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Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press is proud to bring you The Muse of Music! This is the second title since our relaunch under are new redesigned logo and brand. It is written by Enrico Toro and David Carrico. Cover illustration and layout by Emily Mottesheard.
The Muse of Music is an expanded version, with new material, of the stories originally published in the Grantville Gazette, the magazine of the 1632 Universe, the Ring of Fire. Continue reading “NEW 1632 Book Release! “The Muse of Music””by
Words from Eric Flint
Iron Angels – Snippet 06 “What’s going on?” Jasper asked. Pete stood with his arms crossed, leaning against the Euclid’s brick wall. “Looks like your victim specialist is here, she’s speaking with the girl now. You know her well?” Jasper … Continue reading →
Iron Angels – Snippet 06
“What’s going on?” Jasper asked.
Pete stood with his arms crossed, leaning against the Euclid’s brick wall. “Looks like your victim specialist is here, she’s speaking with the girl now. You know her well?”
Jasper shook his head. “No. She transferred in a couple of months ago. She’s a contract employee, not full Bureau.”
Pete grinned. “She single?”
“I don’t know. I don’t care. Not right now. Not after what we’ve seen tonight.” Jasper took a deep breath. “And I’m not ready, not after, well, you know. It wouldn’t be fair to Shelly, even assuming she was interested herself.”
“The victim specialist.”
“So you know her name.” Pete rocked on his heels. “It’s a start.”
Jasper tilted his head and stared at Pete until his grin faded.
“All right. All right,” Pete said, holding up his hands with the forefingers and middle fingers spread into a V. “Peace, brother. Don’t get upset. Just trying to give us something else to think about is all.” He rubbed the top of his head, the short graying hair poking through his fingers. “All that shit down there, a fireworks display and that poor girl. I’m a little shook up and not afraid to admit it.”
“Me too.” Jasper let the words hang, and sighed. “How long’s Shelly been with the girl?”
“Ten minutes, maybe?” Pete shrugged. “Ambulance is waiting. The EMTs gave her a quick once over, but they still need to take her to St. Catherine’s for the usual workup.”
St. Catherine Hospital was nearby, just a few blocks away. Jasper leaned against the nearest police cruiser, facing Pete and the Euclid Hotel. A block to the north, barricades came down to block Euclid, flashing their red lamps. A train was coming.
That happened so regularly that Jasper paid little attention. It was often said that Chicago was the nation’s rail hub, but most of that constant freight traffic passed south of the city — and just about all of it came through the northern Lake County towns of Hammond, East Chicago and Gary.
A line of police emerged from the alley. The one in front announced they’d cleared the building and buttoned it up for later evidence collection.
“They’re calling it early, don’t you think?” Jasper asked. Bureau personnel would have been more thorough during the initial examination.
“We caught the bad guys, so what else is there to do?” Pete asked.
“What if there are others out there?” Jasper spoke more loudly because the train was passing through the intersection now. It was moving slowly; not more than twenty miles an hour, but a mile-long freight train makes a lot of noise.
“Just saying.” Jasper tilted his head back and gazed at the night sky. Haze and light pollution obscured all but the brightest stars and the crescent of the waning moon. “The vastness of space is out there, countless worlds, countless stars, and here we are dealing with dirt bags as if we’re making some kind of difference in the grand scheme of things.”
“Thought for a moment you were philosophizing, and then you said dirt bags.” Pete shrugged. “If we don’t deal with ’em, who will? Every one we take off the street makes things a little better.”
“Yeah,” Jasper said, and dropped his gaze from the murky heavens, “but they just get replaced by… That’s odd.”
Jasper pointed toward the alley behind the Euclid Hotel. “That. What the hell is it?”
Tendrils wafted from the alley, dark gray and silver followed by an oddly shaped body of mist strobed by the blue and red flashes of the police cruisers. A slow hiss escaped from between the buildings as if the mist was a real, corporeal monster. The tendrils poked and prodded, feeling their way about as if attached to a blind person. The mist changed shape and for the briefest of moments, congealed, forming a head like that of a beast, a lion perhaps.
No. The head of a dragon with large eyes and tendril-like whiskers, danced about as if submerged in water.
Jasper blinked. The form reminded him of Chinese-style dragons like the ones on an educational channel showing a Chinese festival; only this thing wasn’t a bunch of people in a costume tossing firecrackers. The resemblance was only a vague one, anyway. Rather than scales, this “dragon” sported patches of mist. Jasper closed his eyes, hoping the image would be gone upon opening them. A negative afterimage persisted in Jasper’s vision from the intense light of the men burning.
