How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 01

How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 01

How Firm A Foundation

By David Weber



Year of God 895


Castaway Islands,

Great Western Ocean;

Imperial Palace,

City of Cherayth,

Kingdom of Chisholm;


Ehdwyrd Howsmyn’s Study,


Kingdom of Old Charis

          Nights didn’t come much darker, Merlin Athrawes reflected as he stood gazing up at the cloud-choked, stormy sky. There were no stars, and no moon, through those clouds, and although it was summer in Safehold’s southern hemisphere, the Castaway Islands were almost four thousand miles below the equator on a planet whose average temperature was rather lower than Old Terra’s to begin with. That made “summer” a purely relative term, and he wondered again how the islands had come to be named.

There were four of them, none of which had ever been individually named. The largest was just under two hundred and fifty miles in its longest dimension; the smallest was barely twenty-seven miles long; and aside from a few species of arctic wyverns and the seals (which actually resembled the Terrestrial species of the same name) which used their limited beaches, he’d seen no sign of life anywhere on any of them. He could well believe that any ship which had ever approached the barren, steep-sided volcanic peaks rising from the depths of the Great Western Ocean had managed to wreck themselves. What he couldn’t figure out was why anyone would have been in the vicinity in the first place, and how there could have been any surviving castaways to name the islands afterward.

          He knew they hadn’t been named by the terraforming crews which had first prepared Safehold for human habitation. He had access to Pei Shan-wei’s original maps, and these miserable hunks of weather and wind-lashed igneous rock, sand, and shingle bore no name on them. There were still quite a few unnamed bits and pieces of real estate scattered around the planet, actually, despite the detailed atlases which were part of the Holy Writ of the Church of God Awaiting. There were far fewer then there’d been when Shan-wei and the rest of the Alexandria Enclave were murdered, though, and he found it fascinating (in a historical sort of way) to see which of them had been christened only after dispersion had started shifting the colonists’ descendants’ Standard English into Safehold’s present dialects.

          He wasn’t here to do etiological research on planetary linguistics, however, and he turned his back to the howling wind and examined the last of the emitters once more.

          The device was about half his own height and four feet across, a mostly featureless box with a couple of closed access panels, one on each side. There were quite a few other similar devices — some quite a bit larger; most about the same size or smaller — scattered around the four islands, and he opened one of the panels to study the glowing LEDs.

          He didn’t really have to do it, of course. He could have used his built-in com to consult the artificial intelligence known as Owl who was actually going to be conducting most of this experiment anyway. And he didn’t really need the LEDs, either; the storm-lashed gloom was daylight clear to his artificial eyes. There were some advantages to having been dead for a thousand standard years or so, including the fact that his PICA body was immune to little things like hypothermia. He’d come to appreciate those advantages more deeply, in many ways, than he ever had when a living, breathing young woman named Nimue Alban had used her PICA only occasionally, which didn’t keep him from sometimes missing that young woman with an aching, empty need.

          He brushed that thought aside — not easily, but with practiced skill — and closed the panel with a nod of satisfaction. Then he crunched back across the rocky flat to his recon skimmer, climbed the short ladder, and settled into the cockpit. A moment later, he was rising on counter-grav, turbines compensating for the battering wind as he climbed quickly to twenty thousand feet. He broke through the overcast and climbed another four thousand feet, then leveled out in the thinner, far calmer air.

          There was plenty of moonlight up here, above the storm wrack, and he gazed down, drinking in the beauty of the black and silver-struck cloud summits. Then he drew a deep breath — purely out of habit, not out of need — and spoke.

          “All right, Owl. Activate phase one.”

          “Activating, Lieutenant Commander,” the computer said from its hidden cavern at the base of Safehold’s tallest mountain, almost thirteen thousand miles from Merlin’s present location. The signal between the recon skimmer and the computer was bounced off one of the Self-Navigating Autonomous Reconnaissance and Communications platforms Merlin had deployed in orbit around the planet. Those heavily stealthed, fusion-powered SNARCs were the most deadly weapons in Merlin’s arsenal. He relied on them heavily, and they provided him and the handful of human beings who knew his secret with communications and recon capabilities no one else on the planet could match.

          Unfortunately, that didn’t necessarily mean someone — or something — off the planet couldn’t match or even exceed them. Which was, after all, pretty much the point of this evening’s experiment.

          Merlin had chosen the Castaway Islands with care. They were eleven thousand miles from the Temple, eighty-seven hundred miles from the city of Tellesberg, seventy-five hundred miles from the city of Cherayth, and just over twenty-six hundred miles from the Barren Lands, the closest putatively inhabited real estate on the entire planet. No one was going to see anything that happened here. And no one (aside from those arctic wyverns and seals) was going to get killed if things turned out . . . badly.

