Friday, January 23, 2015

Star Wars The Hand of Thrawn Duology Visions of the Future review



This week I decided to review Star Wars: The Hand of Thrawn Duology: Visions of the Future by Timothy Zahn. The story continues the multiple plotlines from the last book, with Imperial Supreme Commander Palleon awaiting a reply to his offer of truce talks with the New Republic and pondering who might be behind the recent attack on Chimera, as he is certain they were not who they claimed to be. Meanwhile the bickering over what punishment should be extracted for the role a group of Bothans played in the destruction of Caamas just after the Clone Wars, though it is clear that many are just using this as an excuse to pick up ancient feuds, and the number of warships over Bothawui begins to grow rapidly as both sides of the argument send fleets. Garm bel Iblis is called away to prepare for a Da raid on Yaga Minor, the most heavily guarded system in what is left of the Empire and one of the few places which might have an intact list of the Bothans involved in the Caamas attack, though he leaves Wedge Antilles and Coran Horn, former Corsec agent and secret Force Sensitive to observe the situation on Bothawui.  They eventually link up with an agent of Tallon Karrde who joins their efforts to hunt the Imperial agents who are trying to bring the crisis to a boiling point, but must soon rejoin bel Iblis for his raid. Meanwhile, Karrde himself is seeking Jorj Car'das, a former associate he has no desire to meet again but who might possess an intact Caamas Document.  It is eventually revealed that Car’das was the founder of the smuggling organization Karrde now leads, and Karrde fears that even if he gets through the maze of criminal organizations and pirate fleets on the road to Car’das his former boss will demand revenge. Also the rogue Imperial forces seeking to use the ongoing crisis to destroy the New Republic begin to gain ground as worlds who fear their neighbors and believe that Grand Admiral Thrawn has returned seek to rejoin the Empire. Han and Leia take what is supposed to be a vacation, but after being rescued from an Imperial ambush by a former Imperial sleeper cell, they split up, with Han and Lando going on a quest to find the well-hidden capital of the Empire, followed by Leia moving to meet Palleon after the message sent by his captured aide is reconstructed. All comes to a head over Yaga Minor and Bothawui where Han struggles to put in end to the battle between Republic factions sparked by war hawk Imperial saboteurs, and Lando must rally the tattered forces that remain to face a war hawk-controlled Imperial fleet. And as all this is happening, Luke continues his quest to rescue Mara Jade and joins her to discover the true secret of the Hand of Thrawn. But a great sacrifice is called for to stop the Hand from falling into the wrong hands and only Mara Jade can decide if the price she must pay will be worth it.

I give this book an 8.5 out of 10. It’s a great book and a wonderful send off for the Bantam era of Star Wars novels. However there are a few flaws. The biggest is the sense of scale. Its claimed that the Imperial forces over Bothawui are outnumbered twenty to one but still outgun their opposing forces when they drop out of cloak. That would be unlikely even if all of the Republic-allied vessels were among the smallest class to be considered warships rather than fighters or gunboats. But earlier in the book the classes of some of the warships gathering are mentioned and three of those classes could hold their own against an Imperial Star Destroyer or outgun one alone.  Also, while the author did a great job of tying the various plotlines to the main story, I feel there were a few areas that could have used a little trimming. This is one of the longest Star Wars novels ever released, and could have easily been divided into two books. 


