Archive | April, 2014

New Snippet–The Oncoming Storm

27 Apr

Comments welcome.


Admiral Junayd passed through the security field and stepped into the conference room, careful to remove his cap as he bowed to the First Speaker and the Lord Cleric. They nodded in return, pressing their hands together in greeting, then motioned him to a chair at the round table. Junayd sat down and composed himself, despite the growing excitement running through his mind. The greatest military operation in the Theocracy’s history was about to begin. It was no time to allow his enthusiasm to overpower his common sense.

He looked up at the giant painting behind the First Speaker. Hundreds of men and women, some bound, others in chains, were making their way towards a giant starship, sitting on the ground like a common aircraft. It was a lie, he knew, a fanciful depiction of a carefully-planned exodus from Earth, but the essential truth shone through. The Believers had been forced into exile, forced to leave God’s chosen world. Many of the exiles had lost the will to live in horror at what had been done to them.

But others had understood. God would not have allowed His faithful to be removed from their homeworld without a reason. It would be safer for them to be elsewhere. And now Earth was scorched rubble, the great cities of Rome, Jerusalem and Mecca little more than blackened marks on a dead world. The religious leaders who had failed to realise their time was over were gone. And the United Nations, the force that had served as their enforcer, was gone too. The True Faith could begin its expansion into the galaxy – and no infidels would stand in their way.

He nodded in greeting as Inquisitor Samuilu stepped into the room, unable to avoid feeling a cold shiver running down his back as he met the Inquisitor’s eyes. Everyone was secretly guilty of something, the Inquisitors believed, and innocence was no defence if one caught their ever-roaming eye. Even a high-ranking Admiral was not immune to suspicion. The Inquisitors spent most of their time rooting out hearsay on the occupied worlds, but they had never relaxed their watch over the Believers.

And a word from them would be enough to condemn anyone to the stocks – or the gallows.

“Let us begin,” the First Speaker said.

He spoke the words of a very old prayer, echoed by the other three men in the room, then looked up at Junayd. “Admiral,” he said. “How fares our planning?”

Junayd took a long breath. “We will be ready to launch the offensive in six months, Your Holiness,” he began. “Planning has been completed for a short, sharp campaign that will bring the infidel Commonwealth to its knees. We will trap and destroy their border fleets, then advance towards their homeworlds before they know what has hit them. Victory will be assured.”

“Only God can assure one of victory,” the Lord Cleric said.

That, Junayd knew, was true. Other religions, the shadows of the True Faith, had believed that God granted victory to his followers without forcing them to work for it. But the True Believers knew that God only helped those who helped themselves. What was the point of victory – or redemption – if it was just handed out on silver platters? But he dared not seem uncertain, not now. There were no shortage of others who would take his place if he ran afoul of his superiors.

“We have been watching their deployments to Cadiz ever since they annexed the border world,” he said, instead. “Their readiness levels are at the lowest we have observed since we started monitoring them closely. The Admiral in command spends most of his time on the planet, training and exercising schedules are not followed and morale is incredibly low. We would not wish to wait long enough for the Commonwealth to appoint an effective commander to take Admiral Morrison’s place.”

The First Speaker smirked. “That would be inconvenient,” he agreed.

“We have allies on the planet’s surface,” Junayd continued. “They will be ready to go on the offensive when our fleet arrives in the system. Cadiz will be cut off from the StarCom network, her command and control systems crippled, allowing us to score a decisive victory before the infidels can mobilise. Their long-term potential is staggering.”

He kept his face impassive, refusing to admit how much that bothered him. The first conquests made by the Theocracy had been easy. They’d largely been primitive worlds, with no spacefaring capability at all. It had taken little more than a destroyer to crush formal resistance, then the Inquisitors had gone to work, digging all who would dare to resist their place in the Theocracy. But the Commonwealth was different. It was a multi-system political entity with a growing trading fleet as well as a formidable military machine.

The Theocracy’s industrial base was geared to supporting the colossal war machine they intended to use to conquer the settled galaxy. It was limited, more limited that Junayd cared to admit, but they would never be able to relax some of the restrictions on economic and social development. But the Commonwealth didn’t have that problem. Somehow, the infidels had created an economy that was growing by leaps and bounds. It presented a formidable threat as well as a challenge.

And it wasn’t the only state to emerge from the ashes left by the Breakaway Wars. It was quite possible that the Commonwealth and the Theocracy could batter each other to pieces, then watch helplessly as another state moved in and took over. Or, for that matter, that they would block expansion of the True Faith. It could not be allowed.

“But nothing compared to ours,” the Lord Cleric said.

The First Speaker smiled. “Six months,” he mused. “Can you not attack earlier?”

“We would need to call up freighters to support the military offensive,” Junayd said. “It will take several months to assemble them without damaging our economy too far.”

He paused. “Besides, we would also need to place our forces in position on our side of the border,” he added. “And then place our agents in the right places to do harm.”