The mist dragon had to be an illusion, due to being tired and that horrid afterimage. He opened his eyes, and blinked a few times.
It was still there.
“Pete, are you seeing this?”
“Pete?” Jasper glanced over. Pete had gone down on one knee and covered his eyes with his forearm. “You okay?” Jasper turned back for another glimpse of the mist dragon. The gurgling hiss continued, now morphing into a faint whistle, as if a distant gas line had been punctured.
The mist swirled and what had once been similar to a Chinese dragon was now a ragged cloud suspended above the Euclid Hotel.
“Could that be gas?” Jasper asked, but Pete still covered his eyes. “This some sort of religious experience, Pete? I’m not being funny.”
“I — I can’t explain it,” Pete said. “I can’t look, and I don’t know why.”
The raggedness of the mist smoothed and pulsed. Silver shot through the dark gray portion of the cloud like veins, a complete respiratory system. The hiss rolled into a thunder-like grumble, also sounding like it was far away. The cloud solidified, once more taking the appearance of a great beast — more like a dragonfly than a dragon, now. And then it was simply gone. Gone completely, as if it had never existed.
“Where in the hell did that thing come from? It had to be some strange atmospheric condition, right?” Jasper helped Pete to his feet. “I don’t smell any gas, but it certainly could have been. I mean, not all gas has an odor.”
“Thing? It was a weird cloud is all,” Pete said. “It’s easy to see what we want to see. Believe what we want to believe.” His face had gone white, even in the subdued lighting and the dwindling number of cruiser strobes flashing red and blue across the scene.
“I’m heading back to the office,” Jasper said. “If I don’t write this up tonight I won’t get to it until Monday.”
“Maybe. I’m thinking about coming back here during the day.”
No further information had been gleaned from Teresa Sanchez. The ambulance finally pulled away, carrying her off to the hospital for a full examination. Her parents had been told to head directly there and they’d be reunited. Jasper departed before all the police had dispersed and grabbed a cup of coffee to help keep him wired for report writing — just one of many cogs adding to the administrative burden ushered in by a reliance on computers that was supposed to help eliminate paperwork. The irony was old and stale by now, though.
En route, Jasper informed his boss, the Agent in charge of the Merrillville office, who then informed his boss, so the Special Agent in Charge of the entire Indianapolis division could appear on the news at some point with the East Chicago Chief of Police and claim Teresa Sanchez’s recovery was a joint operation and everyone could slap each other on the back and be happy they busted a human trafficking ring or some other nonsense they made up to make the public feel better and feel safer. Someone would be receiving an award for the actions Pete and he had taken earlier, but it’d likely be some muckety-muck who had nothing to do with the girl’s rescue.
The Merrillville FBI office was a stand-alone building at the end of a cul-de-sac. At this time of night, it presented a half-lit face and stood deserted save for a lone person working the radio and phones. Jasper entered a narrative of the events and would finalize the draft in the morning. He then went to his sparsely furnished bungalow in Hammond and collapsed on his bed.
He lived alone. No pets. No family. No wife. Lucy had left two years earlier and he hadn’t seen her since. The divorce had been swift. Lucy hadn’t wanted anything from him, not even a portion of his pension upon his retirement. She probably didn’t want to wait that long.
Jasper stared at the ceiling. Light from a streetlamp penetrated his window and in that cone of light were two men ablaze and dying in the basement of an abandoned hotel. The negative afterimage remained emblazoned, on his mind if not his retinas.
Alexander Inheritance – Snippet 30 Chapter 10 Queen of the Sea, Alexandra Harbor October 15 “Do we go after them?” Anders Dahl asked. Not that there was any doubt. “Captain, there is a ship heading out from the docks at … Continue reading →
Alexander Inheritance – Snippet 30
Queen of the Sea, Alexandra Harbor
“Do we go after them?” Anders Dahl asked. Not that there was any doubt.
“Captain, there is a ship heading out from the docks at Alexandria. It looks to be Ptolemy’s galley.”
“I am tempted to say to hell with it and leave now,” Captain Floden said. “We have people on the Reliance, even if Joe Kugan has been being a horse’s ass about weapons and fuel.”
“Well, he was apparently right about the weapons, Captain,” Daniel Lang said.
