Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Where Gods Dare -- Chapter II

Here is part of the second chapter from my upcoming novel. Again, sorry about the formatting. Word 2016 doesn't like Blogger.

Back aboard the Midgard, they reconvened on the bridge. “So what did you want to check?” Maya asked Ev.
            Sitting in the captain’s chair he told her. “I want to know if there are any more gods left on Narska besides us. Did Zero Grade’s attack remove everyone’s powers?”
            “Good thinking,” Daryn said. “You want to search for potential allies.”
            “Great plan. But how exactly do we do that?” Jaysin said.
            “Simple, really. Ragnarok?”
            The ship’s AI promptly responded. “Yes, Captain Bannen?”
            Ev grinned. “It still feels good to be called that. Now, then; Ragnarok, is there a sensor array or something that can tell us how many gods are left on the planet?”
            “I have very sophisticated sensors.”
            “Good. How many are left?”
            “Beginning scan. This could take up to a minute to probe the entire planet.” After a minute, she said, “Scan complete.”
            Holding his breath, Ev asked, “All right. Besides us on this ship, are there any gods left on Narska?”
            “Sensors show only one being with high levels of Ultimus energy.”
            “Great,” Daryn said. “Only one person left. This just keeps getting better and better.”
            “I wonder if they’re friendly,” CiCi said.
            Ev sighed. Zero Grade had done a thorough job of ridding themselves of their enemies. He wondered if any of their own had been caught in the blast; he didn’t know if the Flawless Few cared about collateral damage. “Fine, then. Ragnarok, can you identify the one remaining god?”
            “I’m sorry, Captain Bannen. The person in question is too far away.” After a pause, she declared, “Strange. The person has disappeared from my sensors.”
            “What do you think that means?” Jaysin asked.
            Ev shrugged. “Hell if I know. Ragnarok, what was their last known location?”
            The computer responded, “Approximately four hundred miles northwest of Seraphim City in Morovia.”
            To Ev, there was only one thing to do. “Take us there.”

* * *

The area in question turned out to be Flowerstone National Park, a mountainous area with a deep network of subterranean caves. Over the past several decades, only a small percentage of those caves had been mapped, and once the place became a protected site, strict regulations made further explorations prohibitively difficult.
            Looking out the bridge windows at the beautiful green landscape below them, Maya asked Ev, “Have you ever been here before?”
            “Once,” he replied. “My class went on a field trip here in junior high.
            Daryn said, “Ragnarok, are you sure this person is down there?”
            “Yes, Crewman Anders.”
            Daryn gave Ev an accusing look. “‘Crewman’?”
            Ev shrugged. “I didn’t know what else to call you.”
            “Anyway,” Daryn said, returning his attention to the ship’s AI. “Do you have visuals on this person?”
            “Negative. They seem to have the ability to mask their energy signature. That may explain why I lost them earlier. However, I am still detecting their presence somewhere in the park below. We are now above their last known location.”
            “All right,” Ev said. “Let’s go down and have a look.”

* * *

They wasted little time setting foot down in the park. The location they now found themselves in was a green valley flanked by mountain ridges. A large mountain stream ran to their right and continued on ahead to the base of nearby mountain, and fur trees could be seen all around.
            “It’s beautiful,” Maya said.
            “It sure is,” CiCi added.
            “We didn’t come here to sightsee,” Daryn reminded them.
            “Nothing wrong with taking in the magnificent view,” Jaysin argued.
            “Jaysin’s right,” Ev said. “Besides, we won’t find this person if we don’t look. And if we happen to see some breathtaking sights along the way, so be it.” He didn’t want to gush over the scenery like Maya and CiCi, but neither could he deny its beauty.
            “Whatever. Let’s just get this over with.”
            “Ah,” Jaysin said playfully. “Could it be you don’t like this place?”
            “We have far more beautiful sites in the Tru Republic,” Daryn asserted.
            Ev stopped. This was an opportunity too good to pass up. “I think you’re jealous of our national parks.”
            Daryn’s nostrils flared. “That’s ridiculous. You think your so-called parks are so special, when they’re far from it.”
            “You’re jealous,” Ev insisted, a smirk playing across his face.
            Daryn rolled his eyes. “Can we just get on with this?”

