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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

J. Passepartout

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Will you be paying a visit to Gettysburg? It's not far from there. When I was in elementary school, my father and I went to Washington to someone's house for business, and when we were driving back to New York, we decided to see the battlefield in Gettysburg. I had a habit of taking off my shoes on long car trips since they were not really necessary when sitting around, and I realized as we approached the battlefield that one of my shoes was still in Washington DC. I had left the truck door open in my rabid desire to wiggle my toes in open air, and the shoe must have fallen out onto that guy's driveway.
 

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I have family in York. Hope you settle in well.

Congrats on the AAR's anniversary. I've only been following the last...wow, has it really been about 2 years? I have thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to the next update.
 

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Dinglehoff - I may write another Victoria AAR one day but I think the plot-wheel of this one has come full circle. I am currently playing as the US in Vic2 with the object of letting the CSA go peacefully - just to see what happens.

J. Passepartout - thanks! I do try to stay within the 'family-friendly' zone of Paradox policy, but... these stories are hard to tell in euphemisms.

I found that shoe!!!


Just kidding. Yes, York is a virtual time-capsule. Evidently the Continental Congress set up here at one point and the Articles of Confederation were signed here. Gettysburg is about 30 minutes away and I look forward to seeing it again. Will likely be next spring, the way that work is shaping up.

King of Men - I like your concept but I think it belongs to a different story. The arc of this one is trending to a close... I am happy that people like the universe and characters enough to want it to go on, but at least for the moment I've exhausted what I had to say.

Lord Durham - IA was famously afraid to fly, so you are fortunate you lived in a place that he could get to by surface transport. Another victim of bad blood screening and an insidious disease... His science popularizations are magnificent and his early fiction is terrific. I find his later novels get dryer and less interesting, but that may just be me. :)

Stuyvesant - Ronsend certainly has some issues to work out and venting his anger seems to be the method of choice.

My take is that Frost has passed over from being psychopathic but functional to basing her decisions on wishful thinking and delusions. Perhaps Temic Messoune had more of a steadying effect on her than we knew, or maybe it has all just gotten to be too much.

loki100 apologies for not following your AAR more closely over on the AGEOD forum. I have some catching up to do with my reading.

The move is done. Packed Fri/Sat, drove 18 hours Sat night and Sunday, met the rental agent Monday morning, the movers came Monday noon, the friend who rode up with me left Tuesday, I flew to Indianapolis for DCI Prelims on Wed, did Prelims on Thurs, flew back on Fri, unpacked yesterday and today. Tomorrow I get up at 4am to fly to south Texas...

*sigh*

The worst part is I can blame no-one but myself.

Last_Revanant - if you want to say 'Hi' when you come to visit the relatives you certainly can. No guarantees that I'll be in town, but we could have a vhat and some coffee or something.

The really funny thing is that this was going to be a 'quickie' running 9 months tops. Wow... I sure got that wrong.
 

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Finding Tesla was more complicated than I had hoped. First I had to find a secure corner where I could sit down and have a shaking fit. I tried to summon up Ann’s face but got only brief snippets, disconnected images. The memories were there, but I was too upset or distracted to retrieve them properly. Nor could I summon up a sincere hope that Ann would be pleased to know her killer was dead, and so I sat in misery, wracked in silent sobs, for at least a quarter-hour.

Once back on my feet I felt steadier but wrung-out, less emotional but tired and weak. The passages wound around underground without seeming to follow a plan or arrive at a destination. I wandered around for a few minutes looking for anything useful: explosives, perhaps, or a genie’s magic lamp. Even just an unlocked door to Tesla’s laboratory – really, I would have taken anything I could find to improve the odds in my favor. I found nothing, of course, or if there was something usable I failed to recognize it. Testing the air currents didn’t help; either the lower levels weren’t ventilated or the airflow was too subtle for me to detect. Finally I retreated to the maze of stalls that were being used for equipment storage, finding nothing but honing my sense of urgency to a razor’s edge and slashing at my nerves with it as a pastime.

Finally I heard a door creak open. I ran out my snooper wire and saw that one of the other doors along the corridor was open – they had all been locked when I tried them a few moments ago – and a slight, stooped man with thinning gray hair was headed down the hall to the door that hid whatever Frost was doing. He knocked and said something I didn’t catch; then someone I couldn’t see opened the door and let him inside.

