Kevin J. Anderson’s Blog

i write. i make up stuff. i adventure hard, so you don’t have to.
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  • July 2014
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    The Devil’s Causeway

    Posted By on July 29, 2014

    Truly Epic may be overused, but at least that’s what it felt like to me. Last week I made a trip with brother-in-law Tim to northern Colorado where we stayed in the ski and spa town of Steamboat Springs. I love Steamboat and have been there many times, but this was Tim’s first visit. We planned to do a legendary 20-mile loop hike out in the Flattops Wilderness, circumnavigating and ascending a huge mesa and then crossing a unique and nail-biting geological feature called the Devil’s Causeway.  (With all our hikes, considering all the landmarks named after the Devil, he sure must like to claim real estate.)

    On the drive to Steamboat, Tim and I stopped along the way to hike out to a noted landmark at Rabbit Ears Pass, the twin volcanic towers of Rabbit Ears Peak.  I started writing a new project on the walk and got two chapters done.

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    After we got to Steamboat, we checked into the hotel, unpacked the car…but there was still time for me to show Tim some of the things he had been missing in town. We went to see the natural sulfur springs in the downtown park, and then headed out to spectacular Fish Creek Falls.

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    Done with hiking and exploring, we stopped at a brand new brewery that had opened up in town, the Storm King Brewery, where Tim played designated driver so I could sample their IPAs. We asked for the best pizza place in town, and were directed to a lovely place just at the end of their 2-for-1 pizza happy hour. We sat outside as our pizza was delivered—then huddled under the umbrellas as a deluge of late-afternoon rain dumped on us.  Since we were off to do 2o miles the following day, we wanted the weather to get the rain out of its system.

    Next morning, we set the alarm for 5 AM, got up, donned hiking clothes, filled Camelbaks with water, loaded lunches and Red Bulls into the backpacks, and set off for the Flattops Wilderness. An hour drive away from Steamboat Springs, we got to the trailhead…and ready to start our big hike. The guidebook calls this a “three-day backpack” so naturally we planned to do it in a day!  We had our maps, and I had my recorder and notes. We set off on the trail at 7 AM.

    It was a 15 hour hike, very strenuous. Apart from the first mile, we saw absolutely no people except for one camper at the halfway point.

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    Wildflowers, waterfalls, (mosquitoes), and after we walked 10 miles along the great wall of that huge mesa above, we climbed up the side and walked 10 miles back along the top plateau, 12,000 feet, mostly grassy, exposed, with almost no trail, just a cairn every half mile or so…plus a couple of insidious “wrong” cairns marking cowboy camps that had nothing to do with the trail, so we were sidetracked several times.  Tim caught a great shot of me while I was walking in front of him dictating.

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    The Devil’s Causeway itself was in the last couple of miles of the 20-mile hike, and some of the sidetracks had cost us a lot of hours, so we were hurrying along (and dead tired) as we rushed to get there before sunset. The Causeway is a tiny isthmus connecting two mesas, a rock bridge only about 4-ft wide, with a sheer 500-ft drop on either side.  Quite unnerving for anyone with a fear of heights, and even after all I’ve done I still felt a bit of a fluttery feeling as I worked my way across it in the last light of day.  We got to the Causeway with literally only 3-4 minutes of light left before the sun dipped below the mountains on the horizon. We scrambled to take pics, and you can notice the dramatic diffrerence in light from when i crossed (first) and when Tim crossed right behind me.

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    But, in one of those “angels singing from the sky moments” I saw that all our trudging, our missteps, our rest breaks, and finally hurrying to get there in the last light of day, had left me in a position for absolutely perfect once-in-a-lifetime timing.  While I was in the middle of the Causeway, balanced on only a few feet of rock, I turned to the west and saw the sun dip just behind one of the peaks we had climbed a few hours earlier.  It was breathtaking.

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    But even then, at sunset, we still had another two hours to go before we reached the car. As night fell, we took out our flashlights and kept going (carefully, over the rocky trail) making as much noise as possible so as to discourage any non-human nocturnal hikers.  We finally got to the car at 10 PM, finally got cell signal (Rebecca was very concerned not having heard from us), and drove back to Steamboat Springs, an hour of winding country roads in the dark.

    We were tired, sweaty and hungry, and when we got back to Steamboat Springs, alas, ALL of the restaurants were closed for the night, even the Wendy’s drive-thru.  Well, we had some pretzels and lunchmeat—and a growler of beer—back in the hotel room, so we made do and ended the exhausting and spectacular day on a high note.  Truly epic.

     

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    Early Bird Prices extended for Superstars Writing Seminar 2015

    Posted By on July 26, 2014

    Blame it on me being swamped with finishing up the first draft of BLOOD OF THE COSMOS, but I never got around to giving everybody fair warning that the early bird prices for the 2015 Superstars Writing Seminar were increasing on July 15.  Since I didn’t give all of you fair warning, we’ve decided to extend the price break until the end of the month.

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    Until July 31,  admission for new members is $849, students $699 and alumni $599.  Prices go up after the end of the month. Signup at the main Superstars Writing Seminar site.

    This is the sixth year of  Superstars, widely recognized as the premiere career-building and business-of-writing seminar in the field. Taught by Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, David Farland, James Artimus Owen, and Eric Flint, the curriculum covers copyrights, intellectual property, contracts, promotion, indie publishing, networking, and many other topics to help serious writers boost their careers.

    This year, we also have a terrific array of guest speakers, including legendary bestselling indie author and commentator Hugh Howey, Toni Weisskopf the publisher of Baen Books, bestselling authors Todd McCaffrey and Jody Lynn Nye, Christine Munroe from Kobo Writing Life, and a representative from Wattpad.

    Superstars is held at the Antlers Hotel in Colorado Springs, CO, February 5-7, 2015. Sign up at http://www.superstarswriting.com

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    Teaser Tuesday: THE LITTLE GREEN BOOK OF CHAIRMAN RAHMA by Brian Herbert

    Posted By on July 22, 2014

    My buddy and coauthor Brian Herbert has a new solo novel just released in hardcover by Tor Books, a science fiction ecothriller, THE LITTLE GREEN BOOK OF CHAIRMAN RAHMA. Here’s a taste of the first two chapters. If you liked our Dune or Hellhole novels, you might enjoy this novel.

    A revolution has taken over the government of the United States and the environment has been saved. All pollution has been banned and reversed. It’s a bright, green new world. But this new world comes with a great cost. The United States is ruled by a dictatorship and the corporations are fighting back. Joining them are an increasing number of rebels angered by the dictatorship of Chairman Rahma. The Chairman’s power is absolute and appears strong, but in The Little Green Book of Chairman Rahma by Brian Herbert, cracks are beginning to show as new weapons are developed by the old corporate powers, foreign alliances begin to make inroads into America’s influence . . . and strange reports of mutants filter through the government’s censorship.

    LittleGreen

    Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

    In the Corporate War of 2041-2043, the multinational corporations lost every major battle in North and South America, and were vanquished by the counterculture AOE, the Army Of the Environment.  In full disarray, the few surviving Corporate elements in the Americas went into hiding, and a new, all-encompassing government was established by the victorious radicals to rule what had previously been multiple nations on the two continents.  Led by Chairman Rahma Popal, the environmental activists renamed their domain the Green States of America.  Their stated goal: A Golden Age in which all citizens and companies live in harmony with the environment, so that the bulk of the land could be completely transformed, returning it to nature.

    —From Green Shock, a history of the Corporate War 

    SciOs!  Collectively, the power of the Science Overseers is roughly equivalent to that of Chairman Rahma himself, because they are responsible for providing critical scientific technology to the Green States of America.  Under the GSA Charter, they are able to keep their scientific secrets while maintaining a monopoly on such technology, providing equipment to the government that contains fail-safe devices to prevent tampering.  Most of all, the SciOs closely guard the secrets of their Janus Machines. 

    —From a children’s ecology primer

    SciOs?  They are the most sophisticated and devious of all green profiteers.  There are even suspicions that they have sold military technology to the sworn enemies of the Green States of America.  The SciOs are a nation within a nation, with autonomy stemming from their crucial contribution to the victory of the Army of the Environment against unscrupulous Corporate interests.

    —From The Green Profiteers (Anarchist Press, banned)

    Chapter 1

     For the environmental health of the American continents, all inhabitants who survived the Corporate War will be relocated onto densely populated human reservations, with the remaining land slated for either collective farms or comprehensive greenforming, returning it to the pristine beauty of nature.  As part of his historic Edict 101, our beloved Chairman Rahma Popal has announced, “Anyone who resists will be dealt with severely.  He will be recycled.”

    —Government News Flash, March 17, 2043

    The nuclear-powered truck flexed its long body around highway turns without slowing, its air-whistle keening to ward off wild animals.  Inside the passenger dome sat a man and a woman in complementary uniforms — his forest green and hers black, with peace symbols on the lapels.  They held hands and gazed out at the sun-mottled trees of autumn, bearing leaves that were a spectacular array of golden-brown hues.  This was an old road, bumpy from decay and debris, having fallen into disuse because of the mass exodus of population in the last two decades.  It was the year 2063 in the New England Conservancy, and soon there would be no more need for this route.

    Ahead of the vehicle and behind it, police cars created a security zone, their strobe lights flashing and fender-mounted weapons glow-ready, while a Greenpol aircraft flew low overhead.  For years there had been attacks by disaffected Corporate elements against GSA assets, and the Chairman had ordered extra precautions to secure his valuable equipment and personnel.  Greenpol was the special police force he had created, with divisions to stop eco-criminals, prosecute other crimes, and bodyguard his person.

    Presently the big armored truck slowed and turned onto the rough, weed-encrusted surface of an abandoned parking lot, where it screeched to a stop.  Outriggers shot into position and adjusted for the uneven surface, leveling the great machine mounted on the chassis.  The two passengers, both eco-techs, exited the dome and stepped onto a wide turret platform on the vehicle.  They secured their stylized, owl-design helmets and dark goggles, then grabbed hold of safety bars.  Other crewmembers rushed to their stations, to operate the complex equipment and monitor the results.  They wore black trousers, jackboots, green jackets and shiny green helmets.