* * *

They traveled through the V-shaped valley and came to the base of a small mountain. Here they found a large hole in the ground leading to a subterranean cavern. Thrill seekers often parachuted into such places, and Ev had to wonder if their mystery person had been doing that.
            They stared into the gaping maw. “You think this person’s down there?” Maya said.
            “Only one way to find out,” Ev replied. He then yelled down, “Hello? Is anybody down there?”
            “Down there, down there, down there,” his voice echoed.
            After several moments of silence, Ev said, “I don’t think—” His words were suddenly cut off as he sensed something coming at them. Fast. “Get down!” He tackled Maya to the ground, just barely saving her from a flying silver blur. The object soared over their heads and came to rest on the other side of the hole.
            Ev stared at it, and realized he’d seen it before.


Friday, September 16, 2016

James Review -- Daedalus: The Venusian Gambit

This week I decided to review Daedalus: The Venusian Gambit by Michael J. Martinez. 

The series focuses on two universes which I have personally labeled the Daedalus universe, essentially a future version of our history, and the Known Worlds universe where Mars, Venus, and the moons of Saturn all have native sentient species and wooden ships, aided by alchemy, sail the solar system. The series focuses on the efforts of the Martian warlord Althotas, who was banished to a pocket universe for war crimes in the forty-second century BC of the Known Worlds, is seeking to break free and conquer both solar systems, with the story regularly jumping between the two timelines. 

The book starts by showing Althotas being exiled before shifting to Known Worlds 1803 AD. English Rear Admiral Thomas Weatherby is getting married but his wedding is crashed by Revenants, undead soldiers reanimated by alchemy, that have been marched across the English channel by the French army. Weatherby manages to escape along with his wife and some others but at a high cost as his mentor stays behind to lead the effort to stall the invaders long enough for Weatherby to flee. 

And in 2134 of the Daedalus universe, the head of Project Daedalus--formed to defend against Althotas and other such threats--is briefing the President of the United States on the project and the events of the first two books in the trilogy along with a new threat. The Chinese spacecraft Tienlong has been seized by two Joint Space Command officers and one Chinese officer possessed by the souls of ancient Martians loyal to Althotas. The JSC ship Armstrong is pursuing with her acting captain Shalia Jain determined to save her lover, Stephane Durand, who is one of the possessed. 

Eventually with aid from another JSC ship the Tienlong's crew is captured and, in time, a technique to allow Stephane to regain control of his body is developed. But other possessed agents are activated and head for Venus with the JSC in pursuit. 

In the Known Worlds it is now 1809 and, while much of England has been occupied by Napoleon's forces which have allied with renegade members of the Xan, (natives of Saturn's moons), the remaining free regions of the United Kingdom fight on. Admiral Weatherby is commander of the English Navy in both sea and space and, after repelling an attack on the primary English production facility for Mercurium, a substance which allows equipped ships to launch to space from anywhere on an ocean, while ships lacking it--like those used by the French--must take off from polar regions, over Mercury, he is recalled to England. 

After defending against an attack against the English government in exile's capital, plans are made to liberate the occupied sections of the United Kingom but the Xan approach explaining that they believe they have discovered a French plot to seize a Venusian Memory vault containing secrets dating back to the final war between the Martians and the Xan, a move that appears to be aimed at freeing Althotas,  Weatherby leads a small task force to Venus but finds a massive French fleet waiting for him. During the battle over Venus, a rift between the universes opens, depositing a small JSC force and the English and JSC units must team up for a final desperate attempt to prevent the liberation of a warlord imprisoned for almost six thousand years.

I give this book 8 out of 10. I thought the author did a really good job juggling the two stories until they merged, and there are some nice references to other Napoleon-era novel series' slipped in. The fleet battles were interesting but I also feel that they were far too short. Admittedly, my interest in Age of Sail naval warfare is strictly amateur but I'm almost certain that unless lucky hits were involved engagements lasted much longer then they did in this book. Also I wish the book had been longer to allow more development of both universes.

Friday, September 9, 2016

James Review -- Ultima

This week I decided to review Ultima by Stephen Baxter. 