They closed the door then, and locked it too – paranoid bitch, and just my luck, since I had nerved myself up again to go in with guns blazing. Or humming, as would be more correct. I caught myself then, for when my mind goes skittering off after irrelevancies I know that I am just avoiding the problems of the present, and in this particular present moment that could be nastily fatal. So if I couldn’t go in after them, and I didn’t fancy hanging about in the hallway waiting to be surprised…

The door Tesla had come out of – I assumed it was him, but just how many henchmen could Frost be hiding here? – the door was indeed unlocked. I opened it just enough to slip through, closed it silently behind me and went padding noiselessly down the steps. I spared a moment to wonder just how deep down into the earth Frost’s lair could go but decided to be optimistic: if this place was much bigger I wasn’t going to get to see it anyway. As I went farther down the stairs the louder the sounds of machinery became. I needn’t have worried about making any noise; a platoon of tanks and a brass band couldn’t have been heard over the racket. By the time I reached the bottom – the same setup as before, with an enclosed stairwell opening through a doorway to the right – I thought I might need earplugs just to keep my concentration. The space beyond was large, stone-floored and walled, dimly-lit under a rock ceiling rather lower than I would have thought reasonable. There were free-standing metal cabinets adorned with dials and knobs and knife-handled switches and, visible through an arched opening in the far wall, masses of moving machinery. Overhead a vast web of cables ran from the cabinets to converge on the structure dominating the far end of the cave: a sphere of metal mesh whose layers of wire were interwoven and twisted in ways that wrenched at the eyes, and inside that a spinning blue-white hurricane of primal power. The cyclone was twenty feet high if it was an inch and very nearly as broad, and by my quick estimation had to pack the power of a fission bomb. If Tesla was able to discharge that thing with accuracy then I had no doubt that Frost could flatten whole cities with a single shot.

What I needed to do was find a way to sabotage the machinery. Spreading a handful of sparklers around would be a good start, and I thought a crowbar might be useful if I could find one. Too late I realized I had not locked the door at the top of the stairs, nor did I have any way to barricade the portal at the bottom. A quick look through the snooper showed shapes at the top of the stairs: too late for me to flee and not nearly enough time for me to sabotage the equipment. I toyed with the idea of just pointing my needler uphill and blasting away, but quickly shelved it: Makhearne was likely to be in the group coming down the stairs.

I trotted down the length of the room and ducked beneath an overhang, a tiny cave carved from rock and nearly sealed across by a metal-fronted cabinet of some sort of electrical apparatus. My snooper could peek around the cabinet and give me both sight and sound, and I could pick my time to emerge. Satisfied that I would not be easily discovered, I set my guns on the floor in easy reach and settled down on my haunches to wait. Minutes went by and I began to think my eyes had tricked me into seeing shapes in the stairwell where none existed, but at last Frost and Tesla came backing out of the stairwell door. Makhearne was bound to a wheelchair with ropes and chains, and when I saw that I understood why it had taken them so long to descend the stairs. Frost spun the thing around and propelled it with one hand, and I knew that I had better not underestimate her strength.

Even with my snooper microphone deployed I had to strain to hear what they were saying. Frost wheeled Makhearne’s chair to a point where he had an uninterrupted view of the crackling energy vortex, then Tesla scurried to a group of panels set apart from the rest and began fiddling with knobs and switches. While Tesla played with his controls, Frost posed dramatically in silhouette, standing between her prisoner and the swirling lightning.

“You see my accomplishment, Donneval! Imagine its power! Yet this is but one card I hold, one trump in a hand of high cards. Tesla has set the device to strike at our dear neighboring village, using only a fraction of its true power – enough for us to clearly feel the effects, I promise you! Should he succeed, another strike will be made at Czestochowa – that’s close enough for us to feel the rumble when the walls come down!”

The mechanical noises wound down to a basso drone, making the crackle and hiss of the chained lightning all the louder by contrast. My ears still rang, but I would be able to understand words spoken at a volume softer than a shout. “We are ready, Madame!” Tesla sang out, hands poised and fingers raised as though the control panel was a grand piano and he a virtuoso in performance.

She turned to him and pointed a single waggling finger. “I trust you will not disappoint me again, Jozsef,” she said, and then looked straight at Makhearne. “Do it, then – call down Mjolnir!” Tesla seized a large handle and pulled it down against heavy resistance, using his weight as well as his muscles to shift the bar. There came a crack, a white flash, a stink of ozone, and in the aftermath it seemed to me the power of the electrical tornado had somewhat diminished. No-one spoke; no-one moved.

