia have been used to suppress dissent, lives have been ruined by daring to question the religion of social justice. Worse, in a sense, a new racism has been spreading, a racism directed at straight white men.

Ironically, this is a direct result of social justice campaigns. By fanning the flames of identity politics, the SJWs created their own enemies. White nationalism is fuelled by a sense that whites are the victims, not perpetrators. One may argue that this isn’t actually true, but it doesn’t matter. In politics, perception is all that matters.

When legitimate complaints get ignored, people get mad. Trump was smart enough to understand that the GOP had left countless voters – its own voters – feeling excluded and ballsy enough to court them himself.

Why did this happen? Cernovich argues that the RNC ‘Cuckservatives’ effectively betrayed their own voters. There is some truth in this. At the same time, I think this goes a little further than Cernovich suggests. The elites already had it all – they didn’t want or need to rock the boat. It was easier for them to do nothing, to refuse to take a stand. On one hand, they were fearful of being accused of Bad Think – racism, for example; on the other, the last thing they wanted was someone proving that they weren’t needed. Their attacks on Trump were fuelled by an awareness that Trump’s success undermines their position, even if Trump loses. Trump has already shattered their grip on power. And don’t they know it.

Cernovich argues, moving away from Trump to some extent, that one can accomplish anything with the right mindset. One can only be defeated if one accepts defeat. Trump’s success comes from two factors – the willingness to dream big and the willingness to keep going, even after setbacks. He is correct in many ways – but Big Government works hard to make it difficult. Fighting them can be immensely demoralising. But we have to carry on regardless.

This is a historic election. And this book goes quite some way towards explaining why.

Even if you don’t like Trump, even if you recoil in horror at the thought of President Trump taking office next year, you need to read this book.

Parking Wardens, Good Faith and the Decline in Society

18 Oct

Ok, true (and somewhat delayed, because I needed to know the outcome) story.

A few weeks ago, my wife, my son and I drove down to Scarborough to attend Fantasycon by the Sea 2016. We arrived, as planned, on Thursday and parked outside the hotel. A passing parking warden was kind enough to explain that I needed to buy a parking permit from the hotel, allowing me to park there for 24hrs. So I went into the hotel, checked in, bought the ticket and placed it under the window. Everything seemed to be in order, so we went to the hotel and found our room.

On Saturday, I went out of the hotel, with the new parking permit, to discover – horror of horrors – that a parking warden had slapped a ticket on my car.

I was livid. I’d purchased two permits so far and there was nothing wrong with the way I was parked. (The parking warden I’d met certainly hadn’t said there was anything wrong.) To add insult to injury, something was wrong with the packaging – the damp had seeped into the ticket, making it hard to read. So I read the parking ticket in the car, feeling my temper going through the roof. £50? £25 if I paid ASAP? I’d bought a parking permit, damn it! And it was clearly visible.

I went back to the hotel, only to be told I needed to either go to the town hall or send the parking wardens an email. The town hall was very close, but – it being Saturday – it was closed. (I think the guy at the front desk just wanted to get rid of me, as I doubted the town hall would be open right from the start.) So I went back to my room and sent the council an email, pointing out that I did have a permit. Four hours later, I went back to the car and guess what?

Another parking ticket!

I moved the car forward, just in case that was offending the passing wardens. I put the ticket by the driver’s seat, just in case that was causing them to miss it (although I thought it was polite to put it on the pavement side, rather than on the road side). And I sent another email, repeating my earlier inquiry.

Nothing happened for the rest of our stay – we left on Monday. I wondered, as we drove home, if the car had been parked poorly after all. But it wasn’t until a week later that I received a pair of emails from the council, explaining that the permit(s) hadn’t been filled in perfectly – I’d marked the day, month and week, but I’d missed the year. I was even more livid when I read the email – lucky, they were prepared to waive the fee if I sent them the tickets. (Or I could surrender and pay two lots of £25.)

Now, I needed those permits for tax purposes, so I sent the permits (or what I thought were the permits) back to the council. I included a stamped postcard they could send to confirm they had arrived and a SAE, so they could return them.

Fast forward a few days. I get another pair of emails, one waiving a charge and the other insisting I still had to pay (basically, a repeat of the first email). I sent back another email, pointing out that I’d sent both permits. They responded, eventually, by saying I’d sent the wrong permit. (THIS TIME, they told me something useful … like, you know, the number on the permit.) At which point, I sent them the correct permit …

And a day or so later I got told that both charges had been cancelled. And they still had to be prodded to return all three permits. (God alone knows what happened to the postcard, as I never got it.)

Victory for me, right?

