Archive | September, 2022

The Protectorate Expeditionary Force (A Brief Overview)

29 Sep

Woke up feeling wretched, so did some background stuff.

The Protectorate Expeditionary Force (A Brief Overview)

The Protectorate Expeditionary Force considers itself, with reason, to be an elite formation within the Protectorate Military.  It is almost completely composed of combat lifers, all of whom volunteered for military careers rather than brief terms in the military before transiting into civilian life and climbing the ladder there.  Furthermore, the PEF prides itself on a degree of cross-speciality training and experience that ensures its fighting units remain capable even in the midst of heavy and costly combat.  The PEF has never heard of General Grey, or his statement ‘every marine is a rifleman first,’ but they would heartily agree with the sentiment if they ever did.

The PEF is designed for one role – smashing its way into enemy territory, laying waste to enemy defences and securing the new conquest for later assimilation by follow-up units.  It does not set out to commit atrocities – the Protectorate regards mass slaughter and wanton property damage as pointless and wasteful – but it has very few qualms about using lethal force to accomplish its goals with little regard for the lives of enemy personnel, be they military or civilian.  It does maintain a small Civil Affairs unit – which doubles as an interrogation unit, if the PEF needs to obtain information from unwilling donors – as well as an Intelligence unit, but it normally prefers to leave such matters to other units. 

The PEF, when on deployment, is commanded by a Captain-General (roughly on par with Lieutenant General), who has a small administrative staff to assist him.  The Captain-General is both the force’s commander and the de facto governor of whatever territory the PEF invades and occupies.  Precisely how much he has to play the latter role depends very much on the nature of the deployment; live-fire ‘exercises’ in the Security Zones do not require any political involvement, while operational deployments away from the Captain-General’s superiors allow him a considerable degree of leeway when it comes to exercising his political authority. 

Each individual formation within the PEF is commanded by a Captain (roughly comparable to Colonel).  Captains have dual roles, first as field-grade unit commanders and second as war councillors, with a certain say in how the PEF operates when/if the Captain-General calls a Council of War.  Decisions outside active military operations are made with a surprising degree of consensus; partly to ensure every senior officer is aware of what is going on and why, partly to make it harder for a Captain-General to go rogue in pursuit of glory.  It is possible for a Council of War to vote to remove a Captain-General, but if their superiors feel the councillors overstepped themselves they’d be, at best, dishonourably dismissed from the military.  In actual combat, the chain of command is followed and any attempt to argue orders under fire is regarded as mutiny.

The PEF is broken down into armour, infantry, aircraft, transport and logistics (sometimes used as a catch-all for everything that cannot be neatly filed under the first four).  There are no hard and fast rules, but the breakdown is generally:

  • 3 armoured regiments, each with 200 Cromwell hovertanks and 100 Essex AFVs
  • 5 armoured infantry regiments, each with roughly 2000 men.
  • 2 aerospace combat wings, each with roughly 100 flyers
  • 1 aerospace recon wing, each with roughly 100 remote-controlled drones
  • 5 heavy logistics regiments, each with 50 VTOL transports or 100 ground hovertrucks.
  • Assorted other units (Base Defence, Intelligence, Civil Affairs, Field Medicine, Personnel, etc)

It is a point of pride, amongst the PEF, that nearly every officer they have spends some time in the ranks.  Even the well-connected on the fast lane to the upper levels have to learn the basics and prove they excel first.  Each volunteer is sent straight to basic training, then either permitted to continue to intensive or advised to accept reassignment to a different military unit.  The only major exceptions are flyer pilots and a handful of intelligence staff and they are rarely permitted to rise outside their own formations, something that wouldn’t happen at all if the purists had their way.  Upon graduating, the newly-minted soldier is assigned to his regiment for at least two-four years in the ranks before being invited to attend officer school (if he wants; plenty of lifers are happy to remain in the ranks.)

The PEF cannot afford to fall into rote patterns.  Officers and men are encouraged to use their brains – and debate matters, outside actual combat.  Training is devised to identify men with good instincts and develop them further, then let them test their ideas in (relatively) safe conditions.  They do not always work, but the men are rarely penalised as long as they learn from their mistakes.  (It should be noted that, in Protectorate slang, a ‘Charlie’ is someone who comes up with constantly bad or ill-timed ideas and anyone who has that reputation sticking to them will be politely advised to take himself elsewhere before he gets someone killed in real life.)  There is little need for the dreaded Military Police to keep the men in line.  Discipline is good, generally coming from within.  The handful of troublemakers who make it through training rarely last long enough to become a real problem.

On the offensive, the PEF uses a combination of land thrusts at enemy defences – with the intention of finding weak points if the enemy is too strong to be simply steamrolled – and airborne assaults, spearheaded by armoured infantry and backed up by air-delivered tanks … both supported by long-range air and missile strikes deep into enemy territory.  Its recon drones are very good at spotting enemy positions and tracking down radio transmissions, as well as sniffing out IEDs and other unpleasant surprises.  (Standard doctrine is to target any transmitters within the battle zone, unless they happen to be friendly.)  When dealing with insurgents, the PEF will generally bring massive firepower to the battleground rather than waste time wrinkling out the insurgents without harming innocent civilians.

On the defensive, the PEF tends to stay within its fortress – a formidable structure affectionately nicknamed the castle; different units have fortresses named after different castles – and hold the line until help arrives.  This is not as foolish as it seems.  The fortress is heavily armoured, capable of shrugging off anything short of a nuclear strike, and bristles with plasma and laser weapons designed to shoot down incoming missiles and shells.   

The PEF does not, as a general rule, deploy a naval force.  Its hovertanks are capable of crossing rivers and lakes and, at least in theory, skimming over relatively calm seas.  Its aircraft and drones are designed to hunt for enemy ships and submarines and call down strikes, whenever they are found.  If it requires something more, it will call on support from the Protectorate Navy.

Although technologically formidable, the PEF does have a significant weakness.  It simply does not have the manpower to garrison and patrol a major city, let alone an entire country.  It may claim to control vast swathes of land, but in reality its control is very thin outside the region covered by its guns.  This rarely bothers the Captain-Generals, who see their role as more of smashing up the enemy nation and then leaving the hard work of rebuilding to other – less prestigious – units, but it can lead to rough times for isolated units that suddenly find themselves surrounded by enemy insurgents with bad intentions.

