The premise is that roughly ten thousand Earth years ago, the fractal demons captured and enslaved some Earth humans, taking them to Calmena, a planet around Epsilon Indi, using them as breeding stock with the idea of creating another slave race like the likahns. They created gateways between their own home spaces and Calmena, then set about making Calmena the sort of hellhole they like to live in.

Humans being an unruly lot, some escaped, and others rebelled. Where these escapees and rebels succeeded in creating their own tribes, they became pseudo-feudal enclaves, dedicated to those at the top of their social ladder and helping them fight off being re-conquered by the fractal demons. But at least 80 percent of humans on Calmena still lived their lives enslaved by demons. Eighty percent of what was left were enslaved by their fellow humans, the results of genetic experimentation that resulted in mental and physical augmentation.

A comparative few clung to a precarious existence in the margins, living largely solitary lives or in association with small family groups in primitive conditions, subject to being captured by any demonic or human lord who took a whim to do so, always prepared to abandon everything they have in order to escape.

When the Empire came to Earth, they discovered Calmena nearby. Realizing it would be a useful gateway for acquiring intelligence on the fractal demons, the Empire established a small base, remote and inaccessible in the highest mountains on the planet. From there, the Ears spread out to the demonic realms, gathering intelligence for the inevitable war that was coming with the fractal demons.

However, a few members of the Imperial elite decided they couldn't ignore the plight of the humans on Calmena. They established a charity with the goal of bettering the lives of the humans on Calmena, although always subject to the need to maintain official secrecy. The fractal demons cannot know that the Empire knows about Calmena.

In Preparing The Ground, Joe and Asina begin the long process of improving the Calmenans' technological ability: They gather up a few scattered humans, and together they found N'yeschlass, a free human town built on smelting metal and forging it.

In Building The People, Joe and Asina undertake a new assignment to introduce sailing ships to a world that has never known anything more advanced than a raft or canoe.

In Setting the Board, the improvements have had a chance to spead. The free humans are pushing the demons back. Now with the southern portion of the fourth and final continent under their control, the free humans seem poised to push the fractal demons off Calmena entirely. Joe and Asina's new assignment: Marine diesels and aircraft technology.

But Calmena is only the front line of a very large conflict zone, and the demons have massive resources they have not yet called upon.

Preparations for War is a grunt's eye view of a cultural and economic conflict and the people that get caught in the middle.

The Gates To Faerie will be available April 9th. Here are the Amazon and Books2Read links for e-book

(Books2Read covers most retailers other than Amazon and even several library services if you want to request your favorite library acquire a copy)

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07QBDL8QK

https://books2read.com/b/47xV9N

Here is the link for a paperback copy. The kindle e-book and paperback pages are linked on my author page - I suspect that will happen soon on the individual pages

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1092861408

Mark Jackson's problems begin when he wakes up with his ex-wife's mummified corpse.

Seven years ago, she walked out on him and vanished. Now she's back desperate for help. She claims a cult cured her cancer. Now they want to kill her.

Sceptical, Mark agrees to help. But when she knocks on his door, she looks like a teenager. They patch things up and one thing leads to another...

In the morning, she's a mummified corpse and LAPD thinks Mark did it. The solution to his problems can only be found in The Gates to Faerie

Gates artwork small.jpg

This is the first draft of the introduction to my current work in progress (Gates to Faerie's textfiles are finalized; I'm only waiting for the final artwork)


You play with fire, you're going to get burned.

Abraham Lincoln once observed, "Nearly all men can stand adversity. If you want to test a man's character, give him power." It might scandalize my fellow Americans to say it, but Mr. Lincoln failed his own test by almost any measure. Suspension of habeus corpus, our first conscripted armies, breaking West Virginia off as a separate state with only the thinnest of technically legal fictions. But he'd been a national hero in the United States, because history is written by the winners.

There is no way to give a person power that can only be used for good. Any power can be abused, especially government power. If there's one lesson we should have learned as a species by now, that's it. So it didn't surprise anyone that demons could subvert human rulers. It's just that we never knew who until the damage was done.