Friday, January 16, 2015

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Missing review



This week I decided to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Missing by Una McCormack. The book has several overlapping plotlines, one of which involves Katherine Pulaski’s efforts as one of the leaders of the Athene Donald, a civilian science vessel crewed by a mix of personnel from both the Khitomer Accords allies and the rival Typhon Pact, and commanded by an old friend of Pulaski’s. There is a lively argument when Starfleet Intelligence wants to send an agent on the mission but it is swiftly resolved and the mission travels into the Delta Quadrant where they meet a highly advanced vessel from a new power which call themselves The Chained. Meanwhile, Odo has come to ask Captain Ro for help. The son of an old Cardassian friend of his was captured by the Romulans during the Dominion War a decade before the book and is one of a number of Cardassian POWs that weren’t returned after the war’s end. Odo hopes to use Deep Space Nine as a meeting point for discussions between the Romulans and Cardassians, but problems soon arise as Bajorans begin protesting the presence of Cardassians on the station, and the Cardassians begin staging protests outside the Romulan Consulate with some of the protests almost becoming riots. And while this is happening, the station is visited by the People of the Open Sky, a group of apparent refugees who wander space gathering the outcasts of civilizations. And then there’s Corazine, a Tzenkethi taken from her homeworld by Starfleet Intelligence, who befriends Odo. She is supposed to join the Athene Donald but stays because while she is uncertain what she wants, she knows going to the Gamma Quadrant isn’t it. This leads to her becoming one of the prime suspects, along with The People of the Open Sky when classified medical data from acting chief medical officer Crusher’s office is stolen. Back on the Athene Donald, the crew has realized that the founders of the People of the Open Sky belong to the same species as the Chain and when the Chain discovers where the People of the Open Sky are, they accuse the People of kidnapping and demand their return, leaving he Deep Space Nine crew in a race to confirm who stole the data while struggling to keep the peace with the Chained to prevent the badly outgunned Athene Donald from facing The Chain vessel in combat.
I give this book a 8 out of 10. The author did a very good job of juggling and linking most of the plotlines and I liked the ending. However there are a couple of points where the timing of past events that led to the story don’t fit with what was established in the TV series. Also the Romulan and Cardassian plot seems to have few solid ties to the rest of the story. 


Friday, January 9, 2015

The Clone Apocalypse review



This week I decided to review The Clone Apocalypse by Steven L. Kent. The book opens with an Enlisted Man’s Empire ship stumbles across an apparently derelict Explorer-class ship. When the clone crew investigates they find that all the clones who had been manning the Explorer are dead, killed by the killswitch designed by the Unifed Authority to end the lives of clones who realized that they were clones. Meanwhile back on Earth, Watson, who had served as interim president while Wayson Harris, the current leader of the EME, was missing, contacts Harris to let him know that he and his girlfriend have captured a high ranking UA spy and are trapped in territory controlled by the remnants of the UA forces. Harris leads a strike mission as a diversion for a successful rescue mission and it seems as if the EME’s victory in the war is inevitable. But then a mysterious flu begins striking clones across the EME, eventually triggering their killswitches. After it is discovered that Harris’ lover Sunny is a UA agent, Harris leads a strike to her apartment building, suspecting that stockpiles of the virus and possibly a cure can be found there. But there is no treatment and Harris, who lacks the killswitch but is still badly weakened by the flu, must flee as the UA launches its final offensive against the rapidly dwindling forces of the EME. But when Harris is betrayed, his few surviving allies must unite to save him and launch one last-ditch campaign against the now overwhelming might of the UA.

I give this book a 7 out of 10. The action sequences  are much better in this book then the previous one, and the absurd difference in quality between defense tech and weapons tech in the setting is still there but not as common. However, the book spoils itself far too often for my taste. There’s never any wondering how the EME might emerge victorious from the crisis because most of the early chapters end with a blurb making it crystal clear that the EME loses, and another early chapter ends in a blurb revealing where, and in one case how, and when major characters die. Also I found the ending very disappointing. 


