The razors edge, p.1
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       The Razor's Edge, p.1
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           Seanan McGuire
The Razor's Edge


  THE RAZOR’S EDGE

  Other Anthologies Edited by:

  Patricia Bray & Joshua Palmatier

  After Hours: Tales from the Ur-Bar

  The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity

  Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs Aliens

  Temporally Out of Order

  Alien Artifacts

  Were-

  All Hail Our Robot Conquerors!

  Second Round: A Return to the Ur-Bar

  S.C. Butler & Joshua Palmatier

  Submerged

  Guilds & Glaives

  Laura Anne Gilman & Kat Richardson

  The Death of All Things

  Troy Carrol Bucher & Joshua Palmatier

  The Razor’s Edge

  THE RAZOR’S EDGE

  Edited by

  Troy Carrol Bucher

  &

  Joshua Palmatier

  Zombies Need Brains LLC

  www.zombiesneedbrains.com

  Copyright © 2018 Troy Carrol Bucher, Joshua Palmatier, and

  Zombies Need Brains LLC

  All Rights Reserved

  Interior Design (ebook): April Steenburgh

  Interior Design (print): ZNB Design

  Cover Design by ZNB Design

  Cover Art “The Razor’s Edge” by Justin Adams of Varia Studios

  ZNB Book Collectors #13

  All characters and events in this book are fictitious.

  All resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.

  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions of this book, and do not participate or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted material.

  Kickstarter Edition Printing, August 2018

  First Printing, September 2018

  Print ISBN-10: 1940709229

  Print ISBN-13: 978-1940709222

  Ebook ISBN-10: 1940709237

  Ebook ISBN-13: 978-1940709239

  Printed in the U.S.A.

  COPYRIGHTS

  Introduction copyright © 2018 by Troy Carrol Bucher

  “Halo of Storms” copyright © 2018 by Blake Jessop

  “The Battle for Rainbow’s End” copyright © 2018 by William C. Dietz

  “The Woman in Green” copyright © 2018 by D.B. Jackson

  “Miller’s Choice” copyright © 2018 by Gerald Brandt

  “Neural Net” copyright © 2018 by Sharon P. Goza

  “Eleven Days” copyright © 2018 by Walter H. Hunt

  “Revolutionists” copyright © 2018 by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller

  “The Gunslinger” copyright © 2018 by Kay Kenyon

  “Contender” copyright © 2018 by Steve Perry

  “Rise Up, Rise Up, You Children of the Moon” copyright © 2018 by Seanan McGuire

  “The Parallactic Soldier” copyright © 2018 by C.A. Brincefield

  “Freedom!” copyright © 2018 by Chris Kennedy

  “The Liberator” copyright © 2018 by Leland E. Modesitt, Jr.

  “The Weapon They Fear” copyright © 2018 by Alexander G.R. Gideon

  “An Acceptable Risk to the Portfolio” copyright © 2018 by Brian Hugenbruch

  “Final Flight of the PhoenixWing” copyright © 2018 by Y.M. Pang

  Table of Contents

  Introduction by Troy Carrol Bucher

  “Halo of Storms” by Blake Jessop

  “The Battle for Rainbow’s End”

  by William C. Dietz

  “The Woman in Green”

  by D.B. Jackson

  “Miller’s Choice” by Gerald Brandt

  “Neural Net” by Sharon P. Goza

  “Eleven Days” by Walter H. Hunt

  “Revolutionists”

  by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller

  “The Gunslinger” by Kay Kenyon

  “Contender” by Steve Perry

  “Rise Up, Rise Up, You Children of the Moon” by Seanan McGuire

  “The Parallactic Soldier”

  by Christopher Allenby

  “Freedom!” by Chris Kennedy

  “The Liberator” by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

  “The Weapon They Fear”

  by Alex Gideon

  “An Acceptable Risk to the Portfolio”

  by Brian Hugenbruch

  “Final Flight of the PhoenixWing”

  by Y.M. Pang

  About the Authors

  About the Editors

  Acknowledgments

  Introduction

  Troy Carrol Bucher

  This is not your typical Military SF/F anthology.

  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with guns blazing, lasers firing, missiles exploding, hovertanks … um, well … hovering I suppose (there are plenty of these things in the anthology, by the way, along with powered armor, deadly AIs, space ships, drones, and even a little battle magic), but Josh and I were looking for something deeper when we began bouncing ideas around for a Military SF/F anthology. If forced to narrow it down to a few simple words, I’d say we wanted to fill this anthology with ‘struggles that mattered,’ and what better way to do that than with stories of rebellion and insurgency? The few against the many, the oppressed rising up against the oppressor, the liberators versus the fascists, all mixed in with the costs and the consequences associated with winning. Or in some cases losing.

