Fantastic Hope – Laurell K. Hamilton

You’re holding hope in your hands. Stories of make-believe, let’s pretend just like we did as children, except that a writer wrote it down and here it is, for you to read, for you to share the adventure. Science fiction, fantasy, and even horror are all about sharing the adventure, the dream. It’s an escape, a glimpse of a better future or a better present. It’s a place where the hero wins, the bad guy is punished, and the monsters are only real while you’re reading the story. You can close the covers and be safe. Unlike the real terrors of the world online and in the news lately. It’s like we’re all on the front lines of whatever crisis or natural disaster is happening anywhere in the world, at any given time; there is no break in the stream of bad news, or so it seems. It has even infected our books and movies, so that dystopias where everything has gone as wrong as it can sit at the top of the box office or the bestseller list. Until I felt overwhelmed and in need of an escape, or at least a break. If you are feeling the same way, welcome to a collection of stories where you can find hope, happy endings, loyalty, freedom, love, all the positive things that make the best of us. Welcome to thrilling adventures and a modern take on two-fisted adventure stories. Romance that travels lifetimes, or reaches beyond the grave for a happy ending. Travel to alien worlds, meet characters of all kinds, and learn that the end of the world may not be the end after all. Time travel to save the day and kill, just enough, but not too much.

Have faith in yourself, in the people who love you, in magic, in religion, in Deity, in science, and in things harder to label with just one word. Believe that there will be smiles after the tears, joy after the pain, and that it will all work out, that good will triumph and evil will not win forever. I had the privilege of editing these stories with my good friend William McCaskey. My thirty-seventh novel will be out soon. Will’s first novel was published six months before this anthology. The rest of the writers in this anthology are the same, old pros and newbies. I love that about Fantastic Hope, because it’s hard for new writers to get a foot in the door when there are no markets for their stories. When I started collecting my first rejection slips in the late 1970s, there were so many markets for short fiction that you could actually make a modest living at it, but now in 2020, not so much. One of the reasons I hope that this anthology sells well is that it could become a yearly market for new writers to start their careers alongside those of us who have been in the trenches since before the internet depressed and amused us all. You’re holding people’s dreams in your hands, dreams made real for you to read and share.

I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did. —Laurell K. Hamilton — Fantastic Hope is a very personal victory for me. When I sat down to write my first book, Dragon Two-Zero, I didn’t expect it to sell, but when your friend who has written multiple successful titles challenges you to write the stories in your head, you really don’t have an excuse to say no. Laurell making that challenge showed me that there was another way to deal with the pain that I once used alcohol to cope with. On April 18, 2017, instead of reaching for a bottle, as was my custom on that day each year, I reached for a pen, and about six hours later “Ronin” was on the paper in front of me. I don’t remember why I showed the story to my wife, but I did, and she cried. I sent it to Laurell with a thank-you note for giving me a way to deal with memory and loss that didn’t end with a horrible hangover the next day. The next time I saw Laurell, she hit me for making her cry and then hugged me. Laurell is a big proponent of people doing their therapy and working through their shit.

We sat over lunch and talked about the depressing stories that seemed to be everywhere, in the news and in fiction, and lamented that there weren’t more uplifting stories. That is where the idea for Fantastic Hope was born. Laurell and I are both survivors, and we know that the world is not all unicorns, rainbows, and glitter. But we also know that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that the darkness can be pushed back, even if it starts with a spark. I am honored to have been a part of this project, having the opportunity to work with authors that I read growing up and up and newcomers like myself that I am proud to see breaking into the industry. I hope that in this book you find a story that speaks to you, that reminds you that tomorrow is a new day with new opportunities. —William McCaskey TWILIGHT FALLS A JOE LEDGER ROGUE TEAM INTERNATIONAL ADVENTURE JONATHAN MABERRY 1. PHOENIX HOUSE OMFORI ISLAND, GREECE “They’re not chem-trails,” I said with the last fragment of patience. “They’re contrails.” We were in the briefing room and I was pretty close to throwing my cup of coffee at the smug little bastard who hosted the conspiracy theory radio show.

Jim Peabody. He had a lean, oddly angular birdlike body and looked like an affronted egret. He had the kind of face you wanted to throw a coffee cup at. Even if you like coffee as much as I do. It was very hot coffee and it would hurt. So, the struggle was real because I wanted him to shut the fuck up. “Just listen to him, sugar,” said Joan Holliday, the head of our integrated sciences division. She looks like a six-foot-plus version of Dolly Parton. All the glam, glitter, curves, and sass of the singer, but thirty years younger and a shelf full of MDs and PhDs. She called everyone sugar.