But let me start at the beginning.

It felt like we were coming home.

Gates to Faerie done

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Just wrote the last of The Gates to Faerie and sent it off to the betas this evening. It was a hard story to write, and the climactic scene is more than a little disturbing and really goes against my grain. I also had to leave some material about the world on the other side of the gates out, as it just digressed too much, even if it was 'cool'. I'm sure I'll use it in the next Gates book.

Next up: Setting the Board, Book Three of Preparations for War (I think)

My Author's Brand

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One thing I should try and make clear to you, the reader, is what my author's brand is about.

First and foremost, I want to entertain you. I will happily give up everything else in order to entertain. If you don't come away from the book with a sense of "That was fun!" and wanting to read the next book, I've failed. I am trying to entertain you, and if I don't do that, you shouldn't give me any more of your money. Since I want you to buy more of my books and tell your friends I'm an entertaining writer, I'm going to try to entertain you. I don't try to have flippant smart-asses tossing off one-liners every three words, but I do try to slide a few in.

Second, I want the characters to think. I want you to come away from the book thinking that everyone did what they did for rational reasons or at least motivations real people have. Nobody in my books is evil because it says so on their character card. The antagonists are pursuing their own best interests as best they see them. Sometimes the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Similarly, I try really hard to avoid violations of the Evil Overlord's Principles. If it were possible to game the antagonist with a cheap shot, someone would already have done it. I want you to have the feeling that it took some real thought to plot this story - that all the characters all thought and worked for their chosen ends, and that the resolution reflects this.

Third, I want the ending to be something good that the characters have earned. I'm not going to promise that they all live to get there, but all that work and risk should earn them a better place than they started from according to what they value. I'm also not going to promise it's the place they thought they were going in the first place. But if the work and risk wasn't going to earn them a better place, why should they bother? Even if it's just saving other people from a disaster, the characters should get something out of it. The ones who survive and persevere, anyway.

Fourth and finally, I'd like to think that I maybe gave you a little bit of a different way to think about things. I'm not looking to preach at you like a tenured professor, I just want to illustrate that there are different ways of looking at the same issue. I don't think I'm going to change your mind. But maybe - just maybe - I can induce you to have a thoughtful conversation with someone who doesn't agree with you. There's far too little of that these days.

didn't have long to wait. Cindy had always looked unnaturally young, for as long as I'd known her anyway - like a young doctor fresh out of residency, if not a first year med school student, when Cindy had been a practicing doctor for at least thirty years, and now I knew why. She exited her office; I hit record on the cell phone peeking out of my pocket and walked around the corner, "Good afternoon, Cindy. I've got some questions you're going to answer."

She went white as a sheet, and looked around for the stairs, then started back towards her office, but I got between her and the office door. "Now is that any way to react to seeing an old friend, especially the husband of a woman you 'helped'?"

"I can't tell you anything! I don't know anything!"

"Oh, I think you know quite a lot. Here you are looking like you could be seventeen, not fifty-seven. I think you're right in the middle of what happened to Diane, and one phone call from me - or me not coming back - will be all that it takes to have the police crawling over you and your practice like flies on a fresh piece of shit."

"I don't know anything!"

"Oh, you know plenty and I can prove it. Like what the cult does, and where to find the bigger fish in it. Otherwise, you'd have been useless to them and they would have made you do the same thing they made Diane do - leave her old life completely behind. So the question becomes 'are you going to tell me now, willingly, or are you going to tell the police tomorrow morning?"

"I can't tell you anything! They'll kill me!"

"Oh, I agree they'll kill you if you become a liability to them. Like if there's an official investigation and the police start investigating all of your patients and former patients. But if you tell me now, the cult doesn't have anything to connect me to you. It wasn't pretty, what happened to Diane. I don't know how to describe it, or the agony she must have gone through. But I know it hit every cell in her body, all of those nerve endings firing pain into her brain. Maybe the whole thing even scared her to death, literally. The autopsy hasn't come back yet."

