EXCERPT: The Promethean

This work of comedic art by Owen Stanley is one of the funnier novels you will ever read. It lampoons everything from Silicon Valley and American tech entrepreneurs to British academia, the British police, and the social justice movement. Available in ebook, paperback, and hardcover on Amazon. You can also acquire the print editions at Castalia Direct.

Harry had been away for several days in London and was looking forward to getting back to his apartment at Tussock’s Bottom. His computer-controlled gadget system, Home Sweet Home, had been working brilliantly, and his voice commands and his smartphone allowed him to control his domestic environment in fanatical detail from every aspect of his personal comfort to the functioning of the apartment. He looked forward to eventually having a cranial implant through which his whims could be instantly gratified by thought control.

His automatic servants woke him gently with soft light and crooning music, boiled him a preliminary cup of coffee correctly ground, filtered, and brewed, with just the right amount of soya milk, ran his bath with the water at 102°F, cooked his breakfast to a planned menu that selected from 53 different items, prepared his other meals as he needed them, turned down his bed in the evening, drew the blinds, automatically hoovered his carpets with the robot vacuum cleaner, selected his drinks from a vast liquor cabinet and poured whatever mixture he required as he lay back in his high-tech ergonomic executive chair, selected his programmes on TV or a book from the bookcase, ordered his groceries from the fridge, collected and compacted the garbage, washed the windows, monitored the central heating, air conditioning, humidity, and airborne particulates, and maintained the formidable security system.

It was techno-paradise.

As he flew back to Tussock’s Bottom in the helicopter with Jerry, Harry used his smartphone to instruct the Internet of Things in his apartment to receive him in especially lavish style that evening to celebrate his highly successful meeting with Dr. Sharma. He spent some time on the details of the lighting effects, the exact temperature and humidity, the vintage of the champagne, the provenance of the caviare, and, of course, the various courses of the dinner itself. They landed on the roof of the apartment and went down the steps from the helipad to the front door. This normally opened as soon as the camera above it had computed Harry’s biometrics when he was a few feet away, but on this occasion it remained obstinately shut. His radio fob was equally useless, and it was only when Jerry had spent several minutes fumbling in his briefcase for the key that they were finally able to enter the apartment.

Inside it was pitch dark, and they were met by a blast of superheated stinking air and ominous sounds of crunching. As they squelched their way slowly across the sodden carpet, they were jolted by a piercing shriek from the burglar alarm and a second later were knocked off their feet by Autovac, the robot vacuum cleaner which shot out of the darkness like a vast hockey puck. Picking themselves up, dripping and cursing, they tried to find a light switch, but Harry had forgotten where these primitive contrivances might be found since the lights were normally controlled by his voice commands, or by the computer. After a few minutes, he and Jerry gave up in helpless disgust and retreated outside again, where from the balcony, after a few minutes, they saw the approach of flashing blue lights.

These turned out to belong to the local fire brigade, alerted by the alarm, which for some reason had neglected to tell the police or the ambulance service. Two firemen were first up the steps, and the larger of the two was a huge man with an axe, inevitably known as Tiny by his mates, who had a rather simple sense of humour. He looked most disappointed to find that the front door was already open. It was made of solid oak, unlike most of the rubbish doors that he usually had to smash down, and he really would have enjoyed the challenge of reducing this one to matchwood. Trying not to let his disappointment show, Tiny began asking Harry and Jerry what the problem was. But before the firemen could go in and start sorting it out, their boss, the Incident Commander, arrived to stop them.

He explained to Harry and Jerry that he had not received sufficient information from the initial alarm call to be able to plan his response properly, and since the place was in darkness, Health and Safety regulations required him to do a risk assessment with the remote-controlled robot before any entry could be made. He called up the Emergency Operations Centre on his radio to make a preliminary report and asked for permission to use the robot, which four more firemen then had to heave up the steps from the fire truck.

It was a multi-purpose robot mounted on tracks, designed to deal with terrorists and bombs as well as surveying dangerous environments with its various detectors and audio-visual equipment. After the Commander and his team spent several minutes checking the battery and setting the controls, it trundled off through the front entrance, when almost immediately there followed a thunderous bang as it was violently attacked by the vacuum cleaner, which it promptly destroyed with blasts from both barrels of its on-board shotgun. The video camera displayed the mangled remains of the vacuum cleaner splattered over the walls and then beamed back dimly lit pictures showing the kitchen area in complete disarray, with food all over the floor, followed by a view of the lavatory overflowing, but no one in the apartment.

“Okay, so now can we get inside?” said Harry, about to burst a blood vessel from frustration and rage. “There’s clearly no one in there, except for your homicidal robot.”

“Not yet, I’m afraid,” said the Incident Commander. “We can’t rush these things. There may be other hazards besides intruders. First, I have to access the Mobile Data Terminal, which is on the truck, to identify the risks on our Fire Brigade database that may be associated with this location, and only then can I develop my action plan to address the situation. I’ll be needing your cooperation to answer a number of questions.”

What the Incident Commander was really looking forward to was sending the message “INITIATE MAJOR INCIDENT PROCEDURE,” which would allow him to do all sorts of exciting things like evacuating the neighbourhood, putting up barricades and cordons, and setting up a command post to coordinate the other emergency services, but after being assured by Jerry that there was no danger from natural gas, methane, high-voltage power lines, microwave transmissions, explosives, radioactive substances, or industrial quantities of concentrated acids, he reluctantly concluded that initiating a major incident procedure would not be a career-enhancing move, and therefore the apartment could be entered safely by his men, though not yet by civilians.