When the story opens, Yuri Eden has been transported to a universe where the Roman Empire never fell but competes with the Xin Empire, based in China, while loosely allied with the Brikanti .nation centered on the British isles While he and those with him struggle to integrate into the crew of the ship that found them, a second ship fleeing an apocalyptic war in the Sol system finds itself transferred to this new universe. Its crew become part of this Earth's society with the AI Earthshine aiding in efforts to terraform Mars by diverting an asteroid Ceres. 

But Earthshine has the asteroid on a course to destroy Mars, so the refugees from the UN-ruled timeline and a group of Romans are sent to intercept. They make contact with Earthshine and discover his goal is to force contact with the lifeforms inhabiting Mars by threatening their survival. In the end, the Roman ship and the refugees are shifted to a third universe where the Incas rule humanity after destroying Rome, with most of humanity living in orbital habitats. 

Again, all the refugees struggle to integrate into a new society with some marrying and having children. In time they realize that in each new timeline they find themselves in humanity has gone further in replicating and spreading the Hatches, alien light speed deportation devices found on Per Aruda, a planet orbiting Proxima Centuari. Earthshine believes that the creators of the Hatches have been manipulating humanity across all of the universes. Eventually, the group finds itself on Per Aruda in the distant future when the collision between the Milky Way galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy is growing near. There they discover a horrifying truth. Now with the end of the universe they are in imminent, the group must struggle to find a way to escape the timeline they are in and decide whose survival should be a priority if they find a way.

I give the book 7 out 10. I like the various societies introduced in the new universes and some of the technologies shown are interesting, but I didn't find the characters very gripping and I wish the series had been longer. I think the story would have been much better if there had been a whole book focused on the Roman universe and another focused on the Inca universe, thus allowing each timeline and the characters introduced by that timeline to be developed in more detail.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Kindle Spotlight -- Re: Zero

Today we have a Japanese light novel by Tappei Nagatsuki. It is Re: Zero -Starting Life in Another World-, Vol. 1.

The story takes begins with high schooler Subaru Natsuki having run into a little snag while coming home from the convenience store. You see, somehow he got warped to a medieval fantasy world. He doesn't know who brought him here, but he thinks it's a cute girl. And with only his knowledge of anime fantasy tropes to go on, he's in a bit of a bind.

After a run-in with local hoodlums, he is saved by a mysterious silver-haired girl who calls herself Satella. She was chasing a thief who had stolen an equally mysterious badge from her. Subaru agrees to help her locate the thief, and eventually they find the repository for stolen goods waiting to be sold. Unfortunately, inside Subaru finds a corpse. Even more unforuntate, the killer hasn't left yet and quickly cuts them down. Subaru dies.

But in actuality, that's just the beginning of the story. As it turns out, he's inexplicably acquired the ability to go back in time upon death (think the Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow). He doesn't understand it one bit, but that doesn't stop him from going back to the building. This time he gets there before everyone is murdered, and meets the proprietor Rom. He is then introduced to the thief, a teenage girl named Felt. He manages to negotiate a deal to retrieve the stolen badge using his cell phone which he claims is magical. His good luck doesn't last long, though, because a creepy woman named Elsa also shows up. And she's hell-bent on keeping that badge from returning to Satella. How many deaths will it take for Subaru to figure out how to keep everyone alive?

Re: Zero is a fun story. It manages to embrace the anime fantasy genre while remaining very self-aware and even a little spoofy. It makes no attempt to hide the inspiration it received from anime such as Magic Knight Rayearth, Escaflowne, and Now and Then, Here and There. If you're looking for a fantasy story that pokes fun at its forebearers while still remaining serious, Re: Zero is for you. It was even popular enough to receive anime and manga adaptations.

However, it does have an annoying flaw with its dialogue. It often doesn't tell you who's speaking, leaving you to figure it out for yourself. There were numerous times I found myself saying, "Wait, who said that? Was it Subaru? Oh, no, it was Satella."

But aside from that, I have no trouble recommending Re: Zero.

Friday, September 2, 2016

James Review -- The Icarus Corps: Titan's Fall

This week I decided to review The Icarus Corps: Titan's Fall by Zachary Brown. 