    The platform rose to the proper height, and the twin, opposing barrels of the Janus Machine telescoped out to their full extensions, pointing in opposite directions.  The barrels — one bright green and the other deep black — began to glow intensely.  While the man waited, the woman climbed into a bucket seat at the rear of the long black barrel and tapped keys on an instrument console.  The turret swung around, so that the barrel was pointed at the center of the industrial plant.

    “It’s Black Thunder time!” she shouted, as she began the three-minute countdown.

    Joss Stuart smiled as he watched her admirable efficiency.  Kupi Landau, tall, light-skinned and willowy, was his lover as well as co-worker.  In her mid forties, she was his senior by a decade and a half, but he still found her attractive and exciting.  Her waist-length hair was close to its natural auburn now, though she sometimes dyed it a bright color, which was not uncommon in the Green States of America.  Her face was oval, with large brown eyes.

    With a stubble of brown beard on his face, Joss had long hair, secured by a silver ring at the back.  He was muscular and around her height, a mixture of races that gave his skin a smooth, light brown hue.  Barely thirty, he was commander of the seven-person crew, having been transferred to this division from Greenpol, where he’d been a decorated eco-cop, busting wetlands violators, polluters, murderers of endangered species, and other heinous environmental criminals.

    He nodded to her, then scanned the jobsite arrayed before them, a cluster of shabby, deteriorating metal buildings and smokestacks, sitting dull and lackluster in the light of midday.  Years before this had been a major military products factory, belching pollutants into the atmosphere and draining contaminants into the nearby river system, as the greedy Corporate owners lined their pockets at the expense of the environment.  It was one of many polluting industrial sites in the old days, before Chairman Rahma set society on the correct course and began the widespread greenification of the Americas.

    Patting his uniform jacket, Joss felt the reassuring presence of his copy of The Little Green Book, a slender forest-green volume containing the favorite sayings of the Chairman, along with his sagacious, environmental-oriented poetry.  Often during the day Joss liked to bring out the volume and find some piece of useful wisdom to inspire him, and guide him in his decisions.

    He felt good about the contributions he and Kupi Landau were making to the grand ecological dream.  Today Joss was leading the crew of Janus Machine No. 129 on a run through the conservancy, hitting sites that had not yet been reverted when nearby cities and towns were emptied of people, leveled, and returned to nature.  In only a few moments Kupi would complete her portion of the task, and Joss’s turn would follow.

    More than two decades ago she’d been a member of the legendary Berkeley Eight revolutionary committee that spearheaded the struggle against the Corporates and their lackeys, fighting for the inspirational Chairman and his anti-war, anti-establishment army.  Kupi’s anarchistic, violent talents had been useful then, and were useful now in the aftermath of the conflict.

    In a designated safety zone on the pavement, behind a clearplex blast shield, a handful of government officials had gathered to watch alongside black-suited anarchists and bearded, middle-aged men in green uniforms, all veterans of the Corporate War who now called themselves J-Watchers.  The bearded vets were well organized, and liked to follow the routes of Janus Machine teams and cheer them on.

    Joss noticed that three men wore patches indicating they had been Weather Warriors, a radical group that bombed Corporate and U.S. Government facilities during the revolution, including dams and power stations.  He also saw a man wearing the round patch of the Green Planet Brigade, whose followers burned sport-utility vehicles in the old United States, and torched homes that were not constructed according to green building standards.  In those days, these men (and others like them) were called domestic terrorists, but now they were decorated heroes.

    Half a dozen young women in flower-design dresses and beads joined the J-Watchers and began dancing in a circle.  In another protected area, feral dogs and cats had been rounded up, and specialists were using sonic devices to roust out rodents, raccoons and any other critters that might be inside the buildings and on the grounds, saving as many of them as possible.

    The observers, in a festive mood, were among a small, elite class of citizens who were granted permits to leave their reservations for specific purposes – in this case to bolster the morale of J-Mac crews.  Behind the protective barrier, they clapped and cheered, and exchanged stories from the revolution.  Everyone was pleased that the good work of Chairman Rahma Popal was proceeding methodically, covering the Green States of America with magnificent trees and other flora, so that animals could thrive in their natural habitats.

    The dancers began chanting, louder and louder: “Rahm-m-m-m-a . . . Rahm-m-m-m-a . . . Rahm-m-m-m-a . . .”

    Kupi’s countdown went through its final seconds in a beeping of electronics.  Preparing himself, Joss secured the noise-protective system of his helmet.  He heard a low, gathering roar, and saw the big black barrel spew waves of stygian particles at the factory structures and split them all asunder, separating the components on a molecular level and then transforming them into a gooey gray amalgam of basic elements.  For artistic effect, she left three of the smokestacks for last, then blasted their bases out from under them one at a time, sending the tall structures thundering down in a dramatic display of flying debris and vanishing shapes, as if they were ghostly creatures of the past, dying from the inside out.  Never again would such ugliness reign over the American landscape.  The onlookers clapped and cheered for her showmanship, making muffled sounds in Joss’s headset.

    “Black Thunder has spoken,” Kupi Landau said to the crew, over the comm-radio.  She was referring to what the SciOs called the black barrel of every Janus Machine, more commonly referred to as a Splitter or a Splitter Cannon.  Janus Machine technology was secret and closely guarded; only the SciOs could build new units, and if anyone tampered with the machines they would self-destruct.

    Kupi was particularly well-suited for her job, still able to vent her simmering anger against the foul remnants of Corporate civilization.  Splitting was an anarchist specialty, one of the few GSA-authorized professions that the government haters actually seemed to enjoy.  It was a union job, of course, like every profession in the Green States of America.  Even soldiers in the Army of the Environment were unionized.

    Now it was Joss’s turn.  The bright green barrel had a SciO name as well: The Seed Cannon.  Most people called it a greenformer, though, and the process was known as greenforming.  He sat at another instrument panel behind that barrel, tapped the opening sequence to make the turret spin around slowly.  He made subtle, last-minute adjustments to the seed mixture, tailoring it to this locale more than he’d already done in the setup, further eliminating any elements of vegetation that, even though native, he had now decided were not appropriate for the site.  Like the work Kupi did, this was an art form, though one that religious radicals liked to call, derisively, “playing god.”  He didn’t pay attention to such comments.  They came from scofflaws, fugitives who were on the run from Greenpol.

    Over Joss’s headset, pre-war rock music surged on, the hard-driving beat of an old Grateful Dead song, harking back to a time of fantastic idealism in the prior century, when the seeds of rebellion were sowed, and ultimately cultivated.  His job gave him a good feeling that he was doing something significant, something important.  Brave Greenies had died in order to provide him with this opportunity.  He held a privileged, high-level job, and appreciated having it.

    He had the turret in position now and ran the test circuits through their course, causing an array of colored lights to dance across the top of the instrument panel.  Using a viewscreen, Joss sighted along the top of the long, glistening green barrel and aimed carefully at the center of the gooey amalgam of elements that Kupi had left for him.  Taking a deep breath, he held down a button at the center of the panel, then felt a percussive thump as cartridges spewed into the air and detonated over the landscape like a green fireworks display in the sunlight, scattering microorganisms, infinitesimally tiny seeds that would grow quickly, replacing the factory eyesore with beautiful vegetation.

    He fired twice more to fill in bare spots, using smaller bursts.  Finally, his task completed, he rose and tilted back his owl-helmet in satisfaction.  The music went off, and he heard the applause of the onlookers.  On one side of the turret, Kupi stood at the rail gazing out on the landscape, as if imagining she could already see the new plants sprouting.  Joss chuckled.  He had used a fast-grow recipe, but it was not that fast.  In a matter of weeks, maple and oak trees would be half a meter high, and soon the animals, insects, and birds of the forest would reoccupy their habitat.  It was only justice, he thought, returning the land to its rightful inhabitants, after humans had carelessly abused it for so long. . . .

    #

    Later that afternoon, the Janus Machine crew was on its way to the next site.  Inside the dome, Kupi sat on a cushioned bench with Joss.  She took a long drag on a juana-stick, exhaled the smoke and said, “This rig has only been on fifty-seven missions, and it’s already getting long in the tooth.  I felt more than the normal vibration when I fired the cannon.  Did you notice it, too?”

    Joss shook his head.  “No, not when you fired, nor when I did, either.”

    “Well I sure noticed it.  Damn thing shook my chair, hurt my teeth, and made my bones feel like they were turning into jelly.”

    “Part of the mystery of Dark Energy?” he asked, referring to the term for the destructive splitting technology, a power that reportedly was not fully understood by the SciOs who had discovered and harnessed it.  The stuff was like a wild bronco, he’d been told, but on an exponentially higher level.  The strange technology was rooted in the days of the revolution, when it enabled Chairman Rahma and his ragtag army to defeat Corporate armies – using the black cannons of early-model Janus Machines as weapons.

    Kupi scowled and said, “Damned SciOs build these rigs so that they have to be replaced frequently.  Just like the old Corporate crooks and their diabolical theory of ‘planned obsolescence.’ “

    “I wouldn’t go that far,” Joss said.  “Our cannons have unknown key components.  Maybe the SciOs don’t have any other way to build them.”

    “Yeah, yeah.  True Green Joss, accepting everything you’re told to think.  You’d better wake up, sweetie.  Our lives could be at risk running these machines, and do you think the SciOs give a rat’s ass what happens to us?  Do you think Chairman Rahma does?”

    Joss fell silent, knowing he didn’t accept everything blindly at all, though she seemed to think he did.  Even so, he didn’t want to argue with her.  He gazed forward as the truck sped south, with peace symbols and stylized tree designs sparkling on the hood, and triangular green GSA banners fluttering on the front fenders.  He liked Kupi personally, as a lover and as a friend, but when she started talking politics, she invariably made comments that made him uncomfortable.