Tiny and his mate Ginger walked into the apartment and turned on the lights at the switch by the front door. “It don’t half pong in ’ere,” said Ginger, “like a million elephants farted. And what’s that weird noise?”

EXCERPT: Awake in the Night Land

This is a selection from John C. Wright’s incredible classic, AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND. If you have not yet had the very great pleasure of reading it yet, you are fortunate indeed. Read the reviews, lest you think I exaggerate.

The monsters still howl for him, months after he fell. In the gloom, I can sometimes see one or the other, sometimes both together, wolfish beasts with leathery hides and dark bristles, and they raise their grinning, shark-like mouths to the black clouds above and utter their cries.

Impossible that such horrors could love a child of Man, and be faithful; impossible. Yet they do not molest the body, nor even approach it.

My brother Polynices lies in plain view on the baked black salt of the Night Land. The hollow where he fell has a smoke-hole in its center, some five yards beyond his motionless, outflung hand, and the smolder from the hole casts a light across his form.

He lies many miles below the armored windows of our redoubt, but even so, the spy-glasses and instruments of the Monstruwacans (those scholars whose business it is to watch the horrors of the Night) leaning from the balconies, can pick out minute details.

The fingers of his gauntlet are stretched out, as if he were reaching for the little warmth of the smoke hole as he perished. He lays on a slight incline, for a circle of salty mineral surrounds the smoke hole and slopes toward it. His boots are toward us. The smoke hole is to his left. His helmet fell from his head, and rolled a yard down the salty slope. The little trail the helmet made as it fell is still visible. There has been no wind, no earth tremors, to disturb the salt crystals and erode the trail. The haft and great wheel of his disk-ax weapon lay to his right, and the shadow of his body falls across it, making details difficult to make out, even under the immense magnifications of the Great Spy Glass. The hair I used to tousle has continued to grow as the months have passed, and now falls across the shoulder-plates of his armor and spills onto the salt. I cannot see those wild locks without wishing for my comb of nacre to put the tangles right. He was always careless of his appearance.

Because of the angle of his fall, I cannot make out his face. Did he die calmly? Or is a rictus of hollow terror and despair frozen forever on his features?

His right forearm is hidden under his body, as if his teeth were seeking the lethal capsule buried under the flesh of his forearm when he fell. Did he fall too swiftly to bite the capsule, and slay himself wholesomely, before his soul and spirit were Destroyed?

There is no blood visible. There is no sign of wounds.

When we were young, my brother and I found a long-deserted balcony lock, and from a previous life he remembered the word to open it.

He and I would climb through the broken armor of the window in one of the abandoned cities in the base level of the Pyramid. With fearless hearts and unsteady feet we would pick among the tilted slabs of imperishable metal, and find a little niche, about five hundred yards above the Night Land, open to the thin air and stinking fumes. We would sit with our lunch basket and spyglass on the corroded lip of some ancient corbel, our legs dangling and kicking above the smoke and darkness of the Land, and we would hear the voices of monsters muttering and hissing underfoot, see the glinting eyes of remote and cyclopean faces, or feel the dull throb of their malice beating against the sheath of energized air surrounding the Pyramid.

There was a series of irregular stairs leading down and down from a little ways below that spot, but we never dared to venture down.

I remember I wore short-pants then, like a boy’s. During my childhood, before I had a name, I was called Païs or Meirax, or something of the sort; the servants called me Annasa, of course.

Because my father was the Castellan, the nurses and tutors had no credible threat to make when I defied them, or tore my girlish pink bloomers to shreds. Later, when I was old enough to know what grief my antics caused my father, or what pleasure my father’s critics in the Opposition Seats, I dressed more demurely outwardly, though inwardly, I suppose, I was much the same.

From the steles we found on that hidden cleft, at the top of those forbidden stairs, we knew this place had been made by the Labdaciteans, great-grandfather’s people. The locks recognized our life-patterns, and called us by his name.

We knew the tale. Before even grandfather was born, Labdacus eroded the power of the Architects, by making climbing paths not shown on their charts, to run from window to window between the levels, that his loyal retainers might circumvent the blockades, when Architects cut power to the inter-municipal Doors, or grounded the great Lifts. Grandfather Laius, when he came of age, rose to preeminence on the promise that all such unlawful paths and places would be destroyed, and the Last Redoubt brought once more into honest conformity with the Great Central Survey of the Architectural Order.

As an adult, I know the horror of wondering if there is some gallery, portal, or open window, unwatched and unlocked against the subtle malice of the enemy, a hole a spider could wriggle through, or a crack to admit a weft. Even we, young as we were, were scandalized to see the breach of Labdacus. His crime was solid before our eyes, as plain to touch as the smooth hole cut in the armor. The massive, ill-made blocks of crooked stair lead down from it as a blood trail leads down from a wound. But it was a pleasing scandal, and our fear made us grin sickly grins, for it was our great-grandfather who had committed, not a petty crime, but a great one.

We promised each other we would never do anything so wicked as meddle with the walls and wards by which Man lives.

But we were also pleased to have a secret known to none, a place only those of the blood of Labdacus could pass. We considered our promise fulfilled by vowing to tell no one of our find. The idea that we should have immediately sent for the Architects, or the local Officer of the Watch, never crossed our young minds.

We were the children of the Castellan, after all.

