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Through Fiery Trials, Snippet #1

This fascinating series is a combination of historical seafaring, swashbuckling adventure, and high technological science-fiction. Join us in a discussion!
Through Fiery Trials, Snippet #1
Post by runsforcelery   » Fri Jun 15, 2018 4:12 pm

First Space Lord

Posts: 2425
Joined: Sun Aug 09, 2009 10:39 am
Location: South Carolina

Guys, I have been off busy doing Real Life™ kinds of things for a while, which has kept me off the forums. I'm not sure how consistently I'm going to be able to get back to them even now. There's a lot of traveling on the schedule in the next month or so, and then we come up on the signing tour for Uncompromising Honor.

One of those Real Life™ things I have been doing, however, was to complete the manuscript for Through Fiery Trials, the next book in the Safehold series. So, I thought I would drop in and give you a snippet. The book was actually delivered around the end of May, because I wound up wrestling a lot of alligators trying to move the story forward far enough without doing half of it in flashback. I'd actually done about 80,000-90,000 words of the initial draft before I realized it just wasn't going to work. So, I had to drop back, rethink, and restructure, and I'm actually pretty satisfied with the way it finally came out. It did mean that the book was late being delivered, however, and it was only after I delivered it that I discovered it was scheduled for a January release. I'd been under the impression that it had been moved back to March. So Tor is going to have a harder time getting this through production than I had anticipated, for which I apologize to all concerned.

In the meantime, though, here's the first snippet. It's a bit longer than I usually post, but that's because part of it covers material that — well, you'll see why I figured you needed at least a little extra on the end.

Take care, all.


An Introduction to the History of Safehold

In 2091, the sublight colony ship Galileo established the first extra-solar colony in the Alpha Centauri System.

In 2123, Doctor Samantha Adenauer and her team developed the first practical hyperdrive.

In 2350, the Malachai System, with a population of 436,000, became the fifteenth voting member system of the Terran Federation.

In 2367, the survey ship Adenauer discovered the first evidence of an advanced nonhuman species. Christened the Alphanes, they had achieved a three-star civilization, their technology had been substantially inferior to humanity's current level . . . and they had been exterminated in a massive interstellar war. The scientific community's majority view was that the Alphanes, who'd clearly been a militant species, had destroyed themselves. A minority, however, led by anthropologist Anton Sugawara, argued that the evidence suggested the Alphane civilization had been destroyed by an external force.

Sugawara was pilloried by the press — which christened his putative interstellar predators the Gbaba — for his paranoia. No one in government took the ridiculous notion seriously . . . but the Federation began expanding its navy — which had been little more than a police and rescue force — and building genuine warships. Not that anyone really believed in genocidal alien menaces, of course. Everyone in government was very clear about that! Still, one had to take some precautions, even if it was solely to assuage the dread of those who might have been frightened by Sugawara's absurd theories.

Everyone in government was very clear about that, too.

In 2370 Anton Sugawara was very quietly named the first cabinet-level Navy Minister and naval expansion was even more quietly — but enormously — accelerated.

In 2378, in the Crestwell System, the heavy cruiser TFNS Swiftsure discovered Sugawara had been right.

* * * * * * * * * *

Swiftsure was destroyed with all hands. The outpost in Crestwell was destroyed. Within seven months, every living human in three of the Federation's fourteen major extra-solar star systems was dead.

Sugawara's navy fought back hard, stopped the incursion, and — over the next couple of years — retook the lost star systems and drove the Gbaba back into their own space. Until, in 2381, in what came to be known as the Starfall System, Admiral Ellen Thomas's First Fleet, the TFN's major combat force, discovered that all humanity had seen so far were the Gbaba's light frontier forces. Now the real Gbaba navy had mobilized, and the result was massacre.

First Fleet's tattered survivors carried the warning home . . . and arrived upon the wings of Apocalypse.

The Federation had begun quietly fortifying its star systems at the same time it created its new navy. That process had been driven with frantic speed from the moment of Swiftsure's destruction, and any star system made an awesome fortress. But no fortification could stand against the forces the Gbaba were willing to commit, the losses they were prepared to accept.

In 2406, the Federation's last major extra-solar star system was overwhelmed.

In 2411, all human population enclaves outside the Sol System's asteroid belt were withdrawn to the "Final Redoubt" inside the orbit of Mars.