The First Speaker looked at the Lord Cleric, who nodded.

“You have permission to start assembling our forces,” he said, firmly. “And my God defend the right.”

“I thank you,” Junayd said. He stood, placing his hand on his heart. “And I pledge to you, Your Holiness, that the Commonwealth will be ours within a year.”

Chapter One

“The Hotel Magnificent, My Lady,” the shuttle pilot said. “I’ll drop down on the roof?”

“Yes, please,” Captain Lady Katherine Falcone said. She felt a tingle from her implants as security scanners swept the shuttle, confirming her presence. “I believe they should already have cleared us to land.”

She looked down as the shuttle dropped towards the landing pad. It had been four years since she’d seen Tyre City from the air, but it never failed to impress. The designers had covered everything, from the Royal Palace to the military barracks and giant apartment blocks, in white marble, creating a glittering haze in the air as aircars and shuttles flew overhead. Only the brooding presence of the giant planetary defence centre, carved into a nearby mountain, spoilt the impression of a city out of fantasy. But then, the Kings of Tyre had had the money to make their fantasies reality.

The shuttle touched down gently, allowing Kat to stand up and make her way through the hatch and out into the warm morning air. A pair of bodyguards stood there, their faces hidden behind black masks; her implants reported that she was being scanned, again, before they stepped aside and allowed her to walk through the door into the hotel. She sighed, inwardly, as they followed her, even though they knew who she was. It was the paranoia of living in a goldfish bowl, among many other things, that had caused her to seek out her own career, as far from her family as possible.

She caught sight of her own reflection in a mirrored door before it opened and tried not to wince. Her family had the very best enhancements sequences into their genes, ensuring that she had an estimated lifespan of over two hundred years, but she looked young, as if she was barely out of her teens. The long blonde hair she had refused to cut, despite years on various starships, fell around her heart-shaped face, drawing attention from everyone who looked at her. The black uniform she wore, complete with the golden star on her shoulder that designated starship command, fitted her perfectly. But then, her body was perfect too.

At least I’m not Candy, she thought, thankfully. Her older sister spent most of her life aping fashion, even to the point of changing her body or gender completely, just to fit in with her friends. But I could have turned out just like her.

“My Lady,” a voice said.

Kat looked up to see a thin dark-skinned girl, wearing a dress that left very little to the imagination. She sighed. One would have thought that the Hotel Magnificent could have dressed its maids and other staff in something more classy, rather than a dress that wouldn’t have been out of place in a pornographic VR sim. But she supposed the vast majority of the visitors probably appreciated the dresses. Besides, it was easy to underestimate someone who looked so harmless.

“Your father is waiting for you in the dining room,” the maid said. She curtseyed. “If you would care to accompany me …”

“Of course,” Kat said. Why would her father have chosen to meet her in the dining room? “I would be honoured.”

She saw the answer as soon as the maid led her into the giant room. It was immense, large enough for nearly fifty tables … and they were all completely empty, save one. Kat felt an odd mixture of embarrassment and shame as she saw her father, realising that he’d spent millions of crowns merely to hire the room and ensure that everyone else who might have had a reservation was paid off. It was a display of power that she couldn’t help feeling was a little vulgar. But one truth she’d learned as a child was that if you were rich enough, it didn’t matter what sort of person you were. Everyone would want to be your friend.

Her father, Duke Lucas Falcone, rose to his feet as she approached. He was a tall man, his hair starting to go grey after years of serving as CEO of the Falcone Consortium. Kat didn’t envy him his position, even though she knew there was almost no chance of her inheriting anything more than a trust account and some stocks and shares. She’d seen enough of how her older siblings were prepared to take his place to know she didn’t want it for herself.

“Father,” she said, carefully. “Thank you for agreeing to meet with me.”

“I was in the city,” her father said, gravely. “It was no hassle to see my youngest daughter.”

He motioned for Kat to take a seat, then sat down facing her. Two maids appeared, as if from nowhere, each one carrying a menu in her delicate hands. Kat took one and placed it on the table in front of her, rolling her eyes at the sheer assortment of cutlery and glasses in front of her. The knives and forks alone could have fed a poorer family for several weeks.

“Please tell me you don’t roll your eyes like a teenager on your command deck,” her father said, tiredly. “I don’t think your crew would be very impressed.”

Kat felt her face heat. She was twenty-nine years old and he still made her feel like a child, the few times they met in person. He’d rarely had time for her or any of her nine siblings when they’d been children, leaving them in the care of the household staff. There were times when she understood precisely why Candy was intent on blowing through her trust fund as rapidly as possible. She wanted attention from her parents – and they’d only really paid attention when she’d done something shocking or scandalous. Kat had felt the same way as she’d grown into adulthood. But she’d joined the navy instead of becoming a trust fund brat.

“I imagine they wouldn’t be,” she said, tartly. “I need to talk to you.”