Not long after my age of majority, not long after my father’s death and the ascension of Creon to power, I came to tread these same broken slabs of ancient metal again.

This time, my footsteps were not as sure as a thoughtless child’s would have been, nor was my costume as suited for the adventure. I wore a skirt to my ankles and a blouse buttoned to my throat, and my hair was pinned up and coiffed in a fashion I envied when it was forbidden to me, but which was now a bother to dress and maintain. My gloves clutched the corroded wall as I inched in my foolishly heeled shoes across the sloping face of the armor, a dizzying drop to the lands of darkness opening up behind and below my bustle.

The child I had been would not have known me. Païs had been so unafraid, and I was so fearful now.
Once only I looked over my shoulder. In the light of a recent volcano, I could glimpse the tall shadows of two kiln-giants, their heads together as if in consultation. One of them raised a heavy hand and pointed at me, while its lamp-eyed companion nodded. This unnerved me, so I clutched the metal beneath my gloves more firmly, and returned my eyes to the task.

I made it around the last turn and came with relief to the sturdier footing and broader step of the ancient and unused corbel.

Polynices was in his armor, standing where once he’d lunched as a child. The long handle of his disk-ax weapon was in his hand, and he leaned upon it in an attitude of alertness, his head staring down at the darkened Land.

He was listening.

Up from the gloom underfoot came the mournful, haunting sound of a Night-Hound, baying.
Having found his hiding place, I did not wish to speak, lest I startle him. I had the mental image of him dropping his Diskos over the side, or, worse, himself.

He said, “Rightly or wrongly, the dogs are mine, and I must feed them.”

I said quietly, “They are monsters. They are howling because they thirst for your blood, not because they love you.”

Polynices shook his head grimly, not bothering to look back at me. “Draego saved my life from the Abhumans. I fed him from my hand, and he knows not how to eat from any other. See! Even now he will not hunt among the crags and chasms of the Night Land, or worry pale flesh of slug-things from their lightless holes or blind fish from poisoned lakes. He starves, and stands before the gates of the Last Redoubt, and howls his love and sorrow for me. Dracaina is often with him, and joins her weeping voice to his.”

“Monsters. Do you not understand the word? Enemies of Man.”

“Not these. Love can break even the power of the Night. My dogs are my friends.”

“They are not dogs! They are Night-Hounds!”

He said nothing, but listened to the mournful howling of the monsters far below.

On and on they wailed. Once, both Night-Hounds fell silent, when the Great Laughter began to issue from a buried country to the east, a deep trench whose upper crumbling banks are visible from the Last Redoubt. Another time, the Hounds were silenced again when a deep and monstrous Voice from a cold volcano cone called out in a long-forgotten language, uttering a rough shout that traveled and echoed across the Night Land like a clap of thunder, traveling away to the North. The Night-Hounds were hushed for a while, perhaps cowering in terror, but then their howling and lamenting began again.

“I had a dream that you would die.” I told him.

He said, “I will find a way to smuggle food out to them. I do not fear the law.”

The Great Laughter issued from the eastern hills and canyons at that moment, trembling across the strange and barren landscapes of the Night, and this seemed a fitter answer than anything I could devise.

EXCERPT: Mutiny in Space

Mutiny in Space, by Rod Walker, is an excellent coming-of-age tale in the tradition of the Heinlein juvenile.

Ducarti produced an envelope, an expensive-looking thing embossed with the official seal of the Social Party. “One of the Party’s projects has been to circulate a petition demanding an increase in the estate tax to seventy-five percent. We now have adequate signatures to require a referendum. It should be one hundred percent, but sometimes it is better to eat the steak in small bites than to choke on the entire thing.” He offered it formally to Sergei in both hands. “I want you, as the youngest member of the Social Party on New Chicago, to present this petition at the appropriate government office.”

“Me?” said Sergei, his eyes widening. “That’s… that’s a really big honor, sir.”

“Oh, it is,” said Ducarti, still grinning. “It most certainly is. As the face of the Social Youth, as a true son of the Revolution, I think you are the perfect man to deliver our message.”

“I will go at once,” said Sergei.

“Good man. Also, as our official representative and voice, I insist you take one of the Party’s vans, emblazoned with the red hammer of the worker raised against the spiral of the galaxy. Think of what a sight it will make when the van pulls up, and every eye turns towards you, and you stride forth to present our petition to the corrupt, illegitimate authorities of New Chicago. We shall, of course, alert the media, so that the moment will be recorded.”

“Absolutely,” said Sergei proudly. “I’ll do it.”

“I’ll go with you,” said Mom. She smiled at Ducarti. “I would like to see my son take his first steps in service to the Revolution.”

“As you wish, Professor. And you, Nikolai?” said Ducarti, the cold eyes turning back towards me. “Will you accompany your brother as he assumes his birthright among the men of the Social Party?”

“No,” I said, stepping back. “I’m going home. I’ll walk. I don’t want to ride in a Party van.”

“As you wish, boy,” said Ducarti, still smiling, although it now struck me as more cruel than sardonic. “Go home. Go play with your engines. The Revolution does not require you yet.”

A gale of laughter went up from the Party members, and even Mom and Sergei joined in with the others. That hurt more than I would have thought. I whirled around so they could not see my burning eyes and I stalked from the warehouse without another word.

My defiance, combined with Ducarti’s contempt, saved my life.

