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Champions 2-6 of 28

War Footing

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As 1941 arrives, global tensions have reached new heights. War between the British and German empires seems increasingly likely, but more worrying is the revelation that Emily, the first Champion, has turned against her government. When Lady Alex Smith, Second Lieutenant Stephanie Shylock, and Sergeant Mike Strong begin to investigate the rogue Champion’s plans, a series of violent attacks unleash chaos around the world. Is Emily seeking to destroy the system she helped create… or are others using her actions to conceal their own, more dangerous agenda?

Includes 5 novellas: Firebox, Grand Banks, Elspeth, Mandarins, and Dragons.

Series The Champions of 1941
ISBN 978-1-926817-59-0

Published 2013-11-01 (print)

According to The National Post:

“Tam’s decade-long pioneering experience in this new, no-rules publishing world shows that small presses can invent themselves as they evolve. Iceberg just launched a new series, The Champions, which will release novella-length installments as ebooks throughout 2013, a latter-day take on the typical Victorian custom of monthly cliffhangers in magazines. Again, a merge of journalistic strengths — rapid writing to deadlines, and creativity.”

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Excerpt

The early morning hours on the new world were Stephanie Shylock’s favorite. Growing up in Terminus, the town that sat on the border between the planet’s British and American territories, she’d often been up in time to see the sun rise. It was something that never got old.

New World City was 200 miles east of her hometown, and it sat at the foot of a massive mountain, but that just made sunrise more dramatic; there was no way she was going to miss it.

After a more peaceful sleep than she’d enjoyed in months, Stephanie rose early – and quietly, to let her friend continue to slumber in the next bed over – before the sky even began to brighten. She dressed in complete darkness, then grabbed her boots and gun belt and slipped out of the room in stocking feet. The welcome smell of eggs, sausage and bacon greeted her as she emerged into the hallway – with a hotel full of Champions and soldiers, the cooks had started early.

Sitting herself down on the stairs, she stuck her feet into her boots and did them up one at a time, then wrapped her belt around her waist and tightened it with a frown. It pulled tighter than she liked; perhaps she needed to take after Alex for a while, and eat more. It was tough to keep weight on when she worked and trained as much as she did, so she’d have to make a concerted effort to gain some back.

Standing up from the steps, she adjusted her holster so that her Browning would sit conveniently over her hip, then reached up and checked that her hair was still largely in place – she’d tied it back for sleep, realizing she’d want to rise early. She could neaten it up later; for now, she had a few minutes before the sun would make its appearance. Time to get into position.

Descending the stairs carefully, the young American tried to step as lightly as her boots would allow. The hotel was silent but for the growing sounds of activity in the kitchen, and that was fine – Stephanie preferred to have sunrise to herself.

As she reached the lobby, she nodded to the tired-looking young man behind the counter. He perked up and smiled at her, but then deflated as she waved to him and pressed on to the bar, which was also the breakfast room.

Only one table had been occupied, though it was now abandoned – just an empty plate with a discarded napkin strewn across it. That had probably been the cook getting breakfast before anyone else rose, so Stephanie turned away with a smile; sunrise would be all hers.

Crossing the lobby again, she took a deep breath of the fresh air that was breezing in through the windows on either side of the door. So fresh, so home. Though she had very much adopted Newfoundland, the new world would never be replaced. Just as Alex got wonderful shivers breathing in the air from the North Atlantic, Stephanie got them here.

And she could just taste the coming dawn.

There was no keeping the contented smile off her face as she opened the door and stepped out onto the porch.

It was a beautiful morning – the skies were working their way through wonderful shades of blue, and the stillness of the city was peaceful. Everything was absolutely perfect… except for the fact that sunrise wasn’t all hers. Obviously.

Stopping in the doorway, Stephanie didn’t do a very good job of hiding her surprise, “Are you levitating?”