    Politics often put her into a bad mood, and he saw no point in debating with her.  At times like this, his lover needed to be left alone.

    He wished Kupi would watch her tongue.  It could get her into a lot of trouble – and by association, him, too.

    Chapter 2

     Animals are not lower life forms than humans.
    They are in fact superior to us.
    Count the ways.

    —From The Little Green Book, by Chairman Rahma

    The man crouched low as he peered over a snow bank at the bleak white landscape, sloping up to the ridgeline.  A cold gray fog was beginning to settle over the mountain, though some patches of sunlight remained.  Moments earlier, he’d seen movement at a higher elevation by the body of a freshly-killed ibex, a blur of motion.  Now, nothing.  Looking in that direction through binoculars, the gray-bearded man didn’t even see prints where the cat had been in the snow, feeding on its prey.  The creature seemed to float over the surface, moving entirely in another realm. 

    There were countless legends about the magical powers of snow leopards, but legends were one thing and reality quite another.  Because of the animals’ reclusive, solitary nature, attacks on humans were rare.  Even so, the man’s heart beat rapidly.  These rare animals were powerful and fast — and if this one decided to turn on him at any moment instead of avoiding him, he might not have a chance.  So far the creature was keeping its distance, while remaining close enough to watch over the bloody body of the horned ibex, preventing other predators from taking it away.

    With a start the man remembered he was in EVR — enhanced virtual reality — and wasn’t actually on that faraway slope, except as a three-dimensional, projected avatar.  Such magnificent technology, and so realistic that if persons really in that remote mountain region saw his projection they would think he was actually there, too.  In addition, if his avatar was near anyone there, he could see them, hear them, and speak to them, and they could do the same with him.  Animals could see and hear avatars as well, and had even been known to go after them, though they usually relied on scent, and that was one thing the Chairman’s EVR-figure did not have.  Now he re-immersed himself onto the snowy mountain — a speck on the white snowfield watching the predator and its ibex.

    A snow leopard was not able to consume a kill of this size in one feeding.  For that reason it often lingered nearby for days, going back repeatedly and eating from the carcass, while watching warily in all directions.

    It was the Achilles heel of their species, a weakness that a hunter could use to advantage – and he’d seen evidence of hunters in the area.  But Chairman Rahma Popal was not like other human beings around there.  Snow leopards were an endangered species, with only a small number of them known to exist on Earth.  He needed to capture this one alive, which he could do even in EVR, with the aid of two men and a woman collaborating with him on the ground — GSA operatives who had taken great physical risks to slip into the enemy state of Panasia, far across the globe from the GSA.  Rahma had sent operatives into enemy territory before on such ventures, as well as on spying missions, and he’d gone there as an avatar, too – aided by clever technology that the SciOs had surreptitiously inserted into one of the Panasian satellites, secretly compromising the orbiter so that some of their transmissions were put to GSA use.

    The three of them were arrayed on the slope near him, in their sealed survival suits.  For these brave citizens, this special assignment was much more dangerous than any threat from bad weather or from a predatory animal.  Because of the hostile nature of the Panasian government and their cavalier attitude toward animal protection, the rescue squad had to get in and out as quickly as possible.

    Anger filled the Chairman now.  The Panasians — ruling over Asia, Australia, and most of the Pacific islands — allowed their people to hunt and kill these beautiful animals for organs and other body parts, using them for traditional medicine, talismans, and trophies.  How could anyone be so ignorant and short-sighted?  What did they intend to do when there were no more snow leopards left to harvest?

    Eco-criminals on a huge scale, the Panasian government did not care a whit about the welfare of endangered species, and their polluting industries were the worst in the world, no matter the propaganda they issued to the contrary.  The Eurikans weren’t much better, ruling over the continents of Europe and Africa.  They just put on a better public persona, posturing and acting as if they were environmentalists, when in fact they were not.  To a large extent the Eurikan leaders were blue-blooded aristocrats, tracing their roots to noble lineages and old money, and taking political and economic steps to protect their own interests.

    Breathing hard in the simulated atmosphere of his EVR survival suit, the Chairman glanced at a holo-screen that hovered in the air by him, showing a satellite zoom of the snow leopard.  It was a barely discernible mound of fur perhaps a couple of hundred meters above him on the slope, a tight ball of gold, black, and white.  He saw the other team members, and himself, on the satellite image as well, and knew that the cat could close the distance to the nearest operative in a matter of seconds.

    Since the fall of the Corporates, there had been increasing tensions between the Panasians and the Green States.  The two governments had been sponsoring terrorist attacks against one another, using surrogates that could not be traced easily to either side.  Rahma knew he had a technological advantage over his enemies – his alliance with the SciOs.  But it was a tenuous advantage, because of the secrets that the arrogant SciO leader Arch Ondex and his cronies kept to themselves.  The Chairman sometimes suspected – but could not prove – that Ondex was playing both sides.  And yet, no matter how much he disliked the patrician man, he didn’t want to believe that could possibly be true.

    Rahma scanned his instruments.  The outside air temperature was dropping quickly as the fog continued to settle.  Visibility was worsening, and his people would need to get off the mountain sooner than anticipated.

    The avatar stepped onto an air-platform near him and powered it up, a virtual-reality craft.  A control bar rose in front of him, and he gripped it in simulation.  The three other team members did the same for real, on separate craft.

    The four of them rose into the air on triangular wedges of technology.  A slight wind from the valley floor below buffeted the craft, but the units compensated and sped smoothly toward the snow leopard.  From his remote position of safety the Chairman watched the altimeter reading on his control bar.  Over 4,300 meters now, more than 14,000 feet.  He felt the simulated oxygen level increase inside his suit.

    The animal held its ground for several seconds, then bolted away upslope.  This time the Chairman saw the tracks it made in the snow, confirming that the creature was not anything supernatural.  Quickly, the cat moved out of deep snow onto rocky surfaces, leaping great distances from one ledge to the next, rising ever upward in elevation, heading for a jagged line of ice caves.

    The pursuers had anticipated this; the satellite report had told them the path the snow leopard would probably take, toward one of those icy habitats where it lived.  But they needed to divert the animal, keeping it from reaching the safety of an area that might be honeycombed with escape routes.

    Pressing a lever on the control bar to accelerate, Rahma Popal caused the platform to surge past the animal.  He then turned in the air and headed back toward the snow leopard, diverting the cat and causing it to take a lateral course along a ridgeline, with the two male team members flying close behind.  They were too close, and the Chairman signaled for them to fall back a little.  They needed to be careful.  The leopard appeared to be panicking, and he didn’t want to kill it.

    He motioned for the female operative, Agent Trumbull, to come alongside his craft.  At his further command, she touched a button on a transmitter, firing a shaft of emerald light at the snow leopard, a lasso-beam that slowed it down.  For a moment the animal became the color of the light, a running, struggling blur.  Trumbull fired a ray of bright red light now, a powerful sedative.  The leopard went limp, only a short distance from the edge of a precipice, where it might have gone off.

    Accompanied by his team, the Chairman hovered over the leopard, a few meters above it.  He watched as Trumbull unsnapped the transmitter from the handlebar and made it a hand-held unit.  Then, leaning down and using the electronic lasso to lift the animal into a cradle that tightened on contact, she made it snug against the undercarriage of the air-platform.  A screen on his own control bar showed Rahma the vital signs of the sedated animal, a male.  The readings were good, but he did not breath a sigh of relief yet.  He still needed to get the large cat out of the country.

    Now Rahma fell in behind the others, flying downslope, speeding toward a wooded area where a stealth transport craft awaited them.  Presently, when the rescued animal was loaded aboard, along with the passengers and equipment, the Chairman switched off the EVR transmission and found himself back in the welcome, green reality of his own game reserve in the Rocky Mountain Territory.

    He slipped out of his survival suit, tossed it to one of his many administrative assistants, a robot who stood nearby, anticipating his master’s “return.”  Zeebik stood as tall as a man, with a flat screen-face that bore the image of a stern human officer with narrow little eyes and dark, overhanging brows, a countenance Rahma had chosen from historical military archives.  The image was locked in place; once the selection was made, he could not alter it.

    “Holo-net report just came in,” Zeebik said, in a resonant voice the Chairman had also chosen from historical records.  “The Black Shirts recycled 427 eco-criminals this morning — polluters, tree cutters, animal poachers — the usual.”  The robot was referring to black-uniformed anarchists by a common term they liked to use in describing themselves, harking back to the legendary days of the revolution when the violent Black Shirts were an important part of the victory.  Following the defeat of the Corporates, these anarchists were formally organized into an army division known as the Revolutionary Guard — front-line defenders of the revolution.

    For a couple of minutes, Rahma scanned little holo images of the executions, death sentences that were primarily carried out by anarchists with Splitter rifles, turning the victims into macabre heaps of goo.  Two of the criminals received a special brand of punishment, befitting the severity of their crimes.  A husband and wife, they had been trusted members of the government who had forsaken their vows and turned over state secrets to The Panasians.  (Even that was considered an “eco-crime” under one definition, because it threatened the Green States of America.)  He watched as black-uniformed anarchists strapped them to posts in the middle of a beautiful, flower-covered field, and then opened wounds on their bodies, so that they bled profusely.  They writhed and tried to shout, but their mouths were gagged.

    Moments later, the pair were swarmed by powerful carrion birds — vultures, owls, and eagles that had been trained for this purpose.  A vulture ripped the gag loose from the female, and Rahma heard her high-pitched screams of terror.  Sharp talons and beaks gouged out her eyes, and she slumped at the post, bleeding from the orifices.  Beside her, the traitorous husband’s face was already gone, a bloody pulp of torn flesh, and soon hers was as well.  The birds kept attacking, tearing at flesh and feeding, finally leaving the ripped-apart bodies and flying off, their bellies full.