I went home, but because I wasn’t watching the news, I didn’t see what happened. As soon as Sergei and Mom left in the van, Ducarti returned to his ship and immediately launched. From his ship safely in orbit, he monitored the progress of the van, watching until it reached the central planetary administration building fifteen miles from the spaceport.

Once the van reached the offices, in full view of the cameras that had been alerted, the fusion bomb hidden within the van was triggered.

Sergei and Mom were killed instantly, of course.

The forensics techs finally found some of Sergei’s teeth and a piece of Mom’s femur, but nothing else. Five thousand, six hundred and ninety-two people were killed in the explosion and the resultant collapse of the nearby buildings, and over eighteen thousand were hurt or wounded. The minute the bomb went off, Ducarti left the system, escaping to hyperspace before the system defense ships could close in on him. But before he hyperjumped away, he sent out a broadcast announcing that the bomb was an act of revolutionary justice against the planetary government and people of New Chicago for failing to embrace the principles of Sociality.

The reaction was as swift as it was violent.

The next day, the planetary government of New Chicago by an executive order of the emergency commission outlawed the Social Party. A lot of people were arrested over the next month, including most of the non-science faculty of the University. Pretty much every official in the local Social Party leadership was executed without trial as a co-conspirator, whether they had actually known about it or not, and a lot of other people were charged with various crimes.

EXCERPT: Hitler in Hell

This is an excerpt from HITLER IN HELL by Martin Van Creveld. We expect the hardcover edition to be available in March.

If the years 1919-22 were bad for Germany, 1923 in many ways was much worse. Our poor country was reeling from the aftereffects of the largest, bloodiest war in history until then. To top it all, our enemies were plundering our exhausted people for all they were (not) worth. In December 1922 the German government, forced by necessity, defaulted on a payment of 135,000 meters of telegraph poles. That, nota bene, is almost enough to cover the entire distance from Magdeburg to Berlin or from Philadelphia to New York. In the next month the French and Belgian governments used this fact as an excuse to send in troops to occupy the Ruhr, our most important industrial district by far. On their way they killed approximately 130 German civilians who dared protest. Military resistance was impossible; after all, we no longer had an army. Instead, a general strike was proclaimed.

The occupation did not pass without impacting the rest of the country. Before the war, the mark had been valued at 4.20 to the dollar. By the end of 1919 the figure stood at 32, rising to 800 two and a half years later. With the occupation of the Ruhr all attempts to slow the fall came to a halt. In November 1923 4,210,500,000 marks were needed to buy a single dollar. Countless decent people who had worked and saved all their lives were ruined. So fast did the cost of living index rise that, as noon came, weekly wages paid in the morning no longer sufficed to buy a loaf of bread at noon. People used bank billets to cover their walls or to kindle their hearths. Unable to trust the Reich, many communities started printing their own Notgeld, or emergency money. It took the form of printed bills and cardboard “coins” (many were quite humorous, by the way).

But there was nothing funny about large numbers of people who lost their jobs, froze, starved, and were forced to resort to barter in order to survive. Amidst all this misery a few souls were fortunate enough to have foreign currency. Native or foreign, they spent pennies while living like kings at the expense of all the rest.

Economic collapse was accompanied by artistic degeneration. The so-called avant-gardists of 1914 had become the heroes of the day. They called themselves rebels. Rebels, that is, against everything wholesome, healthy, and clean. They attacked the existing social order, covering both Munich and other cities with their filth. Sculptors, dramatists, and musicians, who imitated the American Negro “music” known as jazz, participated in the orgy. Decent citizens, decent Germans, could no longer recognize their own cities. It made me feel sick then just as, looking at the hordes of criminal “refugees” who are again flooding Germany, it does right now.

That, in turn, contributed to, though it certainly did not cause, the prevailing civil unrest. Wherever one looked troops were being made ready, arms stored, and conspiracies hatched. Some originated on the Left, others on the Right. What ought to be done no one knew. That something would have to be done everyone knew or thought he knew. The man to whom most people looked in this context was, once again, Ludendorff. As early as February 1919 he was able to return from Sweden, where he had gone after the armistice. Now he lived in Munich, where every sort of right-wing movement did its best to harness him to its cart. It was Hess who, in 1921, introduced me to him. He was, however, no longer the man he had been. One problem was his friend, and subsequent second wife, Mathilde. A feminist she was (she believed the future would prove that men and women were equal, intellectually), as well as a trained mad-doctor and self-appointed philosopher. Dressed in a sort of chiffon tent, she made a strange spectacle. But that did not prevent him from accepting her and allowing her to (mis)lead him into all sorts of bizarre directions.

Another more important one was that Herr General Ludendorff, like so many German officers, was very bad at politics. He was too rigid and too concerned about his personal honor as a one-time Feldherr. His name was useful and brought us some supporters. But not many. After all, he was a Prussian. And in Bavaria Saupreussen, “Swinish Prussians,” were not exactly beloved.

Ludendorff or no Ludendorff, amidst the general chaos our Party flourished. By the end of 1923 we had 55,000 registered members. Early in September, joining forces with some veteran organizations, we were even able to hold a rally attended by 100,000 people, no less. Scant wonder I was becoming known, quite rightly, as “the king of Munich.” Then and later, we differed from the traditional parties in that we turned to, and succeeded in attracting, people from every class of the population. By my estimate, about a third were workers. They were rough men—I shall say more about the women later—equipped with hard fists they were quite ready to use when necessary. About half came from a petite bourgeoisie background; craftsmen, shopkeepers, teachers, white-collar employees, and farmers. And somewhat more than a tenth belonged to the upper middle and professional classes.