“Go upstairs and look, Jozsef,” Frost said after a minute had passed. “Look at the village. While you are up there, find the girls - find Messoune if you can - and bring them down here.” Tesla nodded and his hands flew over the controls. The mechanical noises resumed their pounding and the maelstrom began to pulse and throb as it spun. Only a moment was required for him to check the dials and then he was gone up the stairs.

I thought that now might be my chance: shoot Frost, smash the device and get both Makhearne and myself to safety. But Frost was pacing the floor on the opposite side of Makhearne from my position and looking steadily at him, which meant she was staring very nearly directly at me. My snooper was almost invisible but a needler barrel could catch the light – and her attention – and a moment would be all she would need to strike. Even if she turned her back long enough for me to take careful aim, I’d likely have to shoot through Makhearne to hit her. Needlers are meant for close-in work and they are not capable of the kind of precision shooting needed to hit a target across a room in dim light while avoiding the man inbetween. I knew that Tesla would not find Messoune or the women alive, but he might find the bodies and my improvised incendiaries. I checked my clock: we had thirty minutes before the sparklers lit.

I was going to have to chance it. I shifted, flexing my legs as much as I could in the confined space to get myself ready to spring. And then Frost turned and strode to the stairwell, calling for Tesla, then in an instanst vanished from sight. I grabbed for my guns… but there was no line of sight around the cabinet before she was gone. And so I cursed, silently and with great feeling, and tried to think how I could best use whatever time Frost’s impatience had gained me. The bottom of the stairwell could not be blocked and I was not confident that I could make it to the top to lock that door before Frost came back down. And a gun-battle in that confined space… I thought I could sacrifice myself if it was required but I was not eager to do so.

What I could do was go talk to Makhearne. Neither of us had dared to use the radio, knowing that Frost could track the source of the signals even if she could not decode the content. Even when he was captured Makhearne had not radioed me since that would confirm to Frost that he was not alone, something she must suspect but could not know as certain. Now I could slip quietly from my hiding place and make my way over to him, marking the seconds against my estimate of how long it would take Frost to go up and down the cellar stairs and trying to keep one eye on the stairwell door in case I was wrong.

I rmemeber going to him and I choose to remember little of his injuries save that they were extensive and frightful. He motioned me to place an ear to his mouth and I heard him whisper, “Cut my arms free. Give me your gun.” I shook my head no, refusing to abandon him, and bent to cut the bonds holding his arms and legs to the chair. With his arms free he seized me and pulled my head to his. “Don’t argue. Give me the gun.” I refused again and he whispered, “Please.”

Instantly all my arguments were disarmed; looking at his broken body and disfigured face I knew that I could deny him nothing. Numbly I pressed the needler into his hand and retreated to my hiding place, wiping away the beads of sweat that were streaming down my face. And I had no sooner taken my former place than Frost swept into the hall trailed by Tesla, a satellite in tow behind her planetary self-importance.

“No more excuses, Jozsef! My patience is exhausted and the experiment has been a failure. It is time now to try something new. Send the beacon pulse!”

Tesla made his way to his control board and began flipping switches and twiddling knobs. Frost made her way to his side and as she marched across my field of vision I felt for the needler, only to remember that Makhearne now had it. At this range my stunner would do little more than irritate her. I lost myself in thought for a moment thinking over plans for how to lure her into range without getting shot myself, then realized the two of them were arguing.

“… energy buildup will overload…” Tesla was saying, when Frost cut him short. “Let the generators run! The beacon will take up some power and opening the gate will require the rest!” With a cringing shrug Tesla stepped back from the board and, casting an apprehensive eye on the actinic lightning storm swirling behind the frail mesh, went to a different panel and yanked at a switch-handle. Relays closed and snapped open with thunderous booms and the reek of ozone filled the air.

Makhearne had surely had a chance to draw and shoot, but I couldn’t tell if he had moved so much as an inch. Was he unconscious? Dead?

