The N3F Review of Books

I also edit four SF fanzines. The draft table of contents of The N3F Review of Books incorporating Prose Bono was just created:

Draft contents for next N3F Review of Books…More reviews welcome

Fiction

A Pale Dawn Book Eight of The Omega War By Chris Kennedy & Mark Wandrey
Review by Pat Patterson

Battletech: The Nellus Academy Incident by Jennifer Brozek eview by Jim McCoy

The Borrowed World Series by Franklin Horton Review by Jim McCoy

Chasing Freedom by Marina Fontaine Review by Declan Finn

Directorate School by Pam Uphoff Review by Jim McCoy

Do No Harm by Robert E. Hampson, Chris Kennedy, and Sandra L. Medlock Review by Pat Patterson

Farmer in the Sky by Robert Heinlein Review by Chris Nuttall

Kingdoms of Iron and Stone Edited by Ellen Campbell Review by Pat Patterson

Lay of the Legionnaire by Chris Sommerkorn Review by Pat Patterson

Operation Flash, Episode 1: Knight’s Gambit Accepted by Nitay Arbel Review by Pat Patterson

Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves Review by Rob Kroese

The Powers of the Earth Review by Rob Kroese

Torchship by Karl Gallagher Review by Declan Finn

Treasure Planet by Hal Colebatch and Jessica Q. Fox Review by Pat Patterson

The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin Review by Declan Finn

4HU: Alpha Contracts by Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey

Prose Bono

Wright’s Writing Corner: The Logic of Character Revisited
L. Jagi Lamplighter
Star Trek, Respectable Characters and What Makes a Story Worth Reading
By Jim McCoy
An Interview with Roy Griffis by Tamara Wilhite
An Interview with Richard Paolinelli, Author of “Galen’s Way”

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Stand Against the light 12

Chapter Four Pacific Isle

Cloud, Star, Comet and Aurora nibbled at their meal.  Star had heated milk and oatmeal, browned toast, and fried ham and green tomatoes.  The sound of breaking waves provided a gentle background for their conversation. 

A rare consensus of the four indicated that more permanent quarters were wanted as soon as possible.  That meant a new island.  This one was too small, and mostly wave-washed in a major storm.  They’d stayed here for a few days, preparing to deal with the Andesians.  Cloud had slept in a sleeping bag on lawn furniture. Comet and Aurora had shared an air mattress and Comet’s oversize Ultra-R blanket.  Star’s experiment with a hammock, ‘just like in a pirate ship’, proved abortive, Star soon announcing that it was impossible to sleep with your back bent in knots.  They all agreed: This was not a place for a permanent base.  In fact , it was not a great place to sleep, unless they were staying out of sight, so they would return to Pickering’s home this evening.

Aurora looked over her shoulder, listening to a silent voice. “Eclipse.  She’ll be here any moment.”

True to Aurora’s words, the brilliant glissando of an unseen harpsichord announced Eclipse’s appearance in their midst.  The older girl brushed snow from her cape and perched on a driftwood log.

“It didn’t work,” Eclipse announced wanly. “Not at all.” She told herself that she would not beg for a food, no matter how frigid Star’s cooking smelled. 

“Where’s you go?” Star asked. “Someplace real cold.  Pluto?”

“Antarctica.  Not real cold.  That’s only water snow.” She shivered and drew her cape around her shoulders.

“You got cold from Antarctica?” a disbelieving Cloud challenged.

“Cold enough.” She touched  his face with the back of her hand. “This isn’t winter-weight garb. And I was there for hours.”

He jerked away. “You’re like ice!” he exclaimed. 

“I tried something for you,” a downfaced Eclipse said. “I tried listening.  I can’t listen hard near people.  It’s too loud.  So: Antarctica.  I found a crevasse in the ice, out of the wind.  I grounded everything, every gift to zero, and listened.”

“What did you hear?” Comet asked.