    The Chairman rubbed his gray beard, nodded somberly.  He had ordered the mass executions before going on the EVR-rescue mission, and the decision had made his heart heavy.  But it had been necessary, one of many he’d made — for the sake of the planet, he could not afford to be lenient.  He hated having to kill people, but it was either that or allow them to kill the planet, which he could not allow.

    His gaze lingered on the gory scene, and he reminded himself of what his followers often said about him, that he was a good and kind man.  However, no matter the justification he didn’t feel that way at the moment.

    Sadly, he switched off the viewer.

    YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY THE ECOLOGICAL EPIC OCEAN, BY BRIAN HERBERT AND JAN HERBERT from WordFire Press, in print and in all eBook formats.

    Kindle

     

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    Headlong Writing—Producing an Epic at Warp Speed

    Posted By on July 20, 2014

    The Dark Between the Stars is finally out. And what an exhilarating, exhausting effort that was!

    Due to a series of unfortunate commitments, travel schedules, and other book obligations, I found myself facing a tough deadline for the first book in a new trilogy set in my popular Saga of Seven Suns universe—The Dark Between the Stars. I had been planning the novel for a year, but there was always some emergency, some crunch proofing deadline, some quick project that took precedence. So I didn’t get around to starting when I thought I would.

    Besides, when facing a manuscript that would be close to a thousand pages long, it was easy to procrastinate.

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    I had been thinking about The Dark Between the Stars for a long time, but I’d been away from the Seven Suns universe for more than five years, and so I had to reread all seven volumes, take notes, and re-load all of those details into my head.  I worked on developing character sketches, fleshing out how the fictional situation had changed in twenty years since the end of the previous series.

    For months, I worked on the plot, pouring out ideas, juggling them to see which storylines fell into Book 1, which ones fit better in Book 2.  I wrote a very detailed chapter-by-chapter outline (itself over a hundred pages long), a full-fledged blueprint with a paragraph or two summarizing each of the book’s 130 chapters.

    All of this was prep work, like a race car revving its engine, building up power, just waiting for the green light to shine. When I had my full outline in hand, I was ready to go.

    Since the draft manuscript was due to my editors in January, I needed to get writing!  On October 1, armed with my detailed outline and a reasonably clear schedule—and a lot of coffee—I yelled “Banzai!” (metaphorically) and dove in.

    Back in 2000, when I began to write Hidden Empire, the first volume in the Saga of Seven Suns, I went to hike a nice local trail leading up to the Palmer Lake Reservoirs; on that day and that trail, armed with my microcassette recorder, I wrote the first three chapters.

    Hoping to recapture that magic, I did the same this time. With my notes in hand for the first few chapters in The Dark Between the Stars, I hit the Reservoir trail, digital recorder in hand (technology upgrade). I was ready to go, with 130 chapters ahead of me.

    I’d had the novel’s first sentence in my head for months.  “He had to run, and he fled with the boy out into the dark spaces between the stars.”  From that point, all I needed to do was write the next sentence. And the next.  On that day’s hike, surrounded by mountains and under clear blue skies, I wrote the first four chapters. I was off and running.

    126 more chapters to go.

    Each day, I would set out in the morning to do a minimum of two chapters (approximately 2000 words each). Sometimes in the afternoon I’d go out again and write another one or two. During this marathon, my maximum was six chapters in a day, or about 12,000 words. After each session, I emailed the digital audio files to my typing service. During my most intense pace, I kept three typists busy nearly full time just to process my output.

    Every day another two chapters, or three, or more.

    But I was interrupted for three days to go to Toronto as a guest speaker at RushCon and then attend the Rush Clockwork Angels concert at the Toronto Air Canada Center. Then another three days in Fargo, ND, where my wife Rebecca and I were guests of honor for ValleyCon, then a five day trip to LA for Disneyland (Rebecca’s birthday), the Anaheim Rush Clockwork Angels concert, a book signing in Burbank at Dark Delicacies, and various meetings with friends. Then up to Denver one evening for a Vertical Horizon concert.

    (Even if I write all the time, I do occasionally have a real life, too.)

    Then back to writing to make up for lost time.

    As a counterpoint to all those distracting appearances and commitments, I carved out a few days to go out to Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, where I hiked in the canyons and dictated enough chapters to get back on schedule again.  I dictated new material day by day, and when transcribed chapters came back from the typists, I would try (and fail) to keep up with a first edit.

    Exhausting, yes. But there was an advantage, too. The sheer fact of being so immersed in the world, the characters, and the intricate plot of The Dark Between the Stars gave me a heightened sense of focus, a momentum that kept me rolling along at full speed. I didn’t want to do anything else, just get back to those gigantic cosmic problems, throw my characters into traumatic situations, and save them (or maybe not).

    Another looming distraction stood in my way, however—on December 2, Rebecca and I had to leave to be instructors on the Sail to Success Caribbean writing cruise. I most certainly did NOT want to be derailed from my daily writing just as I was approaching the big finale!  I needed to finish before we started the cruise.

    So I pushed harder, wrote an extra chapter per day . . . and finished the final piece, chapter 130, with four days to spare.

    220,000 words in 47 writing days, 900 pages . . . which I then had to edit, while letting my brain rest and recharge for the next project.

    Which I started two weeks later.

    ***

    I’m now holding the finished novel in my hands, a very satisfying feeling. Weighty, beautiful, designed by someone who clearly loves books, loves reading, loves the feel of a BIG story.  It’s inspirational . . . which is good, because I just finished writing the second volume in the trilogy, BLOOD OF THE COSMOS.

     

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    FantasyCon and WesterCon

    Posted By on July 19, 2014

    On the Fourth of July weekend, we traditionally have a family celebration. This year I had a different kind of fireworks—heading off to Salt Lake City for Fantasycon and Westercon, where we had our biggest exhibit booth ever on a show floor, a 20 x 30′ ft island. We featured many of my titles, particularly my new Tor releases MENTATS OF DUNE and THE DARK BETWEEN THE STARS. We had enough room to give space to bestselling author David Farland and the legendary Peter S. Beagle, author of the classic The Last Unicorn.

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    My team arrived a day early and set up the booth in the Salt Lake Expo Center, and all weekend long they worked their butts off to take care of the flow of fans at Fantasycon. Many of our helpers were graduates of the Superstars Writing Seminars, WordFire Press authors, and some dedicated fans. A special thanks to Steven L. Sears, Lissa Woodbury Jensen, Michelle Corsillo, David Boop, John D. Payne, Peter J. Wacks, Mark Ryan, Zoe Frasure, Jeannette Sanders, Heidi Wilde, Joe Lance, Chris Baxter, Josh Morrey, Mike Mundt, and Karlee Haupt.

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    Fantasycon was the large pop-culture con in the main Salt Lake City expo center with programming as well as the exhibit floor; across the street in the Marriott was the smaller sister convention Westercon. I worked for both cons, appearing at Westercon for a memorial for my former writing student and WordFire Press author Jay Lake, and I also spoke on larger panels on the good habits of writers, ray guns and robots, and I gave my solo talk on Building My First Lightsaber.

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    Other friends who visited the booth were fantasy authors Brandon Sanderson and Peter Orullian, actors William Kercher and Renee O’Connor, and numerous fans dressed up in spectacular cosplay costumes.

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    with Brandon Sanderson

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    with Peter Orullian

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    with Renee O’Connor (Gabrielle, from XENA)

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    with William Kercher, Bifur from The Hobbit films

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    Fantasy & Music: Last chance!

    Posted By on July 14, 2014

    I’ve written previously about some of the excellent story bundles we’ve put together, but this one is particularly unique—and there’s only one day left, so I wanted to give an extra nudge so you don’t miss out.  The Fantasy & Music Storybundle contains a grab bag of fantasy novels and stories, accompanied by fantasy-inspired music as the perfect soundtrack. And the bundle expires TONIGHT.

    Music has always inspired my writing, as many of you know with my long association with Neil Peart from Rush, our Clockwork Angels novel and comics based on the Rush concept album, as well as my Terra Incognita fantasy trilogy with accompanying progressive rock CDs by the supergroup Roswell Six. This bundle puts all that together in spades. And it includes an original Terra Incognita story, “Mythical Creatures.”

    All Covers Large

    And if only a handful more people purchase the bundle, we’ll reach our UNLOCK THRESHOLD, releasing a slew of free additional content, unreleased B-sides, more fiction, a non-fiction BRIEF HISTORY OF JAZZ ROCK by comics legend Mike Baron, as well as my first TERRA INCOGNITA rock CD, “Beyond the Horizon.”  Please help us get past this threshold before the deadline tonight!

    Unlock Covers Tall

    The way story bundle works is you name your own price for the batch, as little as a few bucks. If you pay at least $15 for the whole batch, you get extra bonus books and CDs. In other words, ALL of this for the price you would pay for a single CD.