I stopped for a beat, and looked right in her panicked eyes, "Hell of a thing to do to a friend. So I won't have a qualm in the world if it happens to you. And these people you're recruiting for, you know they'll do it, too." Yes, it was a bluff. I'd slept through whatever happened to Diane. But Cindy didn't know that.

Cindy's eyes were wild with fear. She knew this cult would do whatever happened to Diane. "You have a choice, Cindy. Tell me now, and tell me the truth. This is the only chance you'll get. If the information goes to the police, you know what will happen - don't you? You're about as innocent as the guards herding the prisoners into the gas chambers at Auschwitz, and all I need to do is tell the police what I know you know - or make certain they find out, and I've already done that. Your only hope is if I get what I want, in which case the police won't find out from me." I had her backed against the stairwell door by now. "What's it going to be, Cindy? I'm going to count to five, then walk away and let the police deal with you. One."

Cindy was not the stuff of heroes. She crumpled. "Steldan. Jennifer Steldan. Sometimes she goes by 'Isis'. She's the person I send the new prospects to."

"And where can I find this Jennifer Steldan?" She gave me a phone number and an address.
"Are you sure, Cindy? Anything else you haven't told me? Anyone else I need to know about? This is your one and only chance with me. If anything happens, it will be the police you deal with next."

"Be careful, Mark. Jennifer and Osiris, they can do things. Things I can't explain."

"Osiris?"

"Our priest. He performs our rituals."

What the elves had called the leader, and they thought he was a sorcerer. So yeah, I expect he could do 'things'. But since I had no experience with 'magic' I had no idea what they might be. "This Osiris - do you know his name or how to find him? What does he look like?"

"That's the thing, Mark. I've never seen him looking the same twice. He's been white, black, Asian, maybe American Indian, maybe Hispanic. Tall, skinny, athletic, fat. Always a big guy, but he looks different almost every ritual - and I only see him at the rituals."

"How long have you been with these people?"

"Forty-six years. I'm almost eighty. Are you sure you wouldn't want to be a part of that? You'll be young and healthy forever!"

"I doubt that. It seems obvious to me that your leaders have ways of dealing with those they aren't happy with. And the look in Diane's eyes when she told me what she could - I'd rather be dipped in honey and staked out on an anthill, thank you very much." And true to my word, I turned and walked away, leaving her there to wonder if what she'd told me would get back to the cult leaders.

The Connected Worlds setting

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Connected Worlds is an intentional riff on Zelazny's Amber, Michael Moorcock's Tanelorn, Brian Daley's Cinnabar, and others. The first book is The Fountains of Aescalon (Amazon link here and Books2Read link here)

Aescalon is a small place at the very center of it all. It consists of a cavern on the order of 25 miles in diameter, with what *appears* to be a neutron star at the center of it. Near the surface of the cavern are 165 first order Connected Realms (165 is the number of combinations you get when you take 11 dimensions chosen 3 at a time). These are full on universes; the majority of the first story is spend in Migurd one of the first order Connected Realms which has a pseudo-nordic air crossed with something resembling arthurian legend, but it's an entire world all by itself and we barely scratch the surface of Migurd in the first book.

There are roughly 20 million Second Order Connected Realms, and even larger numbers of Third and Fourth Order Connected Realms. They are progressively smaller, however.

There is a massive and unparalleled power source centered on Aescalon. Deities and other extraordinary entities are drawn to it - as are those who wish to *become* deities.

The second Connected Realms book is in the planning stages, and is tentatively titled "The Bubbles of Creation"

The Margrave didn't spend much time on the courtesy visit from the dwarves. As soon as they were dismissed, he addressed Ra' in English, "Mrs. Adedeji, what have you brought us?"

Ra' performed a deep curtsy at being addressed. "Visitors from the lands beyond the gates, Your Most Honored Lordship. It is possible they represent a solution to our dilemma with The Damned." You could hear the capital D. "May I present Mr. Jackson and Mrs. Ingmar?" To us, she said, "Bow, sir, and curtsy, lady. You are in the presence of our lord." We complied.