A bell peals an off-key note and the roar of the generators increases. The metal mesh container around the pulsating cyclone begins to glow, which I could not think was a good sign. Tesla is gesticulating frantically – I can no longer hear anything but the scream of machinery pushed to its limits – my own electronic components are shutting down as the air grows ripe and heavy with ozone. The lizard at the base of my brain is screaming to take cover, that lighting will strike…

And it does, a fat white worm of pure power that grows lazily from the tail of the cyclone and arches to the ground, questing like a dog after a scent. Left – right – forward – back – something opens in the air, a swirling vortex of air rimmed in blue-white fire that is both familiar and utterly strange. I have seen a trans-dimensional gate opened dozens of times, but never without the massive protective structures that contain and regulate the energies. This is breathtakingly ingenious and unspeakably stupid, for the grounding of this kind of power would kill every one of us and bring down the caves on our heads – for a start. Every electrical device on the planet would fry itself, the magnetic field of the very Earth might flip – or collapse – and every ounce of matter that can conduct electricity would melt or incandescently explode. I open the catches to the back panel of the metal cabinet that nearly seals my little cave, a foolish reflex of self-preservation that gives me something to do with my hands while I wait for Makhearne to take his shot.

He does not stir. The portal steadies and opens wider, a tiny malignant eye irising to become the eye of a waking dragon. Wider – wider – now it is large enough to pass a dog, then a man, and still it grows, fed from the awful power of Tesla’s machine until it gapes wide enough for a cart to roll through or three men to pass abreast. Around the rim is a ribbon of twisting blue lightning that, interrupted, could kill a civilization.

A figure appears on the far side of the portal. I have seen his like before: khaki tunic with a kilt of burgundy and gray, the legs bare and the feet shod in tan boots. Atop the head is a flat red beret; in the arms is an automatic rifle very nearly pointed in our direction. He shouts something that we cannot hear, then motions with the gun. More soldiers fill the passageway behind him, clearly nervous – and why should they not be? The last time they made contact with this dimension a firefight ended in a volcanic explosion of megaton-size. They have no reason to think we mean them well, and I think that distrust will already have undermined Frost’s little scheme.

Frost paces forward and puts up her arm, palm out in the universal sign for ‘Stop’. And at that moment Makhearne raises his arm slowly and sights down the top of the needler. Frost can’t see him because her back is to him, and Tesla sees but does not know how to respond. He shoots, holding down the trigger for a good two seconds to sleet a blizzard of needles at his target. Frost is unhurt – she is turning - he has failed –

And then I see the soldiers going down in the tunnel, blue-white explosions marking the needles that have strayed into the bordering ring of power, and in one great leap I see it – I see everything. Killing Frost would let the invaders through, now or later. Killing the soldiers makes it look like an ambush – just as their contact with Nemor must now seem to have been a deception, an ambush, a trap. The soldiers are firing, more hurrying forward to lie down behind the bodies of the dead, and a hail of bullets rings off the stony cavern walls, punches through metal. Frost jerks like a marionette, raises both hands I think to return fire, or plead, or… I will never know. They mow her down. Tesla is down, Makhearne is still firing, the mechanisms are screaming and the terrible blue-white swirl of energy is wobbling, pulsing, strobing in colors as the bullets smash the controls.

I roll into the cabinet and slide the door shut.

The world ends.
 

TheExecuter

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That's a high powered update. I'd be shocked if Frost or Makhearne survived.
I'm fairly certain neither survived.

Both villains are dead, as is Makhearne...at least so far as the training simulator goes (my pet theory at the moment). It was amusing watching Frost be shot down by her next supposed minions.

Now we only have Ronsend the loose end to wrap up...well, him and the fate of the world. No biggy.
 

Dinglehoff

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I'm sure that they both didn't survive because of all the power being unstable there. The bullets I wouldn't be so sure about because Frost would have had those augmentations installed. Either way they are surely done for. That blast must kill all Ronsends nanos and screw up all his electronic cyborg implants, unless they are hardened against it or he hid himself in something that would protect him from it.

I confess that I felt the need to post a reaction with electricity puns, or whatever you call it. I wish I had come up with more.

As for the training simulator theory, that's certainly possible as far as the writer's options; but it is such an easy throwaway buy-back that it would literally make all of what Director has done here over the years with the story meaningless. Not a good option for this one.
 

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the way you describe the forces around the portal is really gripping, a nice air of both power and menace.

Ironic that Frost seems to have been killed by those she was expecting to have welcomed her as their new ruler.

My instinct is the highly impressive last line refers to darkness as the drawer slides closed. We know he survives in some form or the other (hence the narration) so one presumes its not a piece of normal office junk he's slid himself into?
 