Well, yeah … at the cost of roughly £7 in stamps and a small amount of time wasted answering emails, sorting out what to send (twice) and then nagging them to return the parking permits. About the only consolation I have is that the council and their parking wardens didn’t get a penny. Which is good, right?

The thing that bugs me about the whole affair is this – I acted in good faith.

Now, good faith is doing everything in your power (within reason) to do something. If I post someone a cheque on Monday, knowing it has to be there by Friday, I have every reason to assume that the letter will reach its destination before the deadline. The letter being delayed because of something outside my power (a postal strike, for example) is not my fault – I still acted in good faith. If I have sufficient funds in my bank account to pay the cheque, it is not my fault the cheque bounces; if the payee doesn’t pay it in on time, it is not my fault the funds don’t reach their account by the deadline.

If I had parked outside the hotel without paying for the permit, gambling that no wardens would wander past (a dangerous gamble in Scarborough, where they were prowling around like vultures looking for wounded prey), I would have deserved the parking ticket. That’s not disputable. I would have gambled and lost. But to slap a parking ticket on my car because of a pettifogging insistence on pointless rules …

No one, least of all me, would dispute that some mistakes are fatal, that some mistakes are so bad that the person who committed it cannot be allowed another chance. But this was not one of them. If the parking warden who’d put the first ticket on the car had scribbled a note to explain the problem, it could have been fixed. Instead, I had to waste a great deal of time that I really did not have to spare.

And I think I can safely say I have no intention of returning to Scarborough.

I’m pretty sure a few people reading this are not going to be impressed with the above statement. Scarborough existed for centuries before I was born and will probably be around for centuries after everyone has forgotten I ever existed. But consider this – I spent roughly £800-£1000 in Scarborough; buying books, buying food, buying ice cream on the beach … and last, but not least, paying for our hotel room. A certain percentage of that money will be taxed, a certain percentage will go into the council’s coffers. If I don’t return next year, local businesses will lose income and thus the council will lose tax.

This is small potatoes, of course. I doubt that the council will even notice a drop in the bucket (realistically, it’s smaller than a drop). But what happens if hundreds of other tourists do the same? What happens if the advantages of visiting Scarborough – which is a pretty little town, with lovely beaches – are negated by the hassle of having to explain to the council that you were legitimately parked? Or having to pay out a chunk of money because the council doesn’t accept your explanations? Is the prospect of claiming a ‘mere’ £25 worth the indirect costs levelled on the town?

Bureaucrats are a necessary evil. Barmy bureaucrats kill. (And yes, sometimes literally.)

It is episodes like these which wear down trust in government. To have to argue the obvious with a bureaucrat, to have to explain that there is no case or that everyone involved acted in good faith … it’s pointless, it’s soul-destroying and it’s killing us.

And then people wonder why parking wardens and taxmen are regarded as little more than parasitic vermin.

A Question of Experience

16 Oct

One of the claims made by Hillary Clinton’s supporters is that she has plenty of useful experience to support her, when (if) she assumes the position of President of the United States. And yes, on the face of it, Hillary’s resume is impressive …

And yet, when I was looking at her Wikipedia page (I was researching for something altogether different), something kept nagging at my mind.


Hillary had held many positions, some quite senior. But she has never been in a post with “the buck stops here” responsibility.

George W. Bush was Governor of Texas. Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas. George HW Bush was Director of Central Intelligence. Ronald Reagan was Governor of California. Jimmy Carter was Governor of Georgia. With the exception of Obama, about which more later, you have to look as far back as Gerald Ford to find a President without “the buck stops here” experience. And Ford was never expected to be President.

Now, there are certain kinds of experience that can be used in multiple roles. Eisenhower’s experience in WW2 prepared him for his term as President. He had a lot of experience with senior military officials, the logistics of war, foreign concerns and (among other things) knew when his advisors were trying to snowball him. This is, of course, sometimes a major problem – Jefferson Davis (who can reasonably be counted as a major US political figure) acted as his own Secretary of War, which caused headaches for the CSA).

Hillary Clinton does not have this sort of experience.

She was a Senator, true (and famously pledged to concentrate on her people before deciding to run for President in 2008). Bear in mind that she ran for a very safe democratic seat. I don’t think she faced a real contest before the 2008 battle for the nomination. Regardless, Senators are rarely in “the buck stops here” positions. I don’t believe she was ever in a position when she had to make a decision and stick to it, let alone face the consequences of her actions. The way politicians respond to crises is inherently unpredictable, but Hillary was never in a position where she could be tested in fire. Benghazi, perhaps the sole exception, was a complete disaster.

Obama had much the same problem, when he entered office in 2009. His political resume was thinner than just about every president for the last decade. He had very little experience in politics and next to nothing outside it. Obama was no military officer, no businessman … he wasn’t even a state governor. Is it any wonder that the praise showered on him by the media and foreign governments went to his head? And Obama has a fair claim to being the worst President since Buchannan.

