Excerpt: The Will to Battle by Ada Palmer

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The long years of near-utopia have come to an abrupt end.

Peace and order are now figments of the past. Corruption, deception, and insurgency hum within the once steadfast leadership of the Hives, nations without fixed location.

The heartbreaking truth is that for decades, even centuries, the leaders of the great Hives bought the world’s stability with a trickle of secret murders, mathematically planned. So that no faction could ever dominate. So that the balance held.

The Hives’ façade of solidity is the only hope they have for maintaining a semblance of order, for preventing the public from succumbing to the savagery and bloodlust of wars past. But as the great secret becomes more and more widely known, that façade is slipping away.

Just days earlier, the world was a pinnacle of human civilization. Now everyone—Hives and hiveless, Utopians and sensayers, emperors and the downtrodden, warriors and saints—scrambles to prepare for the seemingly inevitable war.

The Will to Battle will be available December 19th. Please enjoy this excerpt.

Chapter the First: We the Alphabet

Hubris it is, reader, to call one’s self the most anything in history: the most powerful, the most mistreated, the most alone. Experience, and the Greek blood within my veins, teach me to fear hubris above all sins, yet, as I introduce myself again here, I cannot help but describe myself as the most undeservedly blessed man who ever lived. I, who once moved act by act through the catalogue of sins, I cannibal, torturer, traitor, parricide, who at seventeen gave myself over to deserved execution, I Mycroft Canner find myself at thirty-one alive, healthy, with far more liberty than I deserve, making full use of my skills in the service of, not one, but several worthy masters, and even permitted to sleep at night in the arms of he whose embrace will always be the one place in this universe where I most belong, while he too lies in his proper place, on the floor outside his mistress’s bedchamber.

War has not yet come, but the waters have withdrawn to form the tidal wave, leaving the beaches and their secrets bare. Hobbes tells us that war consists not in Battle only, but in that tract of time wherein the Will to Battle is so manifest that, scenting bloodlust in his fellows and himself, Man can no longer trust civilization’s pledge to keep the peace. If so, we are at war. We have been these four months, since Ockham’s arrest and Sniper’s bullet revealed too much truth for trust to stay. But we do not know how to turn the Will to Battle into Battle. We have enjoyed three hundred years of peace, World Peace, real peace, whatever the detractors say. This generation has never met a man who met a man who marched onto a battlefield. Governments have no armies anymore, no arms. A man may kill another with a gun, a sword, a sharpened stone, but the human race no longer remembers how to turn a child of eighteen into a soldier, organize riot into battle lines, or dehumanize an enemy enough to make the killing bearable.

We will learn fast. Man is still a violent beast; I proved that thirteen years ago when the swathe of atrocities I scarred across the public consciousness stirred the world to scream in one voice for my blood. We will make war, but no one wants to light the first match when we do not know how fast the fuel may burn. Three hundred years ago humanity had weapons enough to exterminate ourselves a hundred times over. Now the technology that birthed those weapons is so outdated that children who split the atom for a science fair are labeled antiquarians. We have no newer weapons, but no one doubts that, with a month’s cunning, the technologies that cook our food and slow our aging will birth horrors beyond imagining. If we survive, the wreckage of posterity will want to know how. It is for curious posterity, then, that I am now commanded to keep this chronicle.

I have done this work before. A week ago my masters presented to the world my little history of those Days of Transformation, now four months past, which left us on war’s threshold. They tell me that the history has done what they had hoped: shared much of the truth, without pushing us farther toward the brink. My great merit as an historian is that I am known to be insane. No court or council can trust my testimony, and each reader may pick and choose what to believe, dismissing anything too unsettling as lunacy. I gave the public what it wanted of the truth, no more, leaving the pundits and propagandists free to shape opinion into faction, and faction into sides and enemies.

This chronicle is different. My first history was written to be shared and used, now, by my masters. This chronicle cannot be shared, not while these secrets are still War Secrets. The powers that bid me record their doings week by week will not even let each other read the transcript. I, alone, enjoy this strange trust from the many leaders of what will soon be warring states. I hear the inner whispers of palace and boudoir, whispers which will shape armies, yet which history will never hear unless someone records them. It is this human underbelly of the war my masters bid me chronicle, not for the public, nor even for themselves, but so a record will survive, and with it some apology, as Plato’s apology preserves lost Socrates. We will lose them all in this, I fear: the wise and iron Emperor, patriot Sniper, subtle Madame. We have already lost the best. There lies my chief regret, reader. Since you cannot trust a madman’s word, I cannot persuade you of the one fact which is true comfort to me, even as I grieve. He was real: Bridger. There was a boy who walked this Earth who was a miracle. I held him in my arms. The Divine Light within his touch brought toys to life, made feasts of mud pies, raised the dead, and through him the God Who Conceived This Universe, Who usually sits back invisible, revealed Himself. I wish you could believe me. There is Providence, reader, an inscrutable but intelligent Will which marched us with purpose from the primeval oceans to these battle lines. That is how I know you will be alive to read this. He Who put such effort into mankind will not let us end here. No, I lie. I do not know with certainty that He still needs us. Those fatalists, who have long preached that all things, from the insect’s flutter to these words you read, are fated, determined, written up yonder in the Great Scroll, never considered that that Scroll might have an Addressee. There are two Gods, reader, at least, He Who Conceived This Universe and He Who Visits from Another, just as Infinite and just as Real. We humans are the letters of a message our Creator wrote to make first contact with His Divine Peer. Now that the letter has been received, it may be crumpled and discarded, or set aside as keepsake in a coffin-stale drawer. We the alphabet may pray only that Their new friendship will continue to rely on words. If so, we will survive.

Copyright © 2017 by Ada Palmer

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