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    Here’s a taste of who’s in the bundle along with me:

    Abney Park, The quintessential steampunk band of our time, based in Seattle they mix elements of industrial dance, world music, and steampunk-influenced lyrics in their work. http://www.abneypark.com/

    Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Award-winning author of science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance, women’s fiction, and anywhere else her muse takes her. – See more at: http://kriswrites.com/#sthash.ySvlwsKd.dpuf

    SJ Tucker, Pixie pirate, mythpunk folk rock, Tucker’s work has integrated elements of electronica, filk, spoken word, world music and – with the troupe Fire & Strings – fire-spinning. http://music.sjtucker.com/

    Heather Dale, Canadian recording artist & touring musician Heather Dale writes songs for witty, fun-loving, imaginative people who aren’t afraid to be different. https://heatherdale.com/

    Steven Sears, Best known for writing and co-executive producing the popular series Xena: Warrior Princess, as well as his subsequent creation Sheena, based on the comic book of the same name. http://www.pondalee.com/myworld.htm

    Peter Wacks, Designer of Cyberpunk CCG, Peter has been nominated for a Bram Stoker award, writes spec fiction and is the managing editor for WordFire Press Inc. http://peterjwacks.com/

    Mike Baron, Author of Helmet Head , Whack Job , and Biker  three mindblowing novels that will change the way you feel about horror fiction.http://www.bloodyredbaron.net/

    The Borderers, “The BordererS entertain like Freddie Mercury, have the energy of Angus Young and sound a bit like The Proclaimers if Eva Cassidy happened to sing with them.” http://www.theborderers.com.au/

    Rhiannon Paille,  Amazon Bestselling Author of The Ferryman & The Flame Series - www.yafantasyauthor.com

    Alexander James Adams, A fiery Celtic fiddler with a compelling voice to enchant audiences of all ages. http://faerietaleminstrel.com/inside/

    Pandora Celtica, A 5-part, dark faerie, vocal band with doumbek accompaniment. We sing traditional Celtic and seafaring tunes, the occasional cover and nerd-tastic filk, and lots of original pieces inspired by Celtic myths, fairytales, and steampunk styles. http://www.pandoraceltica.com/

    J.R. Boyette, uses fictional narrative to not only entertain the reader, but to examine essential questions about ourselves and the world in which we live. http://www.amazon.com/J.R.-Boyett/e/B00E1XXI60

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    Teaser Tuesday: CLOCKWORK ANGELS

    Posted By on July 9, 2014

    Sorry this is posted late in the day. Rebecca and I spent most of the day (after a 3-hour drive) heading to Glenwood Springs, one of our favorite hot springs nestled in the Colorado mountains.  Three months after her major spinal surgery, this was her first chance to immerse herself and soak away the aches—since she can’t yet climb in and out of the bathtub.  She loved it.  We had a great day!

    Since ECW Press has just released the trade paperback edition of CLOCKWORK ANGELS, my steampunk fantasy adventure, created with Neil Peart and based on the Rush concept album, I thought it was time to show off a sample. This is a very personal book for me, one of my favorite stories, and I loved working on it with Neil.  BOOM! Studios is also releasing the comic adaptation (scripted by me), with art by Nick Robles. Issue 3 just hit the stands.

    Here’s the prologue and chapter 1

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    PROLOGUE

    Time is still the infinite jest

    It seems like a lifetime ago—which, of course, it was . . . all that and more. A good life, too, though it didn’t always feel that way.

    From the very start, I had stability, measurable happiness, a perfect life. Everything had its place, and every place had its thing. I knew my role in the world. What more could anyone want? For a certain sort of person, that question can never be answered; it was a question I had to answer for myself in my own way.

    Now that I look back along the years, I can measure my life and compare the happiness that should have been, according to the Watchmaker, with the happiness that actually was.

    Though I am now old and full of days, I wish that I could live it all again.

    Yes, I’ve remembered it all and told it all so many times. The events are as vivid as they were the first time, maybe even more vivid . . . maybe even a bit exaggerated.

    The grandchildren listen dutifully as I drone on about my adventures. I can tell they find the old man’s stories boring—some of them anyway. (Some of the grandchildren, I mean . . . and some of the stories, too, I suppose.)

    When tending a vast and beautiful garden, you have to plant many seeds, never knowing ahead of time which ones will germinate, which will produce the most glorious flowers, which will bear the sweetest fruit. A good gardener plants them all, tends and nurtures them, and wishes them well.

    Optimism is the best fertilizer.

    Under the sunny blue sky on my family estate in the hills, I look up at the white clouds, fancying that I see shapes there as I always have. I used to point out the shapes to others, but in so many cases that effort was wasted; now the imaginings are only for special people. Everyone has to see his own shapes in the clouds, and some people don’t see any at all. That’s just how it is.

    In the groves that crown the hills, olive trees grow wherever they will. From a distance, the rows of grapevines look like straight lines, but each row has its own character, some bit of disorder in the gnarled vines, the freedom to be unruly. I say it makes the wine taste better; visitors may dismiss the idea as just another of my stories. But they always stay for a second glass.

    The bright practice pavilions swell in the gathering breeze, the dyed fabric puffing out. That same gentle wind carries the sounds of laughing children, the chug of equipment being tested, the moan and wail of a calliope being tuned.

    While preparing for the next season, my family and friends love every moment—isn’t that the best gauge of a profession? My own contentment lies here at home. I content myself with morning walks along the seashore to see what surprises the tide has left for me. After lunch and an obligatory nap, I dabble in my vegetable garden (which has grown much too large for me, and I don’t mind a bit). Planting seeds, pulling weeds, hilling potatoes, digging potatoes, and harvesting whatever else has seen fit to ripen that week.

    Right now, it is squash that demands my attention, and four of my young grandchildren help me out. Three of them work beside me because their parents assigned them the chores, and curly haired Alain is there because he wants to hear his grandfather tell stories.

    The exuberant squash plant has grown into a jungled hillock of dark leaves with myriad hair-fine needles that cause the grandchildren no small amount of consternation. Nevertheless, they go to war with the thicket and return triumphant with armloads of long green zucchinis, which they dump into the waiting baskets. Bees buzz around, looking for blossoms, but they don’t bother the children.

    Alain braves the deepest wilderness of vines and emerges with three perfect squash. “We almost missed these! By the next picking, they would have been too big.”

    The boy doesn’t even like squash, but he loves seeing my proud smile and, like me, takes satisfaction in doing something that would have gone undone by less dedicated people. He feels he has earned a reward. “Tonight could I look at your book, Grandpa Owen? I want to see the chronotypes of Crown City.” After a pause, Alain adds, “And the Clockwork Angels.”

    This is not the same book that I kept when I was a young man in a small humdrum village, but Alain does have the same imagination and the same dreams as I had. I worry about the boy, and also envy him. “We can look at it together,” I say. “Afterward, I’ll tell you the stories.”

    The other three grandchildren are not quite tactful enough to stifle their groans. My stories aren’t for everyone—they were never meant to be—but Alain might be that one perfect seed. What more reason do I need to tend my garden?

    “The rest of you don’t have to listen this time,” I relent, “provided you help scrub the pots after dinner.”

    They accept the alternative and stop complaining. How can this be the best of all possible worlds when doing the dishes seems preferable to hearing tales of grand adventures? Of bombs and pirates, lost cities and storms at sea? But Alain is so excited he can barely wait.

    Adventuring is for the young.

    Ah, how I wish I were young again….

     

    CHAPTER 1

    In a world where I feel so small
    I can’t stop thinking big

    The best place to start an adventure is with a quiet, perfect life … and someone who realizes that it can’t possibly be enough.

    On the green orchard hill above a sinuous curve of the Winding Pinion River, Owen Hardy leaned against the trunk of an apple tree and stared into the distance. From here, he could see—or at least imagine—all of Albion. Crown City, the Watchmaker’s capital, was far away (impossibly distant, as far as he was concerned). He doubted anyone else in the village of Barrel Arbor bothered to think about the distance, since only a few had ever made the journey to the city, and Owen was certainly not one of them.

    “We should get going,” said Lavinia, his true love and perfect match. She stood up and brushed her skirts. “Don’t you need to get these apples to the cider house?” He would turn seventeen in a few weeks, but he was already the assistant manager of the orchard; even so, Lavinia was usually the one to remind him of his responsibility.

    Still leaning against the apple tree, he fumbled out his pocketwatch, flipped open the lid. “It won’t be long now. Eleven more minutes.” He looked at the silver rails that threaded the gentle river valley below.

    Lavinia had such an endearing pout. “Do we have to watch the steamliners go by every day?”

    “Every day, like clockwork.” Owen thumbed shut the pocketwatch, knowing she didn’t feel the same excitement as he did. “Don’t you find it comforting that everything is as it should be?” That, at least, was a reason she would understand.

    “Yes. Thanks to our loving Watchmaker.” She paused a moment in reverent silence, and Owen thought of the wise, dapper old man who governed the whole country from his tower in Crown City.

    Lavinia had a rounded nose, gray eyes, and a saucy splash of freckles across her face. Sometimes Owen imagined he could hear music in her soft voice, though he had never heard her sing. When he thought of her hair, he compared it to the color of warm hickory wood, or fresh-pressed coffee with just a dollop of cream. Once, he had asked Lavinia what color she called her hair. She answered, “Brown,” and he had laughed. Lavinia’s pithy simplicity was adorable.

    “We have to get back early today,” she pointed out. “The almanac lists a rainstorm at 3:11.”

    “We have time.”

    “We’ll have to run …”

    “It’ll be exciting.”

    He pointed up at the fluffy clouds that would soon turn into thunderheads, for the Watchmaker’s weather alchemists were never wrong. “That one looks like a sheep.”

    “Which one?” She squinted at the sky.

    He stood close, extended his arm. “Follow where I’m pointing … that one there, next to the long, flat one.”

    “No, I mean which one of the sheep does it look like?”

    He blinked. “Any sheep.”

    “I don’t think sheep all look the same.”

    “And that one looks like a dragon, if you think of the left part as its wings and that skinny extension its neck.”

    “I’ve never seen a dragon. I don’t think they exist.” Lavinia frowned at his crestfallen expression. “Why do you always see shapes in the clouds?”

    He wondered just as much why she didn’t see them. “Because there’s so much out there to imagine. The whole world! And if I can’t see everything for myself, then I have to imagine it all.”

    “But why not just think about your day? There’s enough to do here in Barrel Arbor.”

    “That’s too small. I can’t stop thinking big.”

    In the distance, he heard the rhythmic clang of the passage bell, and he emerged from under the apple tree, shading his eyes, looking down to where the bright and razor-straight path of the steamliner track beckoned. The alchemically energized road led straight to the central jewel of Crown City. He caught his breath and fought back the impulse to wave, since the steamliner was too far away for anyone aboard to see him.