The fundamental difference between Obama and Putin (and Hillary and Putin) is that Putin understands the realities of power while Obama does not. Obama is driven by wishful thinking, by the belief that he can adjust geopolitical realities at will; Putin is driven by hard-nosed realism, by the awareness that an understanding of the world is necessary before one seeks to change it. Obama thinks he can change his mind on a whim, that there will be no long-term consequences for his actions; Putin understands that one has to be consistent, that one always has to keep one’s eye on the prize.

Obama had a great hand and played it poorly; Putin had a weak hand and played it very well indeed. One does not have to like the man (and I think we will be fighting him sooner or later) to admire the scale of his achievement.

There is no reason to think that Hillary Clinton will do any better. Indeed, there is a great deal of reason to think the opposite. Hillary thinks nothing of selling out her allies – Britain and the Falklands – or simply betraying them when it becomes politically convenient – President Mubarak, for example. (Yes, President Mubarak was a swine – but turning on him set a dangerous precedent.) Nor does she give much of a damn about the damage she has caused to American national security or the sheer level of encouragement she has given to rogue regimes.

Hillary Clinton is an intellectual in the worst possible sense. Like most intellectuals, she commits the grievous error of mistaking her conception of reality for actual reality. (Like an author creating utopia on the page.) Unlike most intellectuals, she has been in a position to influence events on a global scale – and is reaching for the most influential position in the world. And yet, there is no sign that she understands either its limitations or the problems she will have to solve.

Hillary has not learnt from her experience, such as it is, or from anyone else’s experience. I don’t believe she will be any match for Putin, let alone any of the other challengers America will face in the coming years. And that will be very unfortunate as Putin – and the others – seek to consolidate their gains.

Magic Librarian Idea

9 Oct

This has probably been done a million times over, but it’s just something that started to run through my head when I was looking at my old university stuff.

There really is a supernatural world out there, hiding in the shadows. Vampires and werewolves, magicians and demons and things that go bump in the night. Most of them have learned caution over the years. They prefer to prey on humans rather than try to take over the world. However, they still pose threats.

The only defence against these creatures is a handful of human magicians – there are actually very few magicians. There’s certainly not enough of them to operate a school! Most human magicians got killed during the witch-burnings and so on.

Anyway, the heroine of the book would be hired to work at their library …


Gaffes, Again

8 Oct

Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency has been declared dead.

This would be more impressive if this wasn’t the umpteenth thousandth time the media had announced that Trump was going down in flames. Seriously … people have been gleefully celebrating his political defeat long before he became a serious candidate, then beat fourteen of the most powerful Republicans in the country and then posed a serious threat to Hilary Clinton’s poll numbers. Trump has been declared dead so many times that the political afterlife must have a revolving door.

I noted, back when I started watching Trump, that when a Republican candidate commits a ‘gaffe,’ the gaffe is promptly blown out of all proportion by the mainstream media. The candidate barely has a moment to realise he’s under attack before he finds himself being drowned in negative media coverage. Most candidates stagger under the hail of incoming brickbats, retreating in confusion rather than ploughing onwards. Trump’s success owes a great deal to his willingness to keep going, rather than surrendering to the judgement of the political and media elites.

The last two weeks have seen a whole string of devastating political exposes. President Obama not only knew about Hilary’s illegal email server, he was involved in it. The FBI soft-balled Hilary’s aides, to the point where they agreed to destroy evidence rather than leave it around for any future investigations. Hilary’s taxes are more dubious than Trump’s, she hired actors to ask questions in public appearances, her Wall Street speeches have started to leak out, the media deliberately misrepresented Trump’s words (again), Obama is risking war with Russia over Syria …

… And Donald Trump was terribly rude about women, back in 2005!

Guess which one the media considers most important? Hint – it’s not the possibility of a war with a nuclear power.

This has been said before and will probably need to be said again. This is an election between Donald Trump, master of the foul mouth, and Hilary Clinton, mistress of political corruption. Issues of political corruption are much more serious, whatever the media may tell you, than comments from eleven years ago. (Coming to think of it, Hilary insulted at least a third of the entire American population with her ‘deplorable’ comment.) Trump still has a very good chance of winning.

Let me see if I can use an example.

You spend your life savings for a trip of a lifetime … on the Titanic. Captain Smith and his crew reassure you, time and time again, that the ship is completely safe and that there’s no danger in charging through a field of icebergs in the pitch dark. You are uneasy, but allow them to lull you to sleep.

