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The forges of N'yeschlass began their beat at dawn, every day without fail. Things had changed since we began.

The town had never been officially named. The name had grown from the unofficial motto of what my wife and I and the original group of refugees cowering in the jungle had begun not quite twenty Imperial years ago. The demonic tongue of Calmena had no word for freedom. N'yeschlass translated literally as "no slaves." It was a promise to all - come to us and be free. It didn't appeal to everyone, as it included freedom to fail and freedom to starve, but those were simply the terms of life everywhere on Calmena. In the portions run by the fractal demons, slaves were eaten when they began to show signs of aging. Where the pseudo-feudal human agaani held sway, grinding poverty and recurrent famines were almost as brutal. Only in N'yeschlass and its confederated territory was there a significant chance of a human being alive on what an Earther like me would consider their fiftieth birthday.

I still worked my smithy a couple hours per day. It had seen upgrades since the day we'd built it - it was probably the equal of a mid-19th century forge on Earth now. But these days, the metal was mined out of the Collision Range and I didn't have to pretend to cart it in while pulling most of it out of a converter. We still had the secret room with all the technological conveniences underneath our forge, but these days I bought all of the metal I used. I might create the gold and silver I used to buy it out of the converter, but the metal I actually worked was honestly mined by miners who were part of our new nation. N'yeschlass the nation held better than a third of Wimarglr, the North America sized continent we'd called Continent One when we discovered Calmena, including most of the Collision Range.

There were probably twentyfive square people in N'yeschlass the city these days. After better than twenty years of thinking alternatively in demonic and Imperial systems, the former for everyday interactions with Calmenans and the latter for reports and planning to our Imperial sponsors, the decimal system and all the other standards of measurement I'd grown up with on Earth was almost alien to me now. 90,000 was a fair number of people for a city to have with this level of technology, and N'yeschlass the nation probably had four or five cities that were bigger now. N'yeschlass the city was the gateway to the mining regions in the Collision Range, a name that had stuck when I'd used it inadvertently in conversation with a Calmena native. "Collision" didn't mean anything in demonic; they just thought it was a good name. Probably half the place names on Earth came from circumstances not too different.

N'yeschlass the city had a very European feel to it. I don't mean the architecture was similar, it wasn't. That looked like nothing in my experience. By any reasonable definition, construction here was mostly wooden squalor. But the streets had grown organically rather than planned. Asina and I still owned a good bit of land, but these days most of it was in use. I spent more time managing others than working metal myself. The city was where more metal was smelted than anywhere else on Calmena. Iron, nickel, copper, tin, lead and even small amounts of aluminum and others. N'yeschlass' metallurgy was probably late eighteenth century equivalent on average. Not bad. Asina and I owned a good bit of the production, and had shown everyone else how to do it.

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(Well, a verified purchase amazon review, as well as posting it on my author blog and social media)

Noticed my TBR stack list is getting low. Hoping to find a new author worth following, because so much of what is out there could have been written by a bot with a cookie cutter.

So my proposed solution is this: Submit a link to a published work (Doesn't have to be yours, but Indie authors are specifically encouraged to post theirs). You may post ONE of your stories and ONE of someone else's (If I like it, I'll buy more). You may post additional details along with the book link if you so desire. Standalones or first book in a series, please. I am willing to consider short story collections, but not serializations.

Genre: Science Fiction or Fantasy, any subgenre EXCEPT erotica.

The bar you have to clear: Convince me this is a story I want to read. Some sub-genres will be harder than others. I don't mind sex, but prefer no explicit description of the action, and if sex is the point of the story, I'm not interested. Foul language is okay, but if curse words are more than a small percentage of your writing, I'm going to lose interest fast. Covers don't sell me, but they can push me away. Your writing and quality control is more important. I generally read the blurb, followed by (if available) the first page or so of the preview, and make my decisions off that.

Good characters are a definite plus, but what is an absolute necessity is a plot that engages my interest. What I'm really looking for is interesting new ideas and new takes on old ones. Be internally consistent - live within the constraints you set yourself and the characters. Flavor Of The Month type books are going to find it harder to attract my interest.