“Order your food first,” her father advised. “This place does an excellent caviar and chutney …”

“Fish and chips, please,” Kat said to the maid. Her father looked impassive, but she knew him well enough to tell he’d probably swallowed a disparaging comment. Fish and chips was a plebeian dish and they both knew it. “And a glass of water.”

Her father ordered – something both expensive and unpronounceable – and then waited for the maids to leave, before leaning forward to face her. “You wanted to talk to me,” he said, flatly. “Talk.”

“I have been promoted to command a heavy cruiser,” Kat said, tapping the golden badge on her shoulder. “What did you have to do with my promotion?”

“Congratulations would seem to be in order,” her father mused. “Perhaps Champaign …”

Father,” Kat snapped.

She took a breath, forcing herself to calm down. “I am too young and inexperienced to take command of a heavy cruiser,” she said. “And there were at least forty other officers, some with previous command experience, ahead of me. I should not have been placed in command.”

Her father smiled. “You doubt your own abilities? What happened to the girl who broke her arm climbing up the trees on the estate?”

Kat met his eyes, willing him to understand just how serious this was. “I should not have been offered command,” she said. “Why did you pull strings to ensure I received the ship?”

“Because it was necessary,” her father said.

Necessary?” Kat repeated.

“Command of a heavy cruiser at such a young age,” her father mused. “It will look good on your service record, won’t it?”

Kat stared at him, angrily. She’d been haunted by the Falcone name ever since she’d been old enough to realise that not everyone lived in a vast estate, nor had almost everything they desired as soon as they desired it. Going into the Royal Tyre Navy had seemed like a chance to escape her name, to earn fame and promotion on her own merits. But she was still haunted by her family’s name …

“Every single officer in the service will know you ensured I would get command,” she said, finally. “I will never be taken seriously again.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” her father said, after a long moment, “but wasn’t it you who was decorated for heroism when raiders attacked your ship?”

“It won’t matter,” Kat said. “I did well at Piker’s Peak – and I didn’t come first – but this is going to stink like limburger.”

Her father smiled. “You could always decline the command.”

“You know I can’t do that,” Kat snapped. Declining promotion was technically permitted, within regulations, but it ensured that promotion would never be offered again. Her father should have understood … or perhaps he didn’t. The corporate world was nothing like the military, no matter what management fads said. “Father …”

Her father, oddly, reached out and placed his hand on top of hers. It was a curiously intimate gesture from someone who had always been very reserved, when he’d bothered to pay attention to her at all. The last time they’d spoken alone had been just after Kat had applied to join the navy. He’d seen it, perhaps, as a cry for attention rather than a serious attempt to escape the family name.

“I understand how you feel,” he said, softly. “But I also know that the family needs you.”

Kat felt her temper flare. “What do I owe the family?”

“Your life,” her father said. He ticked points off on his fingers as he spoke. “Your expensive education. Your exclusive implants. Your looks and genetic legacy. And the safety bubble that protected you as you grew into adulthood.”

He paused. “And are you going to keep acting like a teenager?”

Kat felt her face heat. What was it about her father that made her act like a child?

“There were reasons for my decision,” her father said, when Kat said nothing. “And, if you will listen, I will enlighten you.”

He paused as the maids returned, carrying two large plates of food. Kat wasn’t surprised to see that the chef had done his best to make the fish and chips look expensive, rather than the greasy food she remembered from the cafe near Piker’s Peak. The senior cadets had gone there on weekend passes, just for the pleasure of eating something that wasn’t navy rations, while having a drink or two with friends. And then most of the young men had headed to the brothel.

“Your ship is being assigned to Cadiz,” her father said, once they’d eaten enough to satisfy the hunger pangs. “And I have some reason to believe the situation is dire.”

Kat leaned forward, puzzled. “Father?”

“I haven’t been able to find much hard evidence,” her father confessed. “Even me, even with my connections; there’s little evidence to find. But there are alarming whispers coming out of Cadiz Naval Base, while some of my … operations on Cadiz itself have been disrupted by the insurgency. And then there’s the decision to appoint Admiral Morrison to command the 7th Fleet. Do you know him?”

“No,” Kat said. It wasn’t as if Admirals made a habit of socialising with lesser beings, even those who happened to have aristocratic families. She made a mental note to read his file – the parts of it she could access, at any rate – as soon as possible. “I’ve never even heard of him.”

“Probably for the best,” her father said. “Admiral Morrison was a compromise choice, Katherine. The Hawks wanted someone more … aggressive; the Doves wanted something who wasn’t inclined to make waves. Morrison seemed the best of a bad bunch. But, with war looming, choosing him to command the fleet might have been a deadly mistake.”

Kat nodded. Everyone knew war was coming. Ever since the Commonwealth had encountered the Theocracy – and the first refugees had started streaming across the border – everyone had known that there would be war. Everyone … apart from a number of politicians who believed the galaxy was big enough for both the Commonwealth and the Theocracy. It sounded idiotic. Nothing anyone had seen had suggested the Theocracy was interested in peace.

