In “High Steaks”, the most recent addition to the Quantum Series, a resistance rises to meet the revolutionaries – a resistance with friends in low places. Together with the Vampire Underground, bovine torpedoes, a mad scientist, an invisible space ship, and a well-camouflaged operative, the nasties must also contend with another unseen enemy: Time, and its agents.
Cindy-Mei Winter and Gary Beck aka Beck the Badfeller are two of the main characters in the Quantum Series – a series recently described as “As the Quantum series unfolds, it grows more and more impressive.” by UK writer and reviewer Lee Hall, after just having read the third book in the series, “Dead Man’s Hammer“. He later tweeted that he was so enamored with it, he was going to plunge straight into book 4, “Loderunner“! But we digress – in “Prodigal Sun” and “High Steaks” (books 5 and 6 respectively) the main characters embark on a whole new adventure – one that takes them down perhaps the darkest paths of all: civil war, and the confrontation of the darkest parts of the Human condition – the persecution of otherness, nationalistic zeal hatred, and conscience. Right through the story however, a thread of hope runs through the almost overwhelming darkness like a tunnel of light – and although the people of Deanna might not realize it, Cindy-Mei Winter and her beau Gary Beck, are the embodiment of that hope. As a writer, I have to admit that this latest story is rather ambitious, and is an epic which will likely span 4 (or even more) novels!
This time, the small quirky and endearing backwater Terran colony planet Deanna finds itself in a tighter spot than usual. A clandestine group has used the past five years to secretly and slowly infiltrate key posts of the local government and civil hierarchy, and secretively imported – little by little – a paramilitary army. The sole purpose of this enterprise? To overthrow the local Governor and his small governmental agency which is representative of the reign of the Terran Empire – which as ‘anyone’ would say, is benificient and unintrusive at best. Their ultimate goal? Independence – and the freedom to do what national-socialist movements do most efficiently: to unify those who share their ethnic identity against the usual targets of such movements – and to polarize, separate, divide and destroy them… and as quickly as possible. Moving with lightning speed, the Deannan Service League advances its agenda with terrifying brutality and ruthlessness. Their victory and success seem virtually assured, to be installed as a matter of fact before the distant might of the Terran Space Fleet can mobilize in time to react and send a force to intervene.
But... right from the very start, eyes have been watching – eyes that belong to a watcher sitting outside of Time. To Johnathan Scrooby – an agent of that clandestine time policing agency, the TSA – all this has already happened and is literally ancient history. Yet because it happened, it already shaped everything else that came afterwards – and as such, has to happen, no matter how awful it was – otherwise all of succeeding History would be altered. The powers that be in charge of the Time Saving Agency would frown on that, so all Scrooby – and ultimately his two assistants, Cindy-Mei and Gary – have to accept this, and work around it. This is naturally a huge test of character, strength of will and conscience – because as a Time Agent, he has the ability to change it, even if he’s not allowed to.
Right at the center of this emerging nightmare on Deanna, a resistance movement is born. A hapless unsuspecting junior member of the Imperial Family is literally disintegrated by an agent of the revolutionaries in front of thousands of spectators and media The deposed Governor and his staff escape the trap set for them by the fascist usurpers, and set up camp in the wilds outside the capital city of Deanna – the ironically named Atro City. There, volunteers are drawn, to form the militia army of loyalists – which Johnathan Scrooby knows must form, and will rise to ultimately win the coming Deannan Uncivil War – but not before unacceptable damage is done to the colony and its people… The only thing is, Scrooby – as a time agent – is not allowed to change the course of history, or to directly influence it. The best he is allowed to do in this case – or rather what he feels he can get away with – is to remove a couple of boulders in the time-stream to smooth out the rapids if you will, and to do that, he enlists the help of his friend on Deanna – Gary Beck, and his girlfriend Cindy-Mei.
By the end of “Prodigal Sun“, the stage is set for the coming cataclysm, and Scrooby has just recruited them as his assistants. At the start of “High Steaks“, they are already well-versed with the use of the two Remotes Scrooby has issued the pair with that will assist them in their task – to bend time in order to speed up the readiness efforts of the loyalist militia. Volunteers who were already known to have served in the militia (from future history of course) are sought out and enlisted in record – well, time – by Mei and Gary, and delivered immediately to the gathering point for the militia: the Grauffis Ranch near Skeggs Valley, outside the city. Before very long, the militia army’s ranks swell with thousands of very motivated volunteers – and none more so than members of the Skeggs Valley Dynamite Fising Club!
Both Gary Beck and Cindy-Mei have the sort of backgrounds that lend themselves well to the purpose: Gary (known professionally as ‘the Badfeller’) is a bounty hunter operating on Deanna – and who has the reputation that says he’s so good at his job he could find the missing day in a leap year! Cindy Mei Winter is a former CIA agent (that’s Colonial Intelligence Agency, FYI).
Because Gary and Mei are both versed in the skills of full-fledged Time Agents by their mutual friend Johnathan Scrooby, they find the task of making a difference to the effort of minimizing the harm done to Deanna and its people relatively easy – at least in a mechanical, practical sense. It’s not easy to know that many people are going to suffer and die, and that you have the power to prevent it ALL resting in the palm of your hand – but not the authority to do so – and to limit your actions to a degree where the bulk outline of events remains unchanged, but the smaller details fall under the heading of ‘wiggle room’.
Cindy-Mei and Gary are well aware that if they were to deviate from Scrooby’s plan – to intervene more boldly in the developing current situation on Deanna, say to put a total stop to it – this would attract the attention of more senior Time policing entities… and that it would probably end badly for all of them – with Scrooby, Mei and Gary being thrown into the Limbo Practicale for their trouble. No, that’s not a peculiarly named Latin dance, but a special penal dimension used by the Time Saving Agency as a prison for Time Terrorists – people who tinker with the mechanics of Time, and without the necessary permission! Of course, knowing that even if they did change history to eliminate the disturbing events entirely, the TSA would just send other time agents – with less qualms about doing their job totally impartially of course – to undo their efforts as if they’d never been, serves to keep them in line. After all, it’s better to help some people – as many as one can – than to help none at all.
The Anals of History (the ANNALS of History is a completely different book, and probably less interesting) are somewhat vague about certain details – for example, just how long it takes for the militia (consisting primarily of grumpy old vets who’d fought in almost every Terran war over the last 60 years) to form up and prepare to face the fascist’s well-trained though inexperienced army, ten-thousand strong. Likewise, the – um, “Anals” are also a little sketchy about the number of inmates who perish at Xanadu concentration camp at the hands of the fascists – which gives the militia an opportunity to mount a rescue a little earlier than would’ve been possible otherwise.
Throughout this conflict and accompanying social turmoil and upheaval on the by now familiar planet Deanna, Cindy-Mei Winter and Gary Beck (guided by their mentor Scrooby) will play a vital part in saving as many lives as they can, and seeing to it that the perpetrators meet a swift, just and fitting end commensurate with the Anals of History.
A little about “High Steaks“:
Troubled times had come to the small Terran Colony planet of Deanna – and having amusing names for its sun (Ramalama) and two moons (Ding and Dong) hadn’t made this quaint little world immune to bad things. After a shock assassination, the three largest cities on Deanna have been overrun by separatist troops and the former Governor has gone into hiding! The quirky little world seems about to be enveloped in a destructive civil war – replete with a supporting cast of heroes, villains, aliens, victims, perpetrators, volunteers, vampires, war veterans, space battles, bovine torpedoes – and a little time travel on the side.
“High Steaks” is the sixth title in the Quantum Series by Christina Engela.
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All material copyright © Christina Engela, 2019.