ATTENTION PARENTS! COMMUNIST PLOT TARGETING YOUR CHILDREN: Goodnight Moon.

Having read the classic children’s story “Goodnight Moon” to my son for many many nights now, I am most disturbed to report that I can no longer expose my son to this horrific piece of propaganda. Its innocence belies the sheer malignity of its purpose, which is no less than the complete destruction of American society, and the establishment of a godless and communistic State. In order to appreciate fully the subtleties of the work, I will need to reproduce the text, here. I cannot do the same with the pictures, so just grab a copy and follow along… IF YOU DARE.

Page 1

“In the great green room
there was a telephone
And a red balloon.
And a picture of–“

Okay so firstly, why does a child of this one’s age (less than five, I would think… would an older child actually be talking to inanimate objects?) require a telephone? An intercom might be understandable, but a telephone? Surely if the child had an important phone call, his mother, or at the least the mysterious “quiet old lady whispering hush” (q.v.) would wake him. Therefore the reader can only presume that the entity responsible for the installation of the telephone was one that both wished direct access to the child at all times, and was powerful enough to demand it, i.e. the State, which is seen as normal and even comforting in this tale of innocence at bedtime.
It is perhaps also interesting to note that the room is described as GREEN. Why? The walls are green, yes. But the curtains are yellow, and the floor and furnishings are red. Obviously, this is an attempt to make green into a friendly and unthreatening color, and an attempt to foist a radical anti-capitalist environmentalist agenda onto American youth. And the red floor? Obviously a code showing that all such politics must spring from the firm foundation of Marxism-Leninism.
The balloon is another communistic reference, possibly calling for immediate war with the west, as in: ‘the balloon is going up.’ If so, the authors’ opinions seem to vacillate as the balloon disappears and reappears throughout the work.

Page 2
“The cow jumping over the moon.”

Goodnight Moon was published in 1947. The cow jumping over the moon symbolizes the author’s hope that Soviet Russia would win the Space Race.

Page 3
“And there were three little bears sitting on chairs.”

The three little bears are obviously a reference to Russia as the leader of the Communist movement. Lenin and Stalin would be two of the bears. The third may be Trotsky, but it is more likely that the author at the time believed that Mao Zedong would continue to foster tight relations with Moscow.

Page 4-5
“And two little kittens
And a pair of mittens.
And a little toyhouse
And a young mouse.”

The kittens, significantly, are black and white, signifying the “black” capitalist forces fighting Mao’s armies and the “white” forces already defeated in the Russian Civil War. Their reduction to annoying housepets suitable for distracting the people is very much in the style of Socialist Realism’s heavy-handed satire. The mittens and the socks are pink, considered an appropriate color for the child, whose very thoughts will soon be clothed in socialist-leaning terms. The toyhouse is also, significantly, red. The mouse, of course, would be considered dangerous vermin in most cases. Obviously the authors realized that Soviet housing was rife with these pests and are conditioning their young readers to accept them as inevitable.

Page 5-6
“And a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush.”
“And a quiet old lady who was whispering, ‘Hush!'”

Why a comb AND a brush? The redundancy is unquestioned. One of these objects is probably a listening device of some kind. Again, the child reader is being conditioned away from questioning such cognitive dissonances. Most chillingly, the “quiet old lady” makes her first appearance. She is not named as any relative, nor does she have any interaction with the child but to silence him. Obviously, the authors wish to instill silence as a virtue in the compliant subjects of the State, and to accept any authority figure presented by that State as legitimate ipso facto. She knits a green cloth, the makeup of which the black and white kittens attempt in vain to tangle.

Nothing further seems to be going on for the next four pages, but…

Page 11-12
“Goodnight light
And the red balloon
Goodnight bears
Goodnight chairs”

Note the child’s body position, here, kneeling on the pillow before the seated bears. Communist “prophets” are being substituted for bedtime prayer, and elevated to godlike status.

Page 13-14
“Goodnight kittens
And goodnight mittens”

What happened to the socks? They have disappeared from the rack. They show up later, of course, but this again reinforces the idea that the State alone will choose the context and syntax of information shown to its subject. Consistency is not required.