“Local politics,” her father said, when Kat voiced her thoughts. “The Opposition feels that the King and his Loyalists pushed the Cadiz Annexation through on false pretences. They’re not inclined to pay much heed to suggestions that storm clouds are gathering on the horizon when Cadiz was such a costly disaster. But, right now, their refusal to admit there may be war looming is costing us badly.”

He took a breath, then sighed. “Admiral Morrison’s position is almost impossible to assault right now,” he added, grimly. “We need hard evidence to propose to the Privy Council that the Inspectorate General be ordered to inspect Cadiz. But the only way to get that hard evidence is to send in the IG. Which we can’t do without due cause …”

“Or a report from me,” Kat said. “That’s what you want, isn’t it?”

“Among other things,” her father said. “I believe you will have ample opportunity to observe Admiral Morrison at close range.”

Kat didn’t bother to hide her distaste. Naval tradition insisted that naval officers were not meant to criticise other officers to civilians, let alone spy on them. There was no shortage of officers who had been promoted through serving as someone’s eyes and ears within the service, but she had never wanted to be one of them. The fact she’d been promoted so rapidly, she realised numbly, would convince a great many officers that that was precisely what she was.

“It gets worse,” her father said. He didn’t bother with any insincere condolences. “Are you aware that there’s been an upswing in raider activity over the past four months?”

“… No,” Kat said, alarmed. “It’s been covered up?”

“More or less,” her father said. “Most of the media is owned by the big family corporations and none of them are eager to do anything that might drive confidence down and insurance rates up. Proportionally, losses are a small fraction of our overall merchant marine, but it’s rapidly growing to alarming proportions. I believe the Admiralty is already assigning starships to serve as convoy escorts.”

“Which reduces the number of hulls available for border patrol and screening duties,” Kat said, slowly. “I’d bet that isn’t a coincidence.”

“Me neither,” her father said. “Raiders have been a problem since the Breakaway Wars, but this is on a considerably greater scale.”

He took a breath. “And then there’s trade with the Theocracy itself,” he added. “They’ve layered whole new security precautions on our ships entering their space.”

Kat gave him a sharp look. “You’re trading with the enemy?”

“Certain … factions within the Houses of Parliament believe that trade will eventually cause the Theocracy to moderate its territorial expansion and concentrate on economic growth,” her father said. “Others think its a good chance to gather intelligence. And still others believe that trade will convince the Theocracy that they don’t have to be scared of us – and our expansion.”

Kat couldn’t help herself. She snorted.

“They’re politicians,” her father pointed out, dryly. “A good grip on reality isn’t part of the job description.”

He shrugged. “Quite a few voters think the bastards have a point, though,” he added. “If the Theocracy had been the ones to grab Cadiz, instead of us, wouldn’t we be worried about what they would do with it?”

Kat considered it, reluctantly. She didn’t want to admit it, but the politicians had a point. The Commonwealth had expanded peacefully until Cadiz, when they’d annexed a world by force, even if they did have the best of intentions. It had cost the Commonwealth a great deal of goodwill among the other independent worlds. And was it worth it? By almost any measure, Cadiz was a net drain on the Commonwealth’s resources.

Her father cleared his throat. “In any case, our crews have been completely isolated while their ships have been in Theocratic space,” he said. “It doesn’t bode well for the future.”

“I see,” Kat said.

“So we need you out there to report back to us,” her father said. “We need an accurate report of just what is going on.”

“Yes, sir,” Kat said. “But if I see evidence that you’re wrong, I won’t hesitate to bring it to your attention.”

Her father nodded, then reached into his pocket and retrieved a Secure Storage Datachip, which he dropped on the table in front of her. “There’s a contact code here that will allow you to access the StarCom,” he said, “along with a number of personnel files and other pieces of information you might need. You should review it on your flight to Cadiz.”

Kat nodded, wordlessly.

“Tell me,” her father said, straightening up. “How is your relationship with Davidson?”

Kat felt her face turn bright red. One of the other reasons she’d been so quick to abandon her family estate was the simple lack of privacy. Everyone knew what she was doing, almost all the time. She knew, just from listening to Candy’s complaints, that the family security division vetted all of her friends and romantic entanglements, making sure that none of them posed any danger to the family. There was no privacy at Piker’s Peak either, but at least everyone was in the same boat.

“We’re just friends,” she said, tartly. She shouldn’t be surprised her father knew. They’d been lovers, once upon a time, but the call of duty had separated them and so they’d parted as friends. “Why?”

“I’m having him assigned to your ship too,” her father said. “If you need support, it will be good to have a Marine you can trust behind you.”

“Thank you,” Kat said, icily. “And are you going to be making any other decisions for me today?”

“No,” her father said.

He looked up, meeting her eyes. “I’d like to believe I’m wrong,” he admitted. “Wars are chancy things, as you would know better than I. But I don’t think I’m wrong. And if the Theocracy does come over the border … you might have a chance to prove you belong in a command chair sooner than you might think.”