Pre-Order Now – Chrishangers!

25 Sep

I’m trying an experiment in which I put this up for pre-order, in hopes of a sales surge on launch day.  Please pre-order now if interested <grin>.

For the past decade, I have been writing science-fiction, fantasy and alternate history novellas and short stories, some of which have been published, others left to languish and still others existing only in my mind until I started to put this collection together, both in commemoration of my first decade as a successful writer and as an introduction to my longer works and universes.

Ride with Princess Alassa as she discovers how far her father will go to keep his throne, then join a young witch facing a dilemma that forces her to choose between her school and her friend.  Learn what happened, far in the past, when Void and his brothers set out to change the world, then follow a young Emily as an older sorceress challenges her principles and threatens a fate worse than death.  See what might be required to settle the asteroids – and defend them.  Learn what might have happened if Germany had tried to fight on in 1919, or send Graf Zeppelin to raid convoys in 1941, or even tried to invade Britain in 1940 – unsuccessfully. 

Featuring stories from Ark Royal, Schooled in Magic and others that stand-alone, and a certain amount of author commentary, Chrishangers features glimpses of worlds very different and yet still human, realities alien to ours and yet connected … and much, much, more.

Pre-Order HERE!

You Will Get …

Hasdrubal’s Tale (Schooled in Magic) – New

Alassa’s Tale (Schooled in Magic) – Reprint

The Right Thing To Do (Schooled in Magic)            – New

A Little Knowledge (Schooled In Magic) – New

The Man Behind The Curtain (Schooled in Magic) – New

The Second Battle of Dorking (Stand Alone) – New

A Strategic Analysis of European Defence and Security Policy Immediately Prior to the EU-Russia War (The Fall of Night) – New

When The King Enjoys His Own Again (Alternate History)            – New

The Kaiserin of the Seas (Alternate History)            – Reprint

Drang nach Osten (Alternate History) – Reprint

Sealion Fails (Alternate History) – New

A Woman’s Place is Out in Space (Ark Royal) – New

Life During Wartime (Ark Royal) – Reprint

OUT NOW – The Stranded (Mystic Albion I)

21 Sep

Centuries ago, the magic left our world … and the magicians went with it, stepping into the Gates to Mystic Albion and leaving OldeWorld – Earth – forever.  Since then, the two worlds have remained separate, until now.

Three young magicians, experimenting with dangerous spells, find themselves accidentally transported to the world their ancestors fled.  Finding friends and allies, they try to blend in as they struggle to find a way back to their home, unaware that danger lurks in the shadows of a very alien world …

… And that they are already running out of time.

Download a FREE SAMPLE, then purchase from Amazon or Books2Read.

You Might Also Like – The Chimera Coup

OUT NOW: The Chimera Coup (The Heirs of Cataclysm Book 1)

20 Sep

Once, there was a shining civilization grounded on magic, with sorcerers, flying cities, iron ships, and castles in the clouds, and wonders beyond the dreams of mortal men.

And then, in a single cataclysmic moment fifty years ago, magic flared and the wondrous world came to an end. What few who survived are struggling to reclaim what they lost, while darker forces plot to shape the future to something more to their liking.

John, a young magician, is expelled from school after a disastrous experiment scarred his girlfriend and sent to join a band of adventurers in the Wildlands, the rough and twisted lands on the edge of the civilized world. Their first mission: defeat an evil sorcerer and liberate his thralls before he becomes a threat to all.

But it may already be too late…

Download a FREE SAMPLE, then purchase HERE!

Snippet: The Revolutionary War (The Royal Sorceress V)

20 Sep


Simone prided herself on never being afraid of men.

She was a Talker, with the ability to read thoughts and emotions and incredible insight into the male psyche even when she wasn’t using her talents.  She knew what buttons to press to make a man think or say whatever she wanted, to spill his secrets or pledge himself to her life and defence even without any pledges from her in return.  She’d used her talents on behalf of the empire and her adopted father, Ambassador Talleyrand long enough to know precisely what she was doing.  She wasn’t fool enough to think herself immune from consequences, in the ever more faction-ridden Bourbon Court, but she knew that, as long as she was useful, she’d be relatively safe from harm.

And yet, Duke Philippe scared her.

He strode beside her, his arm resting on hers in a manner that might have seemed affectionate under other circumstances, his presence overshadowing her thoughts.  She couldn’t read his thoughts, or even pick up a sense of his emotions, and it bothered her.  No one had said anything bad about him, as far as she knew, and yet their thoughts – when they thought about him, which was as little as possible – were coloured with apprehension, even fear.  Duke Philippe was a close confident of the king, yet very few people knew anything about him beyond his rank and title.  It wasn’t even clear what he did for the king.

Simone titled her head just slightly, enough to study him.  He was a handsome man in his late thirties, wearing surprisingly modest dress for a courtier at Versailles, yet there was something about his appearance that made her feel uneasy.  She couldn’t put it into words.  She was used to seeing men and women who dressed themselves to draw the eye, or to shock, and yet … there was just something off about him.  She tried, once again, to extend her magic and read him, but there was nothing.  It was worrying.  She knew people with the mental discipline to keep her out, or keep their thoughts spinning to prevent her from following the mental strands, but this … it was almost as if he wasn’t there.  If he hadn’t had his arm on hers, holding her tightly enough to make it clear she couldn’t break free, she would have thought he really wasn’t

Her mind raced as they passed a pair of sentries and walked down a flight of stairs.  She’d never been to the very lowest levels, but she’d heard the rumours.  It was an open secret that the king had prisoners here, men and women arrested by lettres de cachet and held in the dungeons by the king’s personal authority … held without any hope of freedom unless the king decided to let them go.  Others … there were all sorts of whispers, from secret brothels for pleasures denied even to the courtiers to private meeting rooms, where the king met with foreign ambassadors away from prying eyes.  Her blood ran cold as they passed a pair of Royal Guardsmen, wearing combat uniforms rather than the peacock finery of the sentries above; proof, if she needed it, that the normal rules didn’t apply below the ground.  If she’d realised where she was going …

She swallowed, hard.  She’d hadn’t been in any position to argue, when the message had arrived at the suite she shared with her adopted father.  She’d been summoned … and Duke Philippe himself had arrived to escort her.  It wasn’t the first time she’d been invited to the palace – she was the adopted daughter of a great nobleman – but it was by far the strangest and the most dangerous.  The war wasn’t going well.  The failed invasion of Britain, the defeat in America, the chaos to the east … she’d caught a handful of officers bemoaning the war, arguing that the empire should seek peace with the British so they could make territorial gains in Russia while the Russians fought their civil war.  If the factions had turned murderous … it wouldn’t be the first time.  She tried not to shiver in fear.  Every Frenchman dreaded a return to the Unrest of 1789, where revolutionaries had almost taken Paris, or the Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants.  And yet, with the war going poorly, who knew what would happen?