Page 14-15
“Goodnight clocks
And goodnight socks”

As a child this age, I don’t believe I had one clock in my room, let alone two. the child is being trained to conform to the cold, mechanistic schedule of the State, and accept it as natural.

Again, nothing significant for the next four pages, but then…

Page 19-20
“Goodnight nobody
Goodnight mush”

The child says goodnight to “nobody,” an indication that agents unknown are always watching and should be accounted for by the wise (read “terrified”) subject of the State. And of course the “mush” again, is conditioning the child to the reality of collectivism: bland porridge will become the staple meal of the populace, as it is one of the cheapest foodstuffs that any society can produce.

Page 21-22
“And goodnight to the old lady whispering ‘hush’

Again, the acknowledgment that the servants of the State, seen and unseen, are always with us.

Page 23-24
“Goodnight stars
Goodnight air.”

This looks innocent, but in some ways is the most haunting propaganda image of all. The stars and the air, two things that even the State knows it cannot hope to control, are presented. Alone of all the full, two-page illustration, this one is colorless, a washed out and Siberian snowscape. The message is plain: an escape to nature is an escape to sterility, exile, and death.

Page 25-26
“Goodnight noises everywhere.”

Noise, and any form of rebellion, is, chillingly, everywhere extinguished. The “quiet old lady’s’ eternal ‘hush’ has succeeded in stilling every form of dissent. And this is presented as a comforting truth to put children to sleep with. A few other factors deserve consideration: Note that the telephone alone of all the objects named is never said goodnight to. Obviously, it is for the State to contact its subjects, and not the other way around. Also, the books on the bookshelf move around, a reminder that knowledge is under the sole control of the State. It may change at any time, and these changes are not to be questioned.

I know that this post is, well, disturbing. I was certainly disturbed when the awful truth broke in upon me in the middle of reading this book to my son after two nights of no sleep and about forty-seven cups of coffee. But the awful truth is no longer possible to ignore. How Brown and Clements escaped the vigilance of HUAC in the fifties I will never know. The truth is self-evident.

Movie Reviews Far Too Stupid: Monsters and The Ruins

You know, what really makes me want to tear my own throat out as a writer sometimes is when I see that, despite the enormous number of wonderful novels that would make great movies, people keep making films based on ideas that should have been shot down in a high school Creative Writing I class. So to illustrate this, a pair of movies that I couldn’t even finish. And because they deserve no better, spoilers do exist:

First: The Ruins

This one actually started off really well, which was why the subsequent idiocy was even more disappointing: Team Disposable 5 (Jock, Nerd, Clown, Slut and Virgin. Thank you, Cabin In The Woods) go out to an old “Mayan” ruin, where Jock’s brother is supposed to be digging. They are surrounded and forced into the ruins by creepy tribal “Mayans” with guns and not allowed to leave. They quickly discover that they are under attack by carnivorous plants, and the Mayans are really quarantining them so they don’t spread the stuff. So far, it’s really good.

Here’s where I got turned off. Jock is the first casualty, and breaks his back, leaving him paralyzed. Early in the second day, Nerd (who is in med school — or maybe is just accepted to med school, it’s unclear) nominates himself the leader and decides that the only way to save Jock from sepsis is to amputate his infected legs. While they have nothing but a pair of tourniquets and a pocket knife.

Yeah, no: I’m out right there. I don’t believe this asshole could even get into med school, and I don’t believe anyone would go along with it. I don’t believe Clown doesn’t just punch this moron out an try to run for help, especially since no help is known to be coming. It’s obviously an excuse for serious gore and screaming, and I’m done.

But these guys are geniuses compared to whoever wrote Monsters.

So, yeah: a NASA space probe fell on Mexico awhile back and infected it with giant squid kaiju. The “infected zone” (i.e. Northern Mexico, which conveniently didn’t spread north of the US border) is quarantined. Gas masks are for some reason ubiquitously distributed to the poor just outside the Quarantine Zone (in case what? Someone inhales a case of kraken?) and the US military and reporters are dispatched to contain and record the invasion.

