Baen books by mercedes lackey



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The voice in her mind was soothing. Pulling her slowly back from the abyss in her own mind, from the contemplation of guns, drugs, knives, ropes…of her failure. There it was, they needed her at last, and she couldn’t even leave the house. He had been right. They had been right. She was worthless, useless—

Grey’s wry comment cracked through and startled a laugh out of her. She opened her eyes to see his green ones gazing unabashedly into hers.



She scrubbed at her eyes with the back of her hand. “So?”



She bit her lip. Yes. She could do that. In fact, most of the mages she knew were not in Echo. Mages were very good at hiding what they were.



She pushed herself off the door, and stood up. She picked up the card and went to her computer.

By its nature, Darpanet was hard to shut down. While shiny new stuff was brought online all the time, the old stuff was still out there somewhere, whirring away, forgotten in corners of servers and switchers. In these days of easy drag-and-drop interfaces, nobody remembered command-line stuff even existed, except for the very old-school and the very clever. While millions might panic over “the Internet” being gone because they couldn’t reach their favorite websites, Vickie brought up Darpanet and the slow, robust, primitive email program it supported.

Mr. Burns, she wrote. I’m sorry our meeting went so badly.…

Part Two:


The Hunt

Interlude:



So, dear audience, whoever you are out there—if there is anyone left other than cockroaches at this point—that is how, from my perspective, it all ended. The day, the week, when the world didn’t just change, it shattered. Everything was different after that day, literally everything. The old rules didn’t apply any more. Life was no longer a kind of game of cat and mouse for the metahumans of Echo, a game where everyone more or less played by the rules.

We had met the enemy, and he was so unlike us that we were left floundering.

We were going to have to play by some new rules. We were also going to have to make it up as we went along.

Governments flailed. War declarations were in order, but against whom? You could call up troops, but where to send them? You could try and enact draconian antiterrorist laws, but despite the terror, these hadn’t been terrorists per se. They had come openly, and gone—where? There wasn’t a single known terrorist organization that wanted to claim them, only a few radical neo-Nazi groups…and the minute they had, vigilantes had descended on them and stomped them into paste. And everywhere, the questions were Why had they stopped? Why weren’t they attacking again? When would they? Their actions made no sense. Even their targets were confusing. On one hand, these shock troops and war machines hit critical strategic targets. But they also hit things like paint factories, DYI stores, even car dealerships. One Cadillac dealership and one Hyundai dealership were leveled to the last hubcap, but the Honda place between them was untouched. One shock troop attacked a mountainside in Montana full force, but the missile silos twenty miles away were untouched. A war machine torched every Taco Bell in two cities, then went after a National Guard base, in that order. Why?

The world being what it was, there had always been the haves and the have-nots, but never before in America had the divide been so deep as in the aftermath of those attacks. On the side of the haves, once the initial rubble had been cleared up and their services restored, it was pretty much business as usual. On the side of the have-nots, it was living in the ruins of Kosovo, of Darfur, of Sarajevo—living in a war zone where every day was a battle for the basics.

To many of us, it felt like the end of everything. And oh how wrong we were. It was all just beginning. The assembly point was Atlanta, where Echo had begun, and where it had almost ended. We had no idea where we were going, but we knew that it was move, or die.

I hope you are out there, dear audience. I hope you are me, actually, laughing over this and getting ready to edit it down. I hope you aren’t them—laughing over this and getting ready to…




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