“Silence,” Eclipse answered. “Total mentalic silence.  There must be no telepaths in the world now, anywhere but Tibet.  And we already knew about them and the Andesians. Those people were loud.  Before the change, when I did this I could hear all the ungifteds in the world and their mentalic whispering.  From all the mentalic gifts I’d  hear a background moan like bees in a hive.  Here it’s quiet.  Even the Currents of the Earth are stilled.”

“Currents of the Earth?” Cloud asked. “Ocean currents?”

“Mentalic currents,” Eclipse said quietly. “If you listen hard, mentalically, when it’s real quiet, the Earth sings tunes to itself, songs in scales that don’t exist any more.  Songs of Atlanticea and Autumnlost, Tsolrin and Rome and Marik.  The Earth sang to itself.  Not now.  It’s silent.  I’m cold, I didn’t help you guys plan, and didn’t do anything that worked.  I’m sorry.”

“You tried,” Star said. “We didn’t plan yet.  We just finished breakfast.  So you can help us.” He patted her on the shoulder. “It really was cold there!  Your cape’s half-frozen.” A thoughtful pause. “There’s an extra cup if you’d like tea.”

“Please?” she asked.

“First we talk,” said Aurora. “All of us.  There’s time.  I’ll make Eclipse breakfast.  She obviously hasn’t eaten, because you can’t listen hard if you eat first.  Besides, Eclipse cooked for us at Alex’s.” Aurora wondered if  Star would notice what she said.  Boys were so entirely hintless. 

“Janie,” Star protested. “You!  Cook?  Who are you trying to poison?” He shuddered and gestured at serving dishes. “There’s plenty for Eclipse.  If she’ll eat my cooking.”

Eclipse flashed a grin at him.

“Hints,” Aurora announced, shifting her weight slightly to let Eclipse reach the food. “We’ve been here for weeks!  Where are the hints?”

“Weren’t you collecting them, Aurora?” Cloud asked innocently. They were all details, after all.  Collecting them had to be girl’s work.

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Stand Against the Light 11

The novel is now out at readers and kibitzers. The readers who have answered gave some specific suggestions that can be carried out. The novel should appear sometime next month or so. There has been real progress in getting scientific articles out the door. And now a bit more of Stand Against the Light.

Chapter Three Persona Ethics

The distant patter of raindrop on leaf and the slow drip of water cascading from branch to branch were the only sounds.  Star and Cloud sat under an enormous fir tree, their gifts keeping their clothing dry, listening to the forest around them.  Neither wanted to speak. Only the pressure of an approaching meal drove them to conversation.

“I used to daydream about camping.  I’d dream about being out in the woods like this,” said Cloud. “Camp sounded almost as frigid as having a base.  You didn’t need to be a persona to camp, either.  Except when I became a persona, I never tried to get a base.  None of us did.  I lived at home.  I never even went camping.”

Cloud returned to listening to the tip-tap of the water. 

“Except Eclipse,” Star said. “She got herself a base and everything.  All by herself.” He sank into quiet again.

“You know,” Cloud said finally, “Changing time sounds real hard.  Putting back what the Time Pirates did sounds harder.  We’re not doing it overnight.  Are we?  Figuring we won’t get lucky, I mean.”

“All we have to do is find them,” said Star.  His voice was almost flat. “Find them, and I’ll blow them to pieces.  Teeny-tiny pieces.  Pieces so small they don’t exist.  Then we’ll fix everything.  Put it back right.”

He stared ahead.  The depths of the woods were a study in brown: ground covered with needles and bark, sepia tree-trunks, light faded to rust by passage through layer after layer of twigs and branches. 

“I’m with you, Star,” Cloud agreed quietly as he stared into the trees. “First I have to find them.  I need time.  We can’t stay here with Pickering.  He’s not a relative.  He’s not part of our League.  He puts up with us because we have gifts.  So we can’t stay.  Staying is taking something from an ungifted by using our gifts.  You can’t do that!  It’s wrong!”

“I know.  I know!  We absolutely positively must leave!  Soon. Where?  We can’t go home.  It’s not there!  We checked that ourselves.” Star combed his hair, straightening brown locks curled by spring damp, letting the activity distract him from the reality of the situation. 