People are starving, she reflected, grimly.  She wasn’t a well-dressed princess whose life was a constant whirl of parties, romantic relationships and little else.  She knew the public mood was darkening.  One didn’t need to read minds to know thatAnd when people are starving and desperate, they do desperate things.

Duke Philippe tightened his grip, just enough to make her wince.  “Beyond this door, keep your thoughts to yourself,” he said.  His tone was curiously flat, as if he cared nothing for her.  Simone knew men who were enraptured by her beauty and men who disdained her for being a woman and yet, Duke Philippe – somehow – was worse.  She had the impression he’d break her neck in an instant if it suited her, without even a flicker of emotion.  “There are secrets here that must not be spoken.”

Simone gritted her teeth, fighting not to pull away.  It was hard, even as he loosened his grip.  There would be marks on her bare skin … she knew, all too well, the dark underside of the fairy tale palace, the aristocratic women who used makeup to hide their bruises and the serving girls too poor or powerless to do the same.  She controlled her thoughts with an effort as the doors swung open, revealing a simple chamber.  Her heart seemed to skip a beat as she was guided into the room, the four men already present not even deigning to look at her.  The room was completely unfurnished, save for a simple stone block.  Fear ran through her as she realised where she was, where she had to be.  It was the king’s judgement hall.

“Stay quiet,” Duke Philippe ordered.  “Say nothing.”

The other set of doors opened.  Two guards entered, dragging a beaten and bound man between them.  Simone’s thoughts darted towards him, despite the warning, and stopped –dead – as she tasted his mind aura.  It was almost as familiar to her as her own … Talleyrand, Ambassador Talleyrand, her adopted father and guardian and master and … she staggered, nearly fainting, as her father was pushed to the block.  If Duke Philippe hadn’t been holding her arm, she feared she would have collapsed.

A man stepped forward.  He wore royal livery, but she didn’t recognise him.  The king had many servants, some kept in the shadows.  There was no shortage of rumours about them either. 

“Talleyrand,” he said.  “You have been judged guilty of …”

Simone didn’t listen to the charges.  She’d always known her adopted father was venial in almost every sense of the word, with an insatiable appetite for titles, money and women, but … they didn’t matter.  The simple fact he’d been brought here and treated as a rebel, rather than as a man of aristocratic blood, spoke volumes.  The specific charges were nothing more than a thin veneer of legality, spread over a judicial murder to conceal the simple fact the victim had been sacrificed to appease the victorious faction.  Simone knew no one would be fooled.  One faction had gained ascendency and marked Talleyrand for death, proving their supremacy in a way no one could deny.

Duke Philippe’s grip tightened, again.  “Watch.”

Simone blinked away tears as her adopted father was hauled to the block and shoved into place.  There were no speeches, no final chance to sway the crowd … what crowd?  Simone was powerless and everyone else agreed Talleyrand had to die.  She forced herself to stand tall and watch, silently grateful he didn’t look at her, as the axe came down.  It was over so quickly she barely had a second to say a prayer for him.  Talleyrand hadn’t been perfect – far from it – but he’d been far from the worst of guardians.  She didn’t have to read minds all day to know that, either.

“It is done,” Duke Philippe said, pulling her away from the scene.  “Come.”

Simone found her voice, the moment they were back outside.  “Why …?”

“These are dangerous times for the empire,” Duke Philippe said.  There was still no emotion in his voice.  “His Majesty has determined that a new policy is needed, to win the war and ensure Bourbon Supremacy for the rest of time.  I, his Master of Magic, have been ordered to carry out the policy.  You will assist me.”

“I …”  Simone caught herself.  Talleyrand had been one of the most powerful courtiers at Versailles.  His execution was clear proof the balance of power had shifted.  She was mildly surprised she hadn’t been executed too, or sent to the breeding farms.  She wasn’t meant to know they existed, but she did.  “I serve His Majesty.”

“Quite,” Duke Philippe agreed.  “And don’t you forget it.”

He let go of her and turned, walking back up the corridor.  Simone knew he expected her to follow him – and knew he was right.  What else could she do?  She reached for her power as she started to walk, making one final attempt to reach into his mind and read his thoughts.  This time, there was something … a jarring series of images, all tangled together into a single horrific mass.  Simone had to bite her lip to keep from gasping.  If he realised what she’d done, she’d never leave the court alive. 

God, she asked herself.  Her adopted father was dead … who else could she ask for help?  She hadn’t precisely been kept isolated from the rest of the courtiers, but they hadn’t been very welcoming either … no, they’d be completely unwelcoming now Talleyrand had been executed.  No one would give her so much as a smile, for fear it would draw entirely the wrong type of attention.  What do I do now?

Something crystallised in her mind as she studied his back.  She’d loved Talleyrand, regardless of his flaws, and he’d served his king loyally.  She wanted to make the court pay for what they’d done to him.  And besides, whatever the cost, Duke Philippe had to be stopped.

And Simone would have her revenge.

Chapter One: London, England

London stank.

Bruce floated above the city and breathed in the air, wondering – not for the first time – how people managed to live in such a nightmare.  New York was cramped and unpleasant in places, but the wide open world beyond the colonies had all the living space anyone could possibly want.  London, by contrast, sprawled for miles, a tangled nightmare of government buildings and aristocratic districts surrounded by circles of lower and lower class housing that eventually ended in slums and shanty housing owned by distant uncaring landlords and ruled by criminal gangs.  London was the greatest city of the greatest empire the world had ever known and yet, looking at the capital from above, it was hard not to see the city as the rotten core of a rotten empire.  He had no idea, he really didn’t, why so many people were allowed to waste their lives in the slums.  It would be so much kinder to ship them to North America, Australia, or even to Africa.