A man next to you, at table, is an extremist. He’s such an extremist you find he annoys you terribly. His views make you uncomfortable. You really don’t want to be next to him. And yet …

The ship hits an iceberg and starts to sink. Captain Smith keeps assuring you that all is fine, but it’s very evident that the ship is sinking. And the only lifeboat is one rowed by the extremist. Do you climb into the boat or do you stay on the Titanic until it sinks?

You get on the boat, of course. There’s no other way to survive.

The problems facing America were caused by the political establishment. Those fourteen Republicans trounced by Trump were establishment candidates. Hilary Clinton, too, is an establishment candidate. There is no reason to assume that Hilary will be good for anyone beyond the establishment itself. Trump, the extremist, is the only challenge who isn’t openly part of the establishment. Trusting him is the only way to defy the establishment.

The RNC failed. It allowed reasonable, moderate candidates to be driven out. The DNC failed. It pushed Hilary forward, even though she’s a strikingly poor candidate and there’s a strong perception she cheated when she beat Sanders for the nomination. Both parties should have looked for someone with broad appeal, someone who actually understood the problems facing the country. Instead, both parties are now hoist by their own petards.

Trump has been accused of wrecking the Republican Party. There is some truth in that – Trump showed that a non-establishment candidate could take the nomination, no matter what the establishment said. But the real damage was done long before Trump burst onto the political scene. And the same is true of Hilary and the Democrats. Her past hangs over her just as much as Trump’s hangs over him.

It isn’t a good choice. But the race isn’t over yet.

Culture Shock (The Empire’s Corps 13)–Snippet

5 Oct


The tension in the air as darkness fell over the estate was so thick, Steward Joel thought as he paced the lines, that one could cut it with a knife.

Earth was gone. And so was the government that had protected the Forsakers against their enemies. Tarsus was still reeling after the news had finally arrived from Earth, its government trapped in endless debates over what should be done, but some of its population had already taken matters into their own hands. The attacks had begun almost at once, targeting isolated Forsakers on the streets and killing them. And the government had done nothing.

Of course they did nothing, Joel thought, bitterly. There’s no votes in protecting us.

He gritted his teeth as a cold wind blew over the estate. The Forsakers had never been popular, not on Tarsus. They’d been moved from world to world by the Empire, seeking out a home that had never materialised. Joel had no doubt his people could have made a go of it, if they’d been given land and support, but no one had been interested in actually helping them. Instead, they’d been shoved into an estate and told to stay there.

It was no place for a Forsaker community, he thought, as he turned to walk back towards the warehouse. The estate was grey and soulless, despite their best efforts. No amount of work could hide the fact that it wasn’t designed to hold people, not for long. The facilities were poor, privacy was very limited and opportunities for employment were non-existent. Some of the young men had tried to work, in hopes of earning enough money to buy land, but they’d been cheated and robbed by their employers. It was technically illegal, yet the government hadn’t given a damn even before the economy had collapsed. They might have been forced to take the Forsakers, but the government felt no obligation to make them welcome.

He stepped into the guardhouse, his eyes flickering over the five young men on watch. They were armed, but only with baseball bats and other improvised weapons. Tarsus had strict laws forbidding the private possession of firearms and the Elders had forbidden the Stewards from seeking out illicit weapons. They’d warned of the dangers of provoking the government, but Joel found it hard to care. The government had made its feelings on the matter quite clear. They wanted the Forsakers gone.

“My brother hasn’t returned,” Steward Joshua said. He sounded grim. “He and his wife never came back.”

Joel winced. Joshua’s brother hadn’t quite been Fallen – the Forsaker term for men who left their community – but he’d loudly argued that they’d reached the end of the line. He’d been beaten for his heresy, of course, yet no one knew just how many other Forsakers quietly agreed with him. And now he was gone. He might have been caught by a mob and killed …

… Or he might have decided to vanish into the planet’s population, forsaking his heritage in exchange for a safe place to live.

And his wife probably encouraged him, he thought, sourly. She never quite fitted in either.

“I’m sure he will be back,” he lied, smoothly. Joshua’s brother had taken his wife and left the community. It suggested he had no intention of returning. “And you can rebuke him then, if you wish.”

He kept his real thoughts to himself. The Forsakers didn’t look any different from the rest of the planet’s population, not really. Their clothes might have marked them as outsiders, but it wasn’t as if changing one’s outfit was difficult. And Tarsus was cosmopolitan enough to accept a newcomer if that worthy made a definite attempt to blend in. He closed his eyes in pain as he turned back to the door. Joshua’s brother was merely the latest Forsaker to forsake his heritage.

Traitor, he thought.


The attack began at midnight.