Kat shivered.

Good News!

26 Apr


I have three pieces of good news to share.

First, Bookworm won the gold prize in the Wishing Shelf Independent Book Awards. Category Five (Adults).

Second, yesterday I signed the contract for The Royal Sorceress III: Necropolis. We don’t have a publication date yet, but it should be along in 3-4 months.

Third, I’ve started plotting out a series based on a magical/semi-fantasy version of the Wars of the Roses … yes, I know; I shouldn’t be thinking about more books until I have my current commitments back under control. It won’t be along for a while, but it’s fun to mess around with the concept and see what makes sense.

Still, I’m not sure if I want to go with a fantasy novel (I’ve long wanted to write a fantasy war) or a more alternate version of the wars, without much (if any) magic. What do you think?

My plan is to start The Oncoming Storm tomorrow. This will be followed by The School of Hard Knocks, The Trafalgar Gambit (Ark Royal III) and The Thin Blue Line (TEC9).



New Discussion Forum

24 Apr

Hi, everyone

As you know, with the kind permission of the owner, I had plans to use part of the discussion forum for my work. My previous discussion board forum was a disaster, largely due to spammers. Sadly, CF.NET encountered a considerably worse spammer problem and registrations were locked down. I can’t fault the owner for this, but it’s a problem – few people could sign up to the board.

Thankfully, a fan has created a new discussion board for me (third time lucky, I hope), which can be found here. Please come along and join the party <grin>

On different news, I’ve just ground my way through a colossal edit and I’m wondering why I wanted to do it in the first place. Horrors!


Help An Author

23 Apr

A number of authors, including some of my favourites, have banded together to produce Altered Perceptions, a anthology, donating their work to help author Robison Wells, who’s crippled by debt caused by his mental illnesses.  Please check it out at the link below.


The School of Hard Knocks (Schooled In Magic V)–Snippet

17 Apr

Comments welcome.


The Council Chamber was two miles below the desolate wastelands surrounding Mountaintop, hidden from all prying eyes and accessible only through the most powerful magics. Generations of Councillors, even in the glory days of the Empire, had layered spells over the chamber, ensuring that no one could enter, save without the permission of one of their fellows. It was the most secure location in the world.

Aurelius, Administrator of Mountaintop, stepped into the chamber and looked around, his gaze passing over the fourteen men and women who made up the Council. Collectively, they were the most powerful group of magicians in the world, certainly in political terms. A Necromancer or a Lone Power might have access to more raw magic, but the former would lack the skill and the latter the inclination to turn it into political power. And even the greatest Lone Power could not stand against the united Council.

He took his seat at the stone table, etched with runes to discourage hostility and looked up at the map drawn on one wall. A good third of the continent was shaded black, representing territories dominated by Necromancers and lost to the Allied Lands. The remainder were divided into political and magical sections, the kingdoms ruled by monarchs and the cities ruled by local councils and the Great Houses. It was a chilling reminder, he knew, that the Necromancers were slowly winning the war. The average peasant in the fields, even the monarchs on their thrones, could forget, but the magicians never could. They were slowly losing the war against the Necromancers.

Or they had been losing, he reminded himself. Two years ago, something had changed. A new factor had entered the war. And two Necromancers had died at the hands of a single magician. Despite himself, despite the clawing fear that had gnawed at his heart since he’d been brought into the Council, Aurelius had taken heart. The opportunity in front of them could not be ignored any longer.

“The MageMaster is dying,” he said, without preamble. “He has turned most of his official duties over to me.”

“But not the oaths,” Cloak observed. His tone was lightly mocking. “You’re practically a free agent.”

Aurelius kept his face impassive with the ease of long practice. The Councillors were supposed to keep their identities secret, but few secrets lasted long when powerful sorcerers were probing, searching for answers. He knew the identities of thirteen of the fourteen other Councillors – Masters of Great Houses, Guild Leaders – yet it galled him that he had never been able to uncover Cloak’s true identity. Someone so powerful – and power was a given for anyone capable of reaching the chamber – should not be able to remain unidentified.

And yet Cloak was anonymous.

Even his appearance was bland, an illusion of mundane normality that hid his true features under a glamour. It would be rude, Aurelius knew, to try to see through the disguise, yet he had tried more than once. And he had always failed. Cloak was very practiced at keeping his identity to himself.

He looked at the others, putting Cloak out of his mind. “We have an opportunity to bring the Child of Destiny to Mountaintop,” he said. “She would be under our tutelage.”

“It would be risky,” Master Ashworth commented. “Particularly after the events of last year.”

“But necessary,” Master Ashfall snapped. “The Lady Emily is the greatest force for change – for hope – that we have seen since the Fall of the Empire. We need to shape her, to steer her towards our thinking, particularly now she is a Baroness of Zangaria. Mundane power must not be allowed to go to her head.”