Friday, January 2, 2015

The Death of Captain America review



This week I decided to review the adaptation of The Death of Captain America by Larry Hama.
The story opens with Red Skull using a Cosmic Cube to transfer his mind into the body of Aleksander Lukin, a former KGB general who was also the mentor of the Winter Soldier’s controller and possesses all of his teacher’s secrets.  Next we see Sharon Carter, Captain America’s former SHIELD handler and lover meeting with a SHIELD psychiatrist, who is soon revealed to be Doctor Fastus who is working for Red Skull. Then we see a couple battles and raids from the Marvel Civil War period all leading up to the assassination of Captain America.  While Agent Carter struggles against her programming which is preventing her from revealing the truth, the Winter Soldier has vowed vengeance against those responsible for the death of his former mentor and best friend, including the new Director of SHIELD, Tony Stark, whom he blames for putting Captain America in such a vulnerable position. Stark, fearing that the Winter Soldier has gone rogue, sends Barnes’ former student and brief lover the Black Widow after him. Stark also retires the position and title of Captain America only to discover that one of Steve Rogers’ final wishes was for Captain America to live on even if he died. Armed with this knowledge, Stark sets out to recruit Barnes to take his Mentor’s place. As the story goes on Carter is captured by Red Skull who is using a series of staged incidents, along with his daughter Sin and a number of SHIELD agents brainwashed by Fastus, to turn the American public against SHIELD so the Kronas Corporation, now controlled by Red Skull, can take over SHIELD’s duties in America. But this may just be window dressing for a plot to create a Captain America controlled by Red Skull…

I give this book an 8 out of 10. It wasn’t poorly written but some portions of the story seem like they were skimmed over without enough detail. Also, there are far too many questions left unanswered at the story’s end for my taste. To me it feels like only part of the full story was told and there should be a part two. 


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

More Giveaways!

I'm also having giveaways for The Game Called Revolution (https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/created_by/17761797) and The Revolution Beyond Time (https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/120758-the-revolution-beyond-time). Both copies are signed by yours truly.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Incident 27 -- Chapter II

Here's more Incident 27 goodness for you to gobble up, courtesy of yours truly. Again, I don't recommend reading this if you haven't read God School, as it contains spoilers. With that being said, please enjoy this work in progress.


The following morning, Ev met Maya in the hangar. The cavernous room was primarily used for storage, but every so often they cleared the floor to make room for airplanes which the faculty members created using their highly advanced conjuring skills.
       Brandon and Freya were just finishing creating a large passenger plane when Ev arrived. It was an amazing thing to see in action. The various pieces of the massive vehicle simply materialized out of thin air, like reverse-disintegration.
       As usual, once it was completed, Brandon and Freya dropped to their knees, exhausted. Even for veteran gods, the process was very taxing. They always recovered fairly quickly, though.
       When Brandon saw Ev and Maya, he made a grand gesture to the newly-created plane and said, “All aboard for Morovia.” Throughout the day the gods would be creating various planes and taking students to each continent where they would then make separate arrangements to go wherever they were headed. This particular plane would be going to Ev’s homeland, the crescent-shaped continent Morovia, home of the great metropolis Seraphim City.
       “Thanks a bunch, Professor,” Ev said. He then added, “Professors,” remembering to recognize Freya’s contribution as well.
       Freya got back to her feet. “Our pleasure, Ev. I’m just glad we don’t do this every day.” Usually the Academy just had to ferry one or two students to and from Mt. Orleia. In such cases, they employed small sleighs pulled by otherworldly tigers Freya summoned from her chest. Ev still had no idea where those cats came from.
       “Good—I’m not too late.”
       Ev and Maya turned. Jaysin was standing there. “What are you doing here?” Ev asked him. “Your plane doesn’t leave for another hour.” Jaysin was going back to his homeland of Chrichton.
       “Just wanted t’say goodbye.”
       Ev rolled his eyes. “Cut the drama. We’ll only be gone a week.”
       Jaysin extended his hand. “Still…think I’ll miss ya, mate.”
       Ev shook his friend’s hand. “Well…as much as I hate to admit it, I’ll miss you, too. Probably.”
       “Get a room, you two,” Maya laughed.
       “Hey, hey, hey—watch it, missy. In case you’ve forgotten, I know your weakness. You. Have. A. Boyfriend.”
       She turned red and whirled away from Jaysin. “S-Shut up.”
       “Hey, no worries. I didn’t mean nothing by it. Just having a poke at my friends, that’s all.”
       Ev laughed. “You’re all heart, Jaysin.”
       Jaysin shrugged. “I try.”
       From behind them, Brandon coughed. “Sorry to interrupt, but everyone else has finished boarding the plane.”
       “Looks like it’s time to go,” Ev said.
       “Take care, Ev,” Jaysin replied.
       “You, too.”
       Jaysin then added, “You take care as well, Maya.”
       Without turning around, she said, “Same to you, Jaysin.”
      