“No.  We can’t go home.” Cloud told himself not to be frightened.  He was a persona, and personas chased menaces, not the other way around.  He paused before announcing his great idea. “There aren’t any personas until we fix history.  There must be lots of places ‑ desert islands, mountain ranges,  Mount Everest, Kapitan Mors being gone ‑ where no one goes.  I just choose one.  We go there and build a base.  That’s absolutely first.  We build a base.  Our base. Festung Greater Medford.  Then we save the world.”

“Now that’s frigid!” Star’s native enthusiasm finally bubbled to the surface. “Build a base.  A real base?  With armor and radium engines and robot defenses and all that great stuff?”

“Sure!” agreed Cloud.  The slightest hint of doubt nagged at him.  If this world had no personas, they probably didn’t have chandlers supplying persona bases. Robot defenses sounded a bit tricky to install by yourself.  Mayhaps he could ask Aurora.  After all, base construction was all detail work, so a girl should be able to do it, once a boy told her what to do. “Keep it simple?  We won’t need it long, just until I catch the time pirates.”

Star nodded assent. “Hey. Cloud?  We’re the ones putting the world back, right?  Can we put it back so we keep the base?” Possibly, thought Star, possibly in the end everything would turn out utterly frigid. 

“Why not? All we need is a place and some plans and a pile of cash to pay for it,” said Cloud. “We for sure have a pile of cash. We should ask Comet about a place; she sees all sorts of things.  And have her and Aurora write down everything we should put in the plans, like automatic minefields and tesdri-controlled thirty-seven-inch-guns.  After all, ‘everything’ is a whole bunch of details, and girls are real good at details.

“Just so we do the final plans.  And count all the money.  That’s outlines and numbers, so that’s for us boys to do.” Star told himself that his older sister and her math books didn’t count.  Girls didn’t do math, he knew, even if when you paid close attention there seemed to be a terrible lot of girls who were real good at math, better than lots of the boys he knew.

“So where do we find all this money?  Is what we salvaged on that island enough?  Ask Eclipse?” The air seemed swiftly colder.

“Eclipse?  Why not?” Cloud felt uncertain. “She built a base.  If you ask her a straight question, not about the Namestone or where she hides out, she gives good answers.  Or tells you she doesn’t know.  She won’t pretend to know what she doesn’t, when she could brag herself up.”

“She’s a girl.  She misses obvious ways to brag herself up.” Star shook his head. “I just wish I could help Eclipse look for the other Doom.  But how?  I can’t read minds or fly.  They have model builders here, wood and plastic, but there are only so many different woodworking tools.  These people seem to know all the ones that I do, so there are no clues there.”

“History’s completely different,” Cloud added. “I found out what happened to the IncoAztecans.  They got conquered by Spain.  No personas.  Spain had gunpowder and steel.  Aztecs had swords with obsidian edges.  Incans hadn’t invented edged weapons.  They could have won, but they lost.”

Star tapped his left wrist. “That’s my watch,” he announced. “Time to go back and get taken to Comet’s island to eat.”

“It’s a nice island,” Cloud said, “just way too small and low to build a base.”

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Stand Against the Light 10

Dai finally remembered to plug his headphones into one of the ubiquitous data ports.  “Post Eight Forward, reporting,” he said.  He had silence for a response. He could hear but not see the explosions as the battalion’s 120mm mortars engaged the praying mantises. The creatures swept to the south around his position.  After a while, their fire was joined by direct fire weapons from the base.  He heard rifles, machine guns, antitank weapons,… all very noisy.  In not too long, the fire slackened and stopped. “Post Eight Forward, reporting,” he spoke into his headphones, to be greeted with silence.

Eventually the brightening dawn sky swallowed the dimmer stars. Private Dai surveyed his surroundings.  Post Eight was reduced to a pile of wreckage.  If his telephone had a line signal, it was that he was tied into the line well below the former location of the post.  However, when he called he received no answer.  He looked over the side of his bunker.  Posts Seven and Nine had also been smashed to flinders.  The sky was well brighter than first light.  His relief should have arrived several hours ago.