And this is when the city is shrouded in night, he thought, dully.  It looks worse during the day.

He sucked in his breath, shaking his head.  His father had told him tales of London and he wished, almost, he’d never seen the reality.  It was a shining city on a river and also a hellhole resting on a bog.  The population were great and noble and yet also sullen and murderous.  It was hard to believe Gwen had been born and raised in London, but then … he only had to look beyond the edge of the city to see aristocratic enslaves, islands of greenery threatened by the ever-advancing tidal wave of civilisation.  The great mansions weren’t castles, not by any stretch of the imagination, but they might as well be, given how they protected the inhabitants from the reality of the world surrounding them.  There’d been changes, he’d been told, after the Swing …

… And yet, from high above, it seemed nothing had changed in years.

Something moved, below him.  Bruce darted to one side, gritting his teeth as he felt magic trying to envelop him.  Two – no, three – figures were flying towards him, their hands raised as they steered magical force in a bid to grab and crush his magic.  The spikes of raw power were meant to panic him, hinting it was a matter of seconds before his power failed and he plunged to the ground.  Bruce refused to allow himself to be intimidated as he called on his own magic, snatching a fireball out of nowhere and hurling it at the lead figure.  It should have forced the man to concentrate on his own defence, to wrap himself in power rather than try to snatch Bruce out of the air, but instead the fireball exploded harmlessly against an invisible wall.  Bruce felt a flicker of wry amusement.  It was hard not to be impressed at how well the three magicians – all Movers – worked together.  One to carry the three into the air, one to defend them, one to attack.  It might just work.

Bruce took a breath and dissolved his magic.  They expect him to either go on the offensive himself or try to flee.  Instead, gravity took effect and he plummeted downwards.  The magicians seemed to hesitate, unsure if they’d done more than they’d intended or if he was trying to con them.  Bruce took full advantage, wrapping his power around him to ensure he fell faster and further.  They’d be after him in a moment – he was surprised they weren’t already giving chase – but he had a few seconds.  He dropped into the alleyway, gritting his teeth as he channelled all his power into a dead stop.  He would have survived the landing if he’d come down hard, but the impact would have been impossible for even a blind man to miss.  The rest of the magicians were out there somewhere, hunting him … he kept moving, keeping his head down as he flew through the alleyways.  A handful of homeless people scattered as he kept moving … he felt a twinge of guilt, combined with the grim awareness they could easily have signed up to sail abroad instead.  British North America was always looking for new colonists, particularly ones hungry for land and money of their own.  He hoped they’d think about it, as he darted through an even darker alleyway.  The ladies of the night waved at him …

He sensed the spike of power, an instant before the bolt impacted on his magic.  For a second, the darkened alleyway was as brightly lit as the Royal College.  He caught sight of two magicians ahead of him, both aiming their fingers … he ducked instinctively as they directed streams of raw power at him, trying to batter down his defences by naked force.  It was surprisingly inelegant, but it might just work … he reached out with his magic and yanked on nearly pieces of debris, picking them up and throwing them at the magicians.  His lips quirked as they hastily started shooting the debris out of the air instead, rather than trying to duck.  He had to admit it made a certain degree of sense.  There was no way to be sure he wouldn’t steer the debris directly into someone’s chest.  Perhaps it wouldn’t kill them, but they’d be bruised enough to make them regret tangling with him.

The air twisted, as second later, as a swarm of … something brushed against him.  His mind blanked – bees or wasps or … something – before he realised it was animated dust.  It didn’t seem dangerous, certainly not when compared to the more powerful magicians hunting him, but it made it difficult to see and he dreaded to think what it would do if it got into his mouth and lungs.  Gritting his teeth, he ducked and put all his power into pushing the dust away from him.  A wind rushed through the alleyway, knocking down one of the Blazers who’d been fool enough to stand up again.  Bruce barely noticed.  He couldn’t see the Changer who’d animated the dust, nor the Infuser who’d probably assisted the bastard, and that meant there was no way to stop him doing the same thing again.  Worse, the bright light had probably brought the Movers down on him too.  If they hadn’t known where he was before, they sure as hell did now.

No point in trying to hide, he thought.  And that gives me options …

He closed his eyes and drew on his magic, generating a blinding light.  Someone cried out … it wouldn’t blind them permanently, he hoped, but they’d be blinking away tears long enough for him to get moving.  The light vanished … he opened his eyes and looked forward, wincing in sympathy as he saw a magician rubbing his eyelids frantically.  His partner raised a hand, directing a bolt of magic towards Bruce.  Quick-witted enough to close his eyes, Bruce reflected, or simply lucky enough to be looking away from the light before it had snapped out of existence.  It didn’t matter.  The rest of the magicians were briefly stunned, long enough for Bruce to fly straight at the Blazer and knock him down.  Again.

There was no time to savour his brief victory.  Bruce kept moving, staying low rather than risk the skies.  There would be too great a risk of being spotted, even though the darkness and smog should have hidden him perfectly.  And yet … he ducked, sharply, as the world seemed to explode around him.  The three Movers dropped down, their power lashing out like a hurricane.  Bruce barely had a second to keep his head down as they threw enough bricks and stone to make an entire house at him, chunks of debris slamming into his magic and making him wince in pain.  In theory, his defences were impregnable.  In practice, enough hammering could and would bring them down.

Damn it, he thought.  It was hard to see clearly in the semi-darkness, but it looked as if the Movers were fighting blind.  They shouldn’t be able to see him, let alone actually fight.  There was something weirdly unfocused about their power, but … they were still fighting with surprising effectiveness.  If he stood still, they’d zero in on his position and take him down.  How are they doing it?

His mind raced, considering the options.  Were they Masters?  Bruce would have bet his inheritance they were nothing of the sort, not when the Royal Sorcerers Corps had spent years trying to avoid making the decision to recruit Lady Gwen.  They would have happily left her to rot if they’d had any alternative.  Hell, Bruce knew there were quite a few magicians who chafed at the thought of taking orders from a woman, and a mere girl at that.  The only other Master was Bruce himself and the senior magicians were still trying to decide if the disadvantages of him being American outweighed the advantages of having a penis.  He rolled his eyes at the thought.  Bastards.  If they’d known precisely how Gwen and Bruce had met, they’d have had a collective heart attack.  They really didn’t think …

Understanding clicked as the Movers kept coming, their power reaching out to grab him.  They were a team!  The heavy hitters might have taken the lead in the bid to catch him, but their supporters weren’t far away.  There’d be a Seer and a Talker – perhaps more than one – watching from a safe distance, coordinating the battle.  The idea of surrendering control of his body and magic to anyone was unpleasant, and he doubted he could do it for anything, but the team had probably practiced long enough to overcome the instinctive reluctance to do anything of the sort.  That they were using it in battle … they’d had to have spent months practicing.  Bruce had to admit it was clever, and not something anyone would have reasonably expected.