Before this book takes place, Earth was conquered more than a generation ago by the Arvani-led Accordance. While the Accordance tried to prevent humanity from spreading further than the moon now the war between the Accordance and its long-time enemies the Conglomeration has come to the Sol system and the Accordance wishes to use humans as troops in the fight. The Conglomeration has taken Saturn but doesn't control the gas giant's moons, so the few survivors of the battle for Icarus Base, now heroes of the human Colonial Protection Forces, are being redeployed to Shangri-La, a base on Titan, along with a host of rookies to replenish their unit's devastated ranks. 

Despite their jumpship being intercepted and downed by Conglomeration forces, they make their way to their new base. Soon, Sergeant Amiria Singh, a former anti-Accordance hacker who joined the military to get out of jail, has been traveling beyond the base's perimeter seeking signs of enemy activity in the area without authorization, and Lieutanant Devlin Hart, The viewpoint charter of the book who was blackmailed into joining the military by threats against his anti-Accordance dissident parents and any possible havens of theirs, is ordered to stop her. 

But Amiria soon finds evidence of enemy activity and the Conglomeration launches an assault on the Accordance's bases on the moon using forces that had been concealed beneath Titan's surface. Using drivers, creatures that can turn a human into a puppet, the Conglomeration has devastated the base's leadership. To make matters worse, the attack is led by Zeus, an Arvani defector who once was an instructor to the Icarus Base survivors and soon the Accordance begins an evacuation leaving many civilians behind because they prioritize saving soldiers over non-combatants. 

Hart's team is sent to a Trojan asteroid converted into an Accordance base and shipyard where they soon find themselves facing angry civilians while reeling from the news that Zeus' children, who are high ranking members of the Accordance, are seeking revenge against those they blame for the disgrace of their parent. Soon, the crews building some of the carriers at the shipyard mutiny and Hart must seek a way to minimize bloodshed despite being saddled with an Arvani officer willing to start executions at the slightest excuse. 

Then, after it is revealed that a human Conglomeration agent sparked the mutiny, Hart's team must endure the followup attack before being sent back to Titan where they will discover just how far the Arvani will go to deny their enemy territory and face a choice that will have a massive impact on humanity's future.

I give the book 7 out of 10. While it does a great ob of leaving the reader wondering which of the two alien powers us really the lesser evil, I feel that having the entire story told from a single character's viewpoint gives it an incredibly narrow focus. This is crippling in a story with large-scale battles, especially when the character is a low ranking officer because it means that the reader only sees a small section of what is happening. Also, I feel that the technology used in the story is left far too vague for my taste.  Most of the weapons involved are only described in the most general of terms.

Friday, August 26, 2016

James Review -- Tour of the Merrimack: The Twice and Future Caesar

This week I decided to review Tour of the Merrimack: The Twice and Future Caesar by R. M. Meluch. 

The story begins with an excerpt from thee end of The Myriad, the first book in the series, showing the event that altered history, creating the timeline that the books between The Myriad and this book take place in. The story then moves forward five years. Romulus, former Caesar of the reformed Roman Empire, was incapacitated by a nano-weapon and being held captive by his successor Caesar Numa. But his dedicated followers the Romuli, rescue him. 

In response, Numa recruits the Ninth Circle, a band of pirates everyone but Numa and themselves believe to be dead, to hunt down and kill Romulus. Early in the book, the Circle raids a Romuli asteroid base while, nearby, the USS Merrimack, which is also hunting for Romulus, fends off attacks from a renegade Roman vessel. The Circle eventually discover that Romulus has been taken from the base, but they also find that TR Steele, the missing commander of Merrimack's marines is being held on the base. As they flee, Nox, also known as John Knox Farragut, Jr., the estranged younger brother of Merrimack's former captain, is infected with nanites. The circle lacks the means to remove them but the Merrimack can, so they arrange for Nox to be captured then launch a rescue but the techniques they use confirm they have high level Roman help. 