“Power has gone to yours,” Master Ashworth said. “Do you not understand the dangers of provoking a confrontation with Whitehall – or Void?”

Aurelius smiled to himself as the two magicians bickered. No one quite knew why House Ashworth had fragmented, allowing some of their number to form House Ashfall, but the two Great Houses had been at daggers drawn ever since. Cooler heads had not been able to dampen the hatred that flared whenever the two families met. Indeed, House Ashworth had sent its children to Whitehall while House Ashfall had sent its children to Mountaintop, just to prevent them from continuing the feud in supposedly neutral territory. And what one Master supported, the other would oppose on principle.

He cleared his throat, catching their attention. “We would not be threatening her life,” he said. “To threaten her life would trifle with destiny itself.”

Cloak snorted. “And do you believe in destiny?”

“I do not disbelieve,” Aurelius said, coolly. “The Lady Emily has killed two Necromancers in single combat. She has turned the Kingdom of Zangaria on its head. The changes caused by her mere presence have rippled out, producing unintended consequences and side effects. But what else does a Child of Destiny do?”

“They upset the balance of power,” Master Zane said. The ancient magician leaned forward, one hand resting on the table. Unlike the others, he wore no glamour, only his lined and wizened face. “We should kill her now.”

Master Ashworth slammed one hand against the table. “Are you mad?”

“There are risks in keeping her alive,” Master Ashfall noted, smoothly.

Aurelius pointed to the map. “Two years ago, we knew we were losing the war,” he said, flatly. “And then the Necromancer Shadye died at Whitehall.”

He knew they understood. They might have their differences with the Grandmaster of Whitehall – and his faction in the White City – but they knew that Whitehall should have been able to remain secure indefinitely. And then Shadye had burst into the school, smashing that old certainty beyond repair. If he hadn’t been killed shortly afterwards, Aurelius knew, the gateway to the Allied Lands would have lain open and Shadye’s army of monsters would have laid the land waste.

“A Child of Destiny must tip the balance against the Necromancers,” he said, quietly. “She would not need to exist if destiny intended them to win.”

“True,” Master Toadstool agreed.

“But what does it profit us,” Master Zane asked, “if she destroys our stability too?”

“Then we teach her how we think,” Aurelius said. “And why we have to be the way we are.”

“A seduction,” Cloak observed. “Or are you planning a conquest?”

No,” Master Ashworth snapped. Magic crackled around his eyes, shimmers of power that tingled through the room before slowly fading away into the wards. “My daughter is of the same age. I will not have that tradition resurrected, not now.”

Aurelius nodded. “I do not believe that would end well,” he said, lightly. “We wish to show her how we live, not push her into a stand against us. We will not hold her for long against her will. If worst comes to worst, we will graciously allow her to leave, armed with knowledge she can use against the Necromancers.”

“You assume she will remain focused on them,” Master Zane observed. “But as a Baroness of Zangaria she would have more … mundane interests.”

“My spy reported that she had little interest in her new responsibilities,” Aurelius said. “We may well be able to convince her to abandon them.”

“Which would cause problems in Zangaria,” Master Ashworth said.

“Which would be none of our concern,” Master Ashfall countered. “I believe the Compact is still in force, is it not?”

“For the nonce,” Aurelius said.

“But we are talking about breaking it,” Master Zane pointed out. “If we succeed she will join us, thus forsaking Zangaria.”

“That is why we have to act now,” Aurelius said. “Before she becomes too involved with mundane interests.”

He looked around the chamber. “It is time to vote,” he said. They had debated the plan endlessly, ever since Shadye’s death. But it hadn’t been until the MageMaster weakened badly enough to pass his duties to Aurelius – and control of the wards running through Mountaintop – that it had become practical. “Do we vote aye or nay?”

Cloak’s illusion never wavered, but there was a definite hint of amusement in his tone. “I believe we are forgetting one tiny detail,” he said. “A Lone Power. How … careless a thing to forget.”

“Void .. will have other issues to keep his attention,” Aurelius said, stiffly. “But I do not believe he would object, provided she was not harmed. And she will not be harmed. Merely … re-educated.”

One by one, they voted.

Aurelius smiled to himself as the votes were tallied. All of them, even Masters Ashworth and Ashfall, had voted in favour, some more enthusiastically than others. Some would have plans to draw advantages from the whole scheme, others because they intended to use it as leverage in later negotiations, but in the end it didn’t matter why they’d agreed. He knew, even if they didn’t, that it didn’t really matter why they’d voted in favour.

All that mattered was that they had.

General Round-Up

17 Apr

Hi, everyone

(Yes, another general round-up email. I’m so ashamed.)

Anyway, I’m pleased to report that I’ve finished the first draft of Necropolis, The Royal Sorceress Book III. I’m actually quite pleased with it, although the characters insisted in going in different directions to the plot <grin>. As always, there will be an endless series of edits, revisions and suchlike before the book is finally ready for publication.