What was he to do?  He was supposed to remain on watch until relieved, which he had done.  He was also supposed to report enemy activity, but was unable to contact base to make his report.  Sitting here was useless.  He would go to the base, make his report, and return unless relieved.

“Hello?” The voice came from behind him. “Hello, Post Eight?”

Dai turned around, his rifle carefully pointed skyward. “Who goes there?” he called.

“It is I, Comrade Private Wu.  Is that you, Longwei?” Wu asked.

“I am indeed Dai Longwei. Please come out so I can see you,” Dai answered.

Wu emerged from his cover. “It was terrible,” he said. “My patrol was wiped out.  My compass and GPS stopped working, so I was lost.  I had to wait for daylight.”

“Your patrol was wiped out?” Dai answered. “So was this watchpost.  And I have no contact with base headquarters.  They don’t pick up their phone.”

“I tried my cell phone.  There are no bars.” Wu was downcast. “At least my compass and GPS are working now.”

“We must report this,” Dai said. “Have you eaten yet?”

“No,” Wu said. “My ration packs fell out in our EQ2050, which was destroyed.  A beam of blue light hit them, and they exploded.”

“I have extras,” Dai said. “Let us eat, quickly. This post is not manned in daylight.  Once the sun is up I can leave here without getting into trouble.”

An hour later, the two men were back to Force Base 137’s main fortifications.  The perimeter wire was torn open.  Roofs had been blown off bunkers.  Communications antennae were cut down. Vehicles looked as though they had been stomped by a giant.

“Hello!” Dai shouted. “Who is here?”

He was answered by silence.

“There is something strange here,” Wu said. “There was a big battle. Where is everyone? Where are the bodies?  There aren’t any.”

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Stand Against the Light 9

“That is a dispersed frequency radio,” Miao grumbled.  “It cannot be jammed!”

”It must be the Americans!” Sheng said.  “Their CIA is the world leader on electronic interference.  However, I think we can raise Air Base T19.  One moment.”

Miao waited impatiently, finally hearing “Air Base T19, Flight Leader Yi speaking.  This is irregular?  What is your issue, Base 137?”

“This is Battalion Leader Miao, Base 137, Commanding.  We are under attack by unknown low-altitude flying devices armed with unknown laser weapons.  Our communications with Lhasa are being jammed.  Please forward our report to Army Command, Lhasa.”

“Flight Leader Yi here. I am unable to comply with your request. Lhasa is under attack. We cannot reach them.  Their last report said they were being overrun by unknown forces.

“Wait,” Miao said, “how can Lhasa be overrun?  With the Indian lies about us, it has two mechanized regiments as a garrison.”  And why didn’t Beijing tell me about this? he wondered.

“Unknown, Comrade Battalion Commander.  However, I’m needed here,” Yi responded.

“Please send us air support! Miao out.”

“Yi out.”

“Comrade Battalion Commander!” Corporal Yao exclaimed.  “Post Seven reports many blue lights crossing Ridge 137, bearings 274 to 293.”

“Corporal Yao,” Miao said, “Please ask Post Seven to give us an accurate count for many.” So much, he thought for our training in accurate reconnaissance reporting.  Yao began shouting into his telephone.  “Corporal Tan, please get me Senior Company Leader Xi on the phone.”

“Xi here!” The voice on Miao’s phone was sharply clipped.

“Miao here.  Illuminating rounds this side of Ridge 137.  Fire immediately. Prepare for observed fire same location.  Ready plot for east – near — end of track West Seven.”  Miao looked across the room.  “Sheng?  Is there any activity on the perimeter radars?”

“No, Comrade Battalion Commander,” Sheng answered.  “However, they are range-gated, to short of Ridge 137. That range is fixed in the core programming and cannot be altered.”

“Excellent report, Sheng! Ma, make a note of that.” Miao leaned back in his chair. What was going on?  His thoughts were punctuated by the sharp reports of the base’s Type 64 120mm mortars being fired.  Not a modern weapon, he thought, not self propelled, but works just fine for base defense, not to mention targets out to 9 kilometers.  Another minute, he thought, and we will see the enemy.

