Posted by Savanna, Associate Editor on January 16, 2019
Science fiction icon David Weber has been having a very busy few months—a new Honor Harrington novel was released in the fall, and Through Fiery Trials, the tenth installment in his extremely popular Safehold series just hit shelves this month. If you haven’t been able to get your hands on a copy yet, here’s an excerpt from the continuing adventures of the last remnants of humanity and Merlin, an android tasked with defying religious persecution and sparking a technological enlightenment.
“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 one of the reclining chairs 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.”