The storyline before I turned it off was that Reporter Hero is ordered by his boss, Magazine Owner, to rescue Magazine Owner’s Baby Girl (age: 22-25), who is there for No Discernible Reason and was mildly wounded in a Squid Kaiju Attack (OUTside the QZ. Why does the QZ exist, again?) and to escort her back to the USA. So, we’re supposed to believe that Magazine Owner who is willing to pay $50,000 per shot of kaiju-killed kids won’t charter a private jet with trained security squad to fly down to Mexico to get Baby Girl away from the kaiju, but instead will simply bully Reporter Hero on the scene into buying said Baby Girl a $5K ticket on a refugee ferry up the Baja coast. Sure. Because that’s what people do. In the same scene he’s buying the ticket, refugees are lined up to be “escorted” across the “Quarantine Zone” to the US.

And that’s where I was out. The producers/directors obviously don’t understand that quarantine might mean something in an alien invasion, or that rich people would spend money to save their loved ones effectively. The script also contained such gems as:

Reporter Hero: So, you’re married?
Baby Girl: Engaged.
Reporter Hero: What’s the difference?

Although I have to admit liking the exchange that went:

Baby Girl: Doesn’t it bother you that your job relies on terrible things happening?
Reporter Hero: You mean like a doctor?

Or a soldier, policeman, firefighter, safety regulator, health inspector, et multiple cetera…

Please, friends. There are ways, MANY ways to get your drama without relying on idiot plots like these.

Don’t Hate The Catcher, Hate The Game

So, I did something this weekend I’ve been thinking about for a couple of decades, and reread The Catcher In The Rye, which I haven’t touched since I was forced to read it in high school. Honestly, the most memorable part of the book for me was Holden’s rant at the end of the book about the kind of people who feel the need to write “Fuck You” on blank surfaces. Other than that, the book was fairly unmemorable for me, but then I was in a conversation where the book came up and a few people said that they hated Holden Caulfield more than any other character in literature.

I didn’t remember hating Holden Caulfield all that much when I read the book. I just remembered thinking that he was kind of an asshole. But I also thought that maybe, just maybe, being the staple that it is, the book deserved a reread from an adult perspective rather than the self-centered teenager that I was when I was forced to read it.

Having read it again from a middle-aged perspective, however, I can now say with confidence that Holden Caulfield is, in fact, still kind of an asshole. He’s pretty emblematic of the kind of asshole that comes from rich, urban families: the kind that has absolutely no inkling of what real need is and is obsessed with criticizing all his peers and family because, (ugh!) his rich brother who writes for Hollywood and the guys at his private prep school keep wanting to do things that they care about for Chrissakes, without realizing how stupid they are.

Of course, Holden is just fine with screwing up what other people want to do — his own school’s fencing team, for example — and his own education by refusing to study for anything, and never once considers that refusing to participate in the games of life that he so despises might be even dumber than participating in them. He merely goes on with his suffocating sense of superiority in having “seen through” everyone else’s phoniness. Of course, there is absolutely no way for anyone to prove to Holden that they aren’t phony (although, to be fair, he doesn’t seem to think everybody is: Holden at least has the virtue of taking innocence seriously) but he rarely thinks that the problem might be him. He thinks he’s pissed off because he is where he is, but he’s really pissed off that he isn’t who he isn’t. Holden never considers that anyone might actually have a reason to be invested in anything that Holden doesn’t personally value. He assumes the worst of everyone but himself all the time, and assumes the worst of himself half the time.

