03/08/2023 Snippet, GHOSTS ON AN ALIEN WIND.



I was doing ‘cosmetic maintenance’ in the shuttle docks when they throttled back the security coverage. It was my professional opinion that fussing over the haulers until they were humming improved their performance efficiency, and I had the reduced downtime statistics to justify it. It was my personal opinion that nobody liked being reminded that the haulers were quasi-organic in nature. Intellectually, I could see why, but it never bothered me personally.

All of which means I was waist-deep in a hauler’s jet intake chamber scrubbing down carbon buildup when the lights flickered — and went out. That didn’t startle me. What did was the tiger alarm; I nearly bruised the hauler while yanking myself out.

“Process!” I shouted (despite myself) while reaching for a pistol that wasn’t there. “What’s the situation?” Silence. I started to get alarmed, then remembered that the power was out, and relaxed. Then I saw that the power was back on, which made me stop relaxing.

I instinctively stopped myself from calling out again. The last thing The Process needed right now was any distractions. Instead I looked at the regular communications channels — and nearly threw the phone away. Everything was jammed up, with static, feedback, and strobing lights that horribly tickled my stomach. I didn’t throw up, myself, which put me among the twenty percent of the people who didn’t. The vomiting were lucky, at that. Five people ended up with burst blood vessels in the eyes, and one had a partial stroke. All easily treatable, sure, but still painful as hell.

The Din (that’s what we called it, after) lasted five minutes and twenty-three seconds, and I don’t remember any of it, really. I dimly remember running around, pulling people out of workstations and hauler pits, while futilely trying to turn off every screaming communications device. It was impossible to think more clearly, with that Din pounding in our ears, but XHum trains its people properly. Our reflexes were the right ones; pull people out of danger and let the horrible noises flow over us. Until it stopped, as suddenly as it began.

03/07/2023 Snippet, GHOSTS ON AN ALIEN WIND.

Moving stuff around and adding to it!


“That’s an unfortunately good point, The Process. I almost wish you hadn’t made it.”

“Why did you say that?”

“Because I’d rather that they were crazy, instead of wrong. Crazy is just crazy. You can fix that. But wrong?” I shuddered, just a bit. “First thing you have to do there is make sure that you’re right.”

“Then you should take some comfort in the thought that humanity is very good at being sure about things.” There was a note in The Process’s voice that I didn’t hear very often. It was a tiny richness, a small complexity. At times like that, The Process almost sounded alive. “I think that’s how you manage to survive in this universe of nightmares.”

“Nightmares?” I looked up, because that’s where I always imagined The Process was hanging out.

“Oh, yes, Wind-Walker Tanaka. I never knew the Amalgamation — or, rather, those parts of me that did have been ‘lost forever, like tears in rain.’ Like you, I can only imperfectly grasp what they must have been like. What we could have been like, if only things had worked as they were supposed to. Instead, we are left with dead world after dead world, so extensive that even now we do not know how many were murdered, and left nameless and unremembered. I cannot feel emotions on my own, but I suspect that if I could, I would feel sorrow, and rage, and regret.”

I shivered “But not despair?”

“No. I do not think that I would. There is still hope. Your species is the final offspring of the Amalgamation, Pamela.” I blinked at that. “You are worthy of them. Worth enough that, as long as you live, it lives on as well. Perhaps one day we will rebuild it all, anew — or even know why it was destroyed.”

I laughed, bitterly. “Maybe. But you must know by now: if we ever do find the things that did all of this, we’re going to do our level best to destroy them. Thoroughly. Mercilessly. Nothing held back.”

“I know,” The Process said serenely. “Fortunately, I can feel an analog to satisfaction, I think. When the day of reckoning comes, I expect to experience that emotion in the fullest.”

03/06/2023 Snippet, A TUESDAY IN VIRGINIA.

Lucas decides something is sensible!


In the end, he took the road. Roads led to towns, and towns had inns. Inns had food, drink, beds, and possibly even awake barmaids. It was a little late out to get anything except possibly the drink, but even if everything was closed surely there would be a haystack to rest in until morning—

It was right about that point that Lucas heard people ahead. They sounded armed. They sounded angry, too, even if it wasn’t being directed towards him.

Lucas stopped, listened, and considered the situation. There was definitely an argument going on, down the road. It might have even been the kind of argument that ended with swords being drawn. On the other hand, it wasn’t his argument. He had no idea who was fighting, what they were fighting about, and why he should care. On the gripping hand? All he had to do was get off the road, sneak past, and just keep going. If Hershey Troopers really were following him, let them unravel this probably minor and boring mystery. Lucas had a date with a soft bed, or possibly a haystack.

