Archive | April, 2012

Welcome to the Chrishanger

30 Apr

Hi everyone

I’ve started building a new website (not CTT) to promote my kindle books – and I have also placed some free stories on it, most notably the Second Chance series.  Please could people check it out, tell me what they think and see that all the links are working?

Thanks very much –


Background–The Troll War

29 Apr

The Troll War Timeline

23rd March 2435The Trolls open the war by attacking New Marseilles and destroying the UNNS ships in orbit around the planet. A pair of scout ships escape the massacre and escape to warn Earth of the new threat. The Trolls destroy human settlements through the use of nuclear devices and orbital bombardment. Commander Janine Herald of UNNS Rubicon takes command of the ship after her CO is killed and successfully escapes into flux space.

24th March 2435 – Troll forces hit Casanova, Cartage and Ramadan. Casanova is nuked, while both Cartage and Ramadan are isolated and presumably marked down for later attention.

27th March 2435 – An emergency session of the UNSC is convened on Luna by First Admiral Ivanovo. The First Admiral warns that the Trolls attacked without warning and slaughtered millions of humans on at least two worlds. Humanity must assume that this is a war of genocide. The UN declares a state of emergency and starships are rerouted to form defence lines in the Omega Sector (towards New Marseilles.) UNNS Survey Command vessels are ordered to start hunting for enemy fleet deployments and homeworlds.

29th March 2435 – The RockRat asteroid mining colony at Beta Nine is attacked by the Trolls, presumably for the rich raw materials in the system. RockRats dig in and launch a space-based insurgency against the occupiers.

13th April 2435 – Troll forces engage UNNS reinforcements at Cadiz, a Spanish-ethnic colony settled 100 years ago. The UNNS enjoys some brief success by deploying starfighters against the Trolls – it is a mystery why the Trolls never deployed starfighters of their own – before Troll reinforcements arrive at the system and force the UNNS to retreat. Cadiz is subsequently invaded and population centres are nuked, however – as there was an emergency evacuation – most of the population survives and continues to fight.

14th April 2435 – a UN raiding force hits the Troll occupation force at New Marseilles. The Trolls bring reinforcements out of flux space and ambush the raiders, destroying the entire squadron. Their sacrifice does, however, win time for the insurgents on the planet to get a shuttle away from the planet and into flux space, bringing with it the first recovered alien body.

15th April 2435 – Commander Herald brings Rubicon to the UNNS base on Capricorn and reports in to UNNS high command. She is confirmed as commanding officer of her ship and the combat records from New Marseilles are rapidly analysed by UN analysts. They conclude that the alien force beams are terrifyingly powerful and their tactics seem inclined to force close-range engagements where their ships can tear apart human vessels. Commander Herald’s response; “no shit, Sherlock.”

1st May 2435 – The UN dispatches a high-level diplomatic mission to Cadiz, which the Trolls appear to be intent on colonising, in the hopes of opening a dialogue with Earth’s enemies. The Trolls merely issue a demand for Earth’s surrender and refuse to talk further. The peace mission is fired upon when the UN High Commissioner attempts to force the issue, with only a single ship surviving to return home.

2nd May 2435 – Earth’s Ambassadors to nearby alien powers formally request assistance in the war, citing Earth’s support to two nearby powers during their conflict with other Galactics. Most races refuse to aid the human race openly, pointing to the superior firepower demonstrated by the Trolls. Some do send war materials and supplies to Earth, but they insist that all such arrangements remain undercover.

5th May 2435 – The Trolls launch their expected attack on Capricorn, bypassing the other colonies in the Omega Sector. For the first time, the UNNS halts the attackers through near-suicidal tactics and desperation. Eventually, the Trolls retreat when the 5th Fleet arrives to reinforce the defenders.

8th May 2435 – Believing that the Trolls have received a bloody nose, the UN General Assembly insists that the UNNS make another attempt to talk peace with the aliens. The Trolls merely destroy the dispatched courier boat without even bothering to attempt to answer their hails.

15th May 2435 – The UN Fleet in Capricorn, reinforced to the tune of 2343 starships of various classes, is ordered to prepare a counterattack to be launched against Cadiz.

17th May 2435 – Unknown to the UNNS, a number of Survey Command starships are detected, tracked and eventually destroyed by the Trolls. The Troll superiority in sensor grids would not be fully realised until several months later, by which time the Trolls had used it to bait a trap.

1st June 2435 – The UNNS is ordered, against the advice of the First Admiral and Admiral Connors, the CO of the Capricorn Fleet, to advance on Cadiz and liberate the world from the Trolls.

5th June 2435 – The first stage of the Second Battle of Cadiz goes well as the UNNS drives back the enemy from orbit, only to be ambushed when the Trolls bring a sizable force out of flux space right on top of the UN fleet. Most of the fleet is destroyed, with only a handful of vessels managing to escape from the disaster.