Caveats: My schedule is irregular - I'll likely buy right away if I do, but I'm not going to promise a time frame for the reviews. I give honest reviews only. If I have your contact information, I'll (usually) give you the option of not posting it. But I also try to make my feedback useful, something you can use for improvement as well as something prospective readers can use to help them make a decision.

Calmena (Epsilon Indi A II) is a planet filled with humans descended from the Imperial 'Lost Colony' of Earth (Sol III). The Fractal Demons discovered Earth in its barbarous Stone Age state, and decided to see if they could domesticate humans. The experiment was not a success. There were a few lines or families that responded well to comparatively good treatment, but the demons' own nature worked against them. Furthermore, the 'special' families' own efforts were bent more towards preserving their own relatively privileged status than actually improving their capabilities or performance, and they never amounted to serious competition with their Imperial peers. The rest of the descendants of abducted humans were servants, slave laborers, and eventually, food.

The demonic society itself is built around a caste system, with a descending order of precedence and power enforced by genetic programming, as Fractal Demons are an ancient race - at least a billion Earth years old in their present form. They conduct bloody wars between each other and their minions, as well as more subtle means of each advancing their own interests. The lower castes breed prodigiously, the noble castes somewhat less so but their descendants also struggle with each other over over positions of power, as well as cooperating - grudgingly - in conquering or destroying other developing races. This was the point of their contact with the Empire of Humanity.

Lost Colonies led the demons to the Empire. The Empire was in a vulnerable stage. It had recently expanded the option of activating the mind powers originally bred thousands of years earlier at hideous cost in defectives. Despite long generations, the DNA for those powers were present in all but a tiny splinter of the Imperial population, and there was demand for expanding the pool of operants beyond those who were born operant or became operant later through natural means. From less than a twentieth of the Imperial population being operant, the majority of new births were technologically activated, while the number of new births also increased as prospective parents were apprehensive the option might be removed in the future.

Unfortunately, power corrupts, and the Empire had insufficient numbers of adult operants to teach the new generation about the constraints upon their power. The Fractal Demons found the new 'ston' operants fertile ground for their seduction. Revolt followed, and its success was followed by a series of conflicts between the victors that left the former Empire with roughly a three thousand to one population crash, accompanied by an inability to maintain its former technological base. No former Imperial planet managed to keep as much as half its former population levels, and every single one of the major habitats was functionally destroyed. When the survivors of the old Imperial hierarchy declared themselves, the Empire was essentially re-established within twenty years, and had no significant human-based competitors within another twenty. But they realized the role the Fractal Demons had played in the chaos of the Revolt and Interregnum.

Against this background, the Empire 'discovered' Earth and soon after, Calmena. Calmena, with its Gates was a particularly useful tool to them to trace the Fractal Demons back to their own habitats in preparation for a future war with the demons that was all but certain, and a small base was established in a remote area of Calmena to support those efforts.

Left to their own devices, some of the Calmena humans had managed to escape demonic captivity. Some, led by the operant agaani ('gifted' in Demonic, the only language the Calmenans had left) established fortress-towns capable of withstanding local demonic attempts to re-subjugate them. Others became primitive hunter-gatherers in small communities and as individuals, scratching a meager living but free from the domination or either the demons or agaani.

Into this situation, an Imperial charity is organized led by a man named Folsogon with the goal of teaching the natives to advance their own capabilities, with the idea that a more capable native population means difficulties for the demons. The constraint put upon them is that the new technology must be in believable increments for the natives to have done it themselves.

The major continuing characters are:

Joseph Bernard ("Joe") an Earth human, discovers Calmena inadvertently during Earth's first expeditions beyond its own solar system in hopes of finding colonization or terraform-able worlds.

Asina - a native woman 'rescued' by Joe during his initial mis-adventure upon the surface of Calmena. She began life as a 'breeder' in an agaani fortress-town.

Sephia- An Imperial officer in the Planetary Surface Garrison on Calmena, a veteran of the Reunification of the Empire nearly three thousand years previous who re-enters the Imperial forces.