Alex was standing at the top of the porch stairs, her face in profile against the glowing sky as she looked east towards the mountain with one of her typical happy-with-everything-because-life-is-amazing poses. She was also fully dressed – boots to coat, with her hair done – and appeared as though she’d been awake for hours.

At the question, the whitecoat simply shrugged, “I don’t think I’m levitating. But the gravity on this planet is fractionally less, so… maybe?”

Not only was she up and dressed, she was well fed. Stephanie could hear that in her voice, which probably meant they spent way too much time together.

“How many?” the American asked, sounding unimpressed.

Alex couldn’t keep herself from smiling – though at least she tried to appear sheepish, “Three?” Stephanie folded her arms, but remained silent. After too many seconds of silence, the young Champion felt the weight of her conscience, and confessed, “Five.”

That was five breakfasts she’d had – before sunrise. Such was the discipline Stephanie would need if she was to gain back some weight.

Turning away from the mountain with an apologetic shrug, the Lady in white tried to make excuses, “The cook offered… I just couldn’t help it.”

Stephanie held up her hand, “Let’s just not talk about it.”

“Okay!” Alex bounced up and down on the balls of her feet… and she was sort of adorable, like a puppy getting off with a glare after eating a Christmas turkey. “Sunrise is soon. After all the times you talked about it, I wanted to see one.”

“I thought you were asleep – I got dressed without turning on the lights,” Stephanie replied, crossing the porch to stand next to her friend.

“I can tell,” Alex’s answer was immediate and sweet-sounding, but then she glanced at her friend with a smile. “Sorry, it’s early and I’m giddy because I had a lot to eat. And it’s exciting!”

There was something contagious about the young Champion’s joy, and Stephanie let go a sigh before nodding, “Yes it is. You’re going to love this next part.”

Alex took a deep breath at that promise, and then she proceeded to say nothing. Stephanie was equally quiet. They just stood there on the porch as New World City sleepily began to wake from its slumber… and the skies overhead rose through shades of blue.

The silence was so very peaceful, and so proper. Sunrise was not a thing to be accompanied with conversation, no matter how good (or horribly un-funny) that chatter might be. Anyone who knew a place, was bonded to a land, understood that sometimes human words simply weren’t equal to articulating its majesty.

Where the sun in St. John’s rose over the sea, the sun of the new world shimmered behind the mountains, casting a halo around the mighty peak, and leaving shadows in its wake. The town was in that wake – was last to see the sunrise, because it had to wait for the moment the star crested the highest reaches of rock, and smiled over.

It took minutes… maybe an hour. Stephanie didn’t care, and neither did Alex. They were both distantly aware of the beginnings of movement in the street, and of sounds of activity from inside the hotel, but they paid no real attention. Neither sat; both leaned against the railings of the porch, shoulders pressed together and arms alternately folded or in their pockets as the mountain cast its last shadows… and the sun appeared.

When it did, it smiled at them – good morning, ladies – and Alex and Stephanie smiled back. Warm light beating down on their faces beneath a clear, cool sky… a sunrise that seemed for them alone, even though many others around town, and across the new world, were probably seeing the same sun, at the same moment, and feeling as though it were smiling at only them.

Such was the power of a sunrise: it could smile at everyone.

After that, it began climbing higher – getting itself ready for a busy day – and the spell of its rise gradually released Alex and Stephanie.

Finally, it was the Champion who looked at her friend, “Breakfast time?”

Stephanie blinked and tried not to smile. That effort failed, because there was simply no way such a good start to the day could allow her the pretense of being stern. She had seen her first new world sunrise in years… and she’d seen it with the friend who was, in every way that mattered, her sister.

“You are single-handedly going to put my family out of business,” the American Lieutenant replied.

A concerned frown crossed Alex’s face, “But… aren’t you going to help?”

Dammit. Stephanie’s smile got bigger. Shaking her head, she turned for the door and tried not to give her Champion the satisfaction. Unfortunately, the whitecoat could basically read her best friend’s thoughts.

“I know, right?” Alex asked. “I’m even funnier and more adorable after five breakfasts!”