6th June 2435 – Admiral Connors expresses his opinion of his political superiors by committing suicide, having managed to extract only 246 starships from a fleet that had once been powerful enough to destroy any UN-held system.

9th June 2435 – News of Second Cadiz reaches Earth, causing widespread panic and a desperate hunt for political scapegoats. An enterprising reporter discovers that the attack was launched against the advice of military experts and forces mass resignations from the UN General Assembly. However, it seems clear to many that there is no political solution to the war.

13th June 2435 – The Trolls launch their second attack on Capricorn. Lacking the force to do more than delay them, Admiral Quintana orders the main body of the fleet to disengage while sublight spacecraft and starfighters fight a desperate delaying action.

19th June 2435 – Taking advantage of the UN General Assembly’s sudden unwillingness to issue orders to its military advisers, the First Admiral alters tactics and deploys smaller starships and escort vessels to keep raiding enemy territory. A political alliance with the RockRats – who rarely trusted the UN before the Troll War reminded them that they were human – led to a series of covert strikes against enemy-held territory. Mass construction programs were also ordered, hoping to boost the UNNS’s fighting power by the time the Trolls resumed the offensive.

Analysts studying the Troll body are at a loss to explain why the aliens have decided to fight Earth without any provocation. Some secret research programs are started into biological weapons that might give Earth a way of threatening their racial existence. More productively, the UNNS Covert Operations Division starts work on Iceberg Base, a secret fall-back position for the UNNS if Earth itself is lost. Finally, thousands of human refugees are allowed to flee into territory controlled by the Galactics. It may keep some of them safe if Earth is destroyed by the Trolls.

20th June 2435 – 23rd December 2435 – The war comes to an uneasy stalemate as the Trolls concentrate on securing their conquests and the UNNS concentrates on hassling their convoys and supporting raiding operations against their flanks. UNNS survey missions finally locate a Troll world, although first scans suggest that it isn’t a particularly important tactical base. Plans are laid, however, for a long-range strike into their territory.

24th December 2435 – The Christmas Eve Probe. A number of Troll starships launch an attack (or a survey mission in force) against Terra Nova, the first world to be settled from Earth after the invention of Flux Drive. Although all, but one of their starships is destroyed by the world’s orbital defences, they are unable to prevent the Trolls bombarding the planet with nuclear-tipped missiles or destroying the cloudscoops that fuel the planet’s economy.

26th December – 28th December – The Trolls follow up their success at Terra Nova by raiding Zion, Lucas, Elf and New Deseret. Elf is effectively depopulated when an orbiting asteroid is knocked out of orbit and slams into the planet’s surface. It is not actually clear if the Trolls meant to commit mass slaughter at Elf, but the results were impossible to ignore.

1st January 2436 – The UN General Assembly orders total mobilisation. Pope Luther VI, Grand Mufti Abdullah and numerous other religious leaders issue calls for total war, proclaiming the Trolls to be demons. More practically, the UN starts studying plans for a strike into enemy territory that should knock the Trolls back on their heels and win time for Earth to build new starships and defences.

5th January 2436 – A Troll raid on Wolf 356 (the RockRat regional capital, insofar as they had one) is wiped out by the system’s defenders. This is a great boost to human morale.

17th January 2436 – Captain Herald volunteers her ship and a handful of UN Marines to undertake a risky mission to capture a Troll starship intact. No one expects the Trolls to leave Earth’s fallback defence line (centred on Avalon) alone for much longer, while the raiders are starting to face problems in fighting the Trolls.

19th January 2436 – The UNNS is ordered to launch a strike against the first identified enemy colony. The orders are clear. If the aliens do not surrender, the UNNS is to destroy the enemy population centres on the planet. Admiral Quintana protests her orders, but is overruled.

12th February 2436 – Locating an isolated Troll ship, Captain Herald attacks – and uses the experimental EMP cannon to knock out the enemy defences. The enemy ship is boarded and stormed by the Marines, who eventually capture the ship before the enemy CO can trigger the self-destruct. However, an undetected enemy ship observed the battle and reported home. The next attempt to use the EMP cannon turns into a bloody failure.

15th February 2436 – With her captured ship in tow, Captain Herald is ordered to take her ship to a top secret UNNS base near Earth. There, they hope to dissect the alien craft and duplicate the alien weapons.

16th February 2436 – Operation Retribution I, the attack on the alien planet, departs Avalon. It will take upwards of a month to reach its destination.

19th February 2436 – An increase in enemy contacts in the Avalon System suggests that the Trolls intend to attack the system within weeks, perhaps days.

24th February 2436 – The Trolls attack Avalon. After they are beaten off from the planet and the UNNS fleet base in orbit around Avalon, they establish themselves in the outer system and launch round-the-clock raids on Avalon. The first Troll gunboats, their counter to the starfighters, are seen for the first time. They made a devastating pass through the starfighters before tactics are adapted. However, the gunboats and the advanced beam weapons on the refitted Troll ships mean that Earth’s starfighters have been grossly reduced in effectiveness.