This does, of course, raise problems about where to take the universe next. I’d like to show the First Magical War in great detail, but the format of the previous three books mandates against it. I may end up writing something along the lines of How Few Remain or Red Storm Rising, with Gwen as a bit character rather than the main character. But that’s at least six months off, so I have plenty of time to consider it.

The alternative would be to write out an overview of the war, then set the next book either during the war (Gwen’s War as a title?) or afterwards. Let me know what you think.

I’ve more or less decided to take the next few days – Friday-Tuesday – off, then do a large bunch of editing before Author Con. Then …

As I noted in my previous blog post, the next project will be a revision of The Oncoming Storm. The previous versions can be found online and comments would, as always, be immensely welcome.

After that, I think I have to tackle The School of Hard Knocks (SIM V).

June is actually going to be a problematic month for me for several reasons. We have to go back to Malaysia for a few months – I’m hoping to keep this as short a visit as possible, but there’s no guarantee of anything these days. I may manage to get a start in on TSOHK before I have to head back to Edinburgh, then Malaysia, but we will have a great deal to do in very little time so maybe not. We shall see.

After that, I’ll write Book III of Ark Royal. I’ve actually got more ideas (again) than I can use in the story, but I think Book III will wrap up Ark’s storyline, with the other reserved for later books. Then I think I’ll do TEC9 or ALE2.

Speaking of A Learning Experience, I received an offer to have the formatting for a CreateSpace edition done for free, so I accepted. You can purchase a paper copy of A Learning Experience through Amazon here. Please let me know if this is a good approach, as I will probably use it for other books if it seems profitable.

As always, thank you for your time and keep reading.

And new kindle book here <grin>


New Kindle Book: The Trojan Horse

16 Apr

The aliens say they come in peace…

When the emissaries from the Galactic Federation arrive on Earth, humanity is astonished to learn of the populated universe outside Earth’s atmosphere. A peaceful federation of a thousand alien races, united in peace and harmony, is just waiting for the human race to abandon its warlike impulses and join the Federation. A brave new destiny awaits the human race…

But there are odd points about the Federation, little pieces of evidence that suggest a far darker motive for visiting Earth. As an unlikely band of heroes struggles to form a resistance against the alien threat, Earth’s fate hangs in the balance – and defeat may mean the end of everything.

Like my other self-published Kindle books, The Trojan Horse is DRM-free. You may reformat it as you choose.  Read a large sample here, then download it from Amazon here!


Guest Post: The Virtues of Quiet Heroism

14 Apr

Barb Caffrey

In some ways, I’m an accidental writer. Especially when it comes to the military science fiction genre, as originally, I had no intentions of writing milSF because that was my late husband Michael’s bailiwick. Not mine, as I wrote fantasy, and mostly humorous fantasy at that.

However, I decided to write milSF after my husband’s sudden death in 2004. My husband had left behind a number of great characters and an excellent universe in the Atlantean Union to play around with, and I just couldn’t abide seeing that universe die out. (Bad enough my husband had passed on, but did his writing have to die, too?)

So I quickly managed to get his novella "A Dark and Stormy Night" published in 2005 at the Written Word Online Magazine, then wrote a frame story around the first chapter of his unfinished novel, MAVERICK, LIEUTENANT, selling that as "Joey Maverick: On Westmount Station" to e-Quill Publishing in Australia in 2011. (Both are now available directly at Amazon as e-books, by the way.)

Now, what was so intriguing about Joey that I couldn’t just let this character die out? Well, it’s simple: Joey is a quiet hero, who reminds me of many of the military guys I’ve known. Most members of the military, be they enlisted or officers, just go and do their jobs quietly. No muss, no fuss.

And Michael’s first story, "A Dark and Story Night," reflected that in abundance. Joey has to take command of a sailing vessel during a low-tech future regatta that may remind many of 20th and 21st Century regattas. There’s a terrible storm coming, and many of the other ships in the regatta have capsized; worse yet, Joey’s original commander, George Shearwell, is too injured to help Joey in any way.

So what does Joey do with his staff of four? He first repairs his ship, then goes and rescues a whole lot of other people, that’s what. And while he does, he meets the love of his life, Belinda Simpson – but he’s actually attracted to her despite himself, as she’s clearly not at her best and mostly spends her time annoying him and everyone else around her.

Michael’s conceit, originally, was that Joey’s rescue mission was going to be Joey’s one and only splashy encounter. (Pardon the pun.) Everything else Joey ever did was going to be something that military members didn’t talk about.

That doesn’t preclude heroism, mind you, but it means that the heroic efforts of Joey and those he works with would be quiet. Things most people take for granted, like disaster relief, scouting new worlds (which is fun, granted, and very enjoyable, but unless you’re another scout, most people probably wouldn’t care – sad but true), and, as in the case with "On Westmount Station," keeping a bomb on a space station from exploding in such a way that no one outside of Joey and his immediate superiors officially finds out about it . . . because that’s what military members do.