“Giant insects!” Corporal Jiang screamed into his telephone.  “Post Eight.  They are praying mantises! Ten feet tall! What do I do?”

Not waiting for orders, Pang opened fire on the enemy,  his QBZ03 battle rifle on full automatic. Jiang noticed a dismaying lack of effect in the targets.  Of course, he thought, that assumed that Pang had recently learned how to hit the broad side of a barn, which seemed improbable.

A line of incandescent blue fire passed just above Jiang’s watch post.  “Cease fire, you idiot!” Jiang shouted at Pang.  “We’re here to observe! You’re drawing their fire!”  Jiang tried to pull the rifle from Pang’s hands.  Pang, however, had spent much of his admittedly not long life as a peasant farmer, finally realizing that the People’s Liberation Army looked to be a better career choice. The muscles that never dropped hoe or axe did not release his rifle.

“Taking forward observation position, as per plan,” Private Dai announced as he slipped off the edge of the watch tower and skittered down  the stairs to the ground.  The forward position had heavy cover from above, enough that Dai was alive and uninjured when the last fragments of two bodies and Post Eight’s wreckage finished dropping on the ground behind him.

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Stand Against the Light — 8

“You!” he shouted.  “Halt immediately!” The objects continued their advance.  “Detachment!  I am firing a warning shot. Do not open fire!”  He drew his QSZ92-5.8 pistol.  The load was 20 rounds of 5.8x21mm armor-piercing rounds, the bottle-necked case being a triumph of Chinese military technology, at least so far as he was concerned. He pointed the pistol skyward, released the safety, and pulled the trigger.

The report echoed across the surrounding terrain.  The objects continued their advance.  The background rustle became louder and louder.  Qian told himself he was not afraid of a few balloons and the unseen drone pushing them.  He lowered his pistol to point at the lead object.

“Halt at once or I will open fire.”  For once he wished he knew Tibetan beyond what was needed to negotiate with Tibetan bartenders and changji, those few Tibetans who would voluntarily speak with a PLA soldier.  OK, he thought, time to pop your balloon.

He took a proper wide-stance with two handed grip and began shooting.  Sparks showed his armor-piercing rounds bouncing. “Detachment!” he shouted.  “Open…” He never finished his last words.  A lance of incandescent violet light struck out. His body was smashed backwards.

Not waiting for Qian to complete his order, his detachment opened fire.  Rifle fire was entirely ineffective. Tracers from the vehicle mounted machineguns zipped across the space between the EQ2050s and the objects and ricocheted.  A loud crump! was the PF98.  Its warhead slid across the smooth curves of the object, deflected into the ground, and exploded. More violet rays struck the two EQ2050s, which promptly detonated, and swept across the three infantrymen.

In a few instants Private Wu was the only survivor. He had dropped behind the rocks and was now doing the fastest low crawl he could imagine, away from the gunmetal gray horrors into the dark Tibetan night.  Which way was Post Eight? he asked himself .  He thanked the gods, who as  a good Communist he knew did not exist, that he had grabbed his heavy pack with sleeping bag, rations, and water.  Perhaps, he thought, he would do better to find a crevasse in which to hide and go to sleep.  Yes, he told himself, I am a good supporter of Communism, and someday if I work very hard may be elevated into the ranks of the Party.  After all, when we have leave in Lhasa, my comrades spend their time drinking, gambling, and whoring, but I spend my time studying the thoughts of Chairman Xi and Chairman Mao. If, he thought, he tried approaching Post Eight while it was still night, he would likely be shot by mistake.  He would be better off getting lost until dawn.  A glance at his wrist GPS and magnetic compass revealed he had a good reason for being lost.  The GPS was jammed, and the compass was meandering left and right as though there were no magnetic field here.

Headquarters watched on video as Qian died, his men opened fire, and a flash of blue light was followed by a loss of signal.