28th February 2436 – Troll starships attack Britannia and Washington, making sweeping passes through their defences before retreating back into flux space.

1st March 2436 – The UN General Assembly suffers another round of political strife caused by the massive roundup of all starships that can fly and energise a beam, including ships from planetary defence forces. Several worlds announce their intention of leaving the UN and forging a separate peace. This fails, largely because the Trolls aren’t interested in talking. An attempt to approach them through the good offices of another alien race results in nothing more than a reiteration of the surrender demand.

5th March 2436 – Captain Herald and her crew reach Area 51, where the Troll starship is analyzed.

12th March 2436 – The UN 6th Fleet attempts to break the blockade of Avalon by launching a major flanking attack on the Trolls, including the first combat deployment of the ‘Holy Warriors,’ humans inspired by religious fanaticism. The first assaults are successful, with many Troll starships taken out by suicide tactics, but the Trolls rally and clamp back down on the Avalon System. The battle does, however, win time to evacuate most of the wounded and dependents from the system.

19th March 2436 – Operation Retribution attacks the Troll planet, destroying most of the world’s population centres after the Trolls refuse to surrender. The Trolls launch a counterattack at once – their FTL communications system is judged to be better than humanity’s – and take out five of the UNNS ships before they retreat.

23rd March 2436 – News of Operation Retribution reaches Earth, using a hidden chain of communication relay stations left behind by the squadron. The news is a shot in the arm to Earth’s morale. The UN makes much of the news arriving on the anniversary of the attack on New Marseilles that started the war.

24th March 2436 – Attempting to return to human space, the ships involved in Operation Retribution stumble across a major enemy base, only ten light years from the system they attacked. Its destruction could shorten the war.

1st April 2436 – In retaliation for Retribution, the Trolls launch nuclear strikes on Washington, New Bonn and New Moscow. The human deaths are in the billions.

15th April 2436 – Avalon finally falls to the Trolls after a desperate defence.

17th April 2436 – 20th May 2436 – With hundreds of ships freed up after the fall of Avalon, the Trolls launch a devastating series of hit and run attacks on human colonies.

21st May 2436 – The Trolls launch their first attack on Earth, a kinetic bombardment of the Venus Terraforming Stations and the destruction of the cloudscoops orbiting Saturn.

22nd May 2436 – The First Admiral is quietly informed that if the Trolls take out more than 50% of humanity’s remaining cloudscoops, the UN will literally be unable to fuel its starships and defence platforms. New rationing schemes are ordered, but they threatened to disable much of the economy.

23rd May 2436 – With additional panic sweeping over Earth, the UN General Assembly orders an attack on the military base identified on 24th March 2436. The starships newly constructed in orbit around Earth and Mars will be formed into reinforcements for the remains of 5th Fleet, while 2nd and 3rd Fleets will be combined into a hammer and launched at the enemy system. The fleet, designated as Retribution II, is planned to be launched within two weeks.

7th June 2436 – Retribution II is launched from Earth.

9th June 2436 – The Trolls raid Titan and ravage the Ceres Asteroid Federation. Jupiter’s cloudscoops are severely damaged in the raids.

12th June 2436 – Citing the need to look to home defence, Edo orders its squadrons to return home from the combined UN fleet. The General Assembly condemns Edo, practically accusing the Emperor of outright treason to humanity, but the First Admiral manages to talk the Security Council out of ordering strikes on a human world. Edo’s cloudscoops and shipyards may be needed in the future.

13th June 2436 – Area 51 produces the first Phoenix-class battlecruiser, with Captain Herald as her CO. Phoenix is capable of going toe-to-toe with a Troll starship, at least according to her designers. Captain Herald is ordered to put her ship through its paces and then travel to Earth to convince the increasingly desperate General Assembly that the human race now has a fighting chance. Other improvements drawn from the captured enemy ship are improved starfighter weapons and targeting systems.

14th June 2436 – 20th July 2436 – The war seems to stalemate again, after a Troll raid on Brasilia’s cloudscoops is destroyed.

21th July 2436 – Earth discovers what happened to Retribution II. The fleet assigned to the mission arrived at its target – and flew straight into an ambush. Later analysis reveals that the Trolls picked up Earth’s communications signals and were careful not to reveal their hand until it was too late to save the fleet. All, but three ships are destroyed in the ambush, although they do manage to bombard the planet, inflicting terrible damage upon the population.

22nd July 2436 – First Admiral Ivanovo is sacked by the UN Security Council after the scale of the disaster leaks out to the public. He accepts his dismissal and commits suicide the following evening. However, with Earth badly frightened by the disaster, all kinds of rumours start leaking out, starting with the suggestion that he was murdered by the UNSC to conceal their incompetence. Threats of a military coup trigger the arrests of a number of officers on suspicion, while several other national navies withdraw their units from the UN chain of command.