* * *

They boarded the plane, and by the afternoon, they had arrived at Seraphim City International Airport. Ev couldn’t help but be reminded of the last time he had been at a major airport. That was in Stiftung. Belial had just unleashed the Nephilim into the city, and the students, who were on a field trip, had to fight their way back to the airport in order to get on their plane and escape. Unfortunately, they had to overtake another plane—also attempting to escape—which ended up being destroyed by a Nephilim. At the time, Brandon and Freya justified the sacrifice by saying they had to get back to the Academy to summon reinforcements to fight the angelic giants. On a purely logical level, Ev agreed, but that incident still haunted him. Seeing all those people go up in flames only a few feet away was something he would never forget. It seemed it was his fate to take part in the deaths of others.
       “Ev? You OK?”
       He snapped out of it and looked around. They were walking through the terminal, and Maya was attempting to talk to him. “Yeah. Sorry. I was just remembering our escape from Stiftung. Oh, wait—you weren’t with us.” In fact, Maya had gone over to Belial’s side after shooting her friends with arrows. They had had to flee Stiftung without her.
       “No,” she said. “I guess I wasn’t.” She went quiet. She deeply regretted her actions, but no amount of apologizing would ever undo them. Both of them simply had to live with the things they’d done.
       He took her hand. “It’s OK. As long as we’re here for each other, we can keep moving forward.”
       “Thank you, Ev.”
       They said their goodbye to Brandon and Freya and headed to another terminal. From there, they would catch another plane to another airport further to the south.

* * *

After another hour of flight, their plane landed in Grantz Municipal Airport about forty-five minutes outside Ev’s hometown of Upton. They took a cab the rest of the way, and before long they were in Upton.
       “Nice place,” Maya said.
       “Yep,” Ev said. “10,000 people, one police station, two fire stations, one high school.”
       The cab drove them through town, up Main Street, past a collection of businesses that comprised downtown Upton. Here and there were parks with walking trails, nice-looking playground equipment and dilapidated buildings—a study in contrasts. Some of the tax money was spent well, and some of it wasn’t.
       They went past Upton Middle School, which was three large white buildings built side-by-side. Each building housed a different grade. One of Ev’s few fond memories of growing up was attending here. He had loved school, mostly because he didn’t have to fear his father during the day.
       Behind the middle school they entered a neighborhood. It was strictly a middle-class residential area, not too rich and not too poor. The Bannen family probably would have made more money if Ev’s father had let his wife work full-time. But no, he (violently) insisted the bulk of her life be dedicated to serving him.
       They came to a brick one-story house at the end of the block with a two-car garage. As it was when Ev had grown up here, nothing about it stood out at all. The lawn was well-maintained by a man Ev’s mother periodically hired. You’d never know this house had once been the site of constant fear and, ultimately, a gruesome death.
       Ev paid the driver and they strolled up to the house. He rang the doorbell. A middle-aged woman with fading brown hair answered. “Ev! It’s so good to see you again!”
       They hugged. “It’s good to see you, too, Mom.”
       “Come inside,” she said to the two of them.
       When his mother had shut the door behind them, Ev said, “Mom, I want you to meet a…uh…special friend of mine. This is Maya Brünhart. Maya, this is Anni Bannen.”
       The two women shook hands. “Nice to meet you,” Maya said.
       “My son has a girlfriend!” Anni exclaimed happily.
       Ev was suddenly embarrassed. “Well…that’s…I guess…”
       “It’s OK, Ev,” Maya said. She turned her attention back to his mother. “We’re still feeling things out.”
       Anni nodded. “I understand. It was the same way with…” Her mood abruptly darkened. She was going to say, It was the same way with Dom and me. But that would have been a load of crap. Ev had long ago vowed never to resemble his father in any way, shape or form. “Never mind. It’s not important. Please, have a seat, you two. We have so much to talk about.”
       Ev and Maya sat down on the couch in front of the TV. Anni retreated into the kitchen. Maya looked around and said, “There aren’t any pictures of your father. That’s no surprise, I guess.”
       Indeed there weren’t. There were photos of Ev and his mother which varied in age. There were photos of baby Ev, middle-school Ev, high school Ev, young Anni and present-day Anni. But there were absolutely no pictures of Dom Bannen. Ev explained, “After he died, he burned every last scrap of his existence. He never deserved to exist in the first place.”
       Anni returned from the kitchen with sodas which she offered to Ev and Maya. She then pulled up a chair and sat down in front of them. “I’m sorry my husband isn’t here to meet you, Maya, but he ran off years ago—”
       “Mom,” Ev interjected. “She knows.”
       “Oh.” Anni’s face was melancholy. “I’m sorry you had to be burdened with that knowledge, Maya.”
       But Maya said, “It’s OK, Anni. Ev felt he could tell me because I told him my dark secret. We found one another because he both had similar experiences.”
       That seemed to satisfy Ev’s mother. “Well, I won’t ask you what you’ve been through. People have a right to their privacy, after all. Still, I will never forgive myself for what happened.”
       “It wasn’t your fault,” Maya said.
       “But it was. Poor Ev lived in constant fear because I was too weak to do anything. I kept telling myself Dom would change, that he would eventually see the light and stop abusing us. I was such a fool. And then came the night where he actually decided to kill me. I was so scared, I couldn’t move. Because of that, Ev had to do the unthinkable, the thing no child should ever have to do. It’s my fault he has to live with that for the rest of his life.”
       She was in tears now. Ev went over to comfort her.