He tossed a handful of debris at them – he’d be astonished if it slowed them down for more than a few moments, but every second counted –   and reached out with his mind.  Gwen was the expert, when it came to the mental talents.  She had a precision he could only admire, a degree of control he’d thought impossible before meeting her.  Bruce suspected it had something to do with their upbringing.  He’d been raised as a young man – and it had been expected he’d inherit his father’s title and lands – while she’d been raised as a young woman, someone who’d be married off for best advantage after she was introduced to High Society.  She’d never been supposed to use her powers openly …

Got you, he thought.  The Talkers hadn’t tried to latch onto Bruce’s mind directly – he was sure he would have felt them reading his thoughts, even if he was in the middle of a battle – but he could still feel them, right on the edge of his awareness.  They were closer than he’d expected or at least they felt that way.  The mental magics behaved oddly where distance was involved, in ways that didn’t quite make sense.  Did you come to share the danger or do you have to be close to use your powers effectively?

It didn’t matter.  He drew on his power, broadcasting a disruptive thought into the air.  No normal person, magician or no, would so much as notice its presence, but a Talker would be sent reeling by the sheer wrongness of the thought.  It was like … he wasn’t sure how to put it into words … perhaps being hit in the face by human faeces, only worse.  The blowback made him gag, even as the Movers staggered, their coordination gone.  Bruce could do nothing about the Seer, if there really was a Seer, but it didn’t matter.  There was no way for the Seer to keep the Movers informed, not now the Talkers were out of the game.

Keep moving, he told himself.  It wasn’t that long until daybreak.  Don’t let them get a solid idea of where you are.

He dropped to the ground and started to run, picking his way through the shadows with practiced ease.  They’d be looking for someone flying, or wrapped in magic, rather than someone showing no visible signs of power.  The confrontation had sent hundreds of people running in all directions, further confusing the searchers.  It was quite possible he’d be able to walk right out of the cordon, as long as he kept his head down and doffed his forelock when he saw the searchers.  His lips quirked at the thought.  The hunters were proud men who considered themselves touched by God, even if they hadn’t been born to the very highest levels of the aristocracy.  They’d have trouble wrapping their heads around someone pretending to be a powerless commoner.

Which is a mistake on their part, he thought.  The Sons of Liberty had had plenty of sources amongst the American aristocracy and almost all of them had been resentful servants.  A commoner might pass unnoticed in a place an aristocrat would be spotted effortlessly.

He slowed his movements as he felt questing mental probes rippling the air, trying to pose as a cripple.  There was a decent chance he’d simply be overlooked in the confusion … perhaps.  It was impossible to be sure.  Seers tended to be dangerously unpredictable and a Talker might latch onto his mental aura without ever realising their thoughts were brushing against a cripple’s mind.  His thoughts hardened in disgust.  It was technically illegal to read someone’s mind without their consent, or a court order, but the rule was honoured more in the breach than the observance.  Gwen had told him, bitterly, that aristos who loudly proclaimed female magicians should never be trained to use their powers had few qualms about using their mind-reading daughters to give them an edge in negotiations, particularly when no one knew their children had magic.  And …

The world seemed to explode around him.  Bruce hurled himself into the air as two waves of magic slammed together, where he’d been an instant ago.  He realised his mistake a second later.  There was no reason for a vagrant, someone down on his luck and sleeping on the streets, to have such tight mental discipline, particularly when he had no reason to think he’d need it.  Perhaps he should have tried to put together a better cover story, but it wouldn’t have fooled the questing minds for long.  He twisted his magic as the Movers closed in, sending a blast of raw power directly towards them while using a stream – almost a thread – of magic to yank him backwards, swinging from building to building.  His old teacher hadn’t been strong in magic, unlike his charge, but he’d made up for it in ingenuity.  Who needed to fly when you could swing through the air.

He glanced at the sky.  The first hints of dawn could be see, although it was hard to be sure of anything in perpetually gloomy London.  He pushed out another mental broadcast, hopefully knocking the Talkers back down again.  It wouldn’t take long for the Movers to realise they’d been conned … if they didn’t already know it, he’d be astonished.  But as long as he stayed ahead of them, he should be fine.  The flying magicians could catch up with him quickly – they could probably move faster than him – but everyone else would be restricted to shank’s pony.  They couldn’t get into position unless the Movers slowed him down.  And …

Something struck him, hard.  Bruce barely had a second to realise what was happening before he – they­ – were plummeting to the ground.  There was hardly any time to cushion the impact as the paving stones came up and hit him.  The landing jarred him so violently it knocked the wind from his lungs.  His attacker’s magic was tearing into his, shredding his defences and brushing against his bare skin.  He tried to summon his power to counterattack, but it wasn’t enough.  All he managed was to knock the hat from her head.  Blonde hair spilled down and brushed against his hands.

“Got you,” Gwen said.

Bruce looked up at her.  She was beautiful, despite her rather severe clothing carefully cut to hide as much of her figure as possible.  His heart raced, his body suddenly very aware of hers pressing against his.  His magic thrummed … he raised his head, their lips touching without conscious thought.  It was hard, very hard, to break the kiss.  And yet, he had no choice.  If someone saw them kissing openly, before their marriage, it would ruin her.  Bruce would take a terrible revenge, if he ever figured out who’d done it, but the damage would be beyond repair.  They weren’t even allowed to hold hands in public.

“You got me,” Bruce said.  There was no point in denying it.  “Are you going to let me breathe now?”

Gwen rolled off him and stood, brushing down her dark outfit.  “You did well,” she said, picking up her hat and putting it on her head.  “There aren’t many people who can stay ahead of us for long.”

“Thanks,” Bruce said.  It was hard not to wonder if there really was an us.  She didn’t normally fight as part of a team, let alone the first and greatest team of magicians in the known world.  Merlin should have recruited her long ago and yet they hadn’t, while they’d extended an offer to Bruce with insulting speed.  “What now?”