“Was he? If he had just stayed with us…”
“He would have been in our way when we ran over the triremes,” Elise said. “Sorry, Captain, but he would have been. It would have made maneuvering more difficult and dangerous for all of us.”
“Fine. He was right and I was wrong. All the more reason to go after him now.”
“I’d like to agree, Captain,” said a new voice as Congressman Wiley stepped onto the bridge. “But we are still going to need Alexandria for some time, and showing that level of disrespect for Ptolemy isn’t going to make that easy.”
“That bastard was behind this attack, Congressman. We had the ships on radar from the time they left the harbor to the time the last of them limped home.”
“I don’t doubt you, Captain. But we still have to deal with him.” Wiley waved a hand. “We don’t have to let him off easy. We can charge him through the nose. But we are going to have to let him save face publicly.”
“Fine. We’ll need Marie.” Lars looked around. “Where is she?”
“In the wardroom, having breakfast, Captain. After she delivered the warning, she didn’t want to be in the way,” Daniel Lang explained.
“Doug, would you go fetch her, please.”
* * *
It took Ptolemy’s galley fifteen minutes to reach the Queen, and almost the first words out of his mouth were protests that he had never authorized the attack, and that Gorgias had acted completely on his own and against Ptolemy’s orders. He didn’t try to convince them that it was anyone but Gorgias who had done it, which Marie thought was wise of him. For this meeting, Marie simply watched and translated. Wiley played peacemaker, with Floden in the background, muttering darkly about burning Alexandria to the ground in retaliation. It was a good bargaining ploy, and it worked in terms of getting the royal treasury to pay for the damage and loss of life, while letting Ptolemy save face and act as magnanimous innocent.
But it took time.
It was after nightfall by the time all was settled. By then they had received a phone call from Dag informing them that he was pretty sure they were going to Tyre. In a way, that made it less urgent to go after the ATB, articulated tug barge. They knew where they would be, and could go fetch them once the more immediate business was taken care of.
Internally, the attack cut the legs out from under the Jerusalemites. Yes, the Queen would defeat anything on the sea, but once they got on land, they could be taken prisoner and held for ransom. Not a good plan. Wiley’s plan of going to Trinidad or perhaps Spindletop, Texas and setting up the United States of America early gained a lot of credence and the consensus was that Trinidad was the best place. It was an island, so there would be some protection. And it had oil that was easy to get to.
They got a second call, but it was breaking up. Dag was out of range of the cell tower, even over water with no competing signals, well before the Reliance got to Tyre.
On learning that the Reliance had been captured and was on its way to Tyre, Ptolemy again offered a contingent of Greek soldiers to help them. Captain Floden started talking about the trojan horse, and Marie didn’t have to translate that, as Ptolemy’s next words made clear. “I understand the captain’s concern, but I am not Agamemnon.”
More time as Wiley smoothed things over.
Then the issue of burying their dead came up. There was a dive shop on the ship. Two of the entertainments available on the Queen were scuba diving and snorkeling, so there was extensive scuba and snorkeling gear. They had been able to recover the body of Eileen Sanders, the woman who had gone over the side in flames during the attack. They had three bodies to bury and they couldn’t afford the bad feeling that would be generated by ignoring the desires of the grieving loved ones.
Reliance, Approaching Tyre
Dawn, October 16
Dag, bloody and subdued, watched a bloody and subdued Captain Joe Kugan show Admiral Metello the sonar depth gauge. Dag knew Joe Kugan well enough to know that Joe was protecting the Reliance from going aground more than he was protecting himself from another beating. The Reliance and Barge 14 together made up a sea-going ship that was more seaworthy than anything from this time. They were designed to transport fuel across the high seas. In essence, Reliance and Barge 14 constituted a small tanker, except at need the massive fuel bunkerage in Barge 14 could be separated from the Reliance so that one of the two could receive maintenance or repair while the other part of the system was still in operation. That had happened several times before The Event. About half the time the Reliance had been attached to Barge 15. For a moment Dag was distracted by the question of whether the Reliance and Barge 14 would ever be separated again. It almost certainly would, he decided as he looked back toward the stern. It was a waste of fuel to lug around Barge 14 when you were towing triremes.
From the pilot house, Dag could see the steel cables that went from the stern of the Reliance to the bow of a trireme. After that was another cable from the stern of that trireme to the bow of the next, and so on until all six of the triremes under Metello’s command trailed the Reliance like ducklings. After Julio’s death, the crew had cooperated. In exchange, they had been mostly left alone.