* * *

After Anni had calmed down, Ev returned to his place on the couch beside Maya. “I’m sorry about that,” she said.
       “No, it’s OK. You have a right to be human. That’s something I didn’t learn until last year,” Maya said.
       Anni smiled approvingly at her. “Thank you, Maya. I can tell you’re a good match for Ev.
       “Let’s change the subject, shall we? Tell me about this university. You suddenly ran off to it, and I never really got the details. To tell the truth, I’ve been so worried, wondering if you chose a good school.”
       Ev sighed. He had not been looking forward to this. He didn’t know how she would react when he revealed the truth. Nevertheless, he decided it needed to be done. “Mom, were you following the news last year when that evil god took over Stiftung in the Murnau Islands?”
       “Of course I was. It was unbelievable, really; a real, live god who isn’t Bethos! But what does this have to do with your college?”
       Ev told her everything, starting with how he had been saved from refghasts by Brandon Strong, to his sudden enrollment in Divine Protector University, to their field trip to Stiftung and the subsequent attack by Belial, to their journey through the Tower of Babel. Anni stared at him, dumbstruck. Finally, she said, “I think I need to lay down for a bit. This is a lot to take in.”
       “Sure, Mom. I understand.” But did Mom understand? Could she accept the reality of her son as a god-in-training? Only time would tell, he supposed.

* * *

In the backyard, Ev and Maya stared at the indistinct patch of grass. It looked no different than the rest of the grass. “This is it,” Ev said.
       “This is where you buried him?”
       “Yeah. Luckily it happened at night, so were able to dig up the grass without anyone seeing us. I still see it clearly when I close my eyes. His blood was on my hands and I was going crazy with fear. I had just killed my father. I had taken a life. I knew what it was like to be a killer. For the love of Bethos, I was eight!”
       Maya put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “It wasn’t your fault, Ev. There was nothing else you could have done. If you hadn’t done it, your mother would have been the one to die, and your father would have been the one to live. I’d say that’s an even worse scenario. Wouldn’t you agree?”
       “Yeah. It definitely would have been. Still, it doesn’t change what I went through. It doesn’t change what I go through every single day.”
       She squeezed his hand. “But you don’t go through it alone, Ev. And you never will again.”
       Despite (or because of) everything, he smiled. She was right. He wasn’t alone anymore.

