When the French brought up siege mortars, things began to get
serious inside Fort Dunmoore.

So far, Lethbridge-Stewart had lost only a handful of men to the
relentless rain of fire arrows the Indians poured over the walls.
Every man lost was a hardship, of course, but a bearable one, so
long as the fort stood barring the way into the lower colonies.
With its high walls and solid construction, no force of Indians
no matter how large or stout-hearted stood a chance of carrying
it by storm. There was rather more chance of them managing
to blockade the garrison inside and try to starve them out, but
there were ample provisions and it was unlikely the savages
would have the stomach or the organization to long maintain
such a siege.

But now there were French troops out there, Montcalm's veterans,
it was said. And what was worse, French discipline (for all that
such a concept was considered oxymoronic in His Majesty's
Army) and French artillery. French orders and French tribute
would keep their Indian allies in the field for however long it took
for those big French siege guns to knock the walls to pieces.

Their only hope now was for a relief force to arrive from New
England, something more substantial than the dribs and drabs of
colonial militia that had been straggling through the wilderness,
getting themselves cut up by Indian ambushes.

"Are you certain this is wise, General?" Captain Yates asked. The
ground rumbled under their feet as a cannonball arced over the
wall and slammed into the empty ruins of the stables.

"Morale is most critical at this point, Yates," General Lethbridge-
Stewart replied. "If we can keep morale up, we can hold out long
enough for a column to reach us from New Haven."

Another shell crashed into the fort as a rattle of musketry and a
chorus of war whoops signalled another feint against the West
Bastion being driven off.

"I understand that, sir," Yates retorted, "but supposing the enemy
tries a full-scale assault while the Regiment is away from the walls?"

"The colonials will man the walls and will surely be able to hold for
no longer than the ceremony will take." The general straightened
the facings on his deep red coat and shook a bit of powder out of
his wig. "Regiments are built on _tradition_, Yates. The men draw
strength from it. The cost to morale of _not_ going through with
the annual ceremony would, I judge, be far worse than any brief
tactical weakness we may incur."

A volley of fire arrows arched into the guardhouse roof, but most
of it had already burned. A pair of colonials rushed over with
buckets to douse such flames as took hold.

The Regiment was drawn up in a square around the flagpole, the
adjutant Major Yadallee at their head with the parchments folded
neatly under his arm. Not a man flinched or started as gunfire
battered the fort, even when a cannonball bounced beside the
front rank, spraying the men with dirt clods.

"My good officers and men," the general began, pacing before
them, "you are all by now familiar with our tradition of presenting
a yearly award for the best literary achievement in the area of
chapters from Round-Robin stories. That is to say, those stories
that are written by multiple authors working in turns. Today, we
honor those efforts from this past year. Major Yadallee?"

The adjutant turned and unrolled the parchments, but his words
were drowned out by the roar of a guard tower collapsing.
Thankfully, there were only a couple of colonials in it at the time.
When the hammering of artillery had faded back into background
noise once again, Major Yadallee began to speak.

"The Round-Robin story is a long-standing tradition of the 3rd
Adwecshire Regiment, going back to the very formation of this
Regiment. In keeping with that noble heritage, I shall now read
aloud excerpts from the top six nominees for Best Round-Robin
Chapter. Ahem."

He paused to let a 12-pounder cannonball ricochet over his head,
never moving a muscle.

"First is 'Desert of Fear', Chapter 35, by BKWillis..."

Deliberately and without taking her eyes from his face, she brushed
his hand off her shoulder, then turned and strode to the door. She
stopped there for a moment, halfway out, then turned back to him,
her face serious. He was still watching her.



"Just what am I to you? A hireling? Hatchet-girl? Pawn?"

He was quiet for a few seconds. "Objectively, I guess you're my
partner-in-crime. Personally, I'd like to think you're my friend." He
shrugged. "And what am I to you?"

"We'll see," she said as she closed the door behind her.

"Second, we have 'Desert of Fear', Chapter 36, also by BKWillis..."

It wasn't enough. The apes were too many to hold at bay for long,
and the two Skyborn too weak. Marduk's spear lashed out, driving
through a fur-matted belly. The ape howled like a damned soul, but
grasped the shaft and held on with all its dying strength as Marduk
tried to wrench the weapon free. Another ape slipped in a
ferocious stab that narrowly missed skewering the young
Guardsman, laying his side open in a messy but shallow furrow.
He staggered back as the ape grinned at him and drew back for the
finishing blow.