"Let me explain our problem. The ritual used by The Damned is a foul perversion of the Goddess' blessings, and they are a means of propagating threats to us. For your own people, they do not see the harm they do to themselves and others. We sprang from human stock, and humans may still be our most important future. We would prefer you not destroy your own souls."

"Your Most Honored Lordship, I do not understand."

"Their ritual of extended life steals the life of the future in order to continue the life of the present. That is not the purpose for which the Goddess granted us the power."

Easy for an immortal elf to say, I thought, but didn't say it. Instead, "Your Lordship, you use the ritual yourself?"

"The powers which reshaped us broke our ability to create children. Outside of the Goddess' Ritual, our children are rare and often malformed. In nearly four thousand years, my lady wife and I have had two children conceived in the normal way of men and women, and one was so twisted she did not live. The Goddess has given us this magic that we may continue, and increase. At the turning points of the year, we perform her ritual and our husbands and wives and lovers attempt to create children and hope the Goddess smiles upon us. We still are not blessed with so many children as your people, but it is enough that our people may continue and even increase, and the children born as a result of the Goddess' blessing are rarely touched by the curse of our people."

"The Damned have perverted the ritual, using the blessing of the Goddess to create life, then stealing that life to prolong their own."

"And the Goddess is angry, Your Lordship?"

"The Goddess tells us it is rapine to her, a personal violation. Her ritual is one of fertility. To use that ritual and steal the life it provides is a befoulment of the Mother's blessing. It erodes both her power and her willingness to continue all of her blessings to our land and our people. Even with more acreage under cultivation thanks to your machines, our crops this year were less than ten years ago."

"Are you certain it's not the machines and their byproducts and exhaust, Your Most High Lordship?" I'd noticed before that Julie's sarcasm could cut steel; she didn't tone it down despite the fact we were at the Margrave's mercy.

"We have those among us who have studied at the feet of your greatest scholars of this wisdom, lady. They tell us our usage is much less than a thousandth of what takes place on your side, and we have always been careful with the blessings of our Lady The Goddess. We may be poor, but the land is what we have and we endeavor to be worthy stewards for our children. Your own scholars are discovering evidence that fears on this score are not baseless, but that they are exaggerated. We never permitted any of the sins of improper disposal, and the land and its spirits tell us of its pain where there have been violations. The land is not reporting increased pain or more areas of pain, but it is telling us the blessings of the Goddess are having a lesser effect. And we are also aware that our number of children is decreasing."

An albino-looking elf, fish-belly white with bluish-white hair and startling violet eyes volunteered, in heavily accented English, "The air spirits are not pleased by the machines, but they say they are well within the bounds of what they are able to regenerate and renew, and they see the blessings our peoples have received from those machines. You've seen how sparingly we use the machines; the air spirits have given their reluctant blessing."

"I am told by representatives of the Sea Elves that the water spirits have also reluctantly blessed our usage of the machines, and the Bright Elves have endeavored to learn ways to aid the fire spirits in returning the land, the air, and the sea to their original state," The Margrave continued, "But this is all old tidings, carefully monitored for several of your decades now. There were decades in which we used older machines, with more leakage and worse exhaust. They did not cause the blessings of The Goddess to decrease."

"That changed fifteen years ago, when the Goddess complained to us of the ritual of The Damned. They have been growing in numbers since. We simply have been unable to do anything about it because she requires our obeisance at the time when something may be done. But that is a limitation you do not share, and we are given to understand you have cause for grievance against them as well."
"Are you speaking of the cult my ex-wife joined, your lordship?"

"The very same. They perform their rituals at Midsummer and Midwinter, two of our festivals where we must honor the Goddess or lose her blessing forever."

"And what would you have me do, Your Lordship?"

"Put a stop to the perversion of Her Blessings, Mr. Jackson. If simple persuasion will accomplish it, we would be pleased enough. But I misdoubt simple persuasion will serve; they believe the continuation of that perversion is necessary for their personal survival."