Or honey bunny. Or sweet cheeks. “Why bother?” I demanded. “We’ve got some freaks threatening to release bioweapons in fifty countries. Fifty. Five-zero. We’re standing on the brink of the actual apocalypse. We are a couple of very bad days away from living in either a diseaseinfested wasteland or a dystopia in which only those entitled assholes who can afford it are going to survive. That isn’t the plot of a summer blockbuster, it’s happening right now. So excuse the living fuck out of me if I’m not all that concerned about some crackpot belief trending with the tinfoil hat crowd.

” Peabody actually recoiled from me, then took a half step forward. “Colonel Ledger, if you’d just listen to—” “I’ve been listening,” I said. “And all I’m hearing is bullshit.” “No, sir,” said Peabody officiously, “you’re hearing but not listening. You’re not paying attention.” “‘Paying attention’?” I had to smile. “Do you want to know what I was doing when I got the call to come in for this briefing? I was hunting for a group of terrorists suspected of smuggling a bioweapon delivery system into Athens. Do you know how many people live in Athens? Do you know how many people we’re trying to keep alive in Athens? And Rome, and London, and Paris, and New York, and—?” “Colonel . ” It was Mr. Church who’d spoken.

A single word. Quiet, without emphasis. I stopped my rant. We all looked at him. Church is a big man, black and strong. Somewhere in his sixties, but that isn’t what made him the adult in the room. He was the adult in any room. You look at him and immediately want to check your fingernails to see if they’re clean. I’ve seen generals and heads of state react that way, too. “Every JSOC and private SpecOps team in the world is on the hunt for the bioterrorists.

Our people, MHI, SEAL Team 666, Chess Team, Sigma Force . It’s doubtful there’s ever been a more concentrated hunt than what is currently ongoing. And, as valuable a field asset as you are, Colonel, cutting you out of that pack to deal with this is not likely to be the deciding factor in keeping the world on its hinges.” Doc Holliday pretended to whisper, but said, “You got spanked.” And she said it in a little musical singsong. I glared nuclear death at her. “Okay, okay,” I said with bad grace and turned back to Peabody—who, for the record, looks like a Peabody. A classic example of the type. “Chem-trails. Sure.

Fine. Explain to me how that’s not a conspiracy theory.” Peabody pushed his glasses up his nose and said, “Well, Colonel Ledger, understand that I would normally agree with you. In all circumstances. Contrails are actually condensation trails. Line-shaped cloud formations created by changes in air pressure as aircraft cruise at certain altitudes and under certain atmospheric conditions. Water vapor in the engine exhaust interacts with low ambient temperatures, leaving lines of ice crystals. And some contrails are formed by changes in air pressure in wingtip vortices. Some disappear quickly and others can last for hours.” “Thank you, Bill Nye,” I muttered.

“Get to how that equals some kind of conspiracy.” “Regular contrails are harmless,” said Peabody. “As you say, there are plenty of conspiracy theories about chem-trails. That nonsense got started after a 1996 air force report was published in which induced weather modification theories were discussed. Alarmists like William Thomas, Richard Finke, and Art Bell stoked the fires of the belief that some contrails were actually the release of ether chemicals or biological agents intended to accomplish a variety of goals. Mind control, pacification of the population for easier rule by the Illuminati, human population control, chemical warfare, and . well, the list goes on and on past into genetic seeding by reptilian aliens. Any notable outbreaks of disease, higher statistics of genetic disorders, cancers, and so on in given areas are then linked to these chem-trails.” I twirled my finger to indicate Doc Holliday, Church, and myself. “Choir,” I said.

And then pointed to him. “Preacher.” He flushed a little. “I had to establish certain things in order to tell you something that is actually happening.” Very quietly I heard Mr. Church say, “Ah.” Peabody had visual aids and sent images from his laptop to the big flat-screen in the conference room. The first image was a Google Maps satellite view of a stretch of nearly featureless desert. Endless sand dunes. “This is Ténéré, a desert region in the south-central Sahara that stretches from northeastern Chad to western Sudan.

One hundred fifty thousand square miles of nothing. It is ostensibly owned by Niger and Chad, but sparsely populated and of little value to anyone. You can’t farm it and there is very little water. It is, for all intents and purposes, a dead land.” He clicked and a picture appeared of a pair of dark-skinned men dressed in white robes leading a string of starved-looking camels. “There’s a scattering of ethnic groups, but the area in question for us is used mostly by Toubou people, who are descended from the original Neolithic inhabitants of the Sahara region. They are genetically Ethiopians, and are regarded as a tough, nomadic, and noble people. Most of the Toubou are salt miners. They live at the very edge of poverty and starvation.”

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