Baen books by mercedes lackey



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Little did we know there was a favor out there that was as big as anything that had happened to us already.
Atlanta, Georgia, USA: Callsign Seraphym

As the smoke rose and the flames died, Seraphym remained, an unmoving, ever-watchful icon atop the Suntrust Plaza Building, taking only sporadic part in what lay below her. She knew everything that was going on, of course. Her connection to the Infinite allowed her, if not omniscience, then certainly broad and deep knowledge within a limited sphere. The futures were still settling; out there, metahumans whose powers had been awakened during the worldwide battle, or those who had finally acknowledged those powers and the need to use them for good, were deciding to come to Atlanta—or not. And as for Seraphym herself…

The multiple futures would drive a mortal mad. All those possibilities—most of them ending in blood, terror and death, with the Thulians ruling as despots over a world enslaved—and beyond that, the terrible swath of destruction across the entire Universe that had been the reason why she and her Siblings had been sent here. It was hard, so hard, to thread the way through the futures. Most of the ones that ended in a free world had a maddening blank spot in the middle: futures that she could not see her way to, even with her connection to the Infinite. She could only steer her way by avoiding the worst, finding the abyss by avoiding the edges of it as best she could.

She could not be everywhere, but she did not act nearly as often as mortals thought she should. There were those who saw her for what she was and did not understand why their faith was not rewarded by her presence in their moment of peril. But she had to choose, and she had to make her choices by the paths of the future. Some people were crucial to it; those she had to save. She heard, in her heart, the wail of “Why? Why him and not me?” and she could have answered it, but the answer would have shattered them.

In some hearts and minds, she watched as long-buried fires broke through the insulating cover of the ashes of the past and began to reawaken. She watched as new possible futures spun off from their decisions and began to sort and categorize those futures: this, desirable; that, not. It was not yet time to act, however. Though the Thulians had placed their counters on the board, the resistance had been greater than they had anticipated, and they were still sorting through their possible options. And behind them…the others…

And then…she felt it. A mind, a mortal mind, in unimaginable torment. A mind that, like hers, saw the futures. It was far away in mortal terms, but not far for her. And this could not, should not be. Mortals were not meant to know the futures. Not as she did. Not as this mind did.

And this mind…did not want to. It cried out in pain and fear.

She opened her heart to the Infinite. Is this permitted? she asked.

Instantly came the response. It is.

* * *


They called Matthew March “autistic” as a child. What no one had known was that he was not closed into a world of his own, he was far, far too open to the real one. From the time he was eight, he had seen things, seen what would happen to people around him, but more than that, seen what might happen to the people around him. The older he got, the more maybes he saw, until he was surrounded by them, choked by them. And he became paralyzed, not by confusion, but by his inability to choose. This one, and not that one—help a friend, who would later kill a child in a hit-and-run accident while drunk. Keep a girl from heartbreak only to have her grow into a lawyer who successfully defended known criminals.

He could not choose. He could not. His inability to act confined him to a bed, his muscles atrophied, and only a few psychics could fish out his most powerful visions from his mind.

And that had been bad enough. Until today. Until now. When the attack began, and all he saw was the beginning, and people dying everywhere, and the end, in the future, far but not far enough. Slaughter. Terror. Horror. Everywhere he “looked” the end was the same. He felt himself screaming inside, helpless, hopeless—

And then she came.

She was in his mind, but so much clearer than the psychics he was used to working with. And then, she embraced him somehow, sheltered him from his terrible visions, and held him while he cried. Was she only in his mind? He so seldom opened his eyes anymore…but this time, he did.

She was real. And she was beautiful. And she was…must be…an angel. Nothing else could look like that, so powerful, so strange, so otherworldly. She was wrapped in flame, and her wings were of fire, furled closely against her back. Her eyes…her eyes were red-gold, and had no pupils. They looked on him, and he sensed she was seeing in too many ways for him to comprehend.






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