“Now?”  Gwen shrugged, then composed herself as the sound of running footsteps echoed towards them.  “Now, we go over the chase, and then you and I have an appointment at the hall.”

Bruce swallowed.  “Do I really have to meet your parents?”

Gwen laughed, but there was an edge to it.  “I’m afraid so,” she said.  “It won’t be easy to marry without their permission.”

“Charming,” Bruce said.  It was going to be a disaster.  He knew it.  “But anything for you.”

Oh No More Updates!

16 Sep

It’s been a rough few weeks.

The good news is that my lymphoma is completely in remission.  It left its scars on my body, unfortunately, but the doctor is fairly confident it isn’t going to come back – at least, not in a hurry.  There are no guarantees, of course, and it will be a long time before I stop panicking at every unexplained twinge – the ones I ignored in 2017, to my cost – but it’s good news.  The bad news is that my sinus problem keeps popping up, every time I go off the antibiotics and they’re actually proving less effective, so the doctor is hoping to get to the bottom of that sooner or later.  And I have a gallstone operation on the 24th.  Joy.

That said, I have completed the first draft of The Conjuring Man, the third and final Cunning Man book.  I have also finished a novella for Fantastic SchoolsThe Muckraker’s Tale – and a handful of short stories for various collections.  The Stranded is just waiting on the cover before I bring it out, while All for All is still waiting on the edits.  You can also pre-order The Family Secret in audio through the link here and Stuck in Magic is on the way.

(There’s been a slight delay with the next Ark Royal – my plot fell apart and I need to come up with something new.)

Despite all that, I’ve gotten behind on a lot of other things.  I’ve been trying to catch up with email and FB messages, but there’s a bunch I haven’t had time to read, let alone reply to.  If you’re still waiting on a reply, sorry – I’ll try and get to it soon.

In other news, we enjoyed our time in Malaysia and Turkey.  Our flight from Edinburgh wasn’t that bad – the check-in went surprisingly well, security was clogged with people and passing through was harder because the rules weren’t updated to account for the pressure – but it was delayed for four hours, so we hung around in the airport until we were allowed to board the plane.  Turkey wasn’t too bad, although our favourite restaurant had shut down between 2019 and 2022, so we couldn’t go there.  Malaysia is as hot as always.  I’ve discovered I really hate writing on a laptop keyboard too.

It’s interesting to see how Malaysia is coping with COVID.  We were told we needed a vaccination certificate to enter, but no one checked it.  The bigger shopping malls in KL are checking the Malaysian app for vaccine certificates, but no one else is bothering as far as I can tell.  (We attended my brother in law’s wedding and no one checked there either, despite hundreds of people being crammed into a relatively small space.)  There’s been a lot of economic damage, but mainly – as far as I can see – to the bigger names and shopping facilities.  A lot of the smaller stuff seems to have picked up and carried on, although it’s hard to be sure.

I’m hoping to start The Revolutionary War next week, luck and health permitting.

On other news, the themes for Fantastic Schools 7 and 8 will be ‘sports’ and ‘staff,’ basically stories centred on school sports or the staff, teachers, janitors, etc.  If you’re interested in submitting a story, please check out the rules and drop us a note.

And please feel free to follow me.


Background: The Machinists

13 Sep

These are background notes for a possible story/trilogy. What do you think?

Background: The Machinists

Of all the various ideologies that sprang out of the tumultuous years of the British Civil Wars (1642–1651), one would not expected Mechanism to rise from nothing to become the dominant ideology of the entire world and soar system beyond.  Many people expected, even after King Charles was stripped of his title and beheaded, that the kingdom would eventually have another king or collapse into chaos in the absence of a strong monarch.  Instead, the groundwork for the transition to a whole new society was laid – partly by accident – and Mechanism became a political movement that undermined its enemies to the point long-term resistance was simply impossible.

Mechanism was born from the fertile mind of Admiral Lord Treathwick and his two children, General Arnold Treathwick (eventually Lord Protector) and Sarah Treathwick.  Lord Treathwick was, at the time, a high-ranking naval officer who sided with Parliament in the opening years of the civil war (ensuring that Mechanism had a powerful backer right from the start) while Arnold was a young man who joined the Parliamentary cause, became a close personal friend of Oliver Cromwell and eventually assisted him to construct the New Model Army that won the first round of conflict.  Sarah Treathwick, unusually for her era, was one of the most educated women in the country, and the inventor of the first steam engine and advanced guns.  She was, in many ways, the true founder of Mechanism.  She was certainly the one who took the time to analyse the political issues being discussed during the era and forge them into a workable ideology.  In later years, it would be claimed Mechanism had many fathers but only one mother.

Mechanism claims to be a scientific ideology, although – at least at first – there was a strong religious tinge to its platform.  It is based on three core points:

First, mankind has a duty to study his environment and advance his technology so he can reach his full potential.  In the early days, it was argued that doing so would allow man to rise above the savage and closer to God; later, as religion declined in importance, the concept of mankind actually becoming godlike would eventually take centre stage.

Second, all men – regardless of colour, gender or creed – have the same inherent potential to rise and, if they choose to do so, they should be accepted as equals.  Mechanism had a superiority complex, like many other ideologies, but it also makes room for newcomers willing to join up.  Linked to this, deliberately suppressing anyone’s potential is regarded as fundamentally harmful.  Slavery and serfdom, for example, were eventually banned within the Mechanist Protectorate, then the rest of the world. 

Third, Machinists have a duty to spot individuals with considerable potential and take them as their clients, offering them opportunities to develop their skills and rise in the ranks.

The success of Mechanism, at least in the early years, is easily explained.  The development of steam-powered warships changed the face of warfare, allowing the newborn Protectorate to crush the Dutch and secure vast possessions in North America and the Caribbean.  The development of railways – and eventually steam-powered cars and airships – allowed the country to be united as never before, particularly in the wake of Oliver Cromwell’s campaigns against the Scots and Irish.  Sarah, in the meantime, worked to lure more female minds into engineering and medicine, in particularly creating a sisterhood of nurses who revolutilised medicine.  More significantly, the development of patron/client relationships, modelled by General Treathwick, ensured the Protectorate would always have a sizable reservoir of talented men to call upon.  Indeed, while Oliver Cromwell still assumed  de facto supreme power as Lord Protector, he knew to pay close attention to his supporters, including General Treathwick and his sister. 