In 2421, the last surviving Federation fleet launched a desperate effort to break through the Gbaba blockade. It was hunted down. Its units were destroyed to the last ship.

In 2430, the Gbaba cracked the Final Redoubt and all human life in the Sol System ceased to exist.

In 3249, a young woman named Nimue Alban awakened in a cavern on a planet named Safehold . . . and discovered that she'd been dead for 828 years.

* * * * * * * * * *

Lieutenant Commander Alban had no memory of how she'd come to that cavern, but Commodore Pei Kau-yung, her mentor and commanding officer, had left a recording to explain. The fleet which had died in 2421 had actually succeeded in its true mission, which had been to cover Operation Ark, the Federation's last-ditch effort to establish a hidden colony among the distant stars where humanity might survive. Commodore Pei had commanded the colony ships' close escort when the rest of the Navy deliberately drew the Gbaba pursuit in upon itself and fought to the last man and woman to conceal the colony fleet's existence.

Nimue Alban had volunteered to serve on that sacrificial fleet's flagship, giving up her opportunity to accompany her commodore and his beloved wife, Pei Shan-wei, the scientist assigned to lead Operation Ark's terraforming fleet, to the colony which had become Safehold. And she'd done so because they and a core of their colleagues in Operation Ark's command crew had come to believe that Eric Langhorne, Operation Ark's senior administrator, intended to violate Operation Ark's mission plan.

That mission plan had called for the colony to abandon advanced technology for 300 years, long enough — according to all of the Federation's projections, based on forty years of combat and analysis of Gbaba operational patterns — for the Gbaba to complete any scouting sweeps of the region in which the colony might lie. The command crew was to preserve humanity's knowledge and technology in small, carefully concealed enclaves. They and their immediate children were to be the custodians of that knowledge until the threat of discovery had passed, and then they were to restore that technology — and, above all, the warning of the Gbaba's existence — to the colonists' descendants.

But, as Kau-yung and Shan-wei had feared, Langhorne — traumatized by the brutal destruction of his entire species, obsessed by the knowledge that the eight million colonists in cryo-suspension aboard his forty mammoth transports represented every surviving human being — rejected that plan. He concluded that only the permanent renunciation of advanced technology could prevent humankind from someday venturing once again into space and, inevitably, encountering the Gbaba once more. And so, while Pei Shan-wei terraformed Safehold into humanity's new home, and while Pei Kau-yung and his handful of warships guarded the terraforming fleet, Eric Langhorne and Adorée Bédard, his chief psychologist — in hiding with the main fleet, ten light-years from Safehold — reprogrammed those colonists' memories. They erased all knowledge of any previous life. They programmed the colonists to believe that the moment in which they first opened their eyes on Safehold was the very first day of creation . . . and that the command crew were archangels, sent by God to educate them into the lives He had designed them to live.

The Peis were horrified but not taken unaware. Shan-wei and her fellows in the Alexandria Enclave, on Safehold's southernmost continent, fought Langhorne openly, arguing against his policy, vowing to follow the original mission plan. Aware that the Alexandrians were heavily outnumbered in the command crew staff Langhorne had stacked with people as traumatized — and determined to kill technology — as himself, she and her husband separated after a violent public disagreement in which he ostensibly accepted Langhorne's new plan. They became estranged, embittered opponents for the next fifty-seven years, with Shan-wei retreating to Alexandria and Kau-yung remaining Langhorne's chief military advisor.

In order to kill technology once and for all, Langhorne, Bédard, and Maruyama Chihiro, Langhorne's Assistant Administrator, created the Holy Writ, the seminal scripture of the Church of God Awaiting. The Writ consisted of books by the various "Archangels" which provided religious explanations specifically designed to prevent the reemergence of the scientific method. In addition, it contained the Proscriptions — the list of specifically proscribed knowledge and a religious limitation only to technologies powered by wind, water, or muscle.

Shan-wei and her supporters believed it would be impossible to prevent technology from someday reemerging, whatever constraints Langhorne and Bédard might have created. Although they'd retreated to Alexandria and outwardly accepted Langhorne's legal authority, they continued to work quietly towards the original mission plan and its goals. However, they also feared they would ultimately be forcibly constrained to accept Langhorne's anti-technology policies. What they did not expect was for them and everyone in the Alexandria Enclave to be murdered in a kinetic strike which obliterated the enclave and transformed the small continent on which it had been located into Armageddon Reef, the most desolate and accursed location on all of Safehold. Heartbroken and furious — and determined, above all, that Langhorne must not succeed in erasing all memory of the Gbaba — Pei Kau-yung carried a miniaturized nuclear device to his next meeting with Langhorne and his council . . . and detonated it.