Folsogon- never comes on camera but the man who administers the charity funding Joe and Asina's activities upon Calmena.

Preparations for War is a complete series of four books, Preparing The Ground, Building The People, Setting The Board, and Moving The Pieces. It is available from Amazon here and from all the Books2Read retailers (B&N, Apple, Kobo, etcetera, including two library services) here

Julie's call was to her firm for both of us, which meant I could use mine to call RaDonna, but she didn't answer. I left a message about what had happened and what little I knew, asked her to apologize to anyone who came to the office, and to relay instructions for John which did not include him talking to clients in case I was here longer than tomorrow morning.

After the phone call, they tried pushing me into an interrogation room without waiting for the lawyer to arrive. Ramirez began, "What was your connection to Richard Shreder?"

I'd met an actor by that SAG name, but he wasn't a client and I didn't even know if that was his real name. "On the advice of counsel, I decline to answer any questions without my attorney present."

"What was your connection to Katherine Shreder?"

No idea, other than I presumed some relationship with the first name. "On the advice of counsel, I decline to answer any questions without my attorney present."

"What was your connection to Jeremiah Cartwright, a.k.a. Marcus White?"

Again, no idea. "On the advice of counsel, I decline to answer any questions without my attorney present."
"What was your connection to Jennifer Steldan?"

Isis. A small amount of light cracked through the window of understanding. "On the advice of counsel, I decline to answer any questions without my attorney present."

Ramirez must have seen some flicker in my face, "I knew it! You're in it up to your eyeballs!"

I sat there, silent.

"You and Ms. Ingmar were investigating the death of your ex-wife! There was a name - 'Osiris' - that your ex-wife's doctor blurted out as she died."

"On the advice of counsel, I decline to answer any questions without my attorney present."

"If you come clean, things will go much easier for you!"

"On the advice of counsel, I decline to answer any questions without my attorney present." I wasn't stupid enough to do Ramirez' job for him. Besides, the image of Ramirez trying to think was hilarious - I didn't think he had it in him. I let the smile show.

"We'll see who's smiling when all this is done, you smug son of a bitch!" He drew back as if to hit me.
I smiled wider. Recordings don't care who they hang, and I was sure the cameras were going. Handcuffed and under arrest, and I was still a better salesman than this nitwit.

He was too mad to care. He punched me in the mouth.

They don't tell you how much that hurts when you have no way to soften the blow. I don't think he knocked out any teeth, but my mouth was suddenly bloody, too. Now I had him for sure. Maybe he was used to getting away with it for average citizens - but I wasn't an average citizen. I'd be doing the public a favor by forcing his removal from the police.

I think he suddenly realized how much trouble he'd just put himself into. But before he could do anything else, in walked a middle-aged man in a suit as good as mine had been before Ramirez started roughing me up. If I had to guess, I'd say his ancestry was mostly black. "How nice of you to observe the Miranda proprieties, Detective," he began, "I see that you have been abusing my client physically, too. If I were in your shoes, I would want to make certain that recording does not go astray, or I will make a jury believe the very worst. Do not make things any harder on yourself than they have to be." Turning to me, "Mister Jackson, I am George Stuart from Morris Silver and Associates. I understand Julie Ingmar is your regular lawyer but she's under arrest as well." His speech was absolutely clear, correct, and careful. I knew successful actors who couldn't have been so precise in their pronunciation.

"Your understanding is correct, sir." My words were a little off - my mouth was sore and aching already, "Have you checked in on her yet?"

"You are the priority right now. Ms. Ingmar is a lawyer and understands what she should and should not do. I require a moment with my client, Detective. Out in the hall away from your recording." He didn't ask, he simply gave me a hand up and walked me out.

"Do you have any idea what this is about?" he asked.

"I recognized one of the names he mentioned. Assuming it's the same person, of course. I'm going to tell you the same thing I told Julie: I'm not stupid enough to jack around my own attorney. If it's what I think it's about, I was there but they accidentally did it to themselves. Nor would I believe what happened if I hadn't been there and seen it with my own eyes. But it would take too long to explain, and you'd probably think I'm crazy until Julie told you the same thing, and then you'd be thinking it's some sort of shared delusion. I will explain it all to you, but at the moment I'm not even sure what they're fishing for."