Cromwell’s death, in 1660, brought hope to the remaining monarchists and others who felt threatened by the rise of Mechanism.  This hope was swiftly quashed.  The post of Lord Protector was passed, as planned, to General Treathwick, while a handful of minor rebellions against the Protectorate were swiftly crushed.  This was unfortunate for the exiled Charles Stuart (the Protectorate never accepted his claim to be Charles II) and he, with backing from the French and Spanish, triggered off the First Global War.  This was a mistake.  Charles’s attempt to invade England swiftly reminded the English while they’d deposed his father, while the Franco-Spanish invasion of the Dutch Protectorate (brought into the Protectorate after their defeat) rapidly bogged down.  The Protectorate rallied and counterattacked, sweeping the seas clean of enemy ships and mounting a major invasion of France itself.

On paper, their armies didn’t stand a chance.  They were grossly outnumbered by the forces the French (and Spanish) could raise against them.  In practice, the odds were a great deal better than they looked.  The Protectorate troops were better led, better disciplined and better equipped than their enemies, who were not only behind the technological curve but also led by aristocrats who lacked the experience to understand how war had changed in the last hundred years.  Worst of all, for the French and Spanish, their enemy’s ideology was extremely attractive to vast numbers of their own people, who liked the idea of having land redistributed, limited taxes, freedom of religion and much – much – else.  The Royalist Alliance, as it eventually became known, gave the Protectorate some nasty moments, but eventual revolutions in their rear made it impossible for them to hold their kingdoms together.  The remainder of the royalists fled east, to Russia, while the Protectorate rebuilt their kingdoms and assimilated them.  It was the dawn of a whole new age.

Development moved fast.  Railways extended east into Europe and west into North America.  (The Russians and Ottomans, realising the threat, started their own industrialisation programs in a desperate bid to catch up.)  The natives were either assimilated or simply pushed aside (Machinist histories tend to gloss over effective genocide) while the new colonies grew rapidly.  The transfer of power to a third Lord Protector, upon General Treathwick’s death, effectively marked the day Mechanism came of age.  There were other ideologies, mainly religions, but none of them were politically powerful.  Mechanism had effectively assimilated them too.

It was not long, as technology continued to develop, that clashes started between the Protectorate and its new enemies.  The Russians and Ottomans remained in their strange alliance while, as the Protectorate extended its tendrils into the Far East, it found itself clashing with China, Japan and various Indian states.  Japan, internally divided, was swiftly annexed and assimilated (a process made easier by the Mechanist lack of overt racism); India and China rapidly became battlegrounds, with Protectorate influence inching up from the south while the Russians and Ottomans divided Persia between them and probed from the north and west respectively.  The result was inevitable.  War.

The Second Great War (1800-1815, as it became known, was brutal.  Both sides had built powerful armies, navies and air forces, pushing the limits of available technology as far as they would go.  The Russians were not quite as advanced as the Protectorate, but they made up for it by sheer weight of numbers and a police state that made it difficult for Mechanism to spread into their lands.  However, as the war progressed and both sides developed rockets and atomic weapons, the Protectorate’s superiority began to tell.  Russia’s surrender in 1815 brought the war to an end – fighting would continue for years in many places, with the last resistance not quashed until 1890 – and left the Protectorate dominating the planet.  It was quick to seek a new cause, by developing space technology and reaching the nearby moon and planets. 

And then, in 2000, the Protectorate – experimenting with FTL travel – discovered it could extend its reach into other timelines …


The Protectorate (formally the Mechanist Protectorate) is a curious mix between fascism, communism and what we might call a military democracy.  It is a highly-regimented society that is surprisingly good at ensuring its citizens find roles that are both satisfactory for them and the wider world.  It expects citizens to work to rise within the ranks and yet ensures everyone has the basics of life, from enough to eat and drink to basic education and assessment tests customised to ensure students go where they’d best suited.  It is a supremacist society in the truest possible sense, but – at the same time – it is very welcoming of immigrants and outsiders who are willing to conform.  The fact there is a clear and very valid path to citizenship, even to leadership, accounts for the society’s ability to convert outsiders and effectively steal their talented (and often unfairly restrained) citizens for themselves. 

On paper, all citizens are created equal.  (In practice, there’s always been a certain degree of nepotism within the upper ranks, although a combination of social pressure and dire consequences for incompetence keeps it under control.)  Everyone has the same basic education and access to resources, as well as skilled teachers capable of separating students by ability.  At twelve, students are put through a set of aptitude tests and then offered places in higher education tailored to their particular skills and aspirations.  At eighteen, they are generally streamlined into their future careers, whatever they may be.  They are often also quietly introduced to prospective partners, although there is little compulsion in such matters.

Young men are expected to either enter long-term employment or join the military (or related divisions, such as space exploration).  Young women are expected to spend their early adulthood having children; they don’t enter employment until much later, after the children are weaned and sent to school.  (This isn’t a hard and fast rule, although the government works hard to ensure women with good genes pass them on by supporting mothers and, in some cases, ensuring children from extremely talented women are taken into care right from birth.)  Once in employment, the newcomers are encouraged to seek out mentors who will assist them in developing their careers, eventually rising as far as they can go. 

The population is effectively divided into ranks, based on how high their talents and competences can take them.  The upper ranks are supposed to serve and protect the lower ranks, on the theory talent can come from anywhere, and to a large extent it generally worked.  Once someone reaches the higher ranks in their particular career, they have the vote and a certain amount of influence.  There are more checks and balances, largely unwritten, in this structure than you might think.  A military regiment, for example, has the right to elect and impeach its officers (in peacetime; doing it under fire is regarded as a major disciplinary issue and almost always leads to court martial and death sentences.)  A wise senior, whatever his rank, will listen to his subordinates and at least try to justify his decision to them.

The enfranchised citizens elect representatives to the Assembly and Parliament, which in turn elect the Lord Protector (both Head of State and Head of Government) from a handful of names.  This is not a particularly transparent process and involves a great deal of horse-trading between the various government, military and industrial interests, although – again – there is some incentive to justify the final selection.  It is hard for the average person to make their opinions felt, but the risk of a politician being unseated can never be wholly discounted. 