Joel had been sitting in the guardhouse when he heard the sound of several people moving outside. The patrol had only just gone out to sweep the edge of the estate. They shouldn’t have been back so soon. And yet … he grabbed for his baseball bat as the door burst open, a trio of black-clad men smashing into the room. He barely had a moment to recognise the stunners in their hands before there was a flare of blue-white light and his entire body jerked violently. His legs buckled beneath him and he hit the ground face-down, utterly unable to move.

“Clear,” a voice said. “Only one guard.”

Joel tried to struggle as he felt strong arms rolling him over, but his body felt as limp and powerless as a sack of potatoes. A man, his face hidden behind a mask, patted him down, then rolled him back over and cuffed his hands behind his back. Joel fought a wave of bitter helplessness as the men walked out of the room, leaving him there. No matter how desperately he struggled, he couldn’t move a muscle. His body was completely useless.

He heard shouts and screams, male and female, as the policemen worked their way through the estate. Rage flared through his mind at the violation of their most sacred spaces, but there was nothing he could do. His body was starting to twitch uncomfortably, a pins and needles sensation almost driving him insane … the stun blast was wearing off, he realised numbly. But his hands were still cuffed. It was hopeless.

A man strode into the room, caught hold of Joel by the scruff of the neck and hauled him to his feet. Joel stumbled, his legs still feeble, but somehow he managed to force himself to stagger out of the door. Outside, he saw a nightmare. Hundreds of men and women were sitting on the ground, their hands cuffed; dozens of armed policemen were watching them, weapons at the ready. And, right at the edge of the estate, a mob of angry locals, shouting and jeering as the police completed their task. Joel had no doubt of what would happen, if he somehow managed to get away. The mob would beat him to death, then dump his body in the gutter.

His cheeks burned with humiliation, for himself and his community, as he sat there, forced to watch as the estate was searched and their possessions confiscated. God alone knew what would happen to the tools, the motley collection of hand-powered devices they’d preserved ever since they’d been forced to leave their last home. They needed them, damn it! But the policemen didn’t seem to care …

It felt like hours before they were ordered to their feet and marched towards the lorries. The crowd’s jeering grew louder as they were pushed into the lorries, the doors slamming shut as soon as each vehicle was crammed. Joel heard the engine roar into life as he struggled to find a comfortable position, the lorry shaking as it turned and headed out of the estate. He wished he could see outside, but there were no windows. All he could do was wait.

“They’re going to kill us,” Joshua said. He sounded as though he was on the verge of outright panic. “They’re going to kill us!”

Joel found his voice. “They’re not,” he said, although he wasn’t sure of it himself. “They can’t kill us.”

But he wasn’t sure of that either. The Empire was gone. All the old certainties were falling everywhere. The Imperial Navy was fragmenting, planetary governments were bidding for independence … and Tarsus, which had resented the Forsakers from the moment they’d been ordered to take them, might have decided to rid themselves of a nuisance.

We should have fought, he thought, savagely. We could have learned to defend ourselves.

The lorry lurched to a halt. Moments later, the doors banged open and the Forsakers were pushed and prodded outside. Joel had half-expected a detention camp or a firing squad, but instead … it took him several moments to realise that he was looking at a spaceport. A dozen shuttles sat on landing pads, surrounded by heavily-armed guards. Behind them, there were more lorries and more guards … had the police rounded up every last Forsaker on Tarsus? It was starting to look like it …

He glanced at the nearest policeman. Experience had taught him that it was dangerous to talk to policemen, but there was no one else to ask. “What’s happening to us?”

The policeman’s face was hidden behind the mask, but there was a hint of heavy satisfaction in his voice. “You are being deported.”

Joel stared. “Deported? To where?”

But the policeman said nothing, merely nodded towards the shuttles.

Joel swallowed, hard. Tarsus hadn’t been a friendly place, but … but where would they wind up next? The entire community had just been uprooted without a fight, men, women and children yanked out of their beds and transported to the spaceport. And then …? Who knew where they were going next? Cold bitter rage throbbed in his breast as he watched the shuttle hatches opening. They looked like the gateways to hell.

Never again, he promised himself silently. He should never have listened to the Elders when they’d forbidden him to buy weapons. They could have fought. Whatever happens, never again.

Chapter One

In theory, unlike pre-space Earth, the Empire should have had no problems with ethnic, racial and cultural conflict. As a noted philosopher of the times pointed out, what cultures needed to learn to get along was distance and space – enough space for everyone. Naturally, it didn’t work out like that.

– Professor Leo Caesius. Ethnic Streaming and the End of Empire.


Premier William Randolph Huntsman cursed under his breath as he opened his eyes. He wasn’t sure how long he’d slept, but it felt as though he had barely closed his eyes when his butler stepped into the bedroom. It had been yet another late-night Cabinet meeting, debating precisely what – if anything – Arthur’s Seat could do about the news from Earth and the economic crisis it had brought in its wake. And, as always, nothing had been decided. They knew too little to make any long-term decisions.