In other words, Holden is the typical teenager, but the “loser” variant: He’s unpopular with his friends because he doesn’t really do anything, won’t pick up on social signals like ending conversations, and talks loudly enough to piss them off — except he always seems to have friend. This, by the way, is where I call bullshit on the novel: any kid who acts the way Holden acts wouldn’t have ANY friends except guys exactly like him, and Holden manages to be hanging out with at least three girls plus a couple of guys over the course of the novel, and everyone always has time for him. This makes Holden a kind of depressing Reverse Gary Stu: he THINKS he’s better than everyone else, while clearly being worse, AND YET people still talk to him. This seems rather clumsy for a writer of Salinger’s stature, but I mean, he’s also got Holden telling us that he breaks his hand punching in car windows while not cutting hell out of the same hand. And he meets a guy who has a Memorial Wing of a private school named after him while he’s still alive, and I’m pretty sure both of those things are bullshit, too.

Now, “loser” teenagers usually straighten up after a couple of hard lessons and progress toward more-or-less functional adulthood at least: there’s no real shame in being one, and Holden, let’s be honest, has had a bit harder a road than most rich kids, having lost a brother to leukemia and a classmate to being (likely raped and) murdered. So I can’t say that I hate him, or even think terribly badly of him: he’s just a kid, acting in the way that a lot of kids do. A slave to his feelings: looking for sex, looking for love, looking for friends, drinking when he can to ease the pain, and pretending he’s a lot older and smarter than he is, judging the people he wants to keep him company.

The question I’m left with is, what the hell makes Holden Caulfield so special? Holden has become this rather-tiresomely-repeated “symbol for teenage rebellion,” that “captures the experience of being a teenager,” butr it’s so mundane that it could be ANYONE. So why this guy? Holden is a literary Kardashian, famous for being famous and having the right friends and money. I can see no more reason to care about Holden than I would care about Stradlater or Sally except for the fact that Salinger chose to shove Holden in our faces.

Moreover, Holden plainly is everything he’s rebelling against, and he’s rebelling mostly by doing nothing in particular except throwing around money and endlessly discussing the most average insights as though they’re profound truths, and trolling those more successful and popular than him and utterly failing to get laid, while bitching about how the people that actually can are bastards. While messing around with this bog, I found a fairly well-written piece that claims that Holden is actually protesting against sexual assault. But the flip side of this is that Holden still wants sex from the same women, he just doesn’t get it because, well, because Holden is a nice guy. Holden’s white-knighting while complaining places him as sort of an eerie incel of the fifties,* who even prefigures the incel-lingo of “Chads” and “Stacies” by referring to people in magazine stories as “Davids,” “Lindas” and “Marcias.”

Look, this kid is about sixteen. I can sympathize with the kid and his pain and frustration, sure. But take him seriously? Who with an ounce of sense would? Holden Caulfield talks like a pothead without the pot. The Deep Philosopher of the School of It Stands To Feel without actually having done the work of reasoning and understanding philosophy. He is, as Wolfgang Pauli is supposed to have remarked about a physics paper, “not even wrong.” He doesn’t have even the beginnings of a framework to make the moral judgments he’s pronouncing.

I really can’t imagine what kind of person could have ever read this book and found it entertaining, let alone profound, except… no wait: this is Maury Povich for pseudointellectuals, isn’t it? It’s so popular in English departments and among English teachers because so many guys in the English dept. ARE Holden Caulfield. And since I have two degrees in English, I think I might have a clue as to what I’m talking about: so many of them are absolutely contemptuous of everyone and everything because they think they have risen above “the common taste.” Only where I read books and dreamed about riding starships and dragons, as far as I can tell, when most of these guys read books, they hoped that one day they would be the guy with all the drugs and the broody sexiness and instant intellectuality, which is just sad. And Holden is simultaneously their model, while failing to be what they want to be. So, yeah, they can aspire to be the better version of him: it’s watching Maury for people who think they’re too good to watch Maury.

The sad part is that Holden is almost offered (though it’s questionable whether he would take) an epiphany by Mr. Antolini, who warns Holden of the danger he is most certainly in: the danger of declaring yourself disillusioned before you were ever illusioned, and of disdaining paying society’s dues because it seems unprofitable and mundane.

But just then Salinger immediately undercuts this by having Mr. Antolini behave in a way that is at least inappropriate toward Holden, and is probably a sexual advance. So where does this leave us? Well, it conveniently leaves Holden as the only remaining moral authority in the book, able to freely disregard Antolini’s actually good advice.