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I confess that I felt the need to post a reaction with electricity puns, or whatever you call it. I wish I had come up with more.
I read your original reply, did a double-take and wondered if I had wandered into a Rock, Paper, Shotgun thread. ;)

Anyway, to get into the spirit of things: That was an electrifying update. I wonder if Tesla coiled up when he died. Ronsend's chances of survival seem Faraday now...

Enough with the malarkey. This was a thrilling finale. The underground cavern, the machinery straining, the lightning, Frost's theatrics, Tesla's performance as an Igor... When I write it like that, it sounds like the scene is a parody. It isn't, though. It is a logical culmination of the story and while it crescendos, it doesn't go over the top. Makhearne sacrificing himself was good. The fact that, in the end, the man who was so detached from this world in the beginning, sacrifices himself in such a way as to protect this world from both Frost and the evil parachronic Roman(ian) Empire is even better. Backing up to the beginning of the update, I liked Ronsend's delayed reaction to his killing frenzy.

I fully expect Makhearne and Frost to have died in that hail of bullets. Sure, Knights Templar can withstand a lot more punishment than your average mortal, and they are augmented, but from the deaths of other Knights I assume that a good burst of high-powered assault rifle fire will kill them just as surely as mere mortals.

And even if I'm wrong, the portal collapsing is bound to have unpleasant side effects for any living beings caught up in its effect. :)

So, Makhearne, Frost and Tesla have been gunned down, the machinery that can barely contain the awesomely powerful portal is being shot to bits by those angry Romanians that are not dead, Ronsend goes fetal in a metal cabinet and then... My guess is the portal collapses. After that? The equivalent of a thermonuclear explosion that leaves a giant crater where the asylum and the village used to be? The destruction of the Earth's magnetic field? Wholesale annihilation of the planet? Or perhaps something less final, leaving Ronsend with a chance to tie up the narrative?

On one hand, I want to have a tidy resolution. On the other, I think this ambiguous ending is perfect - the world ends for Ronsend. Since he's the narrator, we'll never know what that meant for the larger world.

PS: Frost calling her weapon Mjolnir was a nice touch. And the switching from past tense to present as we reached the climactic last moments worked perfectly.

PPS: The 'Faraday' line is my (carefully-couched) best bet as to how Ronsend might survive, if he does: the metal cabinet acts as a Faraday cage while a gigantic electric discharge happens all around him, and he climbs out physically unscathed (except for his fried nanos) afterwards. We'll see how close I got. :)
 

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I'm guessing like a worldwide EMP blast and a maybe a much more destructive explosion around the site. For resolution; at minimum the leadership of Germany will almost certainly investigate around regardless.

This climax doesn't read like someone might expect it to, with a ticking clock counting down to zero and a gunfight kung-fu showdown. It comes across as more plausible and down to Earth.
 

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This is a sufficiently exciting climax that I am not sure I have anything intelligent to say at the moment, but am just waiting to see what can happen.
 

King of Men

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Ironic that Frost seems to have been killed by those she was expecting to have welcomed her as their new ruler.
Frost has betrayed, plotted against, and backstabbed so many different factions that it would be ironic almost no matter who killed her. :)
 

Director

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To all -

Here we are. This next post is the last. I'll confess to shedding a tear or two because (as you all know) I'm an old softie.
Plus, I hate to give up the stage... but with just one more post it is done.

I'll answer any questions afterward... I can't respond to your TERRIFIC feedback above since that would give too much away.

And so...

My heartfelt thanks to all of you for sticking with this. I have the best readers in AARland, and far better ones than I deserve.
 

Director

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There is a joke…

No, this is relevant. Important. Essential… There is an old joke…

At a time like this? Certainly. After all, from my point of view the world just ended. It’s not as though either of us has anything else to do so you might as well let me tell this in my own way.

So there’s an old joke - a bad one - that certain people of a certain age sometimes tell. Maybe it helps if they have a common bond of military service. It’s not always exactly the same joke…

Yes. I have to tell it. There’s no skipping it. Listen. This is important.

So the joke goes something like this:

There’s an old man telling tall tales to the youngsters. Maybe they’re pulled up around the pot-bellied stove at the General Store, come in from the rain and cold to pester the old veterans who perch there in their rockers, smoking a pipe or a cigar and sneaking a snort from a pocket flask when they think their wives and children aren’t watching. Every now and then one of them will buy some tobacco, or an apple. The storekeeper knows them all and gives them grudging welcome, keeping their tabs without expecting payment short of the Pearly Gates.