Most of the crews of the flotilla were camped on the Reliance, with only steersman and a few sailors on the triremes. The campers were being careful to avoid dark places, the holds especially, and mostly not touching anything. Partly that was because of the guys who had died from the fire suppression system, but it was reinforced by how strange this giant ship made of steel was to them.
Dag had managed to make one covert phone call shortly after dark on the fifteenth, and confirmed that they were headed for Tyre. Everyone in the work party had phones. They were standard issue for the Queen’s crew. Pretty decent phones, not the most recent, but about two generations back. After making his point, Metello was surprisingly gentle with them. He had taken all the cell phones, but they hadn’t searched anyone and missed Dag’s.
Keith Seiver had a cell charger in his pocket, but there had been no opportunity to use it. The charger was, in Dag’s opinion, a silly gadget. At least, it had been before The Event. It was a battery to recharge your cell phone through the USB port. But this battery was shaped like a cellphone and had one side covered in solar cells. The idea was that you could just leave it in the sun and it would charge the battery, which could then charge the cell phone or tablet computer. The problem was the solar panel was small. It would take the solar panel a couple of days in the sun to fully charge the battery pack, then you could use the battery pack to charge the cell phone in a couple of hours. Given enough time, the solar panels would charge a cell phone, a slate, even a laptop, but that meant putting it out in the sunlight. As soon as they did that, it would be seized. At the moment Dag’s cell phone and Keith’s battery pack were both fully charged because they had managed to plug them into the ATB’s power grid last night. But who knew how long it would be before they had another chance to do that.
Dag looked out at the island they were approaching. Tyre was an island with an artificial causeway to shore. The causeway was about ten meters wide and nearly a kilometer long. Dag knew the history. Alexander the Great had built the causeway under the eyes and arrows of the defenders, then sacked the city. It hadn’t yet fully recovered, though a lot of Phoenicians still lived there, and the defenses had been mostly rebuilt. Now it was Attalus’ home base on the east end of the Mediterranean and currently the residence of Roxane and Alexander IV.
* * *
Dag and his work crew were pulled off the Reliance when they got to Tyre and put on a galley that took them into shore. A very beautiful, dark-haired young woman, surrounded by a bunch of grizzled old vets, was there to meet them.
“Why are these people tied up and what happened to them?”
Dag didn’t find the girl’s accent hard to follow. It was a bit different than the Macedonian accent, but was a lot closer to it than Metello’s. The girl had black hair done up with a sort of gold chain hat, dark eyes, pale olive skin…and she was built. This must be the famous Roxane. She looked a bit like Elizabeth Taylor.
The commander of the galley started to answer back, but apparently thought better of it and just said, “Admiral’s orders,” in a sulky tone.
“Admiral said to…”
“I don’t care what Metello said, and I doubt Attalus will either,” Roxane said.
“You are not Alexander,” the commander said. “You’re not even Macedonian.” That struck Dag as strange, because from his accent and appearance, the commander was probably Phoenician from right here in Tyre. Not that Dag was an expert.
Roxane looked like she was about to back down, then an older guy moved up beside her. “I am! Release them.”
* * *
Hours later Dag felt better. He was washed, bandaged and even to an extent, briefed, by Kleitos, the guy who had backed Roxane. There was another man in the room, the commander of the Silver Shields, named Evgenij. Older and harder looking than Kleitos, he didn’t talk much. Kleitos was something between her bodyguard and jailor. Not one of the official bodyguards who had been appointed in Babylon, four for Philip and three for baby Alexander, but none of them were present. They were all out trying to raise armies to bite off their own chunk of Alexander the Great’s empire. Kleitos was a man for hire who would keep her safe or kill her, depending on the orders from the paymaster. That paymaster had been Perdiccas before his untimely demise, then Peithon for a couple of weeks, then Attalus. The Silver Shields were almost worse. They had appointed themselves and were halfway between guards and extortionists. As long as the money kept coming, they would keep Roxane and little Alexander safe. If the money stopped, they would sell her to the highest bidder.
And they were all quite disgustingly straightforward about it.
Kleitos had backed Roxane because he didn’t like Phoenicians, and the Silver Shields had backed him because they were mean old bastards who didn’t take crap from anyone.
“Roxane is pretty enough, I’ll grant, and smart too,” Kleitos explained. “But she has all the guts of a rabbit. You, on the other hand, look like you have at least a little bit of guts.” Kleitos waved vaguely in the direction of the Reliance. “So tell me all about the ship out there.”