The problem is not Holden the catcher. The problem is that Salinger has made it impossible for Holden, the Catcher in the Rye, to win any game. All the potential victories are poisoned, all the possible goals false. There is no consummation, there is only masturbation: the fruitless and hollow comfort of having been right never to trust and never to try. And I can’t help but think that’s what the goal was all along: for Salinger to propagate despair and pat himself on the back for it. And far too many people have bought into his game.

*And holy shit, how is there discussion of Holden Caulfield being gay? I mean, that takes some world-class projection: he’s punching his roommate for maybe feeling up a girl he likes, hiring whores, and desperately proposing marriage. And this guy is gay? Yeah, in a world where Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas were “just roommates,” maybe.

Jim Baen Memorial Award: “Salvage Judgment” Out Now

Woke up to this post from Baen Books today:

READ THE 2021 JIM BAEN MEMORIAL AWARD WINNING STORY “SALVAGE JUDGMENT’ BY G. SCOTT HUGGINS!

https://www.baen.com/salvage-judgment

Since 2007, The National Space Society and Baen Books have honored the role that science fiction plays in advancing real science by teaming up to sponsor the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award. The prize is given out at the annual International Space Development Conference banquet. “Salvage Judgment” is the winner of this year’s Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award. And, for the first time in over a decade, we have a double winner of both the JBM and the Baen Fantasy Adventure awards. “Humanslayer,” by G. Scott Huggins was the 2020 grand prize winner of the sixth annual Baen Fantasy Adventure Award. As a testament to the author’s ability, we would like to stress that both contests are judged blind, and the judges had no idea who the authors were while adjudicating both contests!

I hope you all enjoy it.

Mining asteroids for resources has become a very real ...

Movie Reviews Far Too Late: Dragonslayer

So, let’s just come out and admit it: there were a lot of bad movies in the eighties. And especially, there were a lot of bad F/SF movies. There were a lot of people who, having seen the success of Star Wars, were convinced that they could do the same thing, either by blowing their money on special effects and not bothering to write a decent story (Lifeforce), or worse, by NOT blowing their money on special effects, and STILL not bothering to write a decent story (Yeah, that’s you Buckaroo Banzai). There were movies that tried to blatantly rip off other, better movies (Explorers and Starman).

But every now and then you got a real gem of a film that managed to do it mostly right. And it hovered on the background of your consciousness until you finally watched it. And for me, that film was Dragonslayer.

I think the thing that stood out for me was this: I can think of few films that used their limited special effects better. Oh, sure, you can tell that the director was stretching 1981’s technology to the breaking point, and by our standards today, it’s pretty laughable. But considering how difficult it was to film something as complex as a dragon (spaceships are easy by comparison) the results were stunning.

But mostly what blew me away was the dedication to telling an actual story that I, who live in a time of gritty anti-heroes, found refreshing. I really don’t want to spoiler this film (which can be watched for free on Amazon Prime: go watch it!), but roughly, it’s the tale of Galen, a sorcerer’s apprentice, whose master, Ulrich, is approached by a delegation of commoners whose kingdom is beset by a dragon. Their king is appeasing the dragon by feeding it virgins by “lot,” a lottery that his own daughter and those of his nobles are curiously immune to. Ulrich is killed by the king’s captain of the guard, Tyrian, whose lord doesn’t want to take the risk of upsetting the dragon, and Galen is left to attempt the deed himself, with only his master’s amulet to give him any power at all.

While the writing is sometimes clumsy and rough, the movie as a whole was like a breath of fresh air. Galen, our hero, is neither a whiner nor an overpowered Gary Stu. He just decides he’s going to get the job done, and faces it with courage. Valerian, his love interest, who has grown up disguised as her blacksmith father’s “son” to save her from the lottery, is actually believable in that role, and not a knockout beauty that leaves you wondering whether literally all the men in the village are blind. Casiodorus, the appeasing king, has a backstory that makes his cowardice understandable, if not pardonable, and probably believes, on some level, that he really is doing what’s best for his kingdom. Taken together, the heroes use brains and courage to defeat the dragon Vermithrax, and it’s a great ride.