          Twenty-four thousand feet below his recon skimmer, the device he’d just examined came to life as Owl obeyed his instructions. No one looking at it would have noticed anything, but the skimmer’s sensors picked up the heat source immediately.

          Merlin sat back, watching the thermal signature as its temperature rose to approximately five hundred degrees on the Fahrenheit scale Eric Langhorne had imposed upon the brainwashed colonists almost nine hundred Safeholdian years ago. It held steady at that point, and if there’d still been any human (or PICA) eyes to watch, they would have noticed it was beginning to vent steam. Not a lot of it, and the wind snatched the steam plume to bits almost more quickly than it could appear. But the sensors saw it clearly, noted its cyclic nature. Only an artificial source could have emitted it in such a steady pattern, and Merlin waited another five minutes, simply watching his instruments.

          “Have we detected any response from the kinetic platforms, Owl?” he asked then.

          “Negative, Lieutenant Commander,” the AI replied calmly.

          “Initiate phase two, then.”

          “Initiating, Lieutenant Commander.”

          A moment later, additional heat sources began to appear. One or two of them, at first, then half a dozen. Two dozen. Then still more, scattered around the islands as individuals and in clusters, all in around the same temperature range, but registering in several different sizes, and all of them “leaking” those cyclical puffs of steam. The cycles weren’t all identical and the steam plumes came in several different sizes and durations, but all of them were clearly artificial in origin.

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39 Responses to How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 01

  1. anonymouse says:

    Yes! Yes! Yes!

    All praise the mighty Flint.

  2. robert manis says:

    here, here

  3. robert manis says:

    here, here

  4. Peter says:

    All right, Safehold addicts, you may commence your ‘fix’….

  5. Jeff Ehlers says:

    Countdown to buying book begins…

  6. kylie says:

    I wonder why s/he didn’t set up the experiment at Armageddon Reef. ~~~

  7. Bernd says:

    Gimme the book now (drool). I want my fix now!!!!!!
    The book seems to be starting off well. I am looking forward to more over the coming months.

  8. Alistair says:

    Will the platforms respond?

    any guesses?

    I guess not and presume that this will allow steam technology to advance and that the platforms only “zap” the first emergence of eletrical plants.

  9. Jimbo says:

    I’ve been waiting for this to start for months.

    SO EXCITED! :)

  10. Scott says:

    My guess is that instead of bombarding the source the platforms alert what ever is under the temple. An “angel” in cold sleep maybe?
    Merlin may find that he isn’t the only one with tech support.

  11. max says:

    Now, I so want to see the rest of the first chap ^^. The wait for September will be long… happily there will certainly be more snippets before the release.

  12. justdave says:

    YES, the MWW returns!

  13. justdave says:

    BTW, will we see snippets of the SH YA?

  14. Maggie says:

    @7 Teasers for the book say that Merlin will find out what’s under the Temple… I feel a plot twist in the wind!

    Perhaps no reaction from platform, ergo Merlin makes his way into the Temple?

    I think (hope) we’re gonna find more evidence of Pei Shan Wei’s re-educated Adam’s & Eve’s

    Oh, the torment(and not in a Schueler kind of way)!

  15. PeterZ says:

    I actually want the platforms to shoot the KEWs. Get them out of the way. Because without that threat, the conflict becomes one of individual decisions. No more vestiges of Langehorn’s compulsions. Individuals will have to reconcile the contradictions of the Writ and the way the Writ is being expressed by the CoGA.

    @10 Maggie, yeah, a plot twist is in the air, but one that needs a trigger. Will that trigger be the Key entering Zion or will the Key be called to Zion by that trigger? I wonder if this experiment will set off that trigger?

    We shall see soon enough.

  16. Randy says:

    @6 Best guess is to avoid the obvious link to Shan Wei if there is a response. The Church would be more likely to notice if something happened at AR and that would provide it with a propaganda. Something on the order of Shan Wei has risen and evil walks the land.

  17. Doug Lampert says:

    I may be wrong, but I think there are supposed to be enough KEWs on the platforms to sterilize the planet. So you’d have to get them to do MANY small shots over a long enough period to let the dust settle to exhaust the ammo.

  18. PeterZ says:

    I thought there were 6 KEWs left, Doug. If Merlin and Owl picked a group of islands far enough apart from each other, the platform would have to use more than 1 shot to destroy all of them. One would hope that it would use all the KEWs it had left.

  19. max says:

    “Ehdwyrd Howsmyn’s Study,


    Kingdom of Old Charis”

    Seems to be the end of chap 1, so maybe, maybe, that’s to tell Howsmyn steam power exist and can be used, or not ^^.

  20. EM says:

    Either they’re ready to introduce steam power or live steam is being used as a ‘placeholder’ for something as energetic. In that case one likely candidate would be the bessemer process (industrial steelmaking). Remember that Charis has been experimenting with various types of iron guns and that one worthy gent got assigned the task of keeping explosive shells out of ships.