Prominent among the last-named was Herman Göring. Göring was the son of the first governor of German West Africa. He had grown up in a castle, Burg Mauterndorf, not far from Salzburg. Ex-fighter pilot, war hero, and holder of the Pour le Mérite, he had ties with “high society” that proved very useful to us. Later on he became my deputy in all but name. We even had a few real blue-blooded aristocrats. If there were proportionally fewer of them than in the general population, then that was due to the fact that, as a rule, I did not like them much. The best-known one was our future youth leader and Gauleiter of Vienna, Baldur von Shirach. Another was Count Wolf-Heinrich von Heldorf, the Berlin chief of police who was later involved in the plot of 20 July 1944 and whom we hanged for his pains.

Who first suggested the idea of mounting a Putsch I can no longer remember. Nor does it matter since in the end it was I, and I alone, who took responsibility and gave the relevant orders. The Bavarian Prime Minister at this time was Eugen von Knilling, a civil servant and parliamentarian who had long served the Wittelsbach Dynasty. He, in turn, appointed Gustav von Kahr General State Commissar with near dictatorial powers. Those powers he could, and intended to, use to put down any kind of civil unrest. To help him do so the government in Berlin put the Reichswehr units in Bavaria, with General Otto von Lossow at their head, at his disposal. Colonel Hans von Seisser, who commanded the powerful Bavarian State police, was the third member of the unholy trio.

Lossow had a reputation for being a “strong man” who would mercilessly crush any opposition he met. True to his image, one of the first things he did was to ban fourteen meetings we had planned for the evening of 27 September. This was a move we National Socialists simply could not take lying down. My close collaborators, including both Scheubner-Richter and the commander of the fledgling SA, Wilhelm Brückner, told me their men were calling for action. But they might also, if nothing was done, turn their back on the Party and slink away. They might even go over to the Communists, who were very active at the time. Given the terrible economic climate, who could blame them if they did?

Our first plan, proposed by Rosenberg, was as follows. On Memorial Day, 4 November, a parade was going to be held. Among the participants would be an SA battalion, which was more or less all we had. To take the salute there would be Kahr and Crown Prince Rupprecht, who had commanded an army group during the war and was considered Bavaria’s number-one soldier, as well as several other high-ranking officers. We were going to make our faithful SA men assemble early so as to seize them. Next, it would be my task to approach them and persuade them to join us in marching on Berlin, toppling the government there, and setting up a new one. The SA men did in fact show up, only to find the guests of honor protected by a strong police force. There was nothing we could do except withdraw with our tails between our legs. So bad was the fiasco that our would-be targets never even realized that they had been targeted.

We fixed the next attempt for the night of 10 November. The date was chosen because it was a weekend when all officials would be at home and government would come to a halt. Again, however, our plans were frustrated when Kahr announced that he was going to hold a major speech two days earlier. Rumor had it that he was about to declare Bavaria’s independence from the Reich. That was something we could not allow to happen. So we moved the date forward to the night of 8 November.

The final meeting was held in Rosenberg’s house, but this time we took care not to let him participate in the planning. Instead, we had Captain Ernst Röhm. Röhm was a rough but very competent officer who had fought at Verdun, among other places. In one of those battles he had the upper part of his nose shot off. In 1923 he led a paramilitary organization known as the Reichskriegsflagge (Reich-War Banners).

Röhm’s connections in the Reichswehr proved invaluable to us. Cajoling and tricking his colleagues, he succeeded in obtaining sufficient arms and ammunition for his men and ours. We were even able to set up a heavy machine gun company under Göring. The total number of fighters was about 4,000, of whom 1,500 were SA men. The rest were provided by other organizations. Kahr’s speech was supposed to start at 20:00. The location was the Bürgerbräukeller, the largest of its kind in Munich. It offered enough room for 3,000 people.

When the evening came, the hall was packed to overflowing. In addition, many people, feeling that something dramatic was about to happen, gathered in the nearby streets. Kahr had been speaking in his lackluster way for half an hour when my special bodyguard, with Göring in charge, burst into the hall. Pandemonium broke out, and ere I could reach the podium, I had to mount a chair and fire my pistol into the air. That got their attention and quieted everyone down.

Making use of every ounce of drama at my disposal, I announced that the National Revolution had broken out.

EXCERPT: Six Expressions of Death

SIX EXPRESSIONS OF DEATH by Mojo Mori. Available in Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.

Morijuku was not a large town, and a minute’s walk brought him to the house of Baisetsu. It stood as dark and silent as the carpenter’s shop beside it, causing Tadashi to wonder momentarily if he was mistaken. Then his glance detected a dark shape huddled by the covered walkway fronting on the street. Beholding that awkward shape, which could only be a corpse, he knew that he guessed correctly, and death was stalking very near.

He stood for a moment to survey Baisetsu’s house, a larger dwelling than his own and far more spacious than Akiko’s. A roofed walkway fronted on the street, with the house’s main door at its center and windows to either side. A narrow gravel path ran along the nearer side of the house, leading to a large formal garden behind it.

Tadashi groped in his memory for details of the building’s layout, recalling how a second covered walkway fronted on the garden, with two additional doors giving access to the interior on that side. The low structure included just one story despite its size, but a large number of windows pierced its walls. Three servants usually lived in the house alongside Baisetsu’s wife and children. Tonight, however, every window showed dark and empty, giving no sign of life inside.