29th July 2436 – First Admiral Thompson makes an emergency broadcast to the UNNS, reminding the officers and enlisted personnel that they swore an oath to defend the human race against all outside threats. Threats of a military coup are deftly neutralised, although Thompson manages to convince the UNSC to prune down the powers it gave to political commissioners appointed to oversee military operations.

2nd August 2436 – Captain Herald and the Phoenix arrive in Sol System after the battlecruiser has been worked up. Admiral Thompson uses her arrival as a chance to convince the politicians that humanity can still force the Trolls to back down and accept something less that unconditional surrender. However, he is unable to convince the UNSC not to recall the starships on the defensive line. Earth, they say, must not fall. Some of the national navies agree, dispatching their own starships to join the defence line.

15th August 2436 – Having amassed a force of over 5000 starships, the Trolls attack Earth directly, coming out of Flux Space in LEO and firing on the surprised defenders. Much of the Home Fleet is destroyed in the battle, with only a handful of starships managing to escape into Flux Space. With Earth’s defence grid destroyed and Troll starships in position to bombard the planet, the UN General Assembly offers Earth’s unconditional surrender. The Trolls accept and order all remaining planetary defences and starships to stand down and prepare to receive surrender parties.

The UN General Assembly is permitted to order the remaining human colony worlds to surrender, with all UN personnel ordered to turn themselves in to the Trolls. Some go rogue, others attempt to set up defence lines even without Earth, but the battle seems hopeless.

16th August 2436 – A Troll High Commissioner arrives on Earth to take command of the human race and its industrial potential. The Troll War is over.

And yet some still carry on the fight.

Redoing the Remnent

29 Apr

Some of my long-time readers may recall that I wrote a story entitled ‘The Remnant.’ Basically, there had been an interstellar war, mankind had lost and was under alien occupation. One starship survived to continue to fight the enemy, but was hopelessly outnumbered and couldn’t hope to win. They received help from an enigmatically powerful alien race that had its own plans for the galaxy.

To be honest, I didn’t like the ending very much. It didn’t work out.

So I had another idea. Basically, Earth stumbles into war with an extremely powerful alien race – and loses. Complete disaster for mankind, except one starship survives, along with a few thousand refugees. They take refugee with an alien coalition intent on blocking the enemy from taking other worlds, but always bear in mind that their ultimate goal is to free Earth. They are both mercenaries and freedom fighters…

How does that sound?

(I’d call it ‘Flag in Exile’ if it wasn’t already taken.)


Shared/Collaborative World

28 Apr

An idea I’ve been developing over the past few months is a shared universe where several people write stories set in the same universe. Each story would be stand alone, but it would also be part of an overall series about the rebirth of society and the triumph of the human determination to succeed over stagnation and outright racism. The universe of the Imperium is very much a crapsack universe.

The general background is that humanity’s vast empire (dominating thousands of alien races) is stagnating and slowly coming apart at the seams. Basically, the Late Roman Empire, although I intend to go through a First Triumvirate, civil wars, rise of a first citizen and eventual reform. Most of the stories will be set around people trying to hold back the decline and fall of civilisation – a version of Pompey, a Bruce Wayne-type character who is an operative for Imperial Intelligence, a reporter embedded in an Imperial Marine unit putting down a rebellion…

Obviously, with such a vast canvas, there is plenty of ground for expansion and stories.

Would people be interested in a) contributing parts of the background, and b) contributing stories?


Force of Nature?

28 Apr

(Based on a throwaway line in Alex’s Crapsack universe thread.)

One of the stupider episodes in Star Trek: TNG focused on environmental damage done to the fabric of space caused by warp drive. The episode claimed that eventually subspace would be so eroded away by FTL travel that warp drive would be impossible and the Federation would become unable to use FTL drives or communications. I thought it was a silly episode at the time and Voyager was quick to show a way around the problem.

What happens if that happened to a real interstellar civilisation?

Maybe you start having dead zones – areas where warp travel won’t work – and then the problem becomes a whole lot worse. Entire regions might become impassable, trapping entire planets in the slow zone (see Zones of Thought.) Maybe some AIs can’t function because their computer networks exist in subspace…

What could we do with this idea?


Coming Soon

20 Apr

Coming soon…Second Strike (or perhaps Counterstrike)

Five years ago, the human race fought the Hegemony and defeated it, winning a place on the galactic stage. But humanity’s victory has started a chain reaction that will bring down the Association and leave nothing, but chaos in its wake. Taking their chance to establish a new order, a coalition of Galactics makes its own bid for supreme power – their first target; the handful of alien races that have allied themselves with the Federation.