* * * * * * * * * *

Alexandria's destruction had occurred 750 standard years (824 Safeholdian years) before Nimue awoke in that cavern and discovered the reason she had volunteered to die. Lieutenant Commander Alban had been the only member of Commodore Pei's staff who possessed a PICA: a Personality Integrated Cybernetic Avatar. In essence, a PICA was a robotic/android body, many times as strong as any human, virtually indestructible without the use of heavy crew-served weapons, and effectively immortal. A PICA's user could upload his or her personality into it for dangerous extreme sports, for example, then download the PICA's experiences into his or her own memory afterward.

Full capability PICAs such as Nimue's were rare and extremely expensive; hers had been a gift from her billionaire father, bestowed upon a daughter he'd known would die before she was forty. By leaving her PICA aboard Commodore Pei's flagship while she transferred to the sacrificial covering force she had removed it from any equipment inventory Langhorne might have accessed, and Shan-wei's terraforming crew had excavated the cavern complex in which that PICA had been hidden beneath the roots of Mount Olympus, Safehold's tallest mountain. From the beginning, that PICA had been intended as the Peis' hidden weapon. Nimue's mission was to ensure that the Gbaba were not, in fact, forgotten, despite anything Langhorne's anti-technology plan might accomplish.

Nimue herself had no memory of having volunteered. There'd been no time to record an updated personality which would have remembered, and so in a very real sense, the Nimue Alban who awakened had not volunteered. It never occurred to her to reject her mission, however . . . even though the challenges she faced were more daunting than anything the original Nimue could possibly have imagined.

The Church of God Awaiting had survived. Pei Kau-yung's final attack had, indeed, killed Langhorne and the majority of his administrative council's "Archangels." Unfortunately, it had not killed them all. Maruyama Chihiro and Androcles Schueler had survived, and the bitter fighting against the "lesser angels" who had supported Shan-wei, even after her death, had produced a Holy Writ even more repressive than Langhorne's original. Safehold's population had increased enormously, to well over a billion, but Mother Church controlled all those millions upon millions, and her authority was unquestioned.

Unlike murdered Terra, Safehold had no atheists, not even agnostics, in large part because the eight million "Adams" and "Eves" who had awakened on the Day of Creation were all literate. Hundreds of thousands of them left personal accounts, journals, diaries, and every single word of the Testimonies supported the Holy Writ in its totality. There were no disputed texts, no breaks in aWritten historical record which covered everything since — literally — the beginning of time. And every word of the Testimonie s was a completely honest — and accurate — account of what had happened, left by eye witnesses to the events they described.

Not only did the secular historical record support the Writ, but Mother Church controlled all education on the planet, and the Inquisition decided what was taught. And if education proved insufficient, there was always coercion. The Book of Schueler specifically required the Inquisition to mercilessly hunt down and punish heresy or apostasy in any form. The gruesome tortures it prescribed as a portion of that Punishment were hideous beyond belief.

And, to make Nimue's challenge complete, the kinetic bombardment system which had destroyed Armageddon Reef remained active in orbit and apparently — or at least possibly — in communication with a high-tech presence buried under the Temple, the Church of God Awaiting's equivalent of the Vatican or Mecca, located in the heart of Safehold's largest city.

Nimue possessed some advantages, in addition to the capabilities of her PICA. Shan-wei had administratively "lost" or "expended" enough hardware to provide a limited manufacturing base, a supply of advanced weapons and other tools, the memory core of a major Federation library, and the services of a tactical (if none too bright) AI named Owl, in the caverns she christened "Nimue's Cave."

It wasn't much, set against the scope of her mission.

After evaluating her resources and familiarizing herself with Safehold, she concluded that she must somehow attack and destroy Safehold's faith in the Archangels and the Holy Writ. She had no way of knowing what was buried beneath the Temple, but if it was any sort of monitoring system, it could easily use the kinetic bombardment platforms to destroy any threat to theWrit's anti-technology prohibitions, which meant she could not openly use advanced technology.