* * *

Captain Arnold Schmitz stood on the deck of the DRM Blitzkrieg, one of several destroyers stationed at the giant tower which had appeared off the coast of Stiftung last year during the attack by the sinister stranger who called himself Belial. He claimed to have been a god, and with everything he was able to do, few doubted him. Having grown up in an atheist home, Schmitz had never been very religious, and still didn’t know what to make of Belial. It was certainly difficult to argue with what his eyes saw. After all, Belial had summoned angelic giants to terrorize the people of Stiftung. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he also had called down this behemoth of a tower. What exactly it was or what might be inside, no one knew. Not long after Belial went inside, three mysterious individuals were seen flying up from the depths (apparently, the tower’s entrance was underwater). When the Murnau military sent divers down there, however, they reported finding no means of entry. The only conclusion to be drawn was that there had to be a secret method of entering the structure, but so far no one had been able to find it. Schmitz and his crew tried using a blow torch to cut a hole inside, but that didn’t even make a scratch on whatever material the tower was made of. Ditto for D5 explosive charges. Next they tried shelling the place with the destroyer’s guns, but that produced no results as well.
       Thus they could not get inside. With that being the case, the Murnau government decided to bow to mounting pressure from other governments to allow them access to the site; they had nothing to lose at this point. Therefore, the Blitzkrieg was now part of a joint operation to study the tower and prevent any unauthorized entry. Of course, Schmitz suspected his superiors would be secretly pleased if someone could get the damn thing open.
       So, with nothing to really do, he just stood there on the deck, staring at the tower in the vain hope it would reveal its secrets to him. There was full cloud cover overhead, and it looked like it might rain. Schmitz hoped it would. At least then something would be happening. This was incredibly boring.
       Suddenly, a private ran up to him. “Kapitän! Radar is picking up a high-speed object heading this way from the east.”
       Well, that was something, at least. “How big?”
       “About the size of a missile.”
       Could one of the other countries be launching an attack on the site to gain control of the tower? That, he could not allow. “Are we sure its not one of ours?”
       “Positive, Kapitän. Central Command has nothing in the air.”
       Schmitz ran to the bridge. He told his first officer, Friedrick Gastoff, “As soon as we confirm the unknown object isn’t nuclear, I want it blown out of the sky.”
       Gastoff looked worried. “And if it is nuclear?”
       They both knew the answer to that question. If it was a nuke, they would wait for it to pass by the major population areas and then destroy it over the ocean. Unfortunately, they would likely get caught in the explosion, as close as they were to Stiftung.
       But Schmitz just said, “Tell me when we have confirmation.”
       A few minute later, one of the officers on the bridge announced he now had a clear radar return. Schmitz asked if it was a known nuke type. The radar operator shook his head nervously. “I don’t think it’s a nuke. It doesn’t even look like a missile.”
       What the hell was that supposed to mean? “What does it look like?”
       The operator hesitated for a moment. “A person.”
       “A what?”
       “Take a look sir. Two arms, two legs.”
       Schimitz studied the display. The unknown did indeed resemble a human being. And it was coming in even faster than a missile. He had a sickening feeling the events of last year were about to be repeated. He had to prevent that at all costs. “Shoot it down.”
       Gastoff nodded. The object had been close enough to lock onto for quite some time, but they hadn’t fired for fear of unleashing a nuclear holocaust. Now, though, they locked on and fire away with every non-nuclear missile they had. Schmitz wanted that thing shot down, but not bad enough to utilize the final option. If he was wrong, a finished career would be the worst of his worries.
       The Blitzkrieg unloaded a volley of warheads at the unknown. After thirty seconds, a series of explosions lit up the eastern sky. “Did we get it?” Schmitz asked.
       His hopes were high that they had just ended a threat before it could begin. However, movement in the direction of the smoke cut that hope short. The thing was still coming in, and fast.
       He ran out onto the deck for a better look. It was almost upon them, now, and Schmitz could see it was, in fact, a person. It had to be another of those gods (or whatever they were) flying in to do who-knew-what.
       The dark blur slammed into the hull of the Blitzkrieg, and the ship rocked from the impact. The whole thing tipped sideways as water rushed into the punctured vessel. Schmitz grabbed onto the railing to keep from falling off. Aboard the bridge, Gastoff was shouting for all hands to evacuate.
       The Tru Republic’s ship, Emerald Valiance, pulled up alongside them. “D’ye be needin’ assistance, Blitzkrieg?” one of their officers asked in their sing-song accent.
       Schmitz thought about it for a moment. “It depends on how bad the damage is. For now, you should keep an eye out for the guy that hit us.”
       “Oh, it was a guy now, was it? Didn’t realize you could be taken out so easily.”
       “This is not the time for jokes. Those gods—or whatever the hell they are—are back. He’s probably going for the entrance to the tower. You’ve got to do whatever it takes to stop him.”
       If they failed, Bethos only knew what would happen.