In these days when men of physical courage and authority are often derided or suspect by definition, and the ninja supergirl is often called upon to improbably save the day, it’s a tale that recalls a more innocent time.

Win Five Free SIGNED Books!

I am honored to be part of a wonderful five-book giveaway sponsored by David (D.J. Butler), the author of WITCHY EYE (which is a wonderful read, BTW, set in an incredibly unique alternate reality America of the early 1800s). We are each giving away five signed copies of our work in five packages. You can enter multiple times, and I hope you will. Simply click here to be taken to the entry platform.

Take Responsibility. And Sarah Calhoun, St. Tommy, and Joaquin Serrano! Happy Reading!

Review: All Things Huge and Hideous by G. Scott Huggins

Very honored to have had my work attract this sort of attention. Thanks so much to Nate LaPoint!

Empyrean Blade

Doctor James DeGrande is slave to the Dark Lord. In the Empire of Dread, he is essentially head veterinarian, dealing with dragons, basilisks, dire wolves, wyverns, and other creatures and monstrosities. Most of which are visible.

This is what you get when you filter Terry Pratchett through Blackadder and G.K. Chesterton. The fantasy world is plenty quirky and the situations and side characters colorful and memorable. I actually had to put the book down once because I was laughing so hard. The Chesterton-esque wit comes to the fore in the author’s ability to take a tense situation and cleverly turn it on its head and show that it is not only tense, but also absurd. There is something very Edmund Blackadder about DeGrande frantically trying to stay ahead of the Dark Lord and his minions and keep his head. G. Scott Huggins gives us a book that is often painfully…

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FantaSci AAR: Anatomy Of A Novel Release

Okay, this is late for an AAR from FantaSci. I know, it was two whole weeks ago, but let’s just say that the two worst times for any writer whose day job is teaching are the end of May and the beginning of September. Now that the feverish activity surrounding the last two weeks of school are out of the way, I can pretend I have a blog again.

The people at FantaSci were awesome, and I’d like to especially thank my editor, Rob Howell, who shoehorned me onto panels and shared his reading time, because up until we knew that my novel was releasing here, I wasn’t really officially part of the con.

I’m so honored to be part of Chris Kennedy Publishing and New Mythology Press; these guys really made me feel at home. And for the first time in my life, I had fans — like, actual, honest-to-God FANS — stop me in the hall and ask me to sign copies of a book. MY book. With, like, my actual name on the cover! And they bought copies! Of my book!

Here’s my book, which I have hardly mentioned on this blog.

So, I got to hang out with Larry Correia, who was nice enough to blurb this novel, and he is one of the most helpful senior authors I have ever met. Friday was my reading, and while it was understandably not well-attended, neither was anyone else’s, let’s be honest.

The highlight of my con was undoubtedly the Baen Roadshow, because 1) my picture was up there TWICE as the only mortal to have yet achieved the honor of winning both Baen Awards, and 2) Toni Weisskopf, the publisher of Baen, used the opportunity to mock the difference between Fantasy Scott and Science-Fiction Scott pictures. Hey, what can I say: those Jim Baen Memorial pictures of previous winners were intimidating. They were wearing ties and I lost my cool.

Fantasy Scott



Science-Fiction Scott

But people kept coming up to me and congratulating me on my wins. Like it meant something! See, the thing is, if you tell your “normal” friends or co-workers, “I won a SFF writing award,” they’ll go, “Oh. That’s nice. Congratulations.” But, really, it’s not part of their world, and it’s kind of like telling them that your club curling team won the state championship. Okay. That is a thing that some people — odd people — do.
But at FantaSci, people are INTO club curling! I mean, SFF. And they GOT why it was a big deal!

Also on Saturday, I was on a panel with Rob Howell and Barbara Evers discussing what made magic and magic users work. Probably do another blog entry on that. And then I also got to hang out with Robert “Speaker” Hampson, who kindly gave my kids little stuffed Wroguls (NOT octopuses) and whose book about these awesome aliens DO NO HARM I heartily recommend!