Romulus is revived as a patterner, a type of cybernetically-enhanced human with upgraded data analysis abilities that are the most dangerous agents in twenty-fifth century Rome's arsenal. At first, Romulus works to rally his forces to overthrow Numa, but then he discovers that his beloved sister Claudia is dead. He begins plotting to go back in time to prevent her death, and halt the defeats and humiliations Rome suffered in recent years, turning the Circle into loyal agents by convincing them that Numa was behind the incident that led to their disgrace and set them on the road to piracy. 

Next he strikes against Jose Maria, who delivered the nano-virus that disabled him, by deploying a nano-weapon that destroy Jose's homeworld of Terra Rica. Rear Admiral John Alexander Farragut figures out Romulus' plan and takes Merrimack on a desperate race to prevent it but fails. Romulus prevents the alteration of history that created the timeline he came from but discovers that he has changed events that took place long before his arrival in the new timeline. With the alien Hive on a rampage and much of Rome's forces destroyed, Romulus hopes to use his knowledge of how to destroy and control the Hive to convince the Roman senate to appoint him Caesar in place of his disgraced father, but they appoint Numa instead. Romulus, having executed his younger self, takes his sister and sets up a government in exile then destroys one Hive, thus awakening its unborn children who are in easy striking range of Earth. And as Merrimack leads a furious battle to repel the Hive assault on humanity's homeworld, Romulus readies his soldiers for a strike at the heart of the United States.

I give this book 5.5 out of 10. First I think resetting the story to The Myriad's timeline and thus wiping away most of more than five books worth of character development was an utterly horrible idea. I can think of several ways to raise a new threat in the post-Myriad's timeline, so I see absolutely no need for the timeline shift. Second, there was a point where I saw a glimmer of hope for an interesting plot hook for a sequel only to have it shut down. Third, I feel that the protagonists didn't play enough of a role in the climax. Finally, the combat, which has never really been the strong point of the series, is worse than usual in my opinion. While part of me hopes a sequel will dig the series out of the pit the author has sent it into, it's a faint hope.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Where Gods Dare -- Chapter I

Here is the first chapter of Where Gods Dare, book four of my Divine Protector series. It picks up right where Until We Break left off, so SPOILERS.

“What do you mean,” Ev said as they marched through the hallways of Divine Protector Academy, “you’ve lost your powers?”
            Ahead of them, students milled about nervously. Many of them gathered in the corridor to watch the returning victors of the God Games. Ev saw fear in their eyes. They were scared and looking to them for some sort of deliverance from this nightmare they had suddenly found themselves in.
            Bethos shrugged irritably as the diminutive god waddled along. “It’s like I said. A flash of light came from the sky, and the next thing we knew, we were as weak as mortals. Now, you say the attack came from Zero Grade?”
            Maya nodded. “Carnaval told us when we won the God Games: Olympus is on the moon.”
            “Or inside the moon, most likely,” Daryn said. “Since no telescope or probe has ever found anything on the surface.”
            Brandon Strong kept pace alongside them. “I guess it doesn’t really matter now where their base is. They’ve pretty much won. I don’t know what they hit us with, but we’re powerless to stop them now.”
            “It’s not over ‘til it’s over,” Jaysin reminded him.
            CiCi raised a defiant fist. “That’s right! We’ve still got our powers, and a battleship! We can still fight them.”
            “A ship?” Freya said with astonishment. “Do you mean the Midgard?
            “Yeah,” Ev said. “We managed to take it over after we beat the Zero Grade team. I’m the new captain, by the way.”
            Bethos whirled around to face him. “Where is this ship? It’s not hovering outside, is it?” He sounded almost panicked.
            Ev replied casually, “Yeah. Don’t worry; we engaged the cloaking device. Man, I always wanted to say that!”
            “Listen to me!” Brandon said urgently. “Even cloaked, Zero Grade might still be able to detect it. We have no idea what kind of technology they possess. Until a few hours ago, we didn’t think they could hit us with a light from the sky and take away our powers.”
            Freya agreed. “Ev, you’ve got to get that ship away from here before Zero Grade finds us.”
            “What are you saying? I can’t just abandon you…”
            Bethos dismissed his concerns, saying, “You won’t be abandoning us. Just… lay low until we come up with something.”
            Ev reluctantly admitted they were right; the Midgard was too dangerous to leave in their front yard. With that in mind, he turned around and headed back to the hangar.
            “Wait,” Maya said. She, Jaysin, Daryn and CiCi trotted after him.
            “Shouldn’t you four stay here and guard the Academy?” Ev said.
            “I’m more worried about you,” Maya said. “You could be a big target in that ship. And if Zero Grade does launch a full-scale attack, I doubt all of us combined would be able to fight them off.”
            Daryn said, “I agree. We’ll present the strongest force together aboard the Midgard. If our enemies attack, we can rush back here to fight them off as one.”
            “What he said,” Jaysin added.
            Ev grinned. “All right, then. We’ve got ourselves a big-ass ship to move.”