"Are they correct in that belief, Your Lordship?" Julie demanded.

"I am not certain, but The Goddess requires renewal of our devotions. So it could well be so, lady."

"Must be a bitch if you're trying to fight off an invasion at the time, Your Lordship."

"There is no need for vulgarity," The Margrave brought the full force of his personality into the reprimand. He didn't raise his voice, but there was no mistaking the censure and for a miracle it was enough that Julie submitted meekly. "The Goddess makes allowances for circumstances, but we must do all that we can. We are not her children; she has no obligation to us save that which she chooses."

"Can she not simply choose to withdraw her blessing from these ... Damned ... due to their perversion of their ritual, your lordship?" I asked.

"The very question I asked of our priests," The Margrave replied, "The answer I received is that she is bound by her covenants, and they do perform Her ritual as required. But Her covenant is not a legal document with provisos and limitations. It does not state they cannot do other magic as well. What dark ritual The Damned perform in addition is unknown to me, but the evidence is it is dark and evil magic indeed. It causes all the Goddess' blessings, not just to them and to my realm but worldwide to fray and wither."

Julie asked, "Why precisely do you need children, anyway, Your Lordship, if you are immortal?"

"The Huntress comes for us all, lady. We are spared perhaps the cruelest of your fates, of age and withering until no strength remains and you pass from this world a pale shadow. But she still comes for us. We are not spared from disease, nor the spears of our enemies, nor accident and fate. I have lived near four thousand turnings of the seasons, as has my lady wife. But few of the comrades of our youth remain. One by one, the Huntress has come for them, as she will come for us as well in her own time. They say The Fire Duke was a leader in our struggle to break free and he remembers the Trail of Sorrows, but even if that is so, he knows he will one day fall as well. For my people as for yours, our children are our only real immortality."

"So you're telling us you're facing extinction if this is not stopped, your lordship?"

"Honor requires that I disclaim that which I do not yet know to be true," he replied, "But if the trends continue as they have been, yes. And even if the damage is halted today, we do not know that we will recover our former level of blessings, or how long it might take. And given our enemies, it could well make a difference. Already we are notably weaker than we could have been. Will you aid us?"
"Your lordship," I began, "You certainly have my sympathies. But a wise man thinks long and carefully before meddling in a situation he does not fully understand. I'm certain you've told us the truth as best known to yourself. But we must think and take counsel with each other in this; there could be aspects of the situation you do not understand yourself that mean no action is necessary, or no action will help. If we act incorrectly or irresponsibly, the fault is our own. I think both of us are aware how many tragedies could have been averted had those concerned paused to reflect before acting."

"I had hoped for a stronger answer," The Margrave replied, "Yet if I must be patient, then patient I will be. Mrs. Adedeji, kindly return our guests whence they came. If they ask you for additional information, you are to answer as truly and completely as your knowledge permits. If you require assistance in answering forthrightly, you must request it posthaste."

"It shall be done, your lordship." Again, Ra' curtseyed, so Julie and I followed her lead, curtseying and owing respectively while backing out of the chamber.

"He certainly is intense," I said to Ra' as soon as I felt we were out of any conceivable earshot.

"The situation is dire," she replied, "I told you, Mark, that although diluted, some of the gift of longevity remains in my generation?" At my nod, she continued, "So does the curse of the Elemental Lords. Thus far, I am barren, although my husband and I dearly desire children. I've had two miscarriages, poor pathetic little babies that they were. Help me, Mark. Help me if you can."

The premise of the series is that the Empire has discovered a planet orbiting Epsilon Indi held by the fractal demons, where they have been breeding enslaved humans for several thousand years, hoping to create human serfs who can compete with Imperial operants. It hasn't been working out well for them - not only is the best they've done so far about equal to a mid-range Second Order Guardian, they don't have all of the factors that enabled Imperials to really learn to use their talents. Humans being human, there are a fair number of enclaves of free humans, and they treat each other not much better than the demons do.