The military keeps people safe and secure by doing their jobs. That way, the civilians around them rarely have to worry about their safety.

At any rate, I felt Michael’s premise was realistic, which is why I picked that particular scenario – a bomb made by a most unusual and unexpected eco-terrorist – for Joey’s second adventure. Joey’s original mission when he got to Westmount Royal Naval Station was very simple: he was to get all the people in his draft quietly and competently to their ships. It was a temporary command, but he took it seriously, and he got it done with an ease that impressed his superiors.

Now, why didn’t I leave that alone? Because there’s nothing to help a reader along there, that’s why. And because Michael himself was trying to add action due to the rather querulous advice of Jim Baen, who actually told Michael a long time ago, "Where is your plot, sir?" (That was something that annoyed Michael until the end of his life, and contributed greatly to Michael’s enthusiasm in helping me plot my novel AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE . . . but I digress.)

But it didn’t matter how the advice had been given. Michael took it to heart. And he was trying to figure out exactly how he could add action when his whole premise was that Joey was a quiet hero. We were still trying to game that out when he passed away suddenly of several heart attacks in September of 2004.

So, what does a quiet hero do? He can certainly take part in rescues, though of the type that the powers that be, whatever and whoever they are, don’t want to be known (so the word never gets out). He can help keep a bomb from going off, as that, too, would never be leaked to the civilians as that would worry them too much. He can take part in disaster relief, including famines (which is where Joey’s going to go next, as the planet Bubastis is in a major drought), and all the skullduggery there as people try to get rescue supplies to the worst afflicted without too much of it falling into the hands of the black market . . . and, eventually, Joey will become a space scout, as that’s what Michael had intended all along, but do so in such a way that he’ll never be a household name.

Because most military men and women are not household names. But they’re important, all the same.

That premise of quiet heroism is undervalued in today’s world, but it rings true to anyone who’s ever been a member of the military or a military spouse (as I was, once upon a time). And it’s the main reason why I’ve kept Joey Maverick and his universe alive, because I think Michael’s conception still has life and value . . . and while I’m more natural at writing comic fantasy (take a look at my character Bruno the Elfy from AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE if you don’t believe me), that doesn’t mean I can’t do this.

So I might be an accidental writer of milSF, no lie. But like Joey Maverick, I get the job done. No muss. No fuss.

New Free Books-And A Request

13 Apr

To sum up a long and somewhat complicated story, I’ve been offered a chance to show a particular (unpublished) book to a mainstream publisher, in the hopes of breaking into the mainstream. I’ve decided, after some thought, to rewrite the older version of The Oncoming Storm, which is both stand-alone and intended as the first book in a series. Ideally, I can capitalise on the success of Ark Royal, particularly as the Kat Falcone series has a definite end in sight. (Five-seven books).

I’ve placed the original versions of the books online in RTF format, here. If you have time, please download The Oncoming Storm, read it and let me know any thoughts you might have. I’m honestly not sure how much of Dauntless will make it into the revised version of Angel in the Whirlwind, but any thoughts and comments you have on it will be welcome.

Please don’t point out spelling errors. The books will be rewritten completely.

These books are free, but if you want to tip me, please use the cookie jar on my site.


KISS–And Student Loans

7 Apr

Feeling the urge to rant today …

One of the most fundamentally important principles in life is the KISS principle – Keep It Simple, Stupid. Put crudely, the more complex your plan, the more likely something will go wrong.

For example, if you want to fly from Britain to Malaysia, the simplest way to do it is the direct London-Kuala Lumpur flight from Heathrow. It means 14 hours of suffering in economy class (or a significantly lighter wallet if you fly Business Class) but it is relatively simple. You just have to get to London, get on the plane and Bob’s your uncle.

On the other hand, if you decide to do the trip in a number of smaller hops, you can get into trouble quite easily. If you fly via the Middle East, you might miss your connecting flight … which would make you very late, at best, before you reach KL. This might spark off a series of missed flights, train journeys, taxi rides, etc that would ensure you were very late when you reached your final destination.

I mention all this because I finally feel in a position to pay off my student loan. It wasn’t value for money, but that’s my fault, not theirs. I have an obligation to pay off the loan, so I should pay it off as soon as possible. So I write to them, explain I can pay and would they please send me instructions for how to pay?

Now, the simplest way to do this would be for them to write back and say I should send them a cheque, bank transfer, even a large bag of cash. They want the money. I want to give them the money. There shouldn’t be any problem with this, should there?

What did they send me? Well, a list of hoops I have to jump through to make it clear that I can actually pay. And they don’t even bother to send me instructions for actually jumping through these hoops. In fact, the letter reads as if it were written by at least three different people.

<bangs head on wall>. I’m almost tempted to just send them a cheque with a covering letter, then wash my hands of the whole affair. I’d bet good money that most of the students who graduated with me are in no condition to pay, even now. They should be delighted to hear from me.

Only in Britain is the bureaucracy fighting the guy who’s actually trying to PAY.