But the Federation is facing the political strains unleashed by victory, strains that may tear it apart. The Federation Council wishes to remain neutral in the fighting, but a rogue human’s schemes to save his adopted people will drag humanity into a war where victory – or destruction – are the only possible outcomes.

And this enemy has matched humanity’s technology…

Fish Out Of Water Idea

18 Apr

The dark wizard Shayde wants an apprentice, so he tries to summon the most powerful untrained wizard in the world. What he gets is a young girl from our world, where magic doesn’t exist and science rules supreme.

Idea A – Charlene actually becomes his apprentice, only to discover that her new tutor is an evil bastard and has to rebel against him.

Idea B – convinced that Charlene is useless, he throws her into the slave market, where a good wizard finds her and frees her from captitive. Charlene has to go to magic school to learn how to harness her powers, which brings her into conflict with her kidnapper…


Snippet: Hitler’s Mages

16 Apr

Chapter One

“What Ho, Gabriel?”

Gabriel pasted a smile on his face as Bernie shook his hand firmly. He was young, but his body was already showing the signs of too much good living and too little hard work. As the younger son of a minor aristocratic family, it was unlikely he’d ever inherit anything worth having unless his older brothers died. Instead, he spent his time enjoying life, avoiding the attempts of his aunts to get him married off to a suitable girl – and pursuing every last fad that ran through London’s aristocratic community. Rumour had it that his family paid him a small stipend as long as he didn’t come home.

“What Ho,” Gabriel replied, with little enthusiasm. Bernie’s company was intolerable except in small doses, for all that there was little genuine malice in him. “I take it that tonight’s the night?”

“Of course,” Bernie said. “If you’ll come in…”

Bernie had rented – or purchased – a large townhouse near the centre of London, one close enough to the Houses of Parliament to feel as if they were connected, but far away enough to avoid attracting attention from the authorities. Chamberlain’s government might have been denying it, yet war with Germany was inevitable and those in power were concerned about the danger of German spies. It wouldn’t be the first time that someone with an impeccable pedigree had betrayed Britain to her enemies.

The sign just inside the door read THE WORSHIPFUL AND ANCIENT ORDER OF MYSTERIES, casting doubt’s on Bernie’s ability to hide anything. To those with the right eyes, it was easy to see the glyph underlying the words, revealing something far older than the society’s handful of weeks. The only ancient truth about the society was the fact that there was a sucker born every minute – and that had been known for thousands of years before the American had coined the expression. If Gabriel hadn’t seen the glyph, he would have suspected that the Council had sent him on a useless errand.

“Come on, old man,” Bernie said. “We’re just about to get started.”

Gabriel took one last look at the glyph and shuddered. It read, simply, THE HELLFIRE CLUB. Most people outside the magical community believed it to be nothing more than a harmless society for high-bred morons, founded by a would-be sorcerer called Crowley. Those who had grown up with magic knew better. The Hellfire Club was far older – and far more dangerous.

The men in the living room didn’t look particularly dangerous. Like Bernie, they were all of aristocratic blood – and yet unlikely to inherit anything of value. A good war would probably kill many of the chinless imbeciles off, unfortunately killing the men under them in the process. The Army had traditionally been the home for wayward second sons, with the Generals viewing good breeding as more important than military ability. Sometimes it worked out fine, but more often the British Army found itself struggling to cope with problems that the Duke of Willington would have known to nip in the bud.

A handful of serving girls moved through the room, wearing nothing apart from fancy necklaces and bangles. The eyes of the guests followed them, but without particular interest or even lust. They’d indulged themselves so much that they’d become jaded, unable to take interest in the simpler pleasures of life. Some turned to drugs, others to travel – and some turned to the Hellfire Club. They wouldn’t have been here if they hadn’t been willing to dabble in the occult. It was possible that they even believed what they preached.

Gabriel took a glass from one of the girls and listened to the conversation, careful not to take more than a sip or two of wine. No magician had a good head for wine, not if he wanted to remain a magician. That was hardly a concern for the guests, all of whom were drinking the finest claret as if it was nothing more than water. Conspicuous consumption was part of their life, a mocking defiance of the problems caused by the depression that had spread out from America and washed across the world. Few of them realised that there were others less fortunate, or how the aristocracy preyed upon their fellow men. Those who did were often called Communists by their fellows, who regarded Communism as a deadly threat. They might have been right.

But they weren’t just interested in drinking enough to blot out the world – and the ultimate purposefulness of their lives. They were nerving themselves up for something, something bad…something that suggested that this particular chapter of the Hellfire Club had already managed to demonstrate magic. Bernie was a fool, but he wasn’t that much of a fool – even though he wasn’t half as smart as he thought he was. And his butler would probably have seen through it if someone had tried to con Bernie out of his money.