    The line of floating dirigible cars came down from the sky and aligned with the rails—large gray sacks tethered to the energy of the path below. There were heavy, low-riding cargo cars full of iron and copper from the mountain mines or stacked lumber from the northern forests, as well as ornate passenger gondolas. Linked together, the steamliner cars lumbered along like a fantastical, bloated caravan.

    Cruising above the rugged terrain, the linked airships descended at the distant end of the valley, touched the rails with a light kiss, and, upon contact, the steel wheels completed the circuit. Coldfire energy charged their steam boilers, which kept the motive pistons pumping.

    Owen stared as the line of cars rolled by, carrying treasures and mysteries from near and far. How could it not fire the imagination? He longed to go with the caravan. Just once.

    Was it too ambitious to want to see the whole world? To try everything, experience the sights, sounds, smells … to meet the Watchmaker, maybe work in his clocktower, hear the Angels, wave at ships steaming off across the Western Sea toward mysterious Atlantis, maybe even go aboard one of those ships and see those lands with his own eyes … ?

    “Owen, you’re daydreaming again.” Lavinia picked up her basket of apples. “We have to go now or we’ll get soaked.”

    Watching the steamliners roll off into the distance, he gathered his apples and hurried after her.

    They made it back to the village with fourteen minutes to spare. At the end, he and Lavinia were running, even laughing. The unexpected rush of adrenalin delighted him; Lavinia’s laughter sounded nervous, not that a little rain would be a disaster, but she did not like to get wet. As they passed the stone angel statue at the edge of town, Owen checked his watch, seeing the minute hand creep toward the scheduled 3:11 downpour.

    The clouds overhead turned gray and ominous on schedule as the two skidded to a halt at Barrel Arbor’s newsgraph office, which Lavinia’s parents operated. The station received daily reports from Crown City and words of wisdom from the Watchmaker; her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Paquette, disseminated all news to the villagers.

    Owen relieved Lavinia of her basket of apples. “You’d better get inside before the rain comes.”

    She looked flushed from exertion as she reached the door to the office. Grateful to be back on schedule, she pulled open the door with another worried glance, directed toward the town’s clocktower rather than the rainclouds themselves.

    With his birthday and official adulthood approaching like a fast-moving steamliner, Owen felt as if he were standing on the precarious edge of utter stability. He had already received a personal card from the Watchmaker, printed by an official stationer in Crown City, that wished him well and congratulated him on a happy, contented life to come. A wife, home, family, everything a person could want.

    From the point he became an adult, though, Owen knew exactly what his life would be—not that he was dissatisfied about being the assistant manager of the town’s apple orchard, just wistful about the lost possibilities. Lavinia was only a few months younger than him; surely she felt the same constraints and would want to join him for the tiniest break from the routine.

    Before she ducked into the newsgraph office, Owen had an idea and called for her to wait. “Tonight, let’s do something special, something exciting.” Her frown showed she was already skeptical, but he gave her his most charming smile. “Don’t worry, it’s nothing frightening—just a kiss.” He looked at his watch: 3:05, still six more minutes.

    “I’ve kissed you before,” she said. Chastely, once a week, with promises of more after they were officially betrothed, because that was expected. Very soon, she would receive her own printed card from the Watchmaker, wishing her happiness, a husband, home, family.

    “I know,” he continued in a rush, “but this time, it’ll be romantic, special. Meet me at midnight, under the stars, back up on orchard hill. I’ll point out the constellations to you.”

    “I can look up constellations in a guidebook,” she said.

    He frowned. “And how is that the same?”

    “They’re the same constellations.”

    “I’ll be out there at midnight.” He quickly glanced at the clouds, then down at his pocketwatch. Five more minutes. “This will be our special secret, Lavinia. Please?”

    Quick and noncommittal, she said, “All right,” then retreated into the newsgraph office without a further goodbye.

    Cheerful, he swung the apple baskets in his hands and headed toward the cider mill next to the small cottage where he and his father lived.

    More thunderheads rolled in. The day was dark. With the impending rainstorm, the town streets were empty, the windows shuttered. Every person in Barrel Arbor studied the almanac every day and planned their lives accordingly.

    As Owen hurried off, sure he would be drenched in the initial cloudburst, he encountered a strange figure on the main street, an old pedlar dressed in a dark cloak. He had a gray beard and long, twisted locks of graying hair that protruded from under his stovepipe hat.

    Clanging a handbell, the pedlar walked alongside a cart loaded with packets, trinkets, pots and pans, wind-up devices, and glass bubbles that glowed with pale blue coldfire. His steam-driven cart chugged along as well-oiled pistons pushed the wheels; alchemical fire heated a five-gallon boiler that looked barely adequate for the tiny engine.

    The pedlar could not have picked a worse time to arrive. He walked through Barrel Arbor with his exotic wares for sale, but his potential customers were hiding inside their homes from the impending rain. He clanged his bell. No one came out to look at his wares.

    As Owen hurried toward the cider house, he called out, “Sir, there’s a thunderstorm at 3:11!” He wondered if the old man’s pocketwatch failed to keep the proper time, or if he had lost his copy of the official weather almanac.

    The stranger looked up, glad to see a potential customer. The pedlar’s right eye was covered with a black patch, which Owen found disconcerting. In the Watchmaker’s safe and benevolent Stability, people were rarely injured.

    When the pedlar fixed him with his singular gaze, Owen felt as if the stranger had been looking for him all along. He stopped clanging the handbell. “Nothing to worry about, young man. All is for the best.”

    “All is for the best,” Owen intoned. “But you’re still going to get wet.”

    “I’m not concerned.” The stranger halted his steam-engine cart and, without taking his gaze from Owen, fumbled with the packages and boxes, touching one then another, as if considering. “So, young man, what do you lack?”

    The question startled Owen and made him forget about the impending downpour. He supposed pedlars commonly used such tempting phrases as they carried their wares from village to village. But still …

    “What do I lack?” Owen had never considered this before. “That’s an odd thing to ask.”

    “It is what I do.” The pedlar’s gaze was so intense it made up for his missing eye. “Think about it, young man. What do you lack? Or are you content?”

    Owen sniffed. “I lack for nothing. The loving Watchmaker takes care of all our needs. We have food, we have homes, we have coldfire, and we have happiness. There’s been no chaos in Albion in more than a century. What more could we want?”

    The words tumbled out of his mouth before his dreams could get in the way. The answer felt automatic rather than heartfelt. His father had recited the same words again and again like an actor in a nightly play; Owen heard other people say the same words in the tavern, not having a conversation but simply reaffirming one another.

    What do I lack?

    Owen also knew that he was about to become a man, with commensurate responsibilities. He set down his apples, squared his shoulders, and said with all the conviction he could muster, “I lack for nothing, sir.”

    Owen got the strange impression that the pedlar was pleased rather than disappointed by his answer. “That is the best answer a person can make,” said the old man. “Although such consistent prosperity certainly makes my profession a difficult one.”

    The old man rummaged in his packages, opened a flap, and paused. After turning to look at Owen, as if to be sure of his decision, he reached into a pouch and withdrew a book. “This is for you. You’re an intelligent young man, someone who likes to think—I can tell.”

    Owen was surprised. “What do you mean?”

    “It’s in the eyes. Besides,” he gestured to the empty village streets, “who else stayed out too long because he had more to do, other matters to think about?” He pushed the book into Owen’s hands. “You’re smart enough to understand the true gift of Stability and everything the Watchmaker has done for us. This book will help.”

    Owen looked at the volume, saw a honeybee imprinted on the spine, the Watchmaker’s symbol. The book’s title was printed in neat, even letters. Before the Stability. “Thank you, sir. I will read it.”

    The stranger turned a dial that increased the boiler’s alchemical heat, and greater plumes of steam puffed out. The cart chugged forward, and the pedlar followed it out of town.

    Owen was intrigued by the book, and he opened to the title page. He wanted to stand there in the middle of the street and read, but he glanced at his pocketwatch—3:13. He held out his hand, baffled that raindrops hadn’t started falling. The rain was never two minutes late.

    Nevertheless, he didn’t want to risk letting the book get wet; he tucked it under his arm and rushed with his apples to the cider house. A few minutes later, when he reached the door of the cool fieldstone building where his father was working, he turned around to see that the old man and his automated cart had disappeared.

    “You’re late,” his father called in a gruff voice.

    Owen stood in the door’s shadows, staring back down the village streets. “So is the rain”—a fact that he found far more troubling. A crack of thunder exploded across the sky and then, as if someone had torn open a waterskin, rain poured out of the clouds. Owen frowned and looked at the ticking clock just inside the cider house. 3:18 p.m.

    Only later did he learn that the town’s newsgraph office had received a special updated almanac page just that morning, which moved the scheduled downpour to precisely 3:18 p.m.

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    A Glimpse of a Seven Suns Movie

    Posted By on July 3, 2014

    On Tuesday, during a nice hike in the lovely Ute Valley Park in the heart of Colorado Springs I finished dictating the last four chapters in BLOOD OF THE COSMOS, the second novel in my Saga of Shadows trilogy—a next-generation story in the universe of the Saga of Seven Suns.  That was 119 chapters, about 800 pages…and a big relief!  (Although I’m afraid I left a lot of my characters in very dire straits.)  In the end, I realized I had a relatively low body count of main characters.  Hmmm, maybe I’ll have to kill off a few during the editing process.

    And the editing will take a while.  I’m keeping my typist’s fingers sore as she works her way through. She has mailed me back up to chapter 78, and I’ll be editing full-steam-ahead. I have no doubt she can stay ahead of me.

    The first volume, THE DARK BETWEEN THE STARS, was just released in the US and UK. Tor Books (and Circle of Seven Productions) just released an incredible book trailer for that novel—practically a short movie! This is by far the best book trailer I’ve ever had done. Spend one minute and six seconds and have a look.

    Click here to view book trailer on YouTube

    DarkBetweenTheSta

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    Movie Deal Announcement: ILL WIND to Fox Studios

    Posted By on July 2, 2014

    Several months ago I hinted at a big movie deal in the works, but the paperwork and studios grind very slowly.  But we can finally announce a major feature film option on my eco-thriller ILL WIND, written with Doug Beason, to Fox Studios.