“Tell us about the War, Granpa,” one of the kids will say. And Granpa’s eyes go somewhere away for a bit, and maybe one of the other old men shifts around in his rocking chair. There’s no way he will try the truth; these kids don’t deserve to hear about the reality of war, the blood and death and mud and shit-and-fear-stinks of it all. Maybe later, when they’re grown, if one of them wants to enlist. Then Granpa might have something a bit more hard and practical to say. But not now, with kids rolling like puppies on the worn pine floor and the stove just hot enough and the snowy wind rattling the windows… not now. This calls for a special magic, one that some older folks come to know: a tale, and a tall one, of wonder and magic and foreign places and high adventure.

And so he starts to yarn about soldiers and horses, and he throws in a few Indians for flavor. Another old man ventures that he might want to talk about that runaway train, or a cattle stampede, and that gets mixed in – why not? It’s all as true as the story needs to be, no more and no less. The tale winds on a while and the storekeeper tops up the pan of cider heating on the stove – good cider, with a hard apple bite and a pinch of clove and cinnamon almost enough to curl the tongue. There is a girl – of course – and a fierce villain in foreign uniform. Might be Union blue or rebel brown, Spanish blue-and-white, British khaki-and-red or even German black-and-gray. The villain’s moustache and leer matter more than the color of his clothes, anyway, and his intentions – while never exactly spelled out – are less than honorable. Oh, and there is a scar – a fearsome thing, and a souvenir of a past in which our hero plays a major role.

So there’s a fight, or two if Granpa’s feeling feisty and isn’t ready for his nap. And the heroes are riding for their lives in front of a prairie fire, or a stampede, or trapped with their backs to the wall with all of the evilest Indians or Spaniards or somebody else drawing down their long rifles… and right there, with his heroes trapped in an inescapable trap and facing what looks like certain death…

Right there, Granpa will pause for a bit and fiddle with his pipe, scraping and packing and puffing. Or pour himself another dollop of cider and inquire politely if anyone else would care to have a drop? And this will go on until one of the kids just can’t stand it anymore and blurts out the magic phrase:

“But Granpa! You can’t stop now. You got to tell us! What happened then?"

And Granpa will laugh a little laugh and share a wink with a friend or three and say:

“Why, they killed us, of course!”

And everyone doubles up laughing, even the older kids – who have heard it all before – and then the littlest ones will join in, not that they understand but just because everyone else is so happy and the moment is just too perfect not to be a part of it.



So… we all died. Except, you see, I didn’t – quite – and like Granpa I think that does make the joke just a bit funnier. The demon that Tesla had summoned from the bowels of the Earth went up like a bomb. It was tied into the planet’s magnetic field in some way, and that went haywire too. There wasn’t much on Earth in the way of electrical devices, but radios and telephones burned, batteries exploded, dynamos melted. The effects must have been worse on the other side of the gate: our side poured out the energy, you see, but theirs took the blow.

I lived because I was inside that steel cabinet and because I had on thick-soled boots. And – to be truthful – because a miracle happened, a tiny ripple of circumstance that preserved my life when all around me was destroyed. It was very strange to wake and not be able to know the date and time, but of course of my implants were dead. It took me a long time to get out of my crumpled, half-melted iron box of salvation-and-prison, and when I did I found… well. I suppose I had best keep it dry and factual if I want to be able to finish this.

I found the cellar was collapsed and half the building overhead had fallen into it. The fury of the collapsing gate had slagged stone, melted apparatus beyond recognition, set the wooden bones of the building afire and brought it down in a heap of rubble and ash. Brittle, blackened bones and puddled metal were all that remained of Frost and Makhearne; both were half-buried under foundation stones. Of Tesla there was only one sign: a shadow burned into a steel plate. If there is a god, I think he must have smiled a little ironic smile when he did that thing.

Snow had drifted down to cover the remains of building, bodies and dreams alike. Tracks in the snow around the building spoke of someone’s presence in the recent past and the indentations of hobnails hinted that some of those observers had been military. I didn’t think they would discover much from the ruins. Given the end of the war and the widespread destruction that had just occurred I thought it might be a long time before anyone spared a second thought for a fire in an abandoned building, even when that occurred in the same town where a group of Americans went missing.