Much of the talk was in nervous whispers, but Gabriel had always had good hearing. A handful of them were chatting about the races, or about last month’s hunting outside the city – nothing particularly important apart from their growing nervousness. Bernie had vanished somewhere while Gabriel had been listening and pretending to socialise, leaving Gabriel feeling out of place in the gathering. Not all of them were friendly to a man whose bloodline was far less illustrious than their own, even though his real bloodline dated all the way back to Queen Elizabeth – further, if one counted the families before John Dee had come to terms with the Faerie.

There was a loud gong and the chatter stilled instantly. Bernie was standing on a raised dais, looking down at the gathering. Gabriel almost didn’t recognise him at first. He had changed out of his respectable brown suit into a set of tacky red robes and a hat made out of gold and silver leaf, carrying a colossal staff in one hand topped with a glittering jewel. Despite himself, Gabriel almost started laughing at him; he looked absurd. The others didn’t seem to find it so amusing. They took Bernie seriously.

“Most honoured brethren,” Bernie said portentously, “the Grand Master of the Ancient Order of Mysteries summons you to the Place of Power.”

He led the way through a doorway that had been covered by drapes and down a long stairwell into the basement. The Place of Power turned out to be a fairly large room illuminated by burning torches placed along the walls, revealing a pentagram drawn on the stone floor and a single man standing at the rear of the room. Gabriel shuddered as he recognised a handful of the symbols surrounding the pentagram, some older than the human race itself. They were names of entities who could be invoked and manipulated by sorcerers, provided that the sorcerer was willing to meet their price. A handful seemed to have been drawn poorly, as if the person who had shaped them hadn’t quite known what they were doing. It was tempting to believe that Bernie had come up with the whole idea on his own, but Gabriel suspected otherwise. There were several names on the floor that weren’t known outside a handful of experts in the magical community. The mundane world had completely forgotten them in the centuries since Merlin had banished the gods from the Earth.

Bernie dropped into a sweeping bow and the rest of the gathering followed suit, bowing to the man at the rear of the room. His face was cloaked in shadow, the result of a simple illusion spell that hid his features from curious onlookers. Gabriel could have seen through the spell, but unless this magician was a complete amateur he would have thought to add wards to warn him of anyone penetrating his guise. And it was clear that he was a magician interfering in mundane society. The Council had been right to be concerned.

“Today is a great day,” the magician said. There was so much magic running through his voice that they would have cheered him even if he’d done little more than recite railway timetables at them. “Today we shall crack through the veneer separating us from the magic we can use to bend the world to our will. Today we shall finally make contact with the Beings who can aid us in our task. Today…”

He went on and on, while Gabriel listened carefully. The magician was clearly either mad or deluded – or both. Summoning a demon was never a safe thing to do, even with trained magicians and carefully-set wards. A single mistake and the demon would drag the magician down to Hell with him, or break free and wreck havoc before being banished back to Hell. It was possible to summon Beings who were not part of the hell-kin, but even they were dangerous. No one risked summoning angels if they wanted to live to see the next day.

The magician’s speech finally came to an end and they cheered. Bernie stepped forward to kiss the magician’s ring, followed by four other guests. They’d probably prefer to be called acolytes, Gabriel thought sarcastically, except it was chillingly clear that none of them knew anything about what they were doing. If they’d known what they were talking about, they would have run for their lives and not stopped until they ended up in Aberdeen. Instead, they took their positions at each corner of the pentagram, muttering chants under their breath. The remaining guests, including Gabriel, stepped back into the shadows. They apparently weren’t going to be called upon to make any contribution…

…Or were they? The unknown magician either didn’t know what he was doing – which was quite possible – or had devised a nastier spell than anyone had expected. There were few wards drawn on the floor, symbolising barriers beyond which the Being couldn’t cross – and nothing protecting the spectators from the Being. Did Bernie know that a single mistake might mean the end of his life? Gabriel rather doubted it. Bernie wasn’t keen on danger, or else he would have joined the Navy. A year at sea might be good for him.

“We begin,” the magician intoned. “Follow me.”

He started to chant out loud, shaping the words carefully as he spoke. They were nonsense syllables, rather than a genuine magic spell, something that puzzled Gabriel until he realised the truth. Chanting nonsense out loud would bring the speakers together in harmony until they were ready to start shaping real magical words into the ether. And then someone down below would start listening. The chant grew louder, almost semi-hypnotic in its intensity. A handful of watchers who had seemed on the verge of going upstairs and finding a drink – and perhaps a nubile companion for the night – visibly changed their minds and started to stare at the pentagram. Gabriel watched grimly as their gazes became fixed, their shared belief tearing away at the fabric of reality. He’d underestimated the magician. By uniting the watchers in shaping the spell, he’d added to its power.