Safehold's technological capabilities were a strange mix of the 15th century and techniques from much later periods of history, courtesy of instructions the "Archangels" had recorded in the Holy Writ. Those techniques were applied by guilds of skilled artisans in small shops, not in vast factories, and they had been shorn of all scientific explanation when they were recorded. Like the surprisingly capable Safeholdian practice of medicine, they had become religious instructions delivered directly from God through the Archangels, and eight centuries of experience had validated them because they always worked exactly as theWrit said they would. That meant they provided building blocks, starting points, from which she might begin. But it also meant she must operate only within those allowable parameters and slowly, gradually push their boundaries until their expansion eroded the Holy Writ's foundations to the point of collapse.

And that must, inevitably, provoke a religious war against the Church's authority. As a historian, she knew what that might entail, and her heart quailed at the thought. As the only individual who remembered the Gbaba, she knew she had no choice.

Her study of Safehold had focused in on the island kingdom of Charis. Charis was the smallest of Safehold's major kingdoms, but it was extremely wealthy, a nation of mariners and merchants, of entrepreneurs and skilled artisans. Despite the Proscriptions' limitations, Charis stood on the very brink of an industrial revolution — powered, like Terra's own, by waterwheels — albeit without the critical ability to question received authority or look for scientific explanations for processes. In addition, Charis, ruled by the Ahrmahk Dynasty, supported a tradition in which individual rights and freedoms — within the limitations of the Writ, of course — were strongly protected.

And it was a kingdom in which, if Nimue was not mistaken, some of those forbidden questions were on the brink of being asked.

* * * * * * * * * *

After identifying Charis, Nimue reconfigured her PICA to become Seijin Merlin Athrawes. The seijins were legendary figures, the "warrior saints" of the War Against the Fallen. They were warriors, teachers, mentors, and tradition — and the Testimonies — ascribed superhuman abilities to them, which would provide cover for "Merlin's" use of his PICA's capabilities.

Merlin introduced himself to the Ahrmahks by saving nineteen-year-old Crown Prince Cayleb from assassination and then offering his services to Cayleb's father, King Haarahld.

The king was a man beset. Charis' wealth and enormous merchant fleet had evoked growing resentment and envy among many of the other realms of Safehold for years. Now it seemed clear those other realms were marching towards open war against Charis . . . with the support of Mother Church, and — especially — of Grand Inquisitor Zhaspahr Clyntahn, who clearly distrusted Charisian orthodoxy. King Haarahld saw Merlin's arrival as a heaven-sent advantage in that looming conflict. Among other things, Seijin Merlin "saw visions," courtesy of the highly stealthy reconnaissance remotes he could deploy from orbit. And he had a vast store of knowledge he could impart — none of which quite violated the Proscriptions — from the reintroduction of arabic numerals and algebra to the invention of the cotton gin, spinning jenny, and a new design for cannon-armed sailing warships to replace the oared galleys of Safehold. Before Merlin's arrival, Haarahld had seen only death, ruin, and the brutal subjugation of his people. Now he saw at least a chance of survival, despite the enormous odds against Charis.

Merlin warned Haarahld that he had his own mission. "I respect you, and in many ways, I admire you," he told the king. "But my true loyalty? That belongs not to you, or to Cayleb, but to the future. I will use you, if I can, Your Majesty. Use you to create the day in which no man owns another, no man thinks men born less nobly than he are cattle or sheep."

Haarahld Ahrmahk accepted that warning . . . and Merlin Athrawes' service.

* * * * * * * * * *

Over the next nine Safeholdian years, Merlin and King Haarahld — and after Haarahld's death in battle, King Cayleb — fought shoulder to shoulder. Haarahld died protecting his people before Merlin ever discovered that he and the Bishop of Tellesberg, Maikel Staynair, had known the truth about the "Archangels" from the very beginning, thanks to the Monastery of Saint Zherneau, where a man named Jeremiah Knowles, one of the original "Adams" whose loyalty had been to Pei Shan-wei, had left a journal . . . and copies of books which predated the Creation. Merlin learned that only after Haarahld's death, only after Cayleb had assumed the crown. And only after Maikel Staynair — with Cayleb's unwavering support — had proclaimed the Church of Charis, based upon the defiant proposition that every human being had the right — indeed, the responsibility — to decide for himself or herself what he or she believed.