It took me weeks to walk out, circling through Poland and east Prussia. Makhearne had left caches of money and documents sprinkled around the world, so it was a minor matter for me to pass myself off as another refugee until I could establish my bona fides with the Swiss. Phillip Shea would have to remain dead but Frank Robinson could live again, wealthy and cleansed and… free. If I have said the world ended, if I joked that everyone died, well - it was from my perspective no more than the plainest truth. My past life and my love, my mission and my civilization were all gone to that place the light goes when you blow out a candle. Everything I had feared and worked against in this world – everything I had struggled toward, and everyone I had labored with – was dead and gone. That world – my world – had ended and a new world could now begin, a world without Frost’s malign influence and a world in which I could start anew.

And so I began doing the only thing I knew how to do. Slowly I made plans, recruited helpers, built and rebuilt, formed and reformed not an organization but a group of like-minded people. And why, you may ask – indeed, you must be asking, if my literary powers are of any worth at all. Why return to the struggle instead of taking a long and quiet retirement to some remote and beautiful spot? The answer is very simple.

They are still out there, that civilization that can form gates and reach across the gulf of timelines. The first time they made contact a volcano went off in their faces. The second time the entire force of their planet’s magnetic field was shorted out. Every electronic device was destroyed, every wire and magnet vaporized, entire cities set aflame and the industry and economy of a world laid low. It was that bad here; how much worse must it have been in that other place, where the gods of earth and sky combined to forge their powers into Tesla’s thunderbolt? Those others may be defeated or crippled beyond recovery… may have lost all interest in realms beyond their own, or at least sworn off reaching out to us. But I know something of humans: humans are curious, and reckless, and stubborn. I do not believe they will rest until they have had vengeance – I would not, were I in their place. And I do not believe they ever meant us well; one greets an equal with ambassadors, not soldiers and guns. They must hate us with a hatred more white-hot than any we can conceive. They are still out there… and one day they will come again. If not them then sooner or later another civilization will make contact, or we will reach out ourselves. For this we must be ready, and for that day I labor.

We are forming a new Brotherhood to prepare our people for the coming struggle. Strange new concepts must become familiar to them: time-travel, inter-dimensional gates, fission and fusion power, micro-electronics, nanotechnology, relativity and quantum physics, crystal-matrix ceremetric wafers to power neural interfaces and roll-up display screens. Personal wireless telephones, computers small enough to wear and cheap enough to be ubiquitous, digital democracy and personal information transmission networks, electronic finance and artificial intelligence… the world in fifty years will look nothing like today, and in one hundred years will be all but incomprehensible.

We will make it happen. We will make it comprehensible. We will show the world the possibilities, the promise – and the dangers – and we will both shake and shape the nations to their roots. We are the writers: we are the authors of dreams, the architects of the future, the seers of the infinites of what-may-be, the visionaries and the temple scribes in the service of Tomorrow. Together we will open the eyes of the world, fling open the million doors of possibility. By our efforts we may show our people how to be great… and show them the consequences of failure. The civilization that spawned the Knights Temporal was a magnificent Empire. But we can do better. We shall do better. We are the writers and we will tell the tale that must be told; we are the authors, and we must be heard.

Otto von Bismarck once said, “There is a special Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children and the United States of America.” He was wrong, and his error was not just in fact but false at the very heart. There was never a Special Providence to look after you, nor did you need one. There were only two men, lost and frightened and armed only with a special knowledge, doing their poor best to help you choose the right from wrong. I am very proud that – mostly – you chose the right.

Then there was only me.



And now...

There’s us.

Welcome!
 

Stuyvesant

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Maybe later, when they’re grown, if one of them wants to enlist. Then Granpa might have something a bit more hard and practical to say. But not now, with kids rolling like puppies on the worn pine floor and the stove just hot enough and the snowy wind rattling the windows… not now. This calls for a special magic, one that some older folks come to know: a tale, and a tall one, of wonder and magic and foreign places and high adventure.
Why, upon reading that, am I immediately reminded of Joe Storey? :D

It is over, and this makes me sad, inevitable though it is. Once something is around for so long, you tend to take it for granted. It'll be strange not to make the trek down to the original Victoria subforum any longer: you appear to have outlasted them all. :)

Anyway, the final entry itself. I will begin with my one teeny bit of exceedingly mild criticism and then I'll focus on the goodness.

Ronsend surviving takes a little suspension of disbelief: I mean, here we have a cataclysmic event that badly damages global civilization as we know if, that produces enough force to utterly destroy Frost's subterranean asylum lair, and yet Ronsend clambers out of his half-melted cabinet and is essentially okay (minus the dead weight in fried electronics he is now carrying inside his body). I'll notch it up to the amazing German ability to over-engineer even the simplest thing - in this case, turning a simple cabinet into essentially a bombshelter, that also happens to be EMP-proof. :)

Okay, that's enough snark. It could work - and more importantly, it did work in this story. And it served a narrative purpose.