The chant changed suddenly, becoming real. Each word was a name, one of many attached to a specific demon. None of them were true names, not ones that could be used to bind a demon properly, but they helped to define a demon’s identity and therefore could be used to summon one of them out of Hell. Gabriel’s teacher had once wondered if demons actually didn’t exist – at least as humans understood them – until humans had summoned them, shaping and then binding them into more tolerable forms. It might explain their ageless hatred of humanity if they had been beings made out of light and energy until their human masters had bound them in bodies of flesh and stone. Or maybe they were just nasty bastards, so consumed by their hate that it was all they had left.

Gabriel sensed it, even though the chanters wouldn’t sense it for several minutes. A presence had appeared in the chamber, watching them through eyes that saw through reality as if it were made of water. Something was pressing against the fabric of reality, something huge and awful and beyond human comprehension. If it broke through, it might be bound into a form that was tolerable – or perhaps it would rip apart local reality and drag them all down to hell. There were hidden great cities under the polar ice, cities that dated back to the era before Merlin, where once-mighty civilisations had been torn down by entities they had never been able to understand. It was always a dangerous mistake to summon something that one could not dismiss.

He touched his forehead as the presence grew stronger. The demon was reaching out to their minds, crawling through their thoughts. It’s mental touch was incredibly foul, reminding Gabriel of everything bad that he’d done in his life – and offering him the world, if only he would give up his soul. Too many had made the same deal in the past, only to discover too late that getting what they wanted wasn’t worth the price. Trusting a demon to keep a bargain in good faith was a fool’s game. His senses started to swim as the demon’s malign influence grew stronger. The watchers were also being slowly drained by the entity. It was drawing on their life energy to sustain its presence on the mortal plane.

But he had the evidence he needed to intervene. It was hard to step forward, to break the spell that the demon had laid upon its victims to keep them in its thrall, but Gabriel had been trained by the best. The spell shattered like a cobweb as he stepped forward, leaving his mind as clear as ever. He smiled as the magician turned and stared at him, even though he was still chanting out loud. The spell he’d designed should have sucked all of the spectators dry while they were effectively paralysed.

Bernie and his fellow acolytes were still chanting, but it was clear that the demon was drawing energy much more rapidly from those standing around the pentagram. A trained magician would have known to set wards so that that couldn’t happen, yet their magician had clearly not bothered to protect them. Their deaths would empower the demon to a remarkable degree, perhaps letting him loose upon the human world – or allowing him to grant the magician whatever he wanted from the demonic realm. Either way, it had gone too far. It had to be stopped.

Gabriel held up one hand as he walked around the pentagram. It was fizzing with blue fire now, casting weird flickers of light that seemed to bend and twist around the centre of the drawing, as if it now existed in a different world with different laws. The demon’s presence was growing stronger by the second, preparing for the decant into an idealised form devised by the magician. Or maybe he hadn’t bothered, knowing that the demon wouldn’t kill him outright. Why would he when the magician clearly intended to keep feeding his pet demon?

“Stop,” he said, firmly. Even at the last minute, a demon summoning could be halted – although there were risks involved. But then there were risks involved with anything that had to do with demons. “By authority of the Thirteen, this has to stop.”

The magician turned to face him, the shadow around his face slowly dispelling into nothingness. He was shorter than Gabriel had expected – height and magic went together, for reasons no one understood – and his eyes were wide and staring. All of his hair was gone, leaving nothing apart from a scar to mark where it had once been. Illuminated by the magic, Gabriel could see other demons feasting on his soul. Shit-Demons, they were called, Hell’s carrion-eaters. But still very dangerous. Only a soul who had willingly opened itself to evil could fall prey to the monsters.

“I won’t let you stop me,” the magician said. His voice was more telepathic than vocal, another sign of black magic. A black magician could project his thoughts into another’s head, knowing that his victim might be unable to separate his thoughts from the intrusive suggestions. “This is the way to true power!”

“No,” Gabriel said, as calmly as he could. He caught sight of Bernie and shivered. His almost-friend was aging right in front of him. His lush brown hair had turned grey and he was staggering, only the force of the demon’s will holding him upright. The entire room was dying – and once they were dead, the demon would be free. “This is madness. Let them go and we will help you.”

“They didn’t send me the Executioner,” the magician said. The demon’s presence was growing stronger and stronger, breaking into Gabriel’s thoughts. It was growing so powerful that it would soon be able to start draining Gabriel even through his protections. “They didn’t take me seriously. But they will when they see what I have become!”

He was beyond help, Gabriel realised, tiredly. Whatever resentments he’d felt over the course of his life had been twisted and magnified by the demons until he could no longer separate right from wrong. And he’d started preying on helpless victims, in breach of the magical community’s most sacred law. There was no longer any choice.

Gabriel lifted his hand and shaped a killing spell, only to see it absorbed by the energy surrounding the pentagram. The magician laughed at him, his mocking thoughts asking if Gabriel had bothered to consider the possibility that he might have protected himself. Maybe the Executioner would have done a better job, but the Executioner was only unleashed when it was already too late and the only way to solve a problem was through destroying it root and branch.