It is into this setup that we step, as the Empire has discovered a direct link from this world to the fractal demons' home environments, so whomever controls Calmena has a strategic base from which to strike the other. But the Empire is preparing thoroughly for war before it begins - and one of the things they are doing is bringing civilization to the free humans, enabling them to be an even bigger thorn in the side of the fractal demons.

Published thus far are Preparing the Ground and Building the People. It's my plan to make Setting the Board my next primary work in process, but I'm not certain if I can fit all of the planned events into one book, so it may be split into two. Whether one book or two, Setting the Board is planned to be the culmination of this series, and anything else I do with these characters will have a sufficiently different setting to require beginning a new series.

The two main characters are Asina, a native of Calmena, and the viewpoint character Joe Bernard, a mixed race American from Earth.

Preparing the Ground Amazon link and Books2Read link

Building the People Amazon link and Books2Read link

My Amazon author page and Books2Read author page

Working the Trenches is a true sequel to the Rediscovery trilogy. Where the events of the trilogy are very tightly packed (although each story has a beginning, a theme, and a conclusion), Rediscovery is several years later when Grace has decided she feels enough loyalty to the Empire to serve in their armed forces, Working the Trenches of civilization

Graciella Juarez di Scimtar has saved Earth from itself. What will she do for an encore?

Become a real hero, as well as demonstrating that the Empire has earned her loyalty.

Along with her husband, she joins the Imperial Military. But she and her husband have unique talents - the military will not let them go to waste

Amazon link Books2Read link (covers most other retailers)

******

You don't have to do this.

It was our last night together for a while. We were in the sleep field in our apartment in the family residence, twenty kilometers above the surface of Sumabad, on Indra Prime. The family dinner was behind us; our dogs Lady and More were in their beds. We had already made love and were just basking in the glow of each other's touch. We watched the wakes from the pleasure craft in the strait in the soft glow from the new habitat overhead. The glow was about equal to 'a couple minutes after sunset'-level twilight on Earth; the wide ribbon of habitat overhead went all the way around the system's star and reflected a lot more light. One of the major planned cities was visible, a bit ahead of our orbit. Hard to believe there were already hundreds of times more people on the habitat that had been finished only a few years before than on this planet that had seen a hundred thousand years of civilization.

The plan was we were both going to start military training the next day, and Asto was telling me that he would understand if I didn't want to.

How many of the spouses in the family haven't spent time in the military? It was a rhetorical question. We both knew the answer was zero.

How many of them were born outside the Empire? Other than me, that answer was also zero. He was saying that if I didn't feel the loyalty yet, it was understandable.

The Empire saved us. Without the Empire, Earth would be on the way to a new Stone Age. That's if there were any humans left on Earth. The war between China and Russia that went nuclear and killed nearly a billion people had been only the leading edge of the troubles we'd been heading for. The United States had been in the process of fiscal collapse, the European Union had disintegrated into constituent nations, and world trade had been falling apart when the Empire stepped in. Even if no other nukes had been detonated - which no one rational believed - the damage done would have snowballed badly if the Empire hadn't stepped in and cleaned it up. That was nearly three Imperial years ago; longer on Earth due to the time differential. The radioactivity had been cleaned up, and Earth's standard of living was improving every month. The Primuses and Secunduses assigned to Earth had been doing their job well.

Asto replied, Earth is doing fine, now. It was the government, not the people, who were screwed up. And that was kind of the point. I didn't know that I wanted to get into the Imperial government ever, but I might. Asto definitely would; the Great Families might as well have been holding a blaster to each other's heads on that point. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more likely it seemed. To help Asto and the rest of his family if nothing else. I was part of the Scimtar family now and they would be my children's family as well, the friends and allies they could count on without reservation. But no matter who you were related to, nobody got rank in the Empire without earning it themselves. Not military rank and especially not civilian government. Even the Guardian's daughter started at the bottom. There was no formal requirement for military service in order to be appointed a Primus-in-fact, but in reality, the people running the Empire wanted to see evidence you were willing and able to serve; take orders and take your chances and put the interests of the Empire above your own. It was more likely they'd let an office go vacant rather than appoint a non-veteran. Coming from a United States where service had been increasingly rare for fifty years, I understood why.