Something went whirring just past the Skyborn's head and the
ape's face dissolved into red ruin, a hand axe buried in its skull.

Again the apes gave back as Ghorlok and Shizaan came plowing
into them, sabers a-whirl. The Servii's terrible, lashing strokes
split heads and bellies, leaving a carpet of thrashing and sundered
bodies in their wake. The ferocity of the charge rolled the fighting
back away from the two Skyborn, giving them a moment to recover.

A musket ball from an Indian who'd gained the wall knocked the
cocked hat from Yadallee's head, but he just calmly bent down and
retrieved it, paying no mind to the hole it now sported.

"Third is 'Desert of Fear', Chapter 37, _also_ by BKWillis..."

But it wasn't a Servii that finally came out of the looming dark.
It was a girl, a mere slip of a human girl, fair of skin and with hair
like a nighted river. She walked slowly but resolutely into the
puddle of light around the Trinnians, stopping to offer them a
short, polite bow. She wore no armor, just a dark, heavy dress of
the sort a noble might wear, and bore no weapon that the Gun
Master could see.

A drop of blood fell from her fingers.

"I apologize, gentlemen," she said in a soft, regretful voice, "but I
fear it's necessary that I slay you all..."

"The fourth nominee is 'Desert of Fear', Chapter 39, by Clive May..."

The trip through the tunnels, hallways, and up the ramps and stairs
was a nightmare. They were frustrated at every turn. Pursued by
the green fire, their way was continually being blocked by locked
doors and armed guards closing the exits to the Under-City, due to
the current emergency. Vanir despaired of even getting clear of the
Under-City, let alone into the heart of Security Headquarters.

As they approached the exit from yet another corridor, Siharal
motioned for quiet. "This is where it gets tricky - there'll be guards,"
he cautioned.

There were guards; but they were slumped unconscious just inside
the door to the chamber. A slender, boyish figure with short dark
hair wearing a Temple Guard uniform stood impatiently by the tall
blue box. As they emerged, she stepped forward and raised a blaster.
At sight of her, the Doctor's eyes went wide in recognition. He
glanced at the bodies slumped by the doorway. His face twisted into
an expression of dislike.

"Still having trouble picking sides young lady, I see?" he observed.

Rhanda grinned at him. "I was wondering how long it would take for
you to come back for this," she said, and tapped the side of the box.

One of the French gunners made either a very beautiful or very lucky
shot just then, the shell landing in the powder kegs beside the North
Bastion cannon. The explosion levelled the tower and sent a wave
of smoke and dust across the assembled Regiment. But they spared
it little attention, since another nominee was about to be announced.

"Fifth, we have Internet Adventure #27, 'The Apan Way', Chapter 1,
by Paul Gadzikowski..."

"Excuse me," said Greh, "I hate to bother you, but it's really frightfully

The tall chap looked down at Greh and smiled. "Wonderful! I'm
good at important things."

No mark'd ever said that before. No matter. "I do mean frightfully
important," Greh continued earnestly. "Life and death, fate of the
world at stake, that sort of thing."

"Go on, please," said the tall chap. "By the way, I'm -"

It wasn't important who the mark thought he was. It was important
who the mark thought Greh was. "Have you ever heard," said Greh,
"of the Doctor?"

The tall chap took a moment to get his mind around that. "The
Doctor?" Good, good; you don't want a mark who's too bright.

"Lives in a time machine?" Greh explained. "Travels about putting
the universe to rights? Steals from the rich, gives to the poor, six
megalomaniacs toppled before breakfast?"

"What about the Doctor?" The tall chap *had* heard the stories, or
heard of the stories.

Greh grabbed his own lapels - thumbs pointing up; he practiced this
in restroom mirrors - and straightened to his full height, which was
about eighty percent of the tall chap's. "I am the Doctor."

The tall chap looked at Greh stunned for a moment, then broke into
the most delighted grin. "*You* are?"

"And the final nominee is Internet Adventure #27, 'The Apan Way',
Chapter 2, by Molly Schlemmer."

An arrow pierced the parchment in Major Yadallee's hands and this
time he actually sighed a little bit before plucking it out and continuing
to read...

"Could you please not talk right now? I've got a terrible headache."
The voice was female, and in considerable pain.