Instead, he reached into his hip pocket and produced a small revolver.

Quite calmly, he pointed it at the magician and shot him neatly through the head.

Weird Little Background Piece

15 Apr

The Roads of Happenstance

Understanding the Roads of Happenstance is a difficult task. The first step to understanding is to realise that the term ‘road’ is a misnomer. It would probably be easiest to regard the Roads of Happenstance as a dimension in its/their own right, although a very high-energy and unpredictable universe compared to our own.

The Roads of Happenstance effectively overlay our own universe. Like sci-fi conceptions of hyperspace, it is possible to use the Roads as a shortcut around the light years between stars, provided that one has a suitable Guide. Navigating the Roads is not easy, for reasons that will be described below. Disturbingly, the Roads are always imperfectly interpreted through the human mind. It is possible for a traveller to see a path through the Roads as a highway, or a steep climb (depending on the local texture of the dimension), without realising that the Roads are far more than they seem. A peaceful scene might conceal dangers beyond the ability of the human mind to grasp.

Technology doesn’t function properly on the Roads – the more advanced, the more likely it is to fail. AIs and automated sensor systems cannot operate on the Roads at all, perhaps because they have no mental filters allowing them to perceive the Roads without damaging themselves. If even human rationality falters on the Roads, devices designed to operate in one physical universe cannot cope with one that exists in so many more dimensions than ‘normal’ space.

It is intellect that allows intelligent life forms to travel the Roads. Most humans can see the Roads, even though they cannot escape the prisons their minds construct to keep them from going insane. Guides – humans with a gift for navigating the Roads – are capable of instinctively understanding the underlying structure of the Roads, allowing them to chart paths through the chaos. And Sorcerers are capable of manipulating the energies in the Roads, giving them vast powers.

Worse (from the point of view of a planet-bound civilisation) sorcerers are capable of pulling energies from the Roads into the normal universe. This allows them to perform ‘magic’ acts that seem to defy explanation, or easy countering. Iron seems to negate ‘magic’ to some degree, dispelling the Road energies. Working magic can lead rapidly to madness or death – sorcerers who make a habit of it are invariably very dangerous.

Gateways onto the Roads open up naturally or at the behest of a Guide/Sorcerer. Some gateways allowed humans from pre-technology times to travel to other worlds (and accounted for legends of demonic creatures, as not all of the other intelligent races are friendly) and establish settlements there. One Gateway flickered open and closed in the area known as the Bermuda Triangle, swallowing ships and planes seemingly at random. Most of the lost humans died within the Roads or found themselves on isolated worlds. A very few were lucky enough to link up with other civilisations.

There are very few communities within the Roads themselves. The Roads are treacherous, constantly shifting; what was stable one day may not be stable the next. Some races (including the Fair Ones and the Demons, who have entered our mythology) claim to rule large tracts of the Roads, but these claims must be regarded as highly dubious.

The Spanish Armada…in SPACE

12 Apr

Thinking about the Spanish Armada

One thing I like about reading history is that it is easy to pick out areas of history that can serve as templates for writing novels. The Spanish Armada is certainly a fascinating story in its own right, one where a ponderous fleet created by Spain (and launched by a deluded King who thought that God would rescue him from the consequences of his own stupidity) was defeated by superior English ships and seamanship. But can it be used for interstellar war?

On a small scale, what about a settled solar system without any real extra-solar expansion. Maybe there are settlements on Mars, the Asteroids…Jupiter’s moons, while Earth falls under the grip of a corporate tyranny. Perhaps a form of transnational-progressivism could serve as a counterpart for the Catholic Church. This might be cool, but it doesn’t really give grounds for a counterpart of Francis Drake. Or maybe it does.

Here – in 2025-2100, Earth starts a move into space. Some military bases on the moon, settlements on Mars and a few asteroids, maybe Titan and the other icy gas giant moon. Then there is a major economic shock and the colonies get cut off from Earth for decades, while Earth (or at least Western society) falls under the control of the Unity Party – in reality, a fascist party dressed up as a socialist party. Much of the economic shock is blamed on the space program, which is largely nonsense, but people are stupid. But as access to space-based resources is necessary for continued survival, the Party rewrites history and declares that the wrong people got control – and therefore the Party needs to take space back from the capitalist heathens.

Larger scale, perhaps Earth has a relatively ‘slow’ form of FTL, but has settled a dozen colonies or so. One of those colonies declares independence (which may be meaningless if there are months between sending a message and receiving it) and builds an improved FTL drive that allows them some measure of superiority over Earth (which has a vastly greater space fleet).

Even bigger, maybe aliens playing the role of ‘Spain’ give Earth their slow FTL drive by accident, perhaps attempting to impose limited rule over us. Humanity starts building improved ships and starts raiding their shipping. Eventually they realise what’s happening and launch a fleet at Earth intending to put a stop to it.