    Either way it looks like the declaration of holy war is going to be used as an excuse to drop the Proscriptions of Chihiro outright, just so long as the KEWs don’t object. If the KEWs fire themselves dry at the test sites, so much the better.

  21. PeterZ says:

    @20 EM-Steel melts at 2500 degrees F. The 500 reached so far doesn’t come close to what Safehold foundries have already managed without getting bombed out.

  22. KenJ says:

    regarding the “key”: I am not so sure it is an actual physical device. Not only Father Payter has it but his father and uncle also had it. (They talked about using it last book but decided against it.) I suspect rather that it is a combination coded sequence that would need to be entered into the system as well as a genetic marker from the Wylson family. Ordained members of the family who are intrusted with the Key would be taught it by their predecessors. They may also need to be “logged in” ritually so they specifically are recognized.

    It will be fun to find out if i am right or completely lost down a mental blind alley.

  23. Nimitz13 says:

    So what’s going to be the response when the first steam engine design hits the patent office? Steam is a form of water power, just heated up so that can be a way to explain its way around the proscriptions, but will Payter Wylson buy that argument – and what will the COGA and the gang of 4 have to say about it? More evidence of Charisian heresy, or the next great step in sea battles, manufacturing, and ground transportation. Steam power can totally remake the Safeholdian way of life and vastly increase the production of factories.

  24. Bob G says:

    I’m thinking that a SNARK from the Temple will show up to investigate, and I hope Merlin’s devices can self-destruct before they get examined closely.

    — Bob G

  25. kylie says:

    Should Nimue/Merlin have used a heat signature that resembled the Gbaba instead of random ones?

  26. Anthony says:

    @ 23 The response when steam power is produced would depend on the exact wording in the proscriptions. I doubt it says “don’t heat up water and use the steam to move things” because if it does some inventor would come along and try it (just because), then you have steam power.

    A problem with proscriptions in general is restricting technology without giving ideas that lead to it being created.

  27. Drak Bibliophile says:

    IIRC the proscription “against” steam power is actually a statement that you can only use “water, wind & muscle power” not an actual warning against “steam power”.

    Mind you, as we saw in the last book, some of the other proscriptions are warnings about the *real* dangers of using certain substances (useful substances).

  28. blackjack217 says:

    well if that is the case then steam is clearly nothing more than evaporated water right? Surely that does not fall under the proscriptions, right?

  29. Scott says:

    What is steam if not heated water? Lots of lawyering going on me thinks. Keep things confused while you build up an industrial base. The costs of not playing along for the church would be to high. We’ve seen this already with ship and weapon designs.

  30. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Blackjack217 and Scott, the answer is “Tum, te, tum, te, tum . . . .”. [Wink]

  31. Mindsword says:

    First off, glad to see this. second, I believe the key is physical. when it was discussed at the Temple, they mentioned they had sent the key to Charis anyway.

  32. Bob G says:

    Hello, Drak. When is our fix, I mean snippet?

  33. KenJ says:

    @31: Just before the brothers were neutralized by Clyntahn, they were discussing if it was time to use the key. Ones said that it was to be used only “when the Church faced destruction” and not for any other reason since it could only be used once. If it were a physical device (unless there were more of them) it would be impossible to use if it were in Charis. It would involve sending a message that would possibly be lost or intercepted along the way to Payter instructing him to use the Key. (Even if it were a radio transmitter, that would still be too cumbersome.)

    I am sure though that we will be finding out in this book which of us is right. (and, true to form, it will probably be something we haven’t even discussed yet… ;) )

  34. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Bob G, the snippets come out Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

  35. Maggie says:

    @28, 29, 30:

    Wait a minute: ARE there ANY lawyers on Safehold or is everything handled by the clergy??

    Dang, I KNEW this was a doomed society!!!!

  36. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Maggie, on Safehold, “lawyers” are minor demons. [Evil Grin]

    Seriously, while I can’t find the term “lawyers” mentioned in the books, I suspect that “experts in the law” (which is a meaning of Lawyers) exist on Safehold both within the Church and outside the Church.

    IMO there will be experts in Church Law and experts in the secular law of the various countries on Safehold.

  37. PeterZ says:

    As Ms. Sahndrah Lewys proves, knowing church law is also good for doing reasearch in chemistry. She found a rather complete list of compounds that go boom from reading the Writ. Just look for all those things the Archangel’s said NOT to combine under penalty of “BOOM”.

    C’mon Maggie, channel the church AI, will the KEW shoot at the experiment?

  38. PeterZ says:

    So, no KEW explosions. Why do you think that is?

  39. I love David.

    I really do. I’ve read all his books, and am looking forward to this one, but opening it with ‘it was a dark and stormy night?”


    Maybe the pen really is mightier than the sword…

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