* * *

They soon had moved the Midgard a few thousand miles to the west over the Paseik Ocean. They then gathered aboard the bridge. Ev remained seated in the captain’s chair while everyone else stood around him.
            “Looking real good, mate,” Jaysin said to him.
            Ev shrugged happily. “It feels real good.”
            “That’s all well and good,” Daryn said, “but now what are we going to do?”
            Ev thought about it for a moment before something occurred to him. “I just realized… what happened to my mother’s body? I got so caught up in our battles with Zero Grade and Carnaval, I completely forgot.” It shamed him to forget like that; it almost felt like an insult to Anni Bannen.
            Maya replied, “We weren’t sure what you would want to do with her, so we took her to Upton General and put her in storage at the morgue. Morovian authorities have since taken charge of the entire town.”
            “Will they know whose body it is?” Ev asked.
            Jaysin nodded. “We left a note in case… well… in case you never came back and someone else had to deal with it.”
            “All right, then,” Ev said. “Let’s head to Upton and get my mother’s body.”
            His friends gave their assent; they were more than happy to help Ev in these dark times.

* * *

Upton General Hospital was located several miles north of the Bannen house in the northernmost part of Upton on the crescent-shaped continent of Morovia.
            Built about fifty years ago, the hospital was a seven-story, compact brick structure. Ev had been born in this building, and he held it in some regard.
            As Maya had said, Morovian authorities had recently taken over the town after its liberation from Zero Grade. The military had gone from house to house and street to street, picking up bodies left over from Zagreus’ senseless slaughter. Initially, the government bigwigs kept the bodies for study—and to make sure they didn’t contain any pathogens or deadly chemicals from the blanket of smoke that had enveloped the town. Even after they had determined the bodies were safe to handle, they still refused to release them to the victims’ families. Only after much public outcry did they relent. Now, family members from all over Morovia poured into Upton to collect their loved ones’ remains.
            Ev and friends walked into the main lobby of the hospital and found a huge crowd of people inside. Everyone was doing so much talking, crying and shouting that Ev couldn’t even hear his own thoughts.
            Soon, though, a man in a navy-blue suit stepped out of the elevators, flanked by members of Exodus Squad, the anti-god unit of the military established by the late president Joe Lambda. Wearing their distinctive exo-suits, they were a force to be reckoned with, even to full-fledged gods. Ev and Maya had previously fought alongside them during negotiations with Zero Grade, but due to recent events, Ev was glad they showed no signs of recognition today.
            The man held up a bull horn and spoke into it, immediately grabbing the throng’s attention. “Attention, family members! If your loved one’s last name begins with A through N, they have been moved to the fairgrounds. There simply isn’t enough room here at the hospital to store all the bodies. I repeat—everyone here is O through Z.”
            “Dammit,” Ev said. “Guess we have to go to the fairgrounds.”