* * *

From miles away, on a deserted building in Stiftung harbor, Heimdall watched the events unfold. A fellow god just crashed through a Murnau ship standing guard at the Tower. Heimdall knew almost all of the players in this game, but he didn’t recognize the man that had now put his token in.
       Following the Stiftung Crisis, Bethos had stationed Heimdall here to watch over the Tower in case someone tried to enter. Evidently the Blood Key was still out there somewhere and could be used to open the entrance. As the god with the greatest eyesight, Heimdall was the logical choice.
       He gritted his gold teeth nervously and contacted Bethos via telepathy. Someone’s trying to get into the Tower. He’s making an unnecessary mess of things.
       Bethos responded, I’m sending reinforcements. Wait until they arrive. Don’t try taking them on by yourself.
       By the time they arrive, it might be too late. If this person has the Blood Key, we can’t afford to wait.
       Don’t do it. Wait for reinforcements. And with that, Bethos was gone.
       Heimdall stood up. He knew what he had to do. Orders or no, he wasn’t able to wait around while some unknown god made his way into the Tower of Babel and helped himself to all the goodies inside. The most dangerous weapons on the planet were stored in there, and a twisted mind could do almost anything with them.
       And there were plenty of twisted minds in Zero Grade.
       Heimdall launched himself off the building and towards the Tower.

* * *

The three of them once again sat down in the living room. Ev’s mother had suitably recovered from the shock of his revelations and was now willing to talk about it. “It’s certainly a lot to take in,” she said.
       Ev nodded. “I know. Think of how much it was for me to take in, being the one who had to go through it all.
       “But at the same time,” Anni said, “I’m so proud of you. My son, a god! Not only that, but you fought to save the world.”
       He looked away, sheepishly. “Well, I really didn’t do that much to help Professor Strong…”
       But Maya said, “That’s not true, Ev. You distracted Belial long enough for Professor Strong to pull the spear out of his chest and hurl it at him, piercing him in the heart and killing him.”
       “And what was your role in this?” Anni asked her inquisitively.
       Maya squirmed, afraid to admit the truth of her involvement. Ev decided to help her out by telling his mother the truth. “Maya was by my side at the time. She healed me after Belial struck me with lightning.”
       Anni rushed over and took Maya’s hand. “Thank you so, so much for everything you’ve done for Ev. He’s so, so lucky to have someone like you in his life. He’d be dead if not for you.”
       Looking uncomfortable, Maya averted her gaze. She was clearly tempted to admit the truth, that she was the one who had put Ev in so much danger in the first place. “Please, Misses Bannen—”
       “Call me Anni.”
       “Please, Anni. I really didn’t do that much. Ev’s done so much more for me than I’ve done for him.”
       “Really? Like what?”
       Before Maya could say what she was thinking, Ev intervened. “I just helped her out with some things. No big deal.”
       Perhaps sensing she was wading into sensitive waters, Anni backed off. “Well, I won’t pry. I’m just glad you two are there for one another. I worried about Ev for years, but I now I think he’s going to be OK…”
       His mother’s words were droned out by a ringing in their ears. It was Freya. Attention, all students of Divine Protector Academy currently on leave. An emergency has been declared. Everyone is hereby instructed to return to the Academy immediately.
       “Sorry, Mom, but something has just come up. We need to get going.”
       Ev and Maya rose to leave. Anni looked confused. “Those giants aren’t invading again, are they?”
       “I’m sure it’s nothing,” Maya said.
       “Well, OK.” Anni hugged the two of them and told Ev to keep in touch.