He rubbed his eyes, sitting upright. The clock on the wall insisted that it was 0445, local time; 1445, Galactic Standard Time. Sykes, the butler, looked coolly professional, wearing a suit even though it was the middle of the night. William didn’t know how he did it, although he had a theory. Sykes, damn him, didn’t have to worry about anything, beyond serving the Premier. He’d serve William’s successor as well as he’d served William himself.

“Yeah,” he said, finally. “What is it?”

Sykes held out a mug of steaming coffee. “We have received an alert signal from the Orbital Guard, sir,” he said. “An Imperial Navy cruiser – ISS Harley – has dropped out of Phase Space and transmitted a text-only FTL message. Her commander wishes to speak with you as soon as his ship reaches communications range.”

William blinked in surprise, torn between relief and shock. Arthur’s Seat had no real defences, save for a pair of destroyers so old he sometimes thought they predated the Empire itself. They certainly predated his homeworld! The ships were enough to deter pirates, but he had no illusions about their ability to stand off a real attack. If one of their neighbours decided to launch an invasion – and they might, now the Empire was gone – Arthur’s Seat’s ability to resist was almost non-existent. Commodore Charles Van Houlton had made the point very clear during the planning sessions, when he’d asked for more money for the Orbital Guard.

But we can’t build warships for ourselves, William thought. And no one is likely to sell them to us.

He pushed the thought aside, savagely. “Did Harley say why she’s here?”

“No, sir,” Sykes said. “Merely that it’s urgent.”

William contemplated the problem as he sipped his coffee. It was excellent, as always … and yet, it was growing increasingly rare. The Jamaica Blue blend came from Earth … and Earth was gone. Arthur’s Seat grew its own coffee beans, of course, yet it didn’t quite seem to live up to Jamaica Blue. But William suspected he would have to get used to drinking it soon, whatever happened. The price of anything from outside the star system had already skyrocketed. It wouldn’t be long before there wasn’t a single can of Jamaica Blue available for love or money.

“How long until she enters communications range?”

“Two hours, as of the last communication,” Sykes informed him. “She’s red-lining her drive.”

William gritted his teeth. He was no spacer, but even he knew that trained engineers and spare parts were in short supply. Harley’s commanding officer was taking a considerable risk in pushing his ship so hard. Whatever was going on – and his imagination provided too many possibilities – it had to be urgent. There was no way Arthur’s Seat could repair an Imperial Navy destroyer.

“Inform the Cabinet that I want an emergency meeting in three hours,” he said, finally. “And then prepare a breakfast for when they arrive.”

“Yes, sir,” Sykes said.

William finished his coffee, then swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood. His head swam for a long moment, reminding him that he hadn’t had anything like enough sleep. He glanced at the bedside cabinet, where he kept a small collection of painkillers and stimulants, then dismissed the thought. He had a feeling he’d need to keep his wits about him for the coming discussion and stimulants could be dangerous. Sykes fussed about him, wiping his face with a hot towel before producing a neatly-pressed suit and shirt. William shook his head in tired amusement as his butler helped him to dress, then peered into the mirror. As always, Sykes had ensured that there wasn’t a single hair out of place.

But I still look old, he thought. Too old.

He studied his reflection for a long moment, feeling a twinge of dismay. He’d been Premier for two years, elected just in time to face the decline and fall of the Empire … and it had changed him. His brown hair was now grey, his face was lined … he looked more like a bureaucrat or an accountant than a planetary leader. He honestly wasn’t sure he wanted to stand for re-election, even though he was midway through his first term. The job was taking a toll.

And if it does this to me, he thought, what does it to other Heads of State?

It was a bitter thought. Arthur’s Seat was not an important world and never would be. She lacked the economic and military base necessary to reach for greatness. And really, she didn’t want greatness. William had never dreamed of building an empire of his own, even though he knew that at least two of the neighbouring worlds were planning their own conquests. Arthur’s Seat was a quiet sleepy backwater …

… And yet, serving as her leader had drained him more than he cared to admit.

He pushed the thought aside as he walked through the door to his office and sat down at the desk, keying the terminal to bring up the latest briefing notes. His staff had done their usual efficient job, yet they had very little information to draw on. ISS Harley had been attached to the sector fleet, they’d noted, but there was little else about her in the files. Even her commander’s name was a mystery. William shook his head slowly, then started to write a quick letter to his ex-wife. If trouble was coming, he wanted her to be aware of it.