The tall chap kneeled down. Greh walked around to see who he was
talking to. "Hello, I'm the Doctor," the tall chap said quietly.
His expression suddenly changed from caring to quizzical. "Who are
you hiding from?"

The woman opened her eyes just enough to look at the tall chap. Greh
could see her eyes were bloodshot. "I'm not hiding," she mumbled.
"Just have a headache, that's all."

"I wasn't really asking you," the tall chap replied. "I was asking
your headache."

Major Yadallee tucked the last parchment under his arm and stepped
smartly back as the general came forward again, a rolled and wax-
sealed document in his hands. The Regimental piper sliced through
the seal with his dirk in the traditional manner, allowing it to unroll
in Lethbridge-Stewart's hands.

"And the Best Round-Robin Chapter is hereby declared to be...
Internet Adventure #27, 'The Apan Way', Chapter 1, by Paul

A patter of applause ran through the troops as the piper launched
into a celebratory skirl.

Just about then, a rending crash and the din of war whoops signified
a largish section of the North Wall coming down and a horde of red
Indians swarming over the wreckage.

General Lethbridge-Stewart snapped off a smart salute to his men,
then another to the Union Jack. "Thank you, men of the 3rd
Adwecshire, and Godspeed. You are now dismissed to your posts
so that you may fight for your lives..."




"...say again, Knight-3. We did not copy. Over."

Sergeant Darren Ullman ducked as another shell landed in the
factory ruins, a small avalanche of cement pebbles raining on his
helmet. The concussion almost jarred the radio from his hand,
but he managed to hang on.

"Air strike!" he screamed into the mike again. "We need an air
strike on coordinates 56-86! Repeat, requesting air strike on
56-86! Over!"

On the ledge above him, Rogan began hammering out long bursts
with his M-60. "We got infantry dismounting!" the big corporal
yelled over the racket. "Three hundred meters, with APCs in

The radio crackled to life again, the officer on the other end
sounding as calm as would be expected of a man miles away
from the fighting. "Knight-3, we show 56-86 as being your own
position. Suggest you recheck coordinates for that requested
air strike. Over."

Ullman spat a string of curses before keying up the radio again.
"Affirmitive, Base," he responded. "We are being overrun! Repeat,
_overrun_! The enemy is coming down on our position!" He held
out the radio, letting the mike pick up the din of explosions and
automatic weapons fire. "You hear that?! We need that air strike
and we need it now! Drop on us! We're dead if you don't! Over!"

"Roger that," the bland voice replied. "Knight-3, I'm putting you
through to Redneck-01. He's about three minutes out from your

The radio crackled, the tone shifting a little as a new voice came on,
a Southern twang undercut by a rumble of engines. "Knight-3, this
is Redneck-01. I am inbound from west-northwest. Anything in
particular you want shot up, or should I just flatten ever'thing?

Another explosion brought down a section of wall, tossing Private
Hendriks across the room. Ullman started to go to him, but the
private picked himself up, found his M-16, and took up position
firing through the new hole.

"Redneck-01, we are dug in in the old factory building on the east
side of the main road. We have mechanized infantry attacking from
the west. There are no, repeat _no_ friendly vehicles at these
coordinates. Over."

"Roger that, Knight-3. All vehicles are targets, friendlies are in the
factory building. Commencing strafing run in thirty seconds.
Redneck-01 out."

Ullman threw down the radio receiver and snatched up his rifle,
taking a post beside Private Ogden. The pudgy youngster had
fired his rifle empty and was frantically blazing away with his .45.
"We can't hold them, Sarge!" he bawled.

And it looked like that was true. With a pistol, two rifles, and a
single machine gun, they were trying to stand off what looked like
a whole ADF mechanized company. Bullets from a hundred rifles
spanged off the ruined concrete around them, while the ADF
armored personnel carriers provided support with their light
cannons and rocket launchers. Fortunately, the enemy commander
must not have realized that the defenders lacked any heavy
weapons, or he could have run the APCs right up into the building
and ended the firefight in seconds. As it was, it still didn't look like
it could go on much longer than that.