There were several things I think you handled very well: Ronsend's earlier remark that the world ended, while not literally true, is certainly true in that everything he's ever known or worked for, is now gone. There is a sense of loss, a loss of moorings, that you manage to convey in those few words: no more Anne, no more Makhearne, no more Frost or Messoune, no more Knights Temporal. What is there left for Ronsend?

Which brings us to the continued menace of the kilted Parachronic Romanians (anything in a kilt must automatically be considered a menace to something. Apologies to loki). Even though Frost and her schemes are dead and buried, another threat still might exist. A threat possibly worse than Frost ever posed. It is a grim prospect.

But then, with Ronsend's new mission, you actually manage to instill a sense of optimism into the ending of this tale. In spite of the worldwide havoc wreaked. In spite of the continued lurking threat. And then you actually tie in the use of 'A Special Providence' as your title, and it's A) nothing I ever would have expected and B) it fits perfectly:

There was never a Special Providence to look after you, nor did you need one. There were only two men, lost and frightened and armed only with a special knowledge, doing their poor best to help you choose the right from wrong. I am very proud that – mostly – you chose the right.

Then there was only me.



And now...

There’s us.

Welcome!
And those last three lines? An incredibly optimistic, upbeat ending to a story that grew very dark indeed at its climax.

Wonderful.

Take a bow, Maestro. :)
 

J. Passepartout

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That's an end of an era, indeedy. Probably set this world back fifty years? Okay, maybe not that far back, but this is going to be something to remember for the folks who are still around. Hard to believe it's over. Anyone want to start a fund to pay for a sequel?
 

Director

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Stuyvesant - Refer to Joe Storey? Goodness, whyever would I do that? :blush: Any similarity is entirely due to Joe's great writing.

And the part about the storekeeper putting it on their tab and not expecting to be paid... Nope. Entirely coincidental. :)

Speaking of old times... I joined 13-08-2002, so I'm celebrating a decade on the forum. Seems impossible that I've been writing 'Providence' for more than half that time...

I do take your point about Ronsend's survival. He does call it a 'small miracle', and stranger things do happen all the time. From my perspective it was important to have someone present to witness the end - and survive to tell about it. So while it may be a bit of a hand-wavy authorial miracle I think it works best to have a familiar character explain how it all ties together.

My original proposed ending was to have the story end with Ronsend saying, "And now there's only me." But on reflection I thought this ending worked better, and so it is done.

J. Passepartout - with the near-death of narrative fiction on the forum I think this may be one of if not the last of the dinosaurs. Certainly it is the only sign of life in the Vic1 forum.

As to a sequel... stranger things have happened, I suppose. But I have two novel-sized ideas sketched and ready, so I think I will concentrate on them next.
 

Incognitia

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Maestro is definitely the word. That was a stunning ending to an epic tale, leaving us with a sense of possibility, and a sense of threat. It was right, I think, that Frost, Makhearne and Messoune all be gone, but also right that someone should survive who knows what has happened, and what is coming.
Thank you Director, for sharing this with us.
 

loki100

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I see no need for detailed comments on that last update. It works, you've used a bit of a deus ex machina but that allows you over a narrative hump. The ending lines, as Stuyvesant has said, are awesome.

Overall I was very late to this party, I used to read the occasional post and really enjoy it but the wider story arc confused me. Anyway the writing is of a calibre that I went back to page 1 and got on with the reading ... and it was a bit disappointing when I caught up (as I no longer had my own private novel to read at my own speed).

Its an awesome piece of work, a real insight (for someone like me) into 19C US history, peopled by characters, both real and constructed, who you flesh out to the level needed for the story. I think that encapsulates one reason this works so well, you have a very deft feeling for the level of detail. Sometimes small things are given the foreground and at other times major events are just set in a very matter of fact way - a good eg from towards the end was the world with the needle guns. That is an image I can't shake off, but it was introduced and completed in a couple of sentences embedded in a post about a fast, furious and very personal fight.

I have started to read some of your earlier work, I need to get my fix from somewhere, but to complete, I'll endorse incognita:

Maestro is definitely the word. ... .
Thank you Director, for sharing this with us.
sums up my views to perfection.