Silently, Tadashi slipped off his geta, or wooden clogs, and set them close against the wall of the carpenter’s shop where he would not stumble on them were he forced to retreat in that direction. Then, drawing his katana, he glided forward with all the stealth he could muster, with both his mind and his body poised for instant action.

The samurai paused only momentarily near the shape by the walkway, long enough to reach out a hand and feel cloth, with the yielding firmness of flesh underneath it—flesh which failed to stir as his hand pressed it. Tadashi noted that warmth still remained in the corpse. He rose and stepped up onto the covered walkway, breathing as quietly as he could. His heart thundered in his ears, but his mind filled with a poised calm like the razor serenity of a sword-blade.

It was dark on the walkway, and the main door into Baisetsu’s house was a gaping blur of even deeper shadow. Tadashi stood considering for a moment. A thin, cold sensation of menace crept along his back looking at the yawning door, like the legs of ghostly insects crawling on his skin.

Baisetsu’s wife and servants are probably already dead, he thought. If Yuukai is alone, he is likely searching for information about who else knows of his crimes. If he has a companion, though, then surely the front door is watched. I will be clearly silhouetted against the street as I enter and easily killed. The killers probably left it open as a trap.

Tadashi stepped off the covered walkway onto the gravel path and moved around the house towards the back. An early firefly glinted among the leaves ahead, then blinked out as the man approached. The dog barked again, from the far side of the town. Then, a prolonged, muffled scraping sound issued from somewhere inside the house, followed by utter silence.

They are indeed still here! Tadashi thought. He approached the second gallery overlooking the garden and stepped up onto it. Unless Yuukai had brought a large band of men, they could not watch every entrance. He looked out over the garden, but it appeared still and peaceful in the moonlight, displaying the asymmetrical perfection of a well-tended formal garden. Moving along the gallery noiselessly, Tadashi found a half-opened door and slipped inside, katana held out before him. In the total darkness inside, he pressed himself to the wall, pausing to listen.

Tadashi heard nothing, but a faint gleam of light appeared suddenly deeper in the house, dimly showing the walls of the corridor he stood in and several dark openings where someone had slid open the panels leading into rooms.

He also saw a severed human head, as he guessed from its shape, lying perhaps two paces from where he stood, surrounded by dark streaks on the pale tatami. The samurai felt anger at the sight of it, but not surprise, since he expected everyone in the house except Yuukai and his confederates to be dead in any case.

Then the faint gleam went out, leaving the samurai in complete darkness once more.

There is Yuukai, searching with a small lamp, Tadashi thought.

He was about to step out into the corridor and move deeper into the house when the door onto the garden behind him swung open soundlessly, grazing his left elbow. Even Tadashi’s iron nerves scarcely kept him from crying out in surprise. His head whipped around. He saw a man’s shape flit in through the doorway, silhouetted for a moment against the garden’s dimness. Then Tadashi heard the faint sound of an indrawn breath only inches from his ear.

Tadashi dropped to the floor, hearing the soft whistle of steel just above his head, and lashed out with his own sword. A loud scream exploded from just overhead, and hot liquid showered down on Tadashi’s face and arms. A man fell across the samurai, thrashing, bearing him to the floor with his weight. For a moment the two men grappled in the darkness, hands clawing blindly at each other. Then Tadashi slashed again, feeling his blade cleave through ribs, and the other man’s motions became a spastic jerking. Then there was a long sigh and the weight across Tadashi’s thighs went limp.

The samurai drew himself out from beneath the dead man and rose to a crouch. A soft patter of footfalls sounded from somewhere deeper inside the house, followed by silence. The darkness now appeared absolute, and Tadashi crept quickly along the hallway, one hand extended to feel along the left wall. As he expected, he soon came to a place where a screen stood open, giving ingress to a room, and he slipped through the doorway.

In the pitch blackness of the room, Tadashi drew himself up against the wall just inside the doorway. He swept his sword back and forth several times through the air, first at shoulder height, then at waist height, to assure himself that no assassin lurked within arm’s reach. Then he held his breath, listening.

He detected no sound at all in the house’s profound silence, but the samurai knew that at least one more man waited nearby. He must trick the man into revealing himself, yet do so in a way that would not make Tadashi an easy prey for his foe.

He devised a plan after only a few moments. Moving back into the hallway, Tadashi felt his way to the man he had killed. Searching the corpse quickly, he found a knife hidden beneath the waistband of the man’s hakama. Drawing the blade free, he hurled it down the hallway with all his force, so that it clattered loudly at the further end. Then he ran forward as noiselessly as he could in the same direction, and halted, pressed flat against the wall, halfway between the dead man and the end of the passage.

Tadashi tensed as his ears caught a faint whisper of movement ahead. Then the samurai heard a stealthy footfall just behind him also. Adrenaline exploded through his body as he realized that at least two more assassins prowled the darkened house, and that these men now trapped him between them.

EXCERPT: First on the Moon

FIRST ON THE MOON by Jeff Sutton. Available in ebook and audio editions.

The room was like a prison–at least to Adam Crag. It was a square with a narrow bunk, a battered desk, two straight-back chairs and little else. Its one small window overlooked the myriad quonsets and buildings of Burning Sands Base from the second floor of a nearly empty dormitory.