The Protectorate itself is divided into states (some matching the pre-1600 political boundaries) and dominions.  States have effective internal rule in line with Mechanist principles.  Dominions have, at least on paper, a ruling class of Mechanists that is open to any of the locals who want to forsake their old ways and join up.  In theory, non- Mechanists are free to do as they like as long as they don’t threaten the state, directly or indirectly; in practice, there is strong social pressure to conform and woe betide anyone who stands between the Protectorate and something it wants.  The Protectorate has few qualms about using the most extreme measures to deal with opposition, from military invasion to effective genocide. 

For the citizens, life isn’t that bad.  The basic necessities are provided.  (The Mechanists are fond of remarking you have to work to earn if you want more than the basics.)  There is a certain degree of political and personal freedom.  Those who start their own businesses and prosper can expect great honour, even a sudden rise in the ranks.  There is even a remarkable amount of freedom of speech (you are free to criticize the Lord Protector and his individual officers, but not the Protectorate or Mechanism itself) and social mobility.  For the military, there are also opportunities to show your talents and win promotion, first through skirmishes in the dominions and then through interdimensional invasions.

The Protectorate will never admit it, but there is a small underclass of citizens who cannot or will not fit into society.  Some of them are considered harmless and largely ignored (drug addicts, for example, or internet trolls); others, who start preying on the rest of society, are rapidly arrested and transported to penal camps, where they can either work or starve.  Actual subversives are rare, to the point the handful who do pop up are often ignored too.  The ones who do draw attention from the security forces are normally offered a flat choice between exile or the camps.

Outside the Protectorate, life is often rough.  The Dominions offer few comforts for outsiders, provoking bitter hatred and resentment; it is clear, to anyone with eyes to see, that the policy is effective cultural genocide.  (The Protectorate’s official position is that anyone who refuses to accept Mechanism deserves everything they get.)  Tech levels are low – Protectorate policy is to ban anything that might have military applications – and medical care very limited.  There are persistent uprisings, but none of them come close to posing a real threat and, to some extent, they are actively encouraged to blood newly-raised military formations and wipe out potentially dangerous agitators. 


The Protectorate is extremely technologically advanced.  The development of basic antigravity technology opened up the skies, allowing vast numbers of citizens to be transported to orbit.  The technically is still quite limited, but the military uses it for both hovertanks – capable of flying over rivers and seas, if not levitating above a certain height – and flyers (effectively supersonic VTOL aircraft).  Antigravity tech is far from perfected – oscillations in the field can tear the generator apart, forcing an emergency landing or, more likely, the flyer simply dropping out of the air and crashing.

The core of the Protectorate military is the formidable Cromwell Hovertank – a giant beast, armed with heavy plasma cannons, laser point defence and strobe pulsars designed to cause everything from panic to convulsions amongst unprotected targets.  (The Protectorate uses them for crowd and riot control.)  The Cromwell carries two platoons of unarmoured soldiers within its hull – armoured soldiers ride on top – as well as a three-man crew.  In theory, one person can operate the tank; in practice, this is only attempted under dire circumstances.

The Cromwell is backed up by the Knight Battlesuit – an armoured combat suit worn by infantry – and Angel Flyer, a supersonic aircraft aimed with plasma cannons and EMP bomblets (designed to fry unshielded) electronics.  They are also capable of carrying and deploying fusion nukes.  The fighting units are backed up by extremely capable support units, ranging from electronic warfare teams capable of hacking almost any primitive database to repair crews and intelligence teams trained to extract information from unwilling donors.

The Protectorate’s greatest invention, however, is the Interdimensional Transpositioner, device capable of swapping a piece of land in the Protectorate’s timeline for one in another dimension.  The device is far more efficient than interdimensional gates – which are extremely difficult to keep open permanently, without gateway generators on both sides of the dimensional walls – but is so costly and requires so much power to operate that it cannot be used very often and rarely more than once every two months.  The Protectorate’s standard procedure, therefore, is to use it to shift a military base – roughly the size of a small town – into the target timeline, which is then on its own until the Transpositioner can be repowered or a gateway set up to allow for steady contact between the two timelines.  These bases are extremely well-equipped and, at least in theory, capable of surviving long enough for contact to be established.

(In the event of there being natives transposed into the Protectorate timeline, they are rapidly seized and interrogated by intelligence teams to determine what sort of world exists on the far side.  They are rarely returned, unless they prove willing to assist the conquest and take high position in the post-conquest world.)

The Protectorate’s medical technology is also very advanced, with almost nothing beyond its power to cure if it isn’t immediately fatal.  Genetic engineering of more advanced humans has been discussed, but the general consensus is that it should be avoided beyond the very basics (improvement of human immune systems) as it would make it difficult for newcomers to rise if they were competing against their genetic superiors.  The nastier members of the government have been openly speculating about plagues to wipe out outsider populations, but as of now such discussions haven’t gotten beyond the theoretical.

That may, of course, change.


From its earliest days, the Protectorate either destroyed and rebuilt enemy societies or effectively took them over and started to reshape the country from there.  The Dutch, for example, preserved much of their cultural background from the pre-conquest days for quite some time afterwards (as Dutch society was partly compatible with the Protectorate) while France and Spain had their societies rebuilt.  India, and to some extent Japan, had the Protectorate either replacing the top-most layers of society or subverting them, inviting the former rulers to join the Protectorate and work towards full assimilation.  This is, to a very large extent, the Protectorate’s preferred approach.  It not only allows the Protectorate to make use of the enemy society’s structure and resources without a major war, but let’s enemy citizens self-select into Protectorate society, skimming the cream from the top.  Compared to Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan or the USSR, the Protectorate is a very enlightened conqueror.

That is not to say conquest is desirable.  The Protectorate has no qualms about crushing opposition, be it military or civilian.  It dislikes using nuclear weapons, even ones that leave no radiation behind, but will do it if it feels the need.  It is very experienced in ferreting out insurrection and willing to do whatever it takes to crush it.  Worst of all, while it would prefer to capture a society more or less intact, it is willing to destroy it in order to take it.  (“We had to destroy the village to save it” is perfect logic, as far as they are concerned.)  The more a society resists, the more inferior it is and the more willing the Protectorate is to smash it flat and rebuild from scratch.

It is, in short, an opponent to be feared.