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The Sovereign Era: Year One

Storyworld: The Sovereign Era | Series Name:
Reading Order: 3 | Stand Alone? Yes
Genres: Alternate History, Fiction, Speculative Fiction | Editions: E-Book, Printed Books, Quality Paperback

The Sovereign Era: Year One is an anthology of seven short stories set in the first year of the Sovereign Era, when the appearance of individuals with remarkable powers forever alters human destiny.

Presenting a glimpse into the first year of the Sovereign Era!

The seven stories in The Sovereign Era: Year One take place between the events depicted in the two volumes of the Charters Duology (Brave Men Run and Pilgrimage). The Sovereign Era began in April of 1985, when Dr. William Karl Donner revealed that super-powered metahumans existed, declared their autonomy, and demonstrated his ability to enforce that demand. Arrangements between Donner and the government of the United States resulted in the establishment of the Donner Institute for Sovereign Studies, a compound in central Montana where the “Sovereigns” could find refuge and learn more about themselves.

Over the next twelve months, while the world struggled to deal with the political and social repercussions caused by the existence of the Sovereigns, the metahumans themselves mostly tried to find their place in the world. That’s what these stories are about.

Mur Lafferty | Jared Axelrod | Nathan Lowell | P. G. Holyfield | J. R. Blackwell | Matt Wallace | J. C. Hutchins

Cover art by Jeffery Himmelman.

30,400 words.

0) Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights: How It All Got Started (free online serial)
1) Brave Men Run
2) The World Revolves Around You
3) The Sovereign Era: Year One
4) Canary In a Coal Mine
5) Pilgrimage
6) The News From Bewilder Pond

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An Excerpt from
The Sovereign Era: Year One

I don’t hear much, but I’ve heard this. You want miracles to happen, you gotta take exit 324 on I-95, go twelve miles down Kenesaw Drive, just past Briar Creek, deep into the pine woods, ‘till you see the field of Pontiacs and Buicks and Chevrolets. Supposedly, you’ll find miracles. In reality, you’ll find Wright’s Garage and me keeping some hunk of junk or another from the scrapyard.

Maggie was told she needed a miracle. Maggie had taken her poor, falling-apart LeBaron to the new Gulf station on the edge of Chapel Hill, over to the Daniel Boone Shell and finally to old man Kubichek’s place. Nobody had any luck figuring out why it gave a keel like lovesick alligator once it started, or why it just quit in the middle of the road, with the starter firing on a full tank of gas. The general rust-and-rot aesthetic of the engine was usually blamed, but a specific solution couldn’t be found.

“You’re gonna need a miracle, you want this hunka junk to run proper,” Juraj Kubichek told her. “Miracles a’ that sort only show up in one place.”

So, Maggie turned her car east on Kenesaw, restarted it about four times on the way, and slowly pulled into my clearing of cars, trucks and tractors in the middle of pines and cedars.

“Hear tell you can work miracles.” Maggie threw open the rusty door with a sickening crunch.

“There’s those that’d say that. I just do what the cars tell me to.” I wiped my hand on my pants before extending it for a shake. “Indigo Wright.”

“Maggie Williams. ‘Indigo,’ huh?”

“Yeah, it’s a bit too much name for me, too. Call me ‘Go. Most do. How can I help you?”

“You can listen to this heap of trouble.” Maggie smiled and scratched her close-cropped hair behind her right ear. Sweat made her shirt stick close to her lean torso. “If you have any ideas at all, you’ll have an edge up on every one else I went to.”

“Well, I better give her a listen.” I popped the LeBaron’s hood and leaned forward. “Start it up for me, will you? Let’s see what she says.” Once Maggie turned the key, I closed my eyes.

I let my head go quiet. I put out of my mind the sweat rolling down my back, the smell of rust coming from the engine I had my nose in, the sound of the starter urging the engine to turn over, even the beautiful smile of young black woman with the large Dayglo earrings behind the wheel. My mind was blank.

corrosion… corrosion of the oil pan… came a voice in my head. …bleach… bleach in the oil… corrosion… corrosion…

My eyes snapped open. “You can quit now. When was the last time you changed the oil?”

“Change it?” Maggie stood up out of the car and bit her bottom lip. “I haven’t changed it, in like, a year. Maybe more. Is that the problem?”

“Not as such,” I said. “Anybody else drive this car?”

“Not since I bought it from Daddy two years ago. What’s the problem?”

“There’s some…foreign substances in your oil. Shouldn’t take long to clear out, but I’m gonna have to take some time to figure out the extent of the damage. Should be able to get it back to you next week.”

“Next week? I need this car tomorrow!”

“Well, I’m real sorry about that, Miss Williams. But as you can see, I got more’n few cars ahead of you.” I motioned to the field of autos sleeping beneath the pine branches.

“Can’t you put mine in front? Please?” Maggie’s smile pleaded. “I’ll pay extra. Please. I can help.”

“You know anything about cars, Miss Williams?”

“Not a lick. But I’m excellent company.”

Yes, you are, I thought. ’Specially when you smile like that. Been awhile since there had been any company at the garage. Even longer since someone as beautiful as Maggie Williams.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll open her today. But if the end of the day rolls around and this car ain’t ready to roll, you’re out of luck until next week. Go ahead and put ‘er in neutral and we’ll shove it in the garage.