  You see, rebellions and insurgencies are about a lot more than lighting a cigar on the hot barrel of a projectile weapon after vanquishing one’s enemy on the field of battle. Believe me, I know. After 28 years in the military, I’ve spent my fair share of time in Iraq and Afghanistan. War is unforgiving, chaotic, and brutal, and the weapons don’t care who is innocent or who is guilty, or who is right or who is wrong. Rebellions and insurgencies blur those lines even more, and the advanced technology possible in Science Fiction (or the magical power in Fantasy) only serves to expand the collateral damage. Throw in overwhelming odds, and you have a recipe for driving desperate individuals to do both great and abhorrent things.

  There is a broad spectrum of stories in this anthology that delve into the diverse nature of rising up for “the cause.” Sixteen stories that range from epic battles between space fleets to a single person’s defiance at the right place and time. There is a little magic, a little alternate history, and occasionally a little humor. Several are tie-ins to worlds and novels that await your discovery. We hope you enjoy them all.

  Halo of Storms

  Blake Jessop

  1.

  Violet is in cover when the Nosferatu drone kills Carlos. They’re scouting the ruins, larvae looking for food on the carcass of the city.

  Carlos makes a dash across the open. Violet is only an R3, so she’s supposed to be on point, but they’ve fallen into the habit of taking turns. Power-assisted stealth suits make each of them into a self-contained, radar-invisible human tank. The Hellfire VI missile the drone drops on them is a SADARM; a dedicated search and destroy armor weapon. It’s packed with self-guided thermobaric submunitions that are smarter than most dogs. They have better noses, too. The machine can’t see Carlos in his stealth suit, so it just saturates the air with ignition vapor and turns the entire block into a spiraling inferno.

  Carlos R5 hugs the ground in the microsecond between dispersal hiss and eruption. His air filter locks to stop the sudden pressure drop from sucking his lungs out of his chest. It feels like someone clamping a hand on your air hose underwater.

  The explosion tears the sky apart and vaporizes the rain. The concussion blasts Violet through the air and entombs her in rubble.

  Her heart beats a frantic tattoo. She opens her eyes. Alarms plaster her heads-up display,
refracted through forking cracks and a light spatter of blood. Somehow, Carlos survives. His seals are blown, he’s hurt, and the stealth suit is a shredded patchwork of mimetic weave and armor plate. Violet can’t get to him while he’s out in the open. She has to shake the drone first. Carlos tries to crawl. They make eye contact. Violet glances skyward in time to see a lightning strike burn a beautiful vertical line into her retinas.

  There’s nothing but flesh and bone in the flash channel. Carlos R5 explodes. His arms and legs go pinwheeling off in different directions as blood steams from the stumps. The Nosferatu drones have directed ion course weapons that the old world designed to eliminate collateral damage. Violet knows this objectively, but in that instant it’s indistinguishable from divine punishment.

  Someone screams profanity into Violet’s helmet. Her, possibly, or her concussion. She tries to get up, and it’s only then that she notices that her left arm is missing.

  “Fuck,” she says again, “HUD, this hurts. Regulate.”

  Ice floods Violet R3’s veins. She goes to sleep listening to her HUD urgently trying to keep her awake.

  2.

  “Her infra-low waves are abnormal. This is pointless. She’s walking into the light, Doc.”

  “No,” the cutter says, “she’s dreaming.”

  In a misty world of synthetic opioids and pain, Violet dreams she is a child.

  The dream bunker is always smaller than it really was. Like a gingerbread house. She sits on her father’s knee and listens to his stories. There’s a game they play. He spins her a tale from before the drone war, and she guesses whether it’s true.

  “Okay, Vi—do you believe in pavlova?” he says.

  This is a silly question, because she’s eating some as he asks the question. There is no such thing anymore, obviously. There may never have been. She imagines it as large and soft and colorful. It’s hard to eat, because she only has one arm and no fork. Like most memories of loving fathers, it is indescribably sweet.

  As Violet grew up, her Dad told her what it was like to watch the world die. Violet has never lived under a sky without the drones, never walked under stars that did not contain the Mother Array. She has never lived in a city that didn’t look like a line of broken teeth, never been able to really imagine how many people it would take to satiate the dying giant, nor guess how many it has already swallowed.

  There was no window in the bunker Violet grew up in, but there is in the dream. She can see the Nosferatu flying around, shooting lightning at people who pop like festive little fireworks. Spider tanks waddle around and sweep up the mess with giant rotating brooms.

  Violet bats her tiny fist against the window. The rattle is weak because she only has one hand, but the drones hear her anyway. They hear everything.

  “Why do you have to do that?” Violet yells.

  “You started it,” the Nosferatu says, flying in circles above the bunker.

  “It’s not their fault, Vi,” her father explains. “We taught them how to do that.”