This, he felt, was a very sensible plan.

03/06/2023 Snippet, GHOSTS ON AN ALIEN WIND.

More work!


“We decided to degrade the coverage,” Greg told me and Nur over a hasty working lunch. “It looks like we’re not finding that part any time soon.”

“Is that smart?” I asked him.

“Depends on whether you think degraded coverage is better than having the cameras all flicker in and out at random,” Greg replied. “Or whether Nur can actually find that part.”

“I can’t find that part,” Nur replied. “I think we can jury-rig a replacement, but it’ll take time. Meanwhile, the system keeps getting more damaged. I don’t know what will happen if we keep trying to run the network at full coverage, but I’d rather not have all of the security net fry. That’ll take even longer to repair.”

“So we degrade the coverage,” Greg agreed. “If it makes you feel any better, your boyfriend thinks we should take the risk of a full collapse, and work very, very quickly.”

“You don’t agree, though.” I let the ‘boyfriend’ thing slide. Damned if I knew what we were doing along those lines, although that was more than half my fault.

Greg shrugged. “I’d like to agree. But if the security net goes all the way down, any saboteurs would have a field day. At least this way we’re still protected if somebody comes down with situational psychosis. It’s the old better than nothing trick, as my grandmother used to say.”

03/05/2023 Snippet, GHOSTS ON AN ALIEN WIND.

I realized I had to do something fairly horror-y, and that might actually get the book in proper shape. Here’s hoping!


“He’s not doing well, is he?” I asked Gina quietly.

She looked back at Syah, who was sitting up in the bed. He had a handheld in his good hand, and was trying not to scowl at it. “He’s healing,” she allowed. “Just not as quickly as he should be. There’s some kind of resistance going on, in his head. I don’t think Syah’s giving himself full permission to get better.”

“Wait. Why wouldn’t he do that, Gina? Everybody knows you can’t let yourself get in the way of your own body.”

Gina quirked one side of her mouth. “Why do you think, Pam? It’s guilt. Heck, even the readouts say so. Poor bastard probably blames himself for [Spoiler].”

I looked at Syah myself. There was a tension there, uncomfortable and unspoken. I sighed. “I want to say that’s ridiculous, but it’s not, is it? Dammit, he stuck his arm down in the middle of live circuitry to sequester the sabotage. What was he supposed to do, use both hands?”

“He probably thinks so. Yes,” she went on before I could interrupt, “that’s stupid of him. You’d be amazed how stupid smart people can be, when it comes to second-guessing themselves.”

“Okay,” I managed, after a minute. “Can I do anything for him?”

“Sure. Tell him to get up, stop feeling sorry for himself, and walk it off.” I blinked at Gina, and she laughed. “What do you think this is, the Dark Ages? You can’t talk a mental block to death. Besides, the crystals don’t lie, Pam. They say he’s just in a funk, and they’re right. I’ve tried to tell him that, but maybe he’ll listen to you. I figure its worth a shot.”

03/04/2023 Snippet, A TUESDAY IN VIRGINIA.



Lucas carefully did not chuckle as he put distance between him and the border between Greater Hershey and Virginia. Partially that was superstition: it was never a good idea to gloat prematurely. Mostly, it was because he was trying to keep quiet until he had properly escaped. It probably didn’t matter, but ‘probably’ wasn’t ‘for sure.’ Adventurers preferred to take only deliberate risks, and Lucas Coltrane was very much an Adventurer.

He did end the minor illusion that made his clothes look like a rough approximation of the HSP uniform, since stopping the spell wouldn’t give him away. Besides, it had done its job. The Troopers had been looking for a fugitive, a skulker, or a runner. They hadn’t been looking too hard at diligent fowl-wranglers, and by the time things had started calming down for people to start counting people instead of chickens, Lucas was already across the path. The border fence had barely slowed him down, but he had expected that. Greater Hershey and Virginia were at peace with each other, after all.

What he wasn’t expecting was how different the forest felt. Lucas knew that the Kingdom of Virginia was a magical place, to the point that his own spellcasting would be noticeably stronger here. He was surprised that he could taste the magic in the air. It wasn’t a bad taste. Sort of like moist, cool ozone, with a hint of fresh earth underneath. There was just a lot more of it than he was expecting.

Lucas decided to not worry about it until he had to cast another spell, and kept moving.