It was nearly two hours before the communications link came online, the terminal blinking up alerts and warnings that William had honestly never seen before, outside drills. The communications link was completely secure, isolated so completely that no one else could hope to intercept and eavesdrop. It struck William as needless paranoia, but if something was dangerously wrong …

And if this level of paranoia is justified, he thought grimly, just what is happening out there?

He straightened as a face appeared in the display. The officer – an Imperial Navy Commodore, if William was reading the rank badge correctly – could have stepped off a recruiting poster, save for the tiredness etched into every line of his face. William felt a shiver running down his spine as he studied the newcomer. This was a man, he realised slowly, who no longer cared.

“Premier,” the officer said. “I am Rear Admiral Carlow.”

“Premier Huntsman,” William said, automatically. He’d never heard of a Rear Admiral Carlow, but that proved nothing. There were more crewmen and officers in the Imperial Navy than there were on some planets. He keyed his terminal, ordering his staff to check for the Admiral’s file, then leaned forward. “Welcome to Arthur’s Seat.”

“I’m afraid I can’t stay,” Carlow said. “I must inform you, Premier, that Arthur’s Seat is about to receive a number of refugees.”

William blinked in surprise. “What?”

“Tarsus has kicked a vast number of Forsakers into space,” Carlow said. “I’m in the position of having to find a new home for them. Their transports will be arriving within the next two days.”

“Impossible,” William said. Forsakers? Arthur’s Seat had a long history with the Forsakers, but that was all in the past. “Admiral, we cannot …”

“Under the terms of the Imperial Charter, you are obliged to take them,” Carlow said, cutting him off. “My legal staff will be quite happy to forward you a copy of their briefs, if you wish.”

“Please,” William said, stunned. “Admiral … why can’t they stay on Tarsus?”

“They are no longer welcome,” Carlow said. “But then, they never were.”

William cursed under his breath. Tarsus wasn’t anything like as powerful as Terra Nova or Kennedy, but her system defence force was powerful enough to give the Imperial Navy pause. A confrontation could only have one outcome – or would have done, before Earth had fallen – yet it would have cost the Imperial Navy dearly. And now, with Earth gone and the Empire steadily collapsing, Tarsus was powerful enough to bend the sector fleet to her will.

And us too, he thought, numbly.

“They need a home,” Carlow said. His voice was curiously flat. “And they do have a claim on Arthur’s Seat.”

“A claim that was dismissed by the Supreme Court,” William said, automatically. It hadn’t taken long. The planet’s original settlers had been conned by the man who’d sold them the settlement rights. “Admiral, are you planning to merely dump them here?”

“Yes,” Carlow said.

William stared at him in absolute disbelief, realising that protest would be futile. He’d met police officers and officers who enjoyed lording it over the weaker worlds, but he’d never met an officer who was just too tired to proceed. Carlow no longer believed in the Imperial Navy, let alone the Empire. He was trying to rid himself of one problem before a nastier one reared its ugly head.

“Once the convoy arrives, they will be transported down to the surface,” Carlow informed him. “And then they will be in your hands.”

“I see,” William hedged. “And how many people are we talking about, Admiral?”

“Around fifty thousand,” Carlow said. He hesitated, noticeably. It was clear he didn’t quite believe his own words. “Perhaps more. Tarsus is not the only world to consider forced relocations.”

I suppose we should be grateful they didn’t just kill the poor bastards, William thought. It would have been easy – and no one would have cared, not after eighty billion people died on Earth.

He kept his face as impassive as possible. “I will have to discuss the matter with my Cabinet,” he said. Fifty thousand? Were they coming in one convoy or several? He had no idea where they could be held, let alone how they could be integrated into the wider community. Arthur’s Seat had never attracted many immigrants. “I trust you can wait that long?”

“I can wait until the convoy actually arrives,” Carlow informed him. “But after that I need to empty the ships as quickly as possible.”

William nodded in understanding. Transport ships had been in short supply ever since the Grand Senate’s taxes and regulations had driven independent spacers out of business or sent them fleeing to the Rim. Carlow would need those freighters back as quickly as possible … and besides, the life support would be red-lined too. A small systems failure, harmless under normal circumstances, might be absolutely catastrophic. He didn’t want to imagine just how many people could die if the life support failed.

“Accordingly, I must demand that you put your shuttles at my disposal,” Carlow added, grimly. “Their crews will be required to serve under my authority. I can cite Imperial Law if necessary …”

“We don’t have many shuttles,” William said. He cursed under his breath. What were they going to do? “But those we have will be placed under your command.”

“Then I will contact you again, when the convoy arrives,” Carlow said. “Thank you for your time, Premier.”

