And it’s a Dragonwell Press doubleheader today, as a second new Dragonwell author, Greg Byrne, is here to share a piece about his new SF novel Nine Planets. Greg’s hero, Peter Blackwell—no relation to the Blackwell family over in Jonathan Ferrara’s book, one presumes!—has a very straightforward goal. I.e., regain his lost memories, and save the world in the process.
Brotherhood command sled
Within twenty minutes of Boston, Blackwell checked the sled’s threat screens, looking for the traitor’s Cabal jumpship.
Most of the traffic was routine—shuttles, commercial airliners, cargo planes, military aircraft patrolling borders—but a single icon distracted him. The flight path of a green cube matched his exactly, although it trailed him by some distance. He stared at it for a few seconds with increasing suspicion—the Cabal jumpship, surely—marked it with a red circle as a possible threat, but withdrew his hand without revealing its ID. Breathing carefully, he walked around the platform, considered all the traffic from every angle.
It did no good; he only noticed the green cube. And how it eroded that small nugget of courage in his belly! He reached out his hand several times towards it. It would only take a second, he thought, to touch it and see it was nothing but an innocent plane.
Innocent indeed. He reached out his finger and touched the icon, and the data rose above it in clear shimmering letters.
Corporate jumpship. Registration: Metron Corp, Hamburg. Holiday charter.
Cabal? The jumpship ID passed all the deceptor checks down to about seven verification levels, though he still didn’t trust it. He would watch it and see.
With a cautious relief, he did a thorough check of the screens as Valentina had instructed him, mildly surprised he was still alive, that the great stub-winged sled was aloft, held there in space by powers and principles too complex for him. All indicators were green. The Poor Man status screen showed Book and Valentina still alive, though Ed’s icon had greyed. The sled hummed faintly.
Blackwell breathed out, aware for the first time of many things, even stronger than the deep memory of Moscow. His heart flexing, taking the load. His command of the situation. A clear purpose. The faint presence on the bridge of Book and Ed and Valentina, resonating softly off walls, continuing with him. The pulsing sense of obligation to make good their sacrifice.
And a secret hidden in Boston.
After a foodcell from the galley and a brief but satisfying wash and shave, he nudged the VR control into autopilot and set the sled on its final approach to the Brotherhood base in the Back Bay Fens.
The screens showed other aircraft—passenger liners, cargo planes, merchant and company jumpships—although their flight paths showed a slight change as they vectored in towards Logan International, and the jumpship followed him exactly.
So, he thought, not surprised.
Cabal. They’re following me.
At a thousand meters, with the sled in vertical descent, he unbuckled himself from the chair and leaned over the edge of the command platform to watch the ground rise up to meet him. An eight-lane freeway lay to the north, its lights both red and white, rows of dark-roofed buildings like townhouses to the south-east, and the lights of a city’s tall buildings to the east. He scanned the terrain like a minesweeper, trying to remember, though all he saw at the center of his field of vision was a dark pocket of marshy land through which a moonlit river bent like an arthritic snake.
The muddy river, freeway and city. His ninth planet pulsed faintly and, although he could not see the cobbled courtyard, and his was the only engine ascending or descending, he knew he would see everything as soon as he passed into the timeslip zone. He sat down and clicked into his PFZ, waiting for his heart to jolt.
The sled descended through five hundred meters without so much as a flutter, and he was starting to worry when, three hundred and ninety meters above the ground, his pulse jolted like a sparrow frightened.
The sled touched down with barely a shudder, its hydraulics settling. As the faint whine of the reactor slowed and deepened, he saw that the sled’s safeties—reactor, shields, navigation—were green.
But now the red threat circle of the Cabal jumpship was flashing as it grew nearer to his stationary sled, the diminishing seconds ticking down inside his head.
At one hour fifty seven and eight seconds, he stepped out of the sled into the smell of cool marsh night.
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