* * *

They returned to the plane. A bunch of students were crowding in and around the cockpit, pressuring Brandon to tell them what the emergency was. He danced around the question as best he could. “I don’t know all the details. You’ll find out once we get back to the Academy. I can’t tell you any more than that.” The students pressured him further, but he kicked them out of the cockpit, telling them to take their seats.
       Ev and Maya took theirs. “I wonder if the Nephilim really are back,” Ev said.
       “But who could be controlling them? Belial’s dead.”
       “Maybe, but he used that Blood Key to control them. It disappeared when he died. Professor Strong was evasive when I asked him what happened to it. What if someone else now has it?”
       Her face grew clouded with worry. “That would be a very bad scenario, Ev. Whoever controls the Key controls not only the Nephilim, but the Tower of Babel as well. You saw just a few of the dangerous Artifacts stored in there. They nearly killed you and Professor Strong.”
       “Yeah, but we survived.”
       “But rumor has it on the top floor is the most dangerous Artifact of all. It makes all the others look like toys.”
       “I wouldn’t put too much stock in rumors, Maya. And even if it’s true, Professor Strong told me it takes time to unlock the most dangerous ones. The Academy won’t simply let some lunatic make off with them.”
       She looked out the window of the plane. “I hope you’re right, Ev.”

* * *

Heimdall materialized from the Bifrost into another chamber. The Bifrost—or Rainbow Bridge—was a system which enabled quick transport throughout the Tower of Babel. Normally one had to fight the skeleton Keepers to get to it, but Brandon and Ev Bannen had destroyed them during their fight through the Tower last year. Heimdall considered that very fortunate; he didn’t have to waste time facing the Tower’s defenses. He simply stepped into the multi-colored wall and willed it to take him to where the intruder had gone.
       However, upon materializing, Heimdall’s eyes went wide as he realized where he was. Unlike the other chambers of the Tower, the floors, wall, and ceiling were a pure white color. Large wooden crosses lined the circular wall. No doubt about it; this was the top floor and home to the most dangerous Artifact of all.
       He cursed inwardly. He had allowed himself to be distracted. He needed to find the intruder, and fast. He could be anywhere.
       Suddenly, his chest exploded. A magnificent spear had impaled him from behind. A torrent of blood burst forth, drenching the floor in crimson. Heimdall hacked up the stuff.
       “Hope you don’t mind me using Gungnir,” someone said behind him.
       With tremendous effort, Heimdall turned around to see his attacker. It was the same man who had struck the Murnau destroyer. “Bastard. Who…are you?” He struggled to talk despite all the blood filling his throat.
       “Sorry to do this to you,” the man said casually. “It’s necessary. But don’t worry; I’ll bring you back later. Maybe.
       “Idiot…you mean to use…” Heimdall weakly gestured to where the ultimate Artifact lay. “…that?”
       “Of course I do. Wouldn’t you, if you had the chance?” He didn’t seem to have a care in the world, no understanding of what he was doing.
       “D-Don’t.”
       “It’s a bit too late for that. For me, there’s no turning back now. A new world awaits. A better world.”
       “Not…better…”
       “Hmph. I disagree. This world’s a failure, just like all the others. I’m going to end it.” But Heimdall did something surprising, even to himself. He laughed. “What’s so funny?”
       “Just…remembered—urk. Can’t…use… it…even if…you—urk—want to.”
       “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I can’t use it. Not here, at least. I’ll have to move it.      
       “I gotta say, you’re a lot tougher than I thought you’d be. I pierced you through the heart, and you’re still not dead. I wanted to give you a quick death, which is why I did it. I guess I’ll have to try again.”

       The spear was ripped from Heimdall’s chest, and everything abruptly went dark. The Norse god knew no more.

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