Even then, Staynair dared not share the truth of the monumental lie behind the Holy Writ. Safehold might be prepared to entertain a schism within the Church, so long as that schism was aimed at reforming the obvious corruption of the Temple and, especially, the Group of Four, the quartet of Vicars who controlled it. The planet wasn't prepared — couldn't be prepared — to accept open, incontrovertible heresy against the ironclad authority of the Writ and the Testimonies. Charis must fight an incremental campaign to reach that point . . . and first and foremost, it must survive.

It did. Over the course of nine brutal, savage years of war – a war which saw armies millions of men strong, fleets counting hundreds of artillery-armed galleons, and unspeakable atrocities and extermination camps in the name of Zhaspahr Clyntahn's twisted vision of God — it did. It grew from a single small island nation to the most powerful single realm in Safeholdian history. It grew from a kingdom ruled by a young, untested king to a vast empire, governed jointly by Emperor Cayleb Ahrmahk and his beloved wife, Empress Sharleyan, the Queen of Chisholm, who voluntarily embraced Cayleb's cause and made it her own before they had even met. It grew through sacrifice, grew because it was protected by men and women prepared to die where they stood in its defense. And it grew because the Church of Charis offered the freedom of conscience that demanded human beings decide what they truly believed, what they were prepared to die to defend.

But it did not destroy the Church of God Awaiting or discredit the Holy Writ.

Perhaps it might have done those things if not for Rhobair Duchairn, one of the Group of Four. For all its lies, all the brutality of the Book of Schueler, there was an enormous amount of good in the Writ, and it taught that the Church was the servant of God, the shepherd and protector of godly men and women, charged to love and nourish them, not abuse them in the name of personal power. And brought face to face with the carnage, the devastation, the proof of Zhaspahr Clyntahn's cruelty and quest for absolute power, Rhobair Duchairn remembered that. He remembered he was a priest and a servant of God, and in the end — in the full knowledge of the hideous way he would die if Clyntahn decided to remove him — Duchairn and a few allies organized and then led an uprising which overthrew Clyntahn and drove the Grand Inquisitor from Zion . . . and directly into the hands of Merlin Athrawes.

Clyntahn was tried and executed for the millions of murders he had ordered, but Rhobair Duchairn — destined to be known to Safeholdian history as "Saint Rhobair" and "the Good Shepherd" — accepted the Church of Charis' demands. He promised to truly reform the Church of God Awaiting, and in the face of that promise, Charis and its allies could not justify continuing the war. The inner circle of Cayleb's and Sharleyan's allies might know the truth about Langhorne and the "Archangels," but they still dared not proclaim it, and Duchairn had promised all of the reforms they'd sought.

And so the war ended with just a few . . . unresolved issues. Like what to do about the bombardment platform still in orbit. What to do about whatever the high-tech presence under the Temple might be. How to reconstitute peaceful international relations on a planet which had torn itself apart in bitter religious strife. How to continue the industrialization process which had given Charis the war-fighting advantage it had needed to prevail without violating the Proscriptions limitations.

And, of course, what to do about the Archangels' promise to "return in glory" a thousand years after the Day of Creation.

* * * * * * * * * *

Merlin Athrawes and his allies and friends had won their war against the Group of Four, but not their struggle against the Church of God Awaiting's fundamental doctrine.

That promised to be just a bit more difficult . . . .

— from The Life of Merlin Athrawes, Zhakleen Wylsynn,
Tellesberg, Royal University Press, 4217.

Year 0f God 890

Nimue's Cave,
The Mountain of Light,
Episcopate of St. Ehrnesteen,
The Temple Lands.

"No matter how many times Owl and I look at it, it keeps coming up the same," Nahrmahn Baytz said. "Something's obviously gone wrong with Langhorne and Chihiro's master plan. We just don't know what, and that's what may kill us all in the end. Well, kill everyone else, I suppose, given your and my . . . ambiguous status."

The hologram of the rotund little Emeraldian prince who'd been dead for almost five years sat on the other side of the enormous round table. Nimue Alban (who'd been dead far longer than he had) had instructed Owl to manufacture that table — and make it round — even before she'd reconfigured her PICA into Merlin Athrawes for the very first time. Now Merlin sat tipped back in the reclining chair at the head of the table with his boot heels parked inelegantly on the polished surface and waved a beer stein at the hologram.