There was a sentry at the front of the building, another at the rear. Silent alert men who never spoke to Crag—seldom acknowledged his movements to and from the building—yet never let a stranger approach the weathered dorm without sharp challenge. Night and day they were there. From his window he could see the distant launch site and, by night, the batteries of floodlights illumining the metal monster on the pad. But now he wasn’t thinking of the rocket. He was fretting; fuming because of a call from Colonel Michael Gotch.

“Don’t stir from the room,” Gotch had crisply ordered on the phone. He had hung up without explanation. That had been two hours before.

Crag had finished dressing—he had a date—idly wondering what was in the Colonel’s mind. The fretting had only set in when, after more than an hour, Gotch had failed to show. Greg’s liberty had been restricted to one night a month. One measly night, he thought. Now he was wasting it, tossing away the precious hours. Waiting. Waiting for what?

“I’m a slave,” he told himself; “slave to a damned bird colonel.” His date wouldn’t wait–wasn’t the waiting kind. But he couldn’t leave.

He stopped pacing long enough to look at himself in the cracked mirror above his desk. The face that stared back was lean, hard, unlined–skin that told of wind and sun, not brown nor bronze but more of a mahogany red. Just now the face was frowning. The eyes were wide-spaced, hazel, the nose arrogant and hawkish. A thin white scar ran over one cheek ending.

His mind registered movement behind him. He swiveled around, flexing his body, balanced on his toes, then relaxed, slightly mortified.

Gotch—Colonel Michael Gotch—stood just inside the door, eyeing him. A flush crept over Crag’s face. Damn Gotch and his velvet feet, he thought.

The expression on Gotch’s face was replaced by a wooden mask. He studied the lean man by the mirror for a moment, then flipped his cap on the bed and sat down without switching his eyes.

He said, “You’re it.”

“I’ve got it?” Crag gave an audible sigh of relief. Gotch nodded without speaking.

“What about Temple?”

“Killed last night–flattened by a truck that came over the center-line. On an almost deserted highway just outside the base,” Gotch added. He spoke casually but his eyes were not casual. They were unfathomable black pools. Opaque and hard. Crag wrinkled his brow inquiringly.


“You know better than that. The truck was hot, a semi with bum plates, and no driver when the cops got there.” His voice turned harsh. “No… it was no accident.”

“I’m sorry,” Crag said quietly. He hadn’t known Temple personally. He had been just a name–a whispered name. One of three names, to be exact: Romer, Temple, Crag. Each had been hand-picked as possible pilots of the Aztec, a modified missile being rushed to completion in a last ditch effort to beat the Eastern World in the race for the moon. They had been separately indoctrinated, tested, trained; each had virtually lived in one of the scale-size simulators of the Aztec’s space cabin, and had been rigorously schooled for the operation secretly referred to as “Step One.” But they had been kept carefully apart. There had been a time when no one—unless it were the grim-faced Gotch—knew which of the three was first choice.

Romer had died first–killed as a bystander in a brawl. So the police said. Crag had suspected differently. Now Temple. The choice, after all, had not been the swarthy Colonel’s to make. Somehow the knowledge pleased him. Gotch interrupted his thoughts.

“Things are happening. The chips are down. Time has run out, Adam.” While he clipped the words out he weighed Crag, as if seeking some clue to his thoughts. His face said that everything now depended upon the lean man with the hairline scar across his cheek. His eyes momentarily wondered if the lean man could perform what man never before had done. But his lips didn’t voice the doubt. After a moment he said:

“We know the East is behind us in developing an atomic spaceship. Quite a bit behind. We picked up a lot from some of our atomic sub work–that and our big missiles. But maybe the knowledge made us lax.” He added stridently:

“Now … they’re ready to launch.”



“I didn’t think they were that close.”

“Intelligence tells us they’ve modified a couple of T-3’s–the big ICBM model. We just got a line on it … almost too late.” Gotch smiled bleakly. “So we’ve jumped our schedule, at great risk. It’s your baby,” he added.

Crag said, “I’m glad of the chance.”

“You should be. You’ve hung around long enough,” Gotch said. His eyes probed Crag. “I only hope you’ve learned enough … are ready.”

“Plenty ready,” snapped Crag.

“I hope so.”

Gotch got to his feet, a square fiftyish man with cropped iron-gray hair, thick shoulders and weather-roughened skin. Clearly he wasn’t a desk colonel.

“You’ve got a job, Adam.” His voice was unexpectedly soft but he continued to weigh Crag for a long moment before he picked up his cap and turned toward the door.

“Wait,” he said. He paused, listening for a moment before he opened it, then slipped quietly into the hall, closing the door carefully behind him.

He’s like a cat, Crag thought for the thousandth time, watching the closed door. He was a man who seemed forever listening; a heavy hulking man who walked on velvet feet; a man with opaque eyes who saw everything and told nothing. Gotch would return.

Despite the fact the grizzled Colonel had been his mentor for over a year he felt he hardly knew the man. He was high up in the missile program—missile security, Crag had supposed—yet he seemed to hold power far greater than that of a security officer. He seemed, in fact, to have full charge of the Aztec project—Step One—even though Dr. Kenneth Walmsbelt was its official director. The difference was, the nation knew Walmsbelt. He talked with congressmen, pleaded for money, carried his program to the newspapers and was a familiar figure on the country’s TV screens. He was the leading exponent of the space-can’t-wait philosophy. But few people knew Gotch; and fewer yet his connections. He was capable, competent, and to Crag’s way of thinking, a tough monkey, which pretty well summarized his knowledge of the man.