* * *

The fairgrounds were located on the southern edge of Upton. It consisted of several buildings around a fenced-in dirt field used for livestock exhibitions and rodeos.
            On this day, countless large tents had been set up all over the fairgrounds, making it look like some sort of music festival. However, there was nothing festive about it; crying family members were everywhere, and dry eyes became hard to find. As they waded through the crowd of people, Ev felt as if he were walking through a disaster area (which he was).
            They soon learned that each tent and building housed people with particular last names. A’s were in one building/tent, C’s were in another, etc. After a while, they found the “B” tent and got in line. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting in the sun, they finally managed to get inside.
            It was very cold inside the massive tent, and countless body bags were piled atop one another in macabre stacks. In addition, numerous large machines seemed to be keeping the place chilly.
            It took a while more to get to the center of the tent where a man in a heavy fur coat sat behind a desk. “Name?”
            “Ev Bannen. My mother was Anni Bannen. B-a-n-n-e-n.”
            The man had a laptop in front of him and he typed in Anni’s name. “Got it.” He turned to a fresh-faced boy sitting next to him. “It should be near the back. Block 9-F.” Despite the grim, cluttered appearance of the place, it seemed it did indeed have some system of organization. The teen went to retrieve the body and soon returned with a filled bag over his shoulder. “I’m really sorry for your loss.”
            The man behind the laptop simply said, “I’ll need to see some ID.”
            Ev handed him his driver’s license. It was ironic; Ev hadn’t driven at all since he learned to fly. The thing was practically coated in dust.
            The man looked it over before handing Ev a clipboard. “Just sign these release papers and you’ll be good to go.”
            Ev did so, and they handed him the body bag. A wave of dark emotions washed over him as he took it, and he felt as though he might break down on the spot. Nevertheless, he managed to take Anni’s body and proceed out of the tent. On the way, they passed many more people who had come to collect their loved ones. Ev recognized several of them, but they were so engrossed in their sorrow that they either wouldn’t or couldn’t acknowledge him.
            He couldn’t wait to get out of here to some place less bleak.

* * *

They took Anni’s body back to the Bannen house and buried her in the front yard. The group talked about giving her a proper burial in a cemetery, but Upton Meadows was currently swarmed with people looking to do the same and would probably run out of spaces real soon. Then they discussed the possibility of putting her in cold storage aboard the Midgard, but Ev was intent on putting her to rest as soon as possible. The thought of having his mother’s body with them on the ship made him uneasy, and he really just wanted to be done with this.
            When they had filled the grave, Maya whispered to him, “Is it really OK putting her in the same place as your abusive father?”
            Ev shrugged sadly. “He’s in the back yard. And anyway, it’s not like he can hurt her anymore.”
            “Does someone wanna say a few words?” Jaysin asked.
            “I will,” Ev replied. He then cleared his throat. “Anni Bannen was born in this town about fifty years ago. She was raised here, went to school here, and worked as a secretary at Upton High. She also met my father here…” He decided to skip any further mention of his dad. “Later, I came along, and she raised me with all the love a kid could ever want. Despite her circumstances, she was the perfect mother. And even after I did something horrible,” he said, reflecting on the night he killed his father before the bastard could kill Anni, “she still loved me. And I loved her. I don’t think any son loved his mother any more than I loved mine. She was… an angel…” He felt a lump in his throat, and his control threatened to shatter that very moment.
            Maya decided to take over for him. “I only met Anni Bannen a few times, but to me, she was every bit the mother Ev says she was. She was kind, thoughtful, and above all, caring. She reminded me of my own mother before my parents were killed in that car crash. I know Ev went through some tough times with his father, but I wish I had had the chance to grow up with my parents the way he did with his mother. And I know she was so proud of her son becoming a god of justice.” She turned to him. “Ev, your mother would be even more proud to know how you fought for all of us during this war.”
            He nodded, his eyes becoming watery. “I wish she was still here.”
          Maya took his hand in hers. Despite the embarrassment of his friends watching, he let her. “So do I,” she said.
            “Here, here!” Jaysin said.
            CiCi began clapping, and Daryn followed suit. Soon all three of their friends were applauding.
            “Thank you, guys,” Ev said. “I never would have gotten this far without friends like you.”
            “It was our pleasure!” CiCi happily declared. The others nodded.
            Looking around the property, Daryn asked, “So, what’s going to happen to this place?”
           Ev said, “I honestly have no idea. The entire town’s population was wiped out by Zagreus, so every house might soon be for sale. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to live here after what happened, though. Maybe Upton’ll be abandoned.
            “That’s awful!” CiCi said.
           “There have been a lot of casualties in this war,” Daryn said. “Every country with an Ultimus Point’s going to need time to heal.”

            Ev said, “That reminds me. Let’s get back to the ship. I want to check something.”