The result was that if I ever wanted to get into the government, I had to have military service. And looking ahead, I didn't see a better time to do it. For one thing, Asto was joining for his first period of service. Waiting for any other time would double the time apart for initial training. Well, not apart exactly, as our rapport went on constantly, but while we could communicate on levels no inoperant knew existed, there was still no substitute for kissing your husband. If we have to be separated once, I don't want to be separated twice. And you know I do feel grateful and indebted for what the Empire did. I've also seen how the Empire treats its citizens. The Empire earned my loyalty. It continues to earn my loyalty.

Every day, I saw how the way the Empire worked treated its people better than the United States ever had. People respected the government; they didn't live in fear of it. Back home, EPA and IRS and FBI were words to conjure fear, along with "Child Protective Services" and DEA and dozens of others. Here, most of them didn't even have analogs, and anyone abusing official authority was dealt with quickly and very thoroughly. As a result, people lived far more comfortably and with far fewer problems. You didn't have to worry about used raw tea leaves in your garbage causing a massive armed invasion by government agents because someone thought it might be marijuana. There might have been a dozen police on duty in Sumabad; they were only dispatched if a situation was violent or had the clear potential to become so. In a population of several hundred million - the arcologies were huge - they rarely did. People expected the Empire to sort it out correctly, they expected the consequences - and that's if they were lucky enough to survive that long. Less than half of attempted criminals survived the attempt. Rough odds, if you were that criminal. Pretty nice, if you were anyone else. People stupid enough to commit crimes didn't last long, so there weren't very many of them, and people who might have been willing to try a life of crime if the odds were better instead steered clear. You could count the actual criminal statutes in the Empire on your fingers with some left over. If you did something non-criminal your neighbors didn't like, the recourse they had was a lawsuit and their own actions were scrutinized as heavily as yours. You got a polite visit from an Imperial investigator, and a chance to tell your side and present your evidence in front of your Primus or a mutually agreed private arbitrator. Getting justice didn't require spending more money than most people made in ten years.

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do this. It was one way of doing something concrete to pull my weight as an adult. I was enjoying the ride. As an adult citizen, I should spend some of my time helping to pull the sled. It wasn't a requirement, but it was something most Imperial citizens did because it was something adults did. Also, the military could be a wedge into a way to learn some skills that were valuable in commercial concerns, it was a way for citizens from newly acquired planets to earn hard currency, and it was essentially required if you eventually wanted to become a Primus (or higher)-in-fact. Finally, it would be another point of bonding with Asto and his family. There was a very strong tradition of service, from Scimtar himself on down. Everyone in the family spent time in the military and went back periodically for more. It wasn't unique to the Scimtars, either - all of the other Great Families had the same tradition in varying forms. The more important a family was, the more likely periodic stints of military service were expected.
Promise me you'll be as careful as you can? There was an undercurrent of fear to the question. My husband didn't want to lose me.

I promise. Will you? I sure as hell didn't want to lose him. Four fertilized eggs in storage and the help of his family was no substitute for my Asto. Combat actions were rare as far as individual troops were concerned, and most saw light casualties if any. But the exceptions were pure nightmare - Imperial units were designed and expected to keep functioning in the face of losses that would break any military unit back on Earth. Casualties among trained Guardians like us were also generally lower than natural state humans. But we were rolling the dice.

I promise, Grace. I want to come back to you. I also want you to be there to come back to.

Even if I'm not, come back for our children. Growing up without either of us would be bad.
I will. But having you to come back to is all the motivation anyone could want. In Concept, the operant language of pure thought, a thought followed that could be abbreviated as "I love you," but it was so much more. It was desire and need and completion - a statement that without me, a piece of him would be forever missing. There aren't words in English