"I believe that will be enough for me to function effectively for the moment," he replied, and opened the door back into the interrogation room. He gestured for me to sit, so I did. "I believe this has gone far enough," he began, "My client is under arrest for murder, but he has not yet been informed of the identity of the alleged victim. Who was allegedly murdered?"

"We have a couple hundred mummified human bodies," Ramirez said, "And about fifty were still holding the plastic water bottles with either Mister Jackson's or Miz Ingmar's prints on them. There are also several thermal blankets with the same prints. We're still in the process of identifying all of the remains, but the water traces to a grocery outlet where there are recordings of Mister Jackson and Miz Ingmar purchasing said supplies."

"So you are claiming my clients murdered two hundred people then mummified them and issued their corpses water bottles and thermal blankets?"

"Jim Jones gave his people poisoned Kool-Aid."

"Have you analyzed the remnants in said water bottles to determine if there was anything toxic therein?"

"The lab hasn't found anything yet," Ramirez admitted.

"Then it seems far more likely to me that my clients were somehow rendering the best assistance they could under the circumstances."

"Then why didn't they call for help?"

"That may be a question you want to pursue, Detective, but it is your job to discover the answer. Nobody is obliged to deliver it to you gift-wrapped."

"I still want Mister Jackson to answer the question!"

Mr. Stuart turned to me with a gesture that he was passing the question on to me, but I figured out what I was supposed to do, "For the moment, I must plead the Fifth Amendment pending a private consultation with my attorney."

"So you're admitting guilt!"

Mister Stuart took over again, "Not at all, Detective. You know better than that. Mister Jackson requires expert consultation to understand the legal ramifications of what he may have done. There are any number of possible issues. For instance, is he liable to the heirs for the limits of the aid he rendered to the deceased, or for the fact he was unable to prevent their deaths? Perhaps he is concerned that he violated a parking ordinance, or even committed a moving violation in attempting to aid the deceased. He is limited in his understanding of such laws."

"You and I both know bullshit when we hear it, counselor."

"Perhaps you believe yourself unlimited in your ability to perceive truth, Detective, but I have lived enough to have seen the limitations of my vision. You may compare the evidence you gather and then re-evaluate it in the light of known events. My clients are in no way obligated to assist you in fabricating a fiction that results in their criminal convictions."

"I suppose we're done here, then."

"I require a few more moments with my client, Detective. In the corridor, unrecorded."

Once outside in the corridor, "I do not have to know what happened, Mister Jackson, but I hope for your sake you have a coherent explanation because police laboratories are getting better every year at exposing weaknesses and inconsistencies in testimony."

"I'll tell you everything that happened if you want, Mr. Stuart, but it's pretty fantastic. I'm still having a hard time believing it and I was there, and it will likely take a couple hours. We didn't kill those people."

"What did kill those people?"

"A mistake their leader made. It might not have been intentional, but it caused the deaths of everyone who drank from their communal pot."

"Are you saying they accidentally poisoned themselves? If so, what should we have the lab look for?"

"The pot was cooking, but there was human blood in it to my certain knowledge. Other than that, I don't know what was in it."

"Then how do you know there was something toxic?"

"I was told."

"Hearsay evidence. By who? One of the participants?"

"No. That's part of the story I'm having trouble believing myself." Looking around, "As I said, it's going to take a while, and I don't think this is the best place or time. As far as I know, they're still interrogating Julie."

"You have a point. It will be morning at least before bail will be set, so you are going to spend the night here in jail. Try not to arouse any of the other inmates. If necessary, pretend to be some ordinary person picked up for an unremarkable offense like traffic tickets. Do not call attention to yourself and do not tell any of your fellow inmates anything of your real predicament. Many of them will willingly inform on you, and given the nature of this case, the police will make a special effort to recruit informers. Understood?"


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