“Oh, thank you so much! You won’t even know I’m here.”

Fat chance of that, I thought as I watched her brown, muscled legs disappear into the car.


All of the LeBaron’s oil had to be flushed out, and the filter replaced. I hoped that would be all, but with what the engine was telling me, I feared there might be more. Maggie, blissfully unaware of the extent of the damage to her car, chattered on. Normally, I like it to be quiet when I work – better to hear the cars – but I welcomed Maggie’s easy talking

“So, you been following this Sovereign business?”

“Not really,” I said. “I read about that Donner fella in DC, with the flying, and stuff.”

“You read…? You didn’t see it? It was all over the TV.”

“I don’t watch much TV,” I said. Televisions, like most electronics, are loud, temperamental beasts. That’s why I like cars, with their easy, rumbling voices. “Bet it was a sight, though.”

“Sure was. Like David Copperfield, him just floating in the air like that. Blows my mind, that they’re people like that who can float in the air or shoot lasers out of their fingers, or whatever, y’know? S’wild. Wish I could do stuff like that.”

“Oh? What would your power be?”

“Flight. No, no, speed. No, wait…” Maggie chewed on her bottom lip again. “Can I get more than one? Flying, strength, bulletproof, alla that?”

“I’m not sure that’s how Sovereign powers work.”

“Hmmm…well, I’ll stick to being really fast, if I can’t have the whole deal. Maybe I’d finally get things done in my life, y’know? Finally have some time. Make my job easier, I’ll tell you that for free. I’m a hospice nurse, and I’m working with this rich guy, Marvin Henschlager. I’ve worked home cases like this before, but between him and his horrible, horrible children… they’re adults, but I call them children, y’know?”

“Yeah, I’ve met folk like that.”

“Bet they come in here all the time. I swear, it’s like having two bratty teenagers ordering me about. They hired a nurse, but I think they wanted a maid. I feel kinda bad for Marvin, who’s had to live them with their entire lives. He’s a sweet guy, Marvin. He’s over his anger, you know? He’s moved past anger and bargaining. He’s accepted it. His children haven’t, but, what child can? Marvin’s sweet about it, though. He’s found his place. I hope I’m that calm, when it happens for me. I hope I’m that quiet.

“Listen to me, goin’ on and on. What about you?”

I put my head back under the hood. Even with the engine off, I could hear that the corrosion was far deeper than just the oil pan.

“I’m just a guy who listens to cars,” I said. “Just like Dad.”

“Oh? He around? Have the day off?”

“No… um… he, uh, passed away.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…”

“It’s fine. It was years ago.”

“Anyway, about the Sovereign abilities. What would you want?”

“I think I’m fine the way I am,” I said, wiping the oil off my hands. “You’re in trouble, though. Turns out there was bleach in your oil.”

“Bleach? How’d that happen?”

“I was hoping you could tell me.”

“I have no idea. I don’t even put oil in my oil.”

“Well, here’s your trouble. Oil gets into every part of your engine. Which means bleach got into every part of your engine.”

“Which means the entire engine needs to be cleaned?”

“Which means the entire engine needs to be junked. You need a new engine, or better yet, a new car.”

“Shit. Shit shit shit! I can’t afford a new car. I certainly can’t afford a new car by tomorrow morning! Shit!” I expected Maggie to kick the car, or pound something. She just sat on the filthy floor of the garage and pulled her long legs against her chest, making herself as small as possible. Her voice was barely audible. “I can’t afford any of this.”

“Look, uh, Maggie.” I suddenly felt as if I had no business being in my own garage. “I don’t normally do this, but I got a LeBaron out in the yard here that’s not doin’ much but rusting. I’ll have to replace some parts to get it working again, but parts’ll cost you much less than a whole engine.”

Maggie’s eyes brightened, but then grew sad again. “Don’t suppose that’s gonna be ready by tomorrow, is it?”

“No, um, no. No, it’s not. But, I got a loaner you can use ‘till it’s ready next week. It’s a Bug, so it’s not, it’s not much. But it should do fine.”

I barely said the words when Maggie launched up off the floor and into a giant bear-hug. “Thank you thank you thank you!” she said, with a kiss on the cheek. If I had any doubts about going out of my way, they were washed away by the feeling of her body close to mine.

She blew me a kiss as she drove off in the VW, but I was too dazed from her first kiss to catch it.


After night rolled over the cedars and pines, I dug out the shoe box from underneath the detritus surrounding my work desk and pulled out my newspaper clippings. I had been collecting Sovereign-related articles from the News & Observer since Donner had first shown up in DC three months ago. I had thought Donner’s appearance meant we’d all start coming out of the woodwork, and hearing the prattle of machinery would make me a part of something. But as reports of Sovereigns all over the country came in, I felt I had less in common with these freaks than I did with the cars out back. And while there were reports of Sovereigns in New York and Chicago and California, it seemed I was the only one in North Carolina.

If I was a Sovereign at all, and not, you know, crazy.

I put the clippings away and got a beer out of the fridge. I walked out into the cool July night. I sat on a busted lawn chair, closed my eyes, and felt the low, grumbling wave of automobile voices wash over me.

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