    It is the largest oil spill in history: a supertanker crashes into the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Bay. Desperate to avert environmental damage (as well as the PR disaster), the multinational oil company releases an untested designer oil-eating microbe to break up the spill.

    What the company didn’t realize is that their microbe propagates through the air . . . and it mutates to consume anything made of petrocarbons: oil, gasoline, synthetic fabrics, plastics of all kinds. And when every piece of plastic begins to dissolve, it’s too late. . . .

    IllWindUpload

    ILL WIND is at Fox Features with executive producer Steve Asbell, with a script to be written by Dr. Harry Kloor and Rantz Hosely, in a deal set up by Kloor’s Jupiter 9 Productions. Fox anticipates it will be produced as a blockbuster eco-disaster thriller based on our 1995 novel from Tor/Forge Books.  ILL WIND is currently available in all eBook formats for $4.99. WordFire Press will soon be reissuing the novel in trade paperback format.

    Kindle
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    In other film & TV news, actress/producer Marisol Nichols has optioned the Dan Shamble, Zombie PI novels and stories for development as a TV series; I’ve finished a detailed treatment and it is currently being shown to several networks.

    SLIMY UNDERBELLY  cover DEATH WARMED OVER  cover UNNATURAL ACTS  cover HAIR RAISING

    And don’t forget, only one week remaining in the Cosmic SF Bundle from storybundle.com. Name your own price for nine big science fiction books by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason, Mike Stackpole, Brandon Sanderson, Mike Resnick, Anne McCafffrey and Jody Lynn Nye, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Frank Herbert, Jay Lake and Ken Scholes, Peter J. Wacks.

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    Teaser Tuesday: ASSEMBLERS OF INFINITY

    Posted By on July 1, 2014

    Here’s a taste of my Nebula-nominated hard-SF novel cowritten with Doug Beason, ASSEMBLERS OF INFINITY—alien nanotechnology and a disaster on the Moon!  ASSEMBLERS is also featured as one of nine science fiction books in the Cosmic SF Bundle currently running (for one more week!) on storybundle.com

    The crew of Moonbase Columbus make an amazing discovery on the far side of the Moon—a massive alien structure is erecting itself, built up atom by atom by living machines, microscopically small, intelligent, and unstoppable, consuming everything they touch. The mysterious structure begins to expand and take shape, and its creators begin to multiply.

    Is this the first strike in an alien invasion from the stars? Or has human nanotechnology experimentation gone awry, triggering an unexpected infestation? As riots rage across a panicked Earth, scientists scramble to learn the truth before humanity’s home is engulfed by the voracious machines.

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    daedalus array: lunar farside

    For all practical purposes, Daedalus Crater was the most remote spot in the solar system. Centered 180 degrees away from Earth and only 4 degrees below the lunar equator, Daedalus never saw or heard Earth, never received stray radio waves that might diffract over the lunar horizon and ruin delicate astronomical measurements.

    Here in the orbital shadow, Daedalus Crater was the perfect spot to station a VLF—Very Low Frequency—array to study portions of the radio spectrum that on Earth were drowned out. Massive dipole antennas sprawled kilometers across the flat floor of the crater in a Y-shaped array encircled by the crater walls, making the site look like a giant Mercedes-Benz emblem.

    Because of its remoteness, the VLF site had to function autonomously. All instruments had been designed to run by themselves, to fix themselves with modular replacement parts, to be inspected by telepresence repair drones. With the unchanging nature of the Moon, the VLF should have operated for decades without human intervention.

    Until absolutely everything went wrong.

    Trevor “Can’t Wait” Waite drew a stale breath from the cramped cabin of the lunar hopper as they approached the site. The hopper had been launched from Moonbase Columbus on an investigation and repair mission, and Waite fidgeted until he could go outside and have a look for himself. The scientists Earthside were screaming about their interrupted VLF data, and Can’t Wait Waite could troubleshoot faster than anyone else on the base.

    Unfortunately, even with ninety-five percent of the hopper’s systems automated, outdated safety regs still demanded a full crew of three, with one person to remain inside the vehicle and two required on every extravehicular activity. Waite figured he could have taken care of the problem himself in an hour or so; he was convinced that Sig Lasserman’s caution and Becky Snow’s neophyte bumbling would triple the time required.

    The hopper approached the lunar surface on the upper rim of Daedalus Crater. It was difficult to see in the lunar night. “I am taking her down slowly,” Siegfried Lasserman said. He spoke in a clipped German accent as he worked at the lander controls.

    “Of course you are,” Waite mumbled. He checked over his suit, anxious to be outside and tinkering with the malfunctioning antennas. Let’s get the show on the road!

    He hated to waste time sending a human to do a robot’s job, but all the automatic sensors on the VLF had gone screwy, all the maintenance routines had failed, and no one could figure out just which branch in the endless fault-tree had been responsible for the breakdown. Two of the array’s dipole antennas had blipped out within an hour of each other; a third quit less than a day later. The three defective units stood in a row, possibly signifying that the malfunction was spreading sequentially. And even worse, the repair drones would not respond.

    Moonbase Columbus couldn’t even get a visual of the Daedalus site. Waite wondered if something as major as a meteor strike could have wrecked a portion of the array—but all the seismic sensors had been silent as fossils.

    “Why is he setting us down up here?” Becky Snow asked, interrupting Waite’s thoughts. “This wasn’t briefed in the preflight.” Her black eyes were wider than they should have been; perspiration glistened on her ebony cheeks and forehead.

    Lasserman’s attention didn’t waver from the controls. “To protect the array from any dust the hopper will kick up. The upper rim of the crater has an access road down to the floor. We’ll be close enough up here.”

    “You’ll see the array even in the darkness once we’re down the access road,” Waite said. Becky Snow had never been to the Farside before and had been on the Moon itself only five weeks. He hated being somebody’s on-the-job training instructor.

    Lasserman set the hopper down on the landing area blasted flat behind the crater rim. He switched to a different set of controls, powering down the methane engines, as Waite and Snow twiddled their thumbs until their own work could begin. They wore their EVA suits though the hopper cabin was fully pressurized. Waite felt claustrophobic in the hopper, even with his face mask flipped up. He wanted to be outside.

    Lasserman crouched by the hopper’s instrument panel; his suit was linked to computers that projected data on a heads-up holographic display shimmering in front of him. “I am still getting anomalous readings from the EM sounder. It shows something large and artificial out there, more than just the VLF. And the infrared response makes no sense. Much too high. It’s been dark for ten days now—everything should be very cold.”

    “Maybe our dust is scattering the signal.” Waite clicked down his faceplate and switched on the suit radio, impatient to solve the problem. Why talk about it anymore when they had come all this way to do a hands-on?

    Lasserman hesitated. “Dust should have settled by now,” came his voice over the radio. “That cannot be the explanation.”

    Waite finished checking his suit and moved toward the hatch. “Well, as soon as Becky’s ready, we can go outside and have a look for ourselves. If nothing was screwy, we wouldn’t have come all the way out here anyway.” If you weren’t willing to take any risks, why did you come to the Moon in the first place?

    Startled, Becky fumbled with her own suit. Out of the corner of his eye, Waite watched to make sure she went through the proper checks.

    Lasserman nodded in response to his controls, adjusting his throat mike. “I am informing Mr. Dvorak that we have arrived and are still receiving anomalous signals. I will rig it so that they can observe the mission in realtime.”

    “Right,” Waite said. As if the moonbase commander didn’t have anything else to do. Or maybe he didn’t. Jason Dvorak had been in command of Columbus for only a few weeks, and his promotion had surprised himself as much as everyone else, especially Bernard Chu, the former commander. Maybe Dvorak did want to watch the repair activities.

    “Ready,” Becky said.

    “Rog. We’re going out now. Deploy the rover.” Waite sealed the airlock and squinted at the blocky buttons on the control panel A green ready light blinked at him. Pushing his spacesuited thumb against the panel, he immediately felt his suit stiffen as the air bled out of the lock. A rush of warm air diffused through his suit as the heaters kicked on. Beside him in the cramped chamber, Becky Snow stood completely still.

    “We’ll get this straightened out in no time,” he said for the benefit of the moonbase audience who would be watching the transmissions, and no doubt the hackers on Earth who loved to tap into boring moonbase jabber. The special-interest comm-channel, United Space Agency Select, had long ago stopped broadcasting news about routine mission activities.

    When the hopper’s outer door unsealed itself, Waite climbed out of the airlock. He held out a hand to steady Becky as she climbed down the ladder, but she kept her own balance.

    Turning, Waite paused to assess the distance to the VLF. The rover would kick up some dust, but that little bit shouldn’t cause too much of a problem for the dipole antennas. Even in the darkness, through a breach in the crater wall, he could see the wide and crumbled access road left behind by the construction vehicles that had installed the array five years before. It would be a quick drive down.

    “Don’t spend too much time gawking at the scenery,” Waite said to Becky. He turned to see that she had already begun disengaging the rover vehicle from the hopper chassis. Lasserman had deployed the package while they were still in the airlock. The lunar rover bounced once on the moon dirt, or regolith, and began to unfold.

    “All right,” she answered and waited for him to get into the rover.

    “We’re heading out, Sig,” Waite said.

    “Roger that. I am reading everything from your suit cameras. You are relaying directly from the rover up to L-2.”

    “Isn’t realtime great?” He just hoped that the moonbase people wouldn’t muck around with his job out here. He was the one on Farside, and he would make the decisions himself.

    Lasserman would have preferred to sit wringing his hands until Dvorak or somebody else told him what to do, or maybe even until Celeste McConnell made a decision back on Earth. If he had to wait for them, Can’t Wait would die of old age before they got around to choosing the “most judicious course of action.”