  “It’s still not fair.”

  “I know, baby. That’s why you’re going to be a great soldier. What do we do when stuff is unfair?”

  “We fight back!” Violet squeaks.

  Somewhere in the waking world Violet moans and her brain waves relax. The room, her mind, and the Opera House itself all become quiet. The shrapnel took her left arm off as cleanly as a scalpel. She would have bled to death if her stealth suit hadn’t dumped its entire supply of hemostatic gel onto the stump. Violet did become a great soldier. She’s a third-tier scout. A genuine operator with a name and alphanumeric, so they do their best to save her. Once she’s breathing on her own, the medics get to work installing a new arm.

  3.

  Violet survives the next twenty-four hours the same way she does most things: against both odds and expectations. Learning to use the new arm goes surprisingly well, although the immunosuppressants leave a faint taste of copper in her mouth.

  The idea of going back outside leaves her feeling gun-shy. The graceful metal struts and servos she now has instead of a left arm will get her killed if she goes outside and waves them at the sky. The drones know the danger presented by humans is exactly proportional to their technology, so they flatten anything with higher energy conversion efficiency than a campfire.

  After six weeks Violet is cleared for combat, whether she wants back out or not.

  She thumbs through the duty roster. It’s printed on actual paper. No electronic footprint to intercept. Thumbs, she thinks, is the wrong word. I’m clawing. Her new hand has four long metal fingers. They’re extremely flexible, better than the originals, but she can’t get the hang of turning pages with them. Something’s wrong with the roster; there’s no one to partner up with. No superiors to back up, no rookies to train.

  It’s hard to admit, but the thought of going back outside terrifies her. She once had perfect faith in the stealth suits. Now when she thinks about them, all she can imagine is shreds of diamene fabric trying to color match Carlos’ blood.

  In the end she has to go out by herself. In a way, she fights her rebellion right there, at the door. Going out alone is a death sentence. The new arm feels like it belongs to someone else. She takes her first steps under a clear blue sky with the fear of an acrophobe trying to jump out of a drop glider.

  For two days she cowers in the harbor, scared shitless and blowing recon objectives. She comes back in ahead of schedule and tries to figure out what the hell is going on.

  Violet writes spidery notes and wishes she had been right handed. She tries to hunt down old friends. Nobody will speak to her, as though they’re afraid what happened to Carlos is a disease she can somehow spread.

  On her way to the dorms one night she gets lucky and runs into Marika, a rookie she trained back when she was an R2. Marika is Maori; a full head taller than Violet, and the ta moko tattoo on her chin gives her a look that’s both alluring and alien. She’s wearing a Recon combat patch on her shoulder with a conspicuous Roman numeral one. Violet hadn’t heard. Not surprising.

  “You passed your combat trials. Kiki, that’s great. I knew you would.”

  “You helped,” the big woman smiles hesitantly.

  “This is perfect. I need a partner. The roster is empty. What do you say we roll together?”

  “Vi,” Marika says, “they assigned me to John R4.”

  Silence drops between them.

  “That’s great,” Violet says. “He’s good. Follow his lead. You’re lucky. He’s really good.”

  More silence.

  “Marika, what the hell is going on? No one will touch me. I’m going to get killed out there alone.”

  Marika R1 runs a hand over the stubble on her head. Violet stares at her.

  “Fine,” Violet says and turns on her heel.

  “Vi,” Marika whispers, “if you happen to drop by the enlisted mess, maybe find a couple of intel guys named Warne and Andersen, have a listen. You know, just if you happen by.”

  Violet can see the younger woman is taking a chance, sees stress and shame in her giant black eyes. She reaches out to her.

  “Too hot to handle,” Marika says finally, and smiles softly. They embrace. Share warmth.

  “Too cold to hold,” Violet answers, when they part.

  “I’ll see you out there, Vi.”

  Violet smiles just a little and shakes her head. “No, you won’t.”

  3.1.

  It doesn’t take Violet long to identify the two analysts and start reading what they write. She isn’t supposed to have access, but hunting information is her job and good scouts know all kinds of tricks. It’s all hearsay and rumor, but it boils down to Violet and Carlos getting hung out to dry. The next step is to figure out which higher-up hates her and why, but Violet is too angry to care. Armed with enough circumstantial evidence to start yelling at someone, Violet really does track Warne down in the canteen, accidentally turning Marika into a prophet. He’s eating with a few other i
ntel wonks and a bunch of regular infantry. Heads turn as she enters; Alphas have their own mess and they don’t mix with enlisted soldiers. Ever. She resolves to be diplomatic.

  “You bastard!” Violet slams her metal hand into the table. Each of the four fingers leaves a dent and the cutlery jumps. “You sent Carlos and I out there to get fucked, and if you keep me running solo, I’m going to die!”

 
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