"If it was easy, anyone could play and we wouldn't need you," he observed, and Nahrmahn chuckled a bit sourly.

"I don't think most people would object if it wasn't easy as long as they knew what the rules were!" he said.

"Nahrmahn, you spent your entire adult life playing the "Great Game.' Now you're going to complain about not having rules?"

"There's a difference between creatively breaking the rules and not knowing what the damned things are in the first place!" Nahrmahn shot back. "The former is a case of polished and elegant strategies. The latter is a case of floundering around in the dark."

"Point," Merlin conceded.

He sipped from the stein in his right hand (a PICA had no need for alcohol, but he liked the flavor) and checked his internal chronometer. Fourteen minutes yet until the "inner circle" convened by com to discuss his and Nahrmahn's recommendations. Finding a time when people in every time zone of the planet could coordinate com conversations without anyone noticing they were sitting in a corner talking to themselves was a nontrivial challenge, and usually only a relatively small percentage of the entire — and growing — inner circle could be "present." More of them than usual would be making it tonight, however, and he wished the two of them had been able to come up with something more . . . proactive to share with them.

"I'm going to call it the 'Nahrmahn Plan,' you know," he said now, smiling crookedly at the electronic ghost of his friend.

"Hey! Why do I get the blame?"

"Because you're our designated Schemer-in-Chief. If there's skulduggery afoot, your foot's usually in it up to the knee, or at least the ankle. And because I believe in giving credit where it's due."

"And because you think the uncertainties built into its foundation comport poorly with your status as the all-knowing, ever-prepared Seijin Merlin?"

"Well, of course, if you're going to be tacky about it."

Nahrmahn chuckled again, but he also shook his head.

"I just wish there weren't so many complete unknowns. Especially given what we do know. For example, we know the bombardment system's still up there, we know its maintenance systems are still operable, we've proved there's a two-way com link between it and something under the Temple, and we know its automated defenses took out the probes Owl sent towards it right after you woke up and started flailing around in your ignorance."

"Hey!" Merlin protested with a pained expression.

"Well, you did!" Nahrmahn shook his head again. "If whatever's missing in the command loop hadn't been missing, how do you think it would've responded to the evidence of a competing source of high-tech goodies? You're just damned lucky the system never even noticed, beyond swatting the pesky flies buzzing around its platforms!"

"All right," Merlin conceded. "That's fair."

"Thank you." Nahrmahn sniffed. "Now, as I was saying, we know all of that, but why in God's name did Chihiro leave it set up that way? Operating so . . . half-arsed? Why isn't it doing anything about all the steam engines and blast furnaces we've strewn across the planet? That's got to be a flare-lit tipoff that technology is reemerging, so why no kinetic bombardments? Why don't Charis and Emerald look like Armageddon Reef?"

"Because it's looking for electricity?" Merlin suggested. "I've always thought it's significant that the Book of Jwo-jeng specifically anathematizes electricity whereas the Proscriptions are defined in terms of what's allowable. They don't say say 'You can't do A, B, or C;' they say 'You can't do anything besides A or B.' But not about electricity. And in addition to what she had to say about it, Chihiro says 'You shall not profane nor lay impious hands upon the power the Lord your God bestowed upon his servant Langhorne.'" His lips curled in distaste as he quoted from the Book of Chihiro. "That's why I've always assumed electricity would almost have to be a red line as far as any automated system under the Temple was concerned."

"And I tend to agree with you. But don't forget your own point — Chihiro anathematized it in terms of the 'Rakurai' Langhorne used to punish Shan-wei for her defiance of God's law. Lightning's sacred, unlike wind, water, or muscle power, so its use in any way is expressly forbidden."

"But Chihiro goes on to specifically describe electricity, not just lightning," Merlin pointed out. "People may call the damned things rakurai fish, but they don't flash like rakurai bugs. They just shock the hell out of anything that threatens them! But Chihiro uses them as a "mortal avatar" of Langhorne's "Holy Rakurai" placed on earth to remind humans of the awesome power entrusted to him by God. That's why theWrit says rakurai fish are sacred in the eyes of God, but where's the 'lightning bolt' in their case? He flat out tells people they have the same power as the Rakurai, and he didn't have to. For that matter, theWrit even talks about static electricity and links that to Langhorne's Rakurai, too." It was his turn to shake his head. "There's got to be a reason that Chihiro gassed on about it that long and that thoroughly, and the most likely one was to make damned sure no one even thought about fooling around with it."