    Waite paused while the rover’s steering wheel popped out, then seated himself on the vehicle’s framework. The light banks came on, spilling out across the path ahead of them.

    The Moon at night was full of shadows, but starlight undimmed by any atmosphere glimmered down like ice-cold points. As soon as they passed over the lip of the crater, bouncing along the access road on the rover’s wide tires, Waite saw immediately why the VLF array had ceased functioning. “There’s something very wrong here,” he transmitted, keeping his voice steady.

    “I can see that. Unbelievable!” Lasserman’s voice came into his ears. “I’ve already checked in with Columbus. Somebody is going out to get Mr. Dvorak right away.”

    That seemed unimportant to Waite. He stared down the sloping crater wall to the floor of Daedalus. Behind them a line of their own fresh tire tracks serpentined back toward the hopper.

    Beside him, Becky leaned forward. “None of the archival photos looked like this.”

    “That’s because the archival photos were two years old. You go ahead and gawk all you want.”

    In the starlight, he could see that two arms of the Y remained intact, but the third looked as if it had been bitten off. Directly next to the crater wall, a pit like a gigantic mine shaft plunged downward, a kilometer in diameter if it was an inch. It yawned like a giant mouth swallowing the floor, the VLF array, and every sign of human presence. Waite could not see the bottom.

    Spreading out in translucent strands, a wispy structure extended up from the pit—ghostly arches of fishline, support frameworks, silvery lines like a faded but complicated architectural drawing that had been mostly erased.

    Becky Snow whispered, “It looks like the lair of one of those tunnel spiders. You know, with the spider waiting in the hole, and the web stretching out in all directions.”

    The sensors in his suit flashed warning lights to display his suddenly increased blood pressure and breathing rate. Scrubbers worked double time to deal with the rush of sweat that had just burst from his body. Waite bumped on his chin mike, surprised to hear how steady his voice remained.

    “Sig, can you see this?”

    “Only from your transmitter. I cannot see it from the hopper.”

    “That’s because you’re too far up, on the other side of the crater wall. You’d better make sure my transmission is getting to Columbus.”

    “Roger. Your stereochip is still broadcasting to L-2. This is—”

    Waite cut him off. “I’m going to follow the access road for a while, go around the side to get a different perspective,”

    “Be very cautious,” Lasserman said.

    “You can bet on it,” Becky answered for Waite.

    Waite eased the rover forward down the slope, which took him farther away from both the hopper and the structure. He wet his lips and looked down again to survey the hole. It was uncanny. He knew there hadn’t been anything like this on the satellite recon photos, last taken years ago with the lunar orbiters. The Moon was geologically dead—there wasn’t supposed to be any need to keep mapping the surface.

    “How could you excavate a hole like that without making the seismographs yammer for days?” Becky asked.

    “No way. You can’t do it. The geologists should have been able to pinpoint the source to within a few meters. They’re a pain in the butt, but they’re not that incompetent.” After he had spoken, he realized he was “hot mike,” transmitting everything back to the moonbase. Oh, well.

    As the rover continued its descent, Waite turned his attention to the other portions of the array, erected there by humans a few years before. The “spiderwebs” extended to the fourth dipole antenna on the array, draping the dipole.

    Lasserman’s voice burst into his ears again. “Columbus advises that you do not go too close to the pit.”

    Waite was aggressive, but he wasn’t stupid. “No problem.”

    He steered past truck-sized boulders and tried to keep out of the deepest shadows. With all the strange stuff going on, no telling what might jump out at him. The headlights shone ahead of him, calling too much attention to the rover. He felt like an intruder in a very dangerous place.

    “I am beginning to lose you on IR,” Lasserman said. “The background of that whole area is warm, quite a bit above normal.”

    How the hell can it be warm? Waite muttered to himself. Night on the Moon was so cold that it had taken years for spacesuit designers to come up with any systems that could cope with it. Before a long-term colony could be contemplated, NASA, ESA, and later the United Space Agency had to find new designs to tolerate the cold.

    But the low temperature of the nighttime had nothing to do with the shivers running down Waite’s spine.

    Waite stared across the crater at the enormous pit. It reminded him of a strip mine that had appeared overnight, with no construction tracks, no seismic traces, and no debris. Still trying to convince himself it must be some kind of impact scar, he searched for ejecta, fissures, the swelling of a lip. But the hole was deep and black with an edge as sharp as a knife. It was simply . . . there. But who had dug it? And in only two years, max?

    Extending from as far down inside the hole as Waite could see, the diamondlike threads rose into the lunar vacuum in symmetric arches around the orifice. Two of the nine arches met in the middle, a good kilometer above the surface, like the petals of a gargantuan glass flower. A thin film of wispy material seemed to be filling the gaps between the lines. The rest of the arches still seemed to be under construction.

    “Trevor,” a new voice came over his suit radio from the moonbase, “this is Lon Newellen. I’m trying to track down Dvorak right now. You’d better not get any closer to that thing.”

    “Fine with us, Big Daddy,” Waite said. “You think this is going to be on Agency Select? I’m wearing my good spacesuit.” It was a joke to fend off his growing uneasiness. Nobody watched newsnet stories about moonbase daily routines anymore.

    The attempt at humor sailed past Newellen. “What’s your distance?”

    Waite looked around and guessed. “About half a kilometer from the edge of the thing.”

    “Okay, let me figure this out. If I can’t find Jason, I need to check Earthside. Director McConnell should know about this. Let her make the final decision. For now, why don’t you go back to the hopper. Don’t take any more chances.”

    Waite didn’t argue, other than to grumble about who should be making his decisions for him. He found a wide spot on the access road, backing and filling until he managed to turn the rover around. Becky Snow kept her faceplate to the structure below.

    Waite pushed the rover’s maximum speed, rolling on the balloon tires toward Lasserman and the waiting hopper, now five kilometers away. The access road was steep and winding, but getting farther from the crater floor and closer to the hopper made him feel safe. As they rose over the lip of the crater ten minutes later, the sight of the hopper eased his tension.

    “Ah, Trevor? Columbus?” Lasserman said. “I am getting some trouble readings here . . . a lot of them. My—my sensors are going wild!”

    “What kind of—”

    “Oh, my God! I’ve got microleaks all over the place! Where are they coming from?”

    Waite increased the speed of the rover, as if that would do anything. Newellen at the moonbase transmitted again, asking for Lasserman to confirm his readings. Stupid!

    “My cabin pressure is dropping!” Lasserman’s voice jittered with panic. “Hull integrity is—this whole thing is—disintegrating! I don’t have my helmet on!”

    “Sig!” Waite shouted into his suit mike just as Lasserman screamed.

    In front of their eyes, Waite and Becky watched as the hopper’s body split open, gushing white frost as the ship’s atmosphere exploded outward. Rocking from the force of the blast, the hopper teetered on its spindly legs. The hull crumbled, as if the metal had somehow turned into powder. The main body sagged and collapsed.

    Becky was yelling. Waite shouted over the commotion. “Columbus! Big Daddy, did you get that!” In the back of his mind—the part not deadened with shock—he kept thinking, How are we going to get back? We‘re stranded out here on the Farside of the Moon. How long will it take them to send another hopper over? How much air do we have?

    He shook as he checked the rover’s communications dish. The laser communications telescope still pointed to the L-2 relay satellite keeping vigil overhead. “Columbus. Columbus Base. Mayday, Mayday!”

    Becky kept shouting, but it was not mindless terror. “Trevor, I’ve got a puncture somewhere. My suit’s leaking! I’m losing pressure—” She slapped at her suit

    He could see the red telltales on the outside control pack. Every one of her suit systems was malfunctioning. She was standing up in the rover, flailing her arms, pawing the chest control pack with her thickly gloved hands. “Trevor! My God, help me!”

    He couldn’t react quickly enough. How could everything go wrong at once? Then he noticed the metallic surface of her suit seething, boiling. He stopped himself from reaching out to touch her.

    She made a choking noise over the radio, then suddenly a splash of blood splattered her faceplate. Explosive decompression killed her as vacuum breached her suit, dropping the pressure enough to make her head pop. Lifeless, sagging, she slumped over the side of the rover.

    “Becky?” Waite’s voice cracked. The horror froze his guts. He had to make a conscious effort to blink his eyes, to keep breathing. My God, he thought. This couldn’t be happening. Everything around him looked perfectly quiet and still.

    All he could hear was the sound of his panicked breathing; somewhere in the back of his mind someone was yelling at him over the radio. The hopper was gone. Lasserman was gone. Becky was gone. Some impossible structure had appeared in Daedalus Crater with no hint as to its origin. Becky had compared it to a spider waiting in its lair.

    Then five telltale red lights winked on in his heads-up display, bathing his face in a glow like blood. Bitchin’ Betsy, the voice-programmed chip, screamed, “Warning—your outer seal has been breached. Your suit is leaking at a rate of—” He stared down at his sleeves, watching the silvery coating foam as if someone had poured acid on it. Microleaks by the thousands sprang up through the suit, growing larger. His inner sealant systems made a valiant effort, but his entire suit seemed to be falling apart. Someone was screaming over the radio. . . .

    Air rushed past his ears, and in an instant his eardrums burst. His chest pounded as his breath exploded into the vacuum, collapsing his lungs. Waite opened his mouth and a sheet of thin ice and spatters of blood covered the inside of his helmet. He tried to scream but then his visor dissolved.

    He didn’t even see himself falling to the lunar surface.

    ***

    ASSEMBLERS is available in all eBook formats and in trade paperback print.  Also, FOR ONE MORE WEEK ONLY, you can get this novel plus eight other great SF books as part of the Cosmic SF Bundle from StoryBundle.com   Name your own price—get ASSEMBLERS and the basic bundle for as little as $3. Includes works by Mike Resnick, Frank Herbert, Brandon Sanderson, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Michael A. Stackpole, Jay Lake and Ken Scholes, Anne McCaffrey and Jody Lynn Nye, and Peter J. Wacks.  See details at Storybundle.com

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