No, Seriously, I’m Giving Away A Signed Book. And Reading from it!

So, I’m giving away a signed copy of my new novel, and all you have to do to have a chance to win it is reblog and like the post. Chances of winning are dropping all the time, but there’s still one day before it releases tomorrow!

I’ll be at FantaSci in Raleigh, NC in just a few hours, and will be reading from the novel in the Oak Room at 3 pm CDT tomorrow!

Please stop by if you happen to be there!

BOOK GIVEAWAY: RESPONSIBILITY OF THE CROWN! (AND EXCERPT)

BIG BOOK RELEASE GIVEAWAY! MAY 21ST LAUNCH!!

I have a whole box of fresh, book-scented copies of my new, first-in-the-series novel, RESPONSIBILITY OF THE CROWN. Would you like a signed copy? Here’s what you do:

LIKE AND REBLOG this post between now and the LAUNCH DATE, MAY 21st! That’s all. And then, I will draw ONE NAME, and send you a copy of the book. Winners will be posted on May 29th, and books sent out on June 7th!

And it is with great pleasure that I present this excerpt, in which our protagonists assault an enemy airship:

Elazar turned to Azriyqam and Merav. Azriyqam felt as though she were trapped in a soap-bubble that might pop and take this whole unreal situation with it. At the same time, his voice took on an eerie clarity. “Stay on my wing. Azriyqam left, Merav right. We’re going to skim the trees and then climb from darkward. We attack out of the dark. I’ll be in front. You land behind our target. If you’re hurt, get back down as fast as you can. Now, fly!”

With that, he ran for the beach. Azriyqam followed, with Merav a half-second behind. They spread their wings, climbing in the gentle breeze. The great airship was very close now, but Azriyqam could not look back at it. Trying to look around while flying was an invitation to losing control.

The flat leaves of the palm trees formed a surface of dark waves beneath her, undulating in the wind. Ahead of her, Elazar’s deep bronze and Merav’s pale mauve skins glinted in the silver light, and her own pale green flesh doubtless did the same. How visible are we? She shuddered, remembering the terrible, tearing drumbeat of the Consortium’s guns—was it only yesterday?—and the far worse, sickening sensation of sliding her airswords through flesh that had followed.

Azriyqam strained against the air, putting everything into climbing. Elazar accelerated upward and she slid below him. Sure enough, a column of warm night air filled her wings and she rode the thermal after him. They flew higher in a wide spiral.

Now Azriyqam could risk a look back. The Consortium’s airship gleamed at the edges like a stretched egg, but dark at the center. Then, a beam of brilliant white light stabbed out from beneath it, probing down at the beach.

Ice settled in Azriyqam’s gut. Now they would find Senaatha for sure. Elazar said nothing, but continued his climb, and she and Merav followed for interminable seconds. The balloon hung below them, motionless now, just above the level of the trees. Elazar stopped climbing and arrowed back along their path in a shallow dive, and Azriyqam followed, wings aching with effort.

Elazar folded his wings, grabbed something from his harness, dropping sharply. The other two followed.

Now the earth rushed at her, the ovoid of the airship getting big. Bigger. Unbelievably big, becoming a curved surface. Against the moonlight, for just an instant, Azriyqam saw a black protrusion become a man standing within a small, circular railing. Clamped to the railing was a long, deadly shape. Suddenly, he rose, fumbling for the machine gun.

Elazar’s wings swept forward. Two silvery darts shot from between his fingers. The man staggered back, clutching at his chest, and Elazar was down, running across the canvas surface of the envelope. The throwing darts were light weapons, meant more to distract than to kill, but propelled by the momentum of his dive, they had struck their victim at over a hundred miles an hour. His scream had been ripped away by the wind, and as he levered himself painfully off the railing of his station, Elazar buried his airswords in the man’s chest. He fell with a soft moan.

Azriyqam’s own momentum carried her past him and she staggered, going to one knee on the taut but yielding surface. She staggered to her feet.