"I said I agree with you, and there's no way in hell I want us playing around with electricity, because you may well be right. That could be the one-step-too-far that triggers some sort of auto response. I'm just saying any sort of threat analysis looking for the emergence of 'dangerous' technology should already have been triggered even without electricity. And that I don't understand why someone as paranoid as Langhorne — or, especially, Chihiro — didn't set up that threat analysis."

"Unless he did and the system's just broken," Merlin suggested.

"Which certainly seems to be what's happening, yes." Nahrmahn's avatar stood and began pacing around the conference room, apparently oblivious to the fact that its feet were at least an inch above the floor. "The problem is that it seems to be the only part of the system that's broken. I wish we could get a sensor array inside the Temple, but everything we can see from the outside — and all of the stories about the routine 'miracles" that go on inside it — seem to confirm that everything else is working just fine, even if no one has a clue how. So is the system really broken? And if it is, is there something we might do that could reset it? The last thing we want to do is turn it back on if it's gotten itself switched off somehow!"

"Nahrmahn, we've been over this — what, a dozen times? Two dozen?" Merlin said patiently. "Of course there may be an 'on button' we don't know a thing about. But whatever it might be, we obviously haven't hit it yet. And you're right, we've been scattering stuff all over Safehold for nine or ten years now. So it doesn't look like sheer scale's the critical factor. The threshold has to be something qualitative, not quantitative. Assuming there is a threshold, of course."

"Oh?" Nahrmahn paused in his pacing, hands folded behind him, and raised an eyebrow at the far taller seijin. "Are you suggesting we might assume there isn't one?"

"Of course not!" Merlin rolled his eyes. "I'm just saying it would appear we can go on doing what we're currently doing without getting blown up for our pains. And there are a lot more innovations we can introduce without going beyond water, steam, hydraulics, and pneumatics."

"I'll agree that that's most probably true," Nahrmahn said after a moment. "Whether it is or not, we have to assume it is or sit around with our thumbs up our arses without getting a damned thing done, anyway, and the clock's ticking."

"Damn, I wish we could get into the Key," Merlin sighed, and Nahrmahn snorted harshly in agreement.

The Key of Schueler was the most maddening clue they had — or didn't have, actually — about Safehold's future. According to the Wylsynn family tradition, the Key had been left by the Archangel Schueler as both the repository of his inspirational message to the family he'd established as the special guardians of Mother Church and as a weapon to be used by the Church in its time of greatest need. What it actually was was a memory module: a two-inch-diameter sphere of solid molecular circuitry which could have contained the contents of every book ever written on Safehold. What it actually did contain, aside from the recorded hologram of Androcles Schueler delivering his exhortation to the Church's guardians, remained a mystery. Owl, the artificial intelligence who resided in Nimue's Cave's computers along with Nahrmahn's electronic personality, had determined that at least one of the files tucked away inside it contained over twelve petabytes of data, but no one had a clue what was in it and the Key's security protocols precluded accessing it without the password no one possessed.

It was entirely possible that the answer to every question facing them was contained inside the Key.

And they couldn't get at it.

"That would be nice, for a lot of reasons," Nahrmahn agreed. "Especially if the damned thing would tell us exactly what the hell Schueler meant by 'a thousand years'!"

Merlin grunted, because Androcles Schueler's promise to the Wylsynns that the "Archangels" would return "in a thousand years" was the true crux of their problem. If they weren't coming back, the time pressure came off and the inner circle could take however long it needed to find the right solution. But if someone — or something — actually was coming back to check on the progress of Eric Langhorne's grand scheme, whatever they or it might be would undoubtedly command the kinetic bombardment system, at a minimum.

That could be . . . bad.

Of course, there was no way of knowing if the Wylsynn family tradition that he'd promised anything of the sort was accurate. No one had been going to write something like that down, so it had been passed purely orally for almost nine centuries, and a few little details — like the password for the Key, for example, assuming the Wylsynns had ever known it — had gotten lost along the way. No one was certain if Schueler had meant that he and the other "archangels," themselves would return — although that seemed unlikely, since most of them had been dead even before he recorded his message — or if something else would return. Or where whatever it was would return from, for that matter, although given all of those active power sources in the Temple, Merlin knew where he expected it to come from.