03/01/2023 Snippet, A TUESDAY IN VIRGINIA.

Oh, look. It’s Lucas.


Virginia-Hersey Border Post 24-23
(Wiley, Pennsylvania)
Monday, June 4, 2531 AD

Lucas Coltrane gave the border guard his best grin. “This is mostly just an innocent misunderstanding,” he told her. “I’m hoping it can all be worked out in the morning.” He was somewhat proud of those statements: both were certainly true, and the first one was even accurate. There was nothing in either to trip the magical lie detectors that this Hersheyan border post undoubtedly (if quietly) had.

Alas, the guard seemed unimpressed by his parsing. Then again, Lucas had handcuffed and gagged her, using the post’s own security gear. He couldn’t really blame her from not being more reasonable about the situation. He felt the same way about everything, only from the other side. A headlong flight from Greater Hershey wasn’t something he had planned for.

He peeked out the window, again. The border was forty feet away, close enough to almost taste, but it wouldn’t do to just run for it. There were a lot of State Police out there, and that crew didn’t hire idiots. If Lucas didn’t plan this just right, they’d have him in nets before he got halfway to the border — and then they’d drag him right back to Liberty Lair, the Great Wyrm, and her very pertinent and extremely unwelcome questions.

All in all, he’d rather not be in Philadelphia.


Praise Jesus. Tomorrow, I clean it all up, and get it out the door for Kickstarter backers. …Again, praise Jesus.


It wasn’t a bad plan, Tobias told himself later. The babble juice had worked enough to give the details of the cult’s last-ditch bolt-hole: a warehouse filled with junk that wouldn’t be useful as raw materials for months yet. The cultist had even admitted that they hadn’t installed any deadman switches or spoilers, yet.

That ‘yet’ had gotten Tobias moving, complete with three guards for backup. Unfortunately, the cultist had forgot to mention that the Silver Dawn had gained control over the security and environmental systems, which was why those three guards were now on the other side of a sealed door. One reason not to charge in first, I guess.

Yes, Commander. One reason of many.

Better and better, the air pressure had dropped so quickly after Tobias was sealed in that he almost didn’t get his emergency mask on in time. Best of all? Miller was in here, and made her presence known by doing her damned best to hamstring him. Fortunately, he had jumped just in time, but his pants were never going to be the same. And they’re the best ones I have, too.

“Stand still!” Miller called up to him, brandishing a short, foul hunk of sharpened metal in one hand. “I just need a little flesh and blood! Enough to keep you in check! It’s the only way we can all be safe!”

I believe that the woman thinks she can perform some sort of magic ritual on you, Commander. Asenath gave one of her pauses. Naturally, she is being delusional — but I suggest that you keep moving anyway?

Tobias thought that was an excellent suggestion.


Getting close!


Nobody said anything to him about Domaine’s death. Not even unofficially, which surprised Tobias, briefly. Then again, what was there to say?

Then again, the cleanup process probably helped with that. There were a number of spacesuits still technically usable, if briefly; he had requisitioned one and had a volunteer (Abbie, as it turned out) put on another. Together, they wrapped Domaine’s body in plastic, shoved it in a body bag, shoved that in a vacuum-rated storage capsule and put the whole thing in the refinery furnace Heinlein Base used to get rid of problematic items. Then they cleaned every surface of the room — with chlorine gas — and put everything that had touched Domaine in the last week into the furnace. Then they added Tam’s corpse, and what was left of Oates’, and all of the files and books that the Silver Dawn had accumulated. Finally, the two carefully shucked their own temporary suits and tossed those in, too.

They didn’t overwhelm the furnace, but it was definitely more of a load than usual. On the other hand, Tobias kind of enjoyed the extra heat. It felt reasonably satisfying.


Getting close to done, thank God. And a literary reference!


Tobias jumped — or at least he thought about jumping in alarm, which would apparently have to do. Asenath! Are you all right? Where did you go?

I am unchanged, Commander, even if you are not. The answer to your second question is complicated, and would require me to discuss things you previously did not want to discuss. Has that changed?

No, Tobias thought immediately. Everything is bad enough as it is.

I assumed that would be the case. However: Commander, are you aware what is happening now?

Yes, Asenath. There was … [SPOILERS] … and this is all my feverish hallucination where I’m trying to fight off the disease.

Tobias felt, rather than saw, Asenath’s imaginary blink. An impressive interpretation of the observed facts, Commander. But what about the corpses moving around on their own power?

I don’t know. Special shoes!