In the Summer of 2014, I got invited to participate in a closed anthology, meaning one that is by-invitation-only, rather than open for submissions. The theme was science fiction and having to do with in the woods, so terrestrial and arboreal instead of space ships.
For writers, the question is never “Where do you get your ideas?” but rather “How do you make them stop?” This is important because at the time I was just about midway through what would become the novelette Moscow Gold, and started noodling on various ideas.
I still have no idea what caused me to come up with the story Valeriya. Seriously. Even today, I’m still at a loss as to where that came from.
But it surfaced, like a great whale broaching from the weird depths of my subconscious. A Soviet tank crew, fighting in the Great Patriotic War (WW2 for Americans), when their lives get interrupted by a time-traveling assassin from the distant future.
Obviously, you change the past by killing someone important, isn’t that how every story tries to work? The people of the future, not wanting to be wiped out, also send someone back into the past to preserve the timeline.
Think about how many times you’ve come across this particular trope. Lots, right?
So I had this interesting idea. And because I have played table-top games that take place in that time frame, I am familiar with it. And I wanted to put them in a poky little British Matilda II tank, because there were a lot of those in Soviet hands until American Shermans arrived and Soviet factories began putting out a mess of T-34x76mm.
For me, what makes this world so interesting is sending someone like Tatiyana back from the distant future, leaping backwards from the fifty-eighth century to the twentieth, and what they encounter. Imagine you being able to meet Herakles, or Iason, or Menelaus in their own day, only thirty-two centuries in the the past from us.
In their own day, the Zolernovy are fairly powerful psionicists, but not overlords. They see themselves as protectors. They are, to quote themselves, the Children of the Soldier, zolner being a cognate into Russian of soldier. They are descendents in line from Sergey Orlov and his mate, Valeriya, whom he has not yet met during the war.
And family legends get a little twisted over the centuries, even for telepaths, so they don’t quite understand that the Valeriya who was with Sergey during the war was his tank, named Valeriya for the woman who haunts his dreams, rather than the woman herself. But they went to the beginning, to where the legend began, not realizing that they caused the legend in their own way. Because altering the past is never easy.
From the distant future, they knew that something happened in 1944, but not what. They knew that in 1945, during the Battle of Berlin, Sergey Orlov would do something that would keep the Nazis from suddenly fighting back and winning.
Sergey knew that he was special, able to catch glimpses of the future that always came true. He could see, but could not control it. It took the presence of his many-times-over great-granddaughter, Tatiyana, to help crystallize his powers. When she died, part of her soul became bound up in his, teaching him some of the very basic techniques that would help him survive.
So, I had this story. And it was kinda awesome. It still makes me tear up to read it, so much emotional baggage.
But the anthology I was invited to participate in was not scheduled (at that time) to come out until mid-2015. Midway through writing Valeriya, I realized that I had to write the second story, Tatiyana, as well. And I didn’t want to wait until summer 2015 for the first story to come out, and then fall so I could publish the second one. (That anthology story, by the way, turned out to be The Shipwrecked Mermaid and is coming out in March 2015 as part of Tales From An Alien Campfire.)
So I decided to put them into Beyond The Mirror: Volume 3, Alternate Worlds as the bookend pieces. I plan to write another short story in that universe in the near future, after I finish the novel I am currently in the middle of.
This makes Zolnerovy the second of the science fiction universes I plan to work in over the next several years. The Shipwrecked Mermaid (modern SF) will introduce the third, and Rick Pine (and Laurie Bradley) will be the main character(s) there. Now I just need time to write everything in my head.