Without warning, one of the APCs exploded as an air-to-ground
missile found its engine compartment. Seconds later the ground
around the vehicles began to ripple and jump under the impact of
hundreds of high-velocity 30mm cannon shells as a friendly A-10
Warthog swooped low over the field, its big Avenger antitank gun
cutting the armored vehicles nearly in two. The ugly fighter swung
about and made another run, this time dropping a hail of cluster
bombs along the roadway, breaking up the infantry assault. This
was too much for the ADF soldiers to bear and as the plane veered
off to return to base, the attackers grabbed up their casualties and
their surviving APCs and withdrew, sped on by a few dozen rounds
from the exultant defenders, who had also been knocked
momentarily flat by the nearness of the bombing.

When it became clear that the ADF wasn't about to try probing their
position again anytime soon, Ullman and his men stood down,
leaving Rogan and his M-60 on watch.

"We did it," Ogden mumbled. "We're still alive."

"For now," Hendriks, ever the cynic, replied.

"Heh. If we can live through _that_, we can live through anything.
Right, Sarge?"

Ullman shrugged wearily as he sank down beside their little fire. "I
suppose." His eyes were far away. "Man, I'd give anything for a
cold beer right now."

"Yeah, I miss that," Hendriks agreed. "Know what else I miss?
Baths. Hot baths."

"And girls," Rogan put in.

"Yeah. And girls."

Ogden chuckled softly, poking at the fire. "This is gonna sound weird,
but you know what I miss most? Round-Robin stories."

Ullman poked him with his boot. "That's not so weird. I like Round-
Robins too."

"What's a Round-Robin?" Rogan asked, still watching the horizon.

Hendriks laughed. "Man, where did you live, under a rock? Round-
Robins are these cool stories people used to write. They'd get a
group together and everybody would take turns adding to it and
figuring out how it was going to go. They made for some _excellent_

"Yeah!" Ogden chirped. "Round-Robins kick ass! My favorite was
this one they did, 'Dark Carnival'. It was like this really freaky horror
story about these brothers that run a carnival where they kill people
and sometimes steal their souls and stuff. And this one guy, he gets
killed, but he ends up in this dusty place full of mad dogs and stuff.
And there was this kid, and this girl that was a guy, and this ghost
and her sister, and these good guys who got turned evil, and all
kinds of stuff like that. It rocked!"

"I remember one I liked," said the sergeant. "'The Apan Way', I think
it was. There were these aliens who looked like bees and they were
gonna try and conquer this planet, but there was this time traveler
who was trying to stop them. And he had these helpers, like this girl
with this _thing_ bonded to her brain, and this guy who was like a
hobo or a con man, but used to be somebody important."

"I preferred 'Alone'," offered Hendriks. "More cerebral and
atmospheric than the others. Had to do with this woman who was
all alone in this old building, but she wasn't _exactly_ alone, and
the whole thing was a big metaphor. Makes you think."

Ogden took a drink from his canteen, then fixed Hendriks with a
steady stare. "Well, 'The Joyful Quadrille' was the one that made
_me_ think. I mean, you had to to keep up with everything going
on in that one. There was the party, then everybody disappearing
into another dimension where you couldn't tell what was real and
what wasn't. And there were all those people coming and going,
like trolls and aliens and that kid with the rat and that robot-girl
and those spies..."

"I dunno," Rogan distractedly put in. "I kind of like more action-
type stories."

"Then you should have read 'Desert of Fear', man," Ullman informed
him. "Wall-to-wall action. Lots of sword-fighting and evil cultists
and double-crossing spies and junk like that. Full of hot-looking
chicks, too."

Artillery rumbled in the distance, but it was just the usual interdiction
fire both sides aimed behind each other's lines.

"So, like, what was the best one, then?" Rogan said. "If I get out
of here, maybe I'll read one."

"You'll make it," Ullman assured him. "It's a jinx to say different.
But yeah, they held a vote one time and picked what the Best Round-
Robin was. That's the one I'd start with."

"So which one was it?"

"'Dark Carnival'." The sergeant looked at the others for confirmation.
"Yeah, 'Dark Carnival' was voted the Best Round-Robin. Read that
one when you get home."

"And me," piped up Ogden. "I'm gonna read it again, too."

Hendriks chuckled. "At the rate the authors were going, it'll probably
still be going on. When we get back home, I'll read it with you guys."

"Make it four," Ullman added with a tired smile. "That's a promise,
right? We all make it out, and we all read the Best Round-Robin,
'Dark Carnival', when we do."

Part 1 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Epilogue & Credits - Summary

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