And had he meant the return of whoever or whatever was coming back would occur a thousand years after the Day of Creation when the first Adams and Eves had awakened here on Safehold? Or had he meant from the time he left the Key, at the end of the War Against the Fallen? Mother Church had begun counting years from her victory in the against the Fallen, but the war hadn't ended until seventy-plus Safeholdian years after the Day of Creation. So, if Schueler had meant a thousand years after Creation, he'd been talking about sometime around the middle of July of 915. If he'd meant a thousand years from the time he left the Key with the Wylsynns'distant ancestor, he'd been talking about the year 996 or so. Or he could simply have been talking about the year 1000, a thousand years after the start of the Church's post-Jihad calendar.

So we have fifteen years . . . or ninety-six . . . or a hundred and ten, Merlin thought now. Nothing like a little ambiguity to liven up the day.

"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
Re: Through Fiery Trials, Snippet #1
Post by mhicks   » Fri Jun 15, 2018 4:22 pm

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:o OMG!! The Snippets Have Started :D :D :D
Re: Through Fiery Trials, Snippet #1
Post by ksandgren   » Fri Jun 15, 2018 9:46 pm

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Thank You RFC! Snippets!
Re: Through Fiery Trials, Snippet #1
Post by NervousEnergy   » Sat Jun 16, 2018 12:11 am

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At last!!
Re: Through Fiery Trials, Snippet #1
Post by PlaysWithBees   » Sat Jun 16, 2018 12:15 am

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Let the feeding frenzy begin!
Re: Through Fiery Trials, Snippet #1
Post by isaac_newton   » Sat Jun 16, 2018 4:16 am

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PlaysWithBees wrote:YUMMMMMMMMMM!!!

Let the feeding frenzy begin!

YAY :-)
Re: Through Fiery Trials, Snippet #1
Post by shayvaan   » Sat Jun 16, 2018 6:39 am

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One ,minor problem though.

The date: November YoG 890 is at the START of the first war, which ended with the execution of Clyntahn in February YoG 899.

BTW the times he gives at the end of the snippet, support either November YoG 899 or 900, depending on how you round it. :D
Re: Through Fiery Trials, Snippet #1
Post by Joat42   » Sat Jun 16, 2018 8:53 am

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shayvaan wrote:Yaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyy!

One ,minor problem though.

The date: November YoG 890 is at the START of the first war, which ended with the execution of Clyntahn in February YoG 899.

BTW the times he gives at the end of the snippet, support either November YoG 899 or 900, depending on how you round it. :D

Uhm yeah... Nahrman died during the summer of 895 so having his hologram interacting with Merlin in 890 means we either have time travel going on or it's a typo.

Luckily this isn't Star Trek so the latter is the likely cause. :lol:

Jack of all trades and destructive tinkerer.

Anyone who have simple solutions for complex problems is a fool.
Re: Through Fiery Trials, Snippet #1
Post by shayvaan   » Sat Jun 16, 2018 11:03 am

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Joat42 wrote:Uhm yeah... Nahrman died during the summer of 895 so having his hologram interacting with Merlin in 890 means we either have time travel going on or it's a typo.

Luckily this isn't Star Trek so the latter is the likely cause. :lol:

Lol, I mainly noticed it because I happen to be rereading OAR at the moment :lol:
Re: Through Fiery Trials, Snippet #1
Post by PeterZ   » Sat Jun 16, 2018 5:37 pm

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One assumes this is the year 900 and the 890 is a typo. Furthermore, David is telegraphing the Gbabawithh either be defeated/continuing fighting in1,000 years or humanity has survived without re-engaging the Gbaba in another war. Either way Safehold and Telesberg survives 1,000 years.

One rather doubts a Safehold 1,000 years in the future writing about Merlin Athrawes hasn't srpassed the Terran Federation in technology. That suggests they have also surpassed the last known Gbaba technology. The only question remaining is just how big the Gbaba Empire actually is? A large enough empire can survive aa modest technological deficit. That advantage needs to be massive to overcome a truly huge population base. Under those circumstances, it would take time to defeat a massive number of Imperial Gbaba worlds.

The story appears to boil own to who survives Safehold's progression beyond the CoGA.

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