He felt the elation welling inside him, growing until it was almost a painful pleasure. It had been born of months and months of hope, over a year during which he had scarcely dared hope. Now, because a man had died….

He sat looking at the ceiling, thinking, trying to still the inner tumult. Only outwardly was he calm. He heard footsteps returning. Gotch opened the door and entered, followed by a second man. Crag started involuntarily, half-rising from his chair.

He was looking at himself!

“Crag, meet Adam Crag.” The Colonel’s voice and face were expressionless. Crag extended his hand, feeling a little silly.

“Glad to know you.”

The newcomer acknowledged the introduction with a grin–the same kind of lopsided grin the real Crag wore. More startling was the selfsame hairline scar traversing his cheek; the same touch of cockiness in the set of his face.

Gotch said, “I just wanted you to get a good look at yourself. Crag here”—he motioned his hand toward the newcomer—”is your official double. What were you planning for tonight, your last night on earth?”

EXCERPT: Hammer of the Witches

An excerpt from HAMMER OF THE WITCHES by Kai Wai Cheah.

Hesperians loved to see themselves as the good guys fighting for the underdog against powerful foes. If he ever caught a glimpse of what she really thought and felt, he would abandon her in an instant. And Hexenhammer would be finished.

Pausing at a streetlamp, she smoothly spun on her heel and powered her holobuds. In her peripheral vision she checked for unwanted attention. Notifications flooded her screen. She checked the first.


She blinked and followed the link.

A barrage of photos: first responders tending to the wounded and evacuating civilians, burning and collapsed tents, killers machine-gunning a crowd of innocents.

And in the news summary, a bold bullet point stood out.

New Phosterian terrorist group Hexenhammer claims responsibility.

She fought down a curse and read the entire article. Three times.

Terrorists attacked a refugee camp on the island of Chios. Hundreds dead. Between four to eight terrorists. Killers still at large. Island on lockdown.

Hexenhammer claims responsibility.

Eve forced herself to breathe. It was time to be her other self again: an arm of the anonymous Kraken who terrorized the terrorists. A woman who brought down the hammer on the witches plaguing Pantopia. She opened her secure mail app and fired a message for Luke.

You must have heard about Hellas. We did NOT do it. We must meet. Call me.


“Eve didn’t do it,” I said.

“Why? Because she told you?” Pete said.

“No. Because this doesn’t have the hallmark of a Kraken operation, much less Hexenhammer.”

O’Connor’s voice issued from my holophone sitting on the table, reverberating in the secure conference room. “Just so we’re on the same page here, what is the hallmark of a Kraken operation?”

I rubbed my eyes. It was half past three in the morning, and despite the adrenaline in my veins, I was still jet lagged. I paused for a breath, composing my thoughts.

“Hexenhammer prides itself on proportionality and precision. They conduct information warfare and propaganda campaigns against their ideological enemies. They only target gangsters and terrorists—people who’ve caused actual harm—for assassinations. They’ve got a high standard for selecting targets. They post the target’s details on their internal forum, they talk about it among themselves, and they only go ahead if an admin is satisfied the target meets the standard of harm.”

“When they do strike, they rub out only the target,” Pete said. “No one else, except maybe nearby bad guys. And they attribute the hit to a mysterious figure they call Die Kraken.”

“Exactly,” I said. “They don’t kill innocents. They never had. Why would they start now?”

“To ‘strike a blow against the forces of globalization and Wahism threatening Western Phosterian civilization,’” O’Connor replied. “Or so their manifesto goes. They left it at the scene and mailed copies to the press.”

“BS. They don’t think like that.”

“You mean Eve doesn’t think like that. It doesn’t mean others in Hexenhammer don’t. Hexenhammer isn’t necessarily a monolithic organization.”

“This doesn’t fit their MO,” I said.

“Maybe they are changing how they do things,” Pete offered.

“Without telling their founder?”

“Or maybe Eve just didn’t want to tell you.”

“That’s not Eve,” I said. “She’s a killer, but she’s surgical. This? This is mass murder. She’s not psychotic enough to even think about it.”

Pete crossed his arms. “Okay, so who did it?”

“We’re going nowhere with this,” O’Connor declared. “It’s hasn’t even been an hour since the attack. Until we know the big picture, we can’t say for sure what’s going on.

“How about this: I’ll fly out to your location. I should be there in… twelve hours. By then I should have more to share with you, and we can plan our next step.”

“What do we do now?” Pete asked.

“Consider this a warning order. We need to figure out what’s going on with Hexenhammer. Get ready for an overseas trip to meet and assess Eve and the rest of Hexenhammer.”

“All right. And the Kalypso readiness report?”

“I’ll need that, too.”

Pete groaned. “You just had to ask, didn’t you?”

No point going back to bed. Pete went off to collect coffee. I re-read Eve’s email. At the end of it was a phone number. Knowing her, it was a disposable one-time-only number. I generated my own burner number with a holophone app and called her with it.

She picked up after the first ring.

Grüezi,” she said.

It was Swiss German. My language implant kicked in, returning Hello.

“It’s me,” I said.

“Hey,” she said, switching to Anglian. “Thanks for calling.”

“Thanks for reaching out to me. What happened out there?” In the background I heard a car honking. Was she out on the street?

“I don’t know. I didn’t authorize what happened at Hellas. Neither did anyone I know in my organization.”

She was deliberately being vague to avoid tripping telecom intercept programs—the kind every First-World nation ran on the rest of the world.

“That’s not much for me to work with.”

“You can’t prove a negative.”