His image vanished. William stared at the terminal for a long moment, then tapped the message that had just appeared in his inbox. Admiral Carlow’s file – which listed him as a commodore – was surprisingly detailed. Carlow’s family had close ties to the Grand Senate, which probably explained the promotion. But they were listed as living on Earth … they might be dead, if they hadn’t managed to get off the planet before the end. Carlow wouldn’t know, any more than William himself. Doubt and fear were no doubt already gnawing at his mind.

Maybe he got promoted as an emergency measure, William thought, as he finished reading the file. Or maybe he promoted himself.

He shook his head, mentally. Carlow hadn’t struck him as the type of vainglorious fool who would promote himself, let alone invent a whole new title just for himself. But it hardly mattered. All that mattered was that Carlow’s solution to his problem had created a whole new problem for William. Arthur’s Seat had enough problems without adding one more.

“And this will give the Opposition all the excuse they need to push for a vote of no-confidence, if they want it,” he muttered as he rose. He raised his voice. “Sykes?”

The door opened. “Yes, sir?”

“Inform the cabinet that the meeting is now being held immediately,” William ordered, grimly. None of them would be pleased at being dragged out of bed, not even his political allies, but there was no choice. Carlow had seen to that, damn him. “And ask the kitchen staff to hold breakfast until after the meeting.”

Sykes looked doubtful. “They will need to eat, sir.”

“I know,” William said. Sykes had always insisted that politicians – and everyone else – should take the time to eat before making any final decisions. A good meal made people feel better. “Have biscuits sent in with the coffee, but nothing else.”

“Yes, sir,” Sykes said. He didn’t sound approving, but William knew Sykes would do as he was told. “I’ll see to it at once.”

William nodded, then walked through the door into the conference room and strode towards the window. Lothian – the capital city – seemed to glow in the darkness, streetlights marking out roads that seemed to twist and turn at random. Visitors to Arthur’s Seat had often commented on the randomness, William recalled, but there was something about the twisting streets that looked more natural than the straight lines and planned communities so common on many other worlds. Arthur’s Seat had never planned its own growth, beyond the bare minimum. The government had allowed the planet to evolve naturally.

For better or worse, he thought, morbidly.

He shook his head, slowly, as he picked out patches of darkness. Arthur’s Seat wasn’t heavily dependent on interstellar trade, unlike some of their neighbours, but his homeworld hadn’t been able to escape some dependence. A number of businesses had already failed, as economic shockwaves rolled over the planet; others, too, would fail as the full impact finally became clear. The cabinet had been debating ways to relieve the pressure on surviving businesses, but hours of argument hadn’t led to any conclusion. Arthur’s Seat simply wasn’t rich enough to buy what it needed, even if anyone was selling.

And no one is selling now, he thought. Not now they have a pressing need for such supplies themselves.

His eyes sought out the Parliament building, positioned on the other side of the city from Government House. The Empire Loyalists had ended up with egg on their face after the Empire collapsed, but so far the Opposition hadn’t made a big issue of it. William rather suspected they didn’t want to take responsibility for solving the problems themselves. If they managed to get a vote of no-confidence through Parliament, they might just win the General Election. And if that happened, they’d find themselves caught in the same bind facing William and his allies.

And if they could do a better job, William told himself, they’d have tried to remove me from office by now.

He saw a faint glimmer on the horizon and shivered. Dawn was breaking, the sun rising over a planet that no longer quite knew what was going on. Thousands of people had already lost their jobs; thousands more knew their own jobs were on the line. And, no matter what the Freeholders said, not everyone was qualified to run a farm or work in the planet’s very limited industrial base. Arthur’s Seat couldn’t just batten down the hatches and avoid the interstellar turmoil washing through the galaxy. But his homeworld couldn’t play a major role on the galactic stage either.

Sykes entered the room, his measured tread echoing in the quiet air. “Sir,” he said. “The Cabinet members are on their way. The staff are already deflecting calls from their aides, asking for background briefings and suchlike.”

He hesitated. “The media has already caught wind of something.”

William nodded, never taking his eyes off the city below. Someone in the Orbital Guard would have talked, of course. It wasn’t as if they had a professional military. An Imperial Navy starship racing towards Arthur’s Seat like a bat out of hell? Of course someone would have talked! And the Cabinet being summoned so early in the morning? The media on Arthur’s Seat wasn’t anything like as intrusive as the media of a dozen other worlds, but they did keep an eye on the government. They knew something was up.

Centuries of galactic peace coming to an end, he thought. It still stunned – and terrified – him. The Empire had been omnipresent for over a thousand years. Dominos falling everywhere. And everyone wondering just when the next blow is going to fall.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, quietly. There was no point in making a fuss about it, not now. “Have the Cabinet shown into the conference room, then serve the coffee. The rest of the world will know soon enough.”

“Yes, sir,” Sykes said.