“Bring base to combat status,” Battalion Commander Miao shouted.  “We are under attack!  Sheng!  Link my phone to radio to Army Headquarters in Lhasa!  I must report immediately!”

The wail of sirens and screech of alarm horns echoed across the base. Sheng turned to his control panel, working swiftly under Miao’s lambent gaze. 

“What is wrong, Comrade Sheng?  What is taking so long?” Miao asked.

“Comrade Battalion Commander,” Sheng answered, “I am unable to raise Lhasa.  We appear to be being jammed.”

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Stand Against the Light — 7

“Laser,” Jiang said. He picked up the phone and rattled off the description. 

“They are dropping into a wash,” Dai said.  “Now they are gone.”  He reset his goggles again.  “But in the starlight scope I see glows off the rock.”  He reported another bearing. “They are following track West Nine.  If they stay, they will pass quite close to here, but behind rise 157.”

Jiang thanked his lucky stars that Dai was here.  The fellow had memorized the entire map around the base. “The ready platoon will meet them soon enough,” Jiang said.  “Back to perimeter sweep.  I will report to Headquarters.”

“Comrade Corporal Jiang,” Pan asked.

“Yes, Comrade Private?”  Jiang wondered what obvious point was about to be made.

“Do you hear a strange noise?  A high-pitched rustle?  Toward the lights.” Pan pointed.

Jiang slipped off his earmuffs and listened intently.  Was it there?  Yes, there was.  Amazing.  Pan had done something useful.   “Excellent, Pan.”  Jiang picked up the telephone again.

~~~~~

Two Dongfeng EQ2050s rolled along track West Nine.  Squad Leader Qian wondered what he had done to deserve being out at this hour.  Radio contact with base remained good, with occasional bursts of static.  That was odd, he thought.  The radio used rapid frequency shifting to hinder jamming.

“Please confirm objects are above ground,” he said in his throat mike.

“Headquarters confir…, that is the re..rt.” Headquarters answered.

In the distance, the blue lights were visible.  It was hard to hear over the tires on the ill-leveled track. but he thought he heard a strange noise, high pitched, sounding like nothing he recognized.

“Patrol!” Qian said.  “Pull up at those rocks fifty meters ahead..  All lights out.  Duan. Guo.  Man the QJC88s. Be ready to sweep the road.  When I give the order, trigger the flare launcher.  Let’s see what is coming. Wu, Yan, Chen, spread well out to the sides, looking between rocks.  Yan, have your PF98 ready.” Qian plugged his long-extension optical fiber into its UBS port, then tapped his shoulder minicam.  A dim image appeared on the dashboard.

“Headquarters confirms your camera is good, asks your plan,” Wu reported.

“I am letting them come to me, which they are about to do,” Qian said into his throat mike.  “They should be visible in my camera.”

“Headquarters confirms,” Wu reported.  “Cameras on the QJC88s are also good.”

Qian got out of his EQ2050 and strode to the center of the road. The lights were now quite close, not more than 100 meters.  “Guo. Two flares,” he ordered, “100 and 200 meters.” He heard the soft whump! of two compressed air launches, counted to ten, and was greeted with bright magnesium light.

What are those things? Qian wondered.  They actually are in midair.  Balloons. No matter, this is the territory of China, I represent the Party and the Army, so they will stop when ordered.  He held up his left hand in the universal halt gesture.  If his right hand had strayed to his pistol, that was only common sense.

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Stand Against the Light 6

“Yes, Comrade Corporal Jiang!  As you command, Comrade Corporal Jiang,” Pan responded.

An hour went by.  Star after star settled gradually into the western horizon.

“Comrade Corporal Jiang,” Pan said,  “I think I saw a light.”

“Where?” Jiang asked.

“Out there,” Pan answered.

Jiang peered in the direction Pan was pointing.  Nothing was apparent.  “Do you see the light now, Comrade Private?”

“No, Comrade Corporal,” Pan answered.  “It was just there for a moment, to the left of the big hill.”

“What color was it?  How bright was it?  Brighter than a star?”

“Blue, Comrade Corporal.  It was blue.  Like a bright star. But down on the ground,”  Pan mumbled.  “Look.  There it is again.  But brighter.”

“Yes,” Jiang said.  The light blinked out.  Jiang took an approximate bearing, picked up the telephone, and waited for Headquarters to answer.

“Base Headquarters, Comrade Corporal Yao here.”

“Post Eight, Jiang here.  There is an intermittent light, bearing two eight zero, below the horizon. We have seen it twice.  Oh, there it is again.  It went out before I got an accurate bearing. Light is blue, brighter than most stars.” Jiang took a careful bearing.  “Make that bearing two eight two, between me and the hill in that direction. And remaining on.” 

“Headquarters acknowledges,” Yao said.  He repeated the information he had just been given.

Jiang took out his binoculars.  The light was bright enough to mask its  surroundings with glare.  He could see where it illuminated nearby rocks and sent shadows across the ground.

“Headquarters,” Jiang said, “the light is too bright to see a source behind it.  It is clearly moving toward the base.  Bearing is now two eight four.”

Inside headquarters, Jiang had the full attention of the staff.

“Junior Company Leader Ma, I relieve you,” Miao said.  “Compose a short message.  Report this light to District headquarters.  Corporal Tan.  Phone Ready platoon.  Two EQ2050s, a half dozen men, full combat load of ammunition.  Take track West Nine and observe.”

“Two Dongfengs, six men, full combat load, track West Nine,” Tan repeated.

“Corporal Yao, phone Posts seven and nine, see if they can spot this light.  If so, find bearings,” Miao ordered.

At Post Eight, three soldiers watched as the light crept across the rugged terrain outside the base. 

“It is not coming straight at us,” Private Pan observed.  Jiang wondered if Pan would ever say anything that was not obvious.

“Completed another perimeter sweep,” Private Dai said. “Nothing in starlight.  Light saturates the starlight scope.”  He hesitated.  “Oh, wait. I am a fool, not checking the light in the infrared.”  He waited for his scope software to reboot.  “Yes, I see clearly.  Three objects like eggs.  They appear to be floating above the ground.  That light – it vanishes in the infrared.”

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Stand Against the Light Part Five

An interesting choice of order for your commands, Comrade Junior Company Leader,” Miao said.  “Why?”

“Sir, alert means possible attack.  This way I learn as soon as possible if we have visitors and need to sound the Combat Alert.”

“Very well said,” Miao remarked. “Also bring up the air defense radar.”

“Yes, Sir!”  Ma said.  “Comrade Staff Sergeant!  Activate the air and artillery defense radars!”

“Already on it,” Staff Sergeant Sheng answered.

“Comrade Chief Sergeant Tang? Is the alert checklist ready?”  Ma asked.

“Yes, Comrade Chief of Quarters!” Tang answered.

“We work down the list!  The rest of you interrupt at once if anything is found!” Ma ordered.  He glanced at his Battalion Leader, who nodded approvingly, then pointed at Tang.

Tang began reading from the list.  “Perimeter motion radar.”

“Up in under one minute,” Sheng said.

“Air Defense Radar…” Tang continued down the check list.

~~~~~~

Well out from the perimeter, watch posts responded to telephone calls.

“Post eight. Corporal Jiang here.”  Jiang told himself they had rolled his dice to determine the time he was on duty, so he could not complain that he had the graveyard watch.  It was still bitterly cold.  The Tibetan air was dry and thin. Distant hills were pitch-black under a starry sky.

“Corporal Yao, Headquarters.  We are on Alert Status One! Is all well?”  Yao snapped.

“Post Eight.  All is quiet.  I will wake the rest of the detachment,” Jiang answered.  Three men, he thought, but normally only two awake at a time.

“Carry on,” Yao said.

“What is this?” Private Dai Longwei asked.

“We are on alert!  Look sharp!” Jiang answered.  “Pan!  Wake up!  Get off your lazy ass!”

“What?”  The still-groggy Private Pan managed to stand.  “Cold tonight.  Why?”

“Do you think, Private, that the fact we are in Tibet, four thousand meters above sea level, it is night, and the sky is brilliantly clear, might have something to do with it being cold?”  Jiang was always astonished by how simpleminded Pan could be. This was at least the fourth time Pan had been reduced in rank from Private, First Class, always for obeying orders in a disastrous way.  He was reminded of a novel he had read as a student, a fine way to learn a foreign language for when China conquered the western imperialists.  Why the fascist monarchists had not simply shot Schweik had never been quite clear to him.  “No matter!  We are on alert, so wake up and take your section of the perimeter.”

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Stand Against the Light Snippet 4

It sounded astonishingly difficult to replace the modern world.  She couldn’t have done it, she suspected, not even wielding the Namestone’s full power, not even calling the Well of Infinity, even assuming that the Lords of Eternity or Morgan Le Fay didn’t interfere violently.  There weren’t many personae with that sort of power.  A good list of them might suggest something.  Of course, if you hid the real world away, without  destroying it, you could put a mutant copy in its place, the copy seen here.  All you’d need is the power to create the illusion of a whole world.  If this world were some sort of illusion, some complex trap, the cost of producing it would fall dramatically.  An illusion world only have had to fool the five of them, not everyone in the world.  Why, though, did someone want to fool the Medford gang? 

The Why was a separate bafflement.  Any number of rogue personae had plans to reform the world in their image, down to the Shakespeare cultists she’d envisioned herself.  This world was almost like the old one; it still differed in so many ways you could hardly choose which changes signified, and which were accidents.   

The trip here, out to the edge of the universe and back, might mean something.  But what?  The Wizard of Mars had given Comet a StarCompass, and told her how to use it.  The Wizard charged a stiff price for his answers, no doubt, but they were honest answers, clear enough that people always knew what they meant.  Fly here, fly there, had been his directions.  They’d flown, Comet doing ten billion light years in under ten hours flight time each way.   The Wizard’s promise didn’t seem to have been kept.  They were back where they started, except they weren’t. That was very strange in itself, even ignoring that the Wizard had disappeared in the middle.  The Wizard had a reputation for scrupulous integrity.  That led to a question: Who had paid for the Wizard’s answer, the shield against the Two Dooms, and what had been the Wizard’s price?

Maybe, though, she thought, this was completely the wrong question to be thinking about.  A  right question was surely ‘What are the Two Dooms, and how do we stop them?’  She would not complain if the Andesians had been one of those Dooms. The Starcompass seemed to agree. To stop the Andesians, she’d called the power in her gifts down deeper and deeper toward their ultimate limits.  She had something else she needed to try, after she finished supper, and a few more cookies.  Pickering’s world’s commercial bakers offered a narrower range of choices than she would have had at home, but the chocolate chip angel cookies were still excellent.

Chapter Two  Remote Tibet

People’s Liberation Army

Command Headquarters

Force Base 137

Western Tibet

“Good evening, Comrade Battalion Leader. ”  Junior Company Leader Ma Yong rose and snapped a salute.

“Comrade Junior Company Leader,”  Battalion Leader Miao Wan-Li returned the salute.  “Battalion Political Officer Gong. Good evening.”  

“Good evening, Comrade Battalion Leader,” Gong Wei answered, “I hope nothing has disturbed your sleep.”

“The same message has disturbed both our sleeps,” Miao answered.  “The Special Message from Beijing?”

“Yes.” Gong waved a sheaf of papers. 

Ma looked nervously between the two men, not quite ready to ask if he had orders. After all, they were his superiors, but he was on duty in command of HQ  until they relieved him.

“Junior Company Leader,” Miao said. “Bring the Headquarters to Alert Status One.”

“Yes, Senior Officer!” Ma said.  “Men!  Alert Status One!  Comrade Staff Sergeant Sheng, bring up the perimeter warning radar!  Comrade Corporals Yao and Tan, immediate cyclic call of all watchposts.  Comrade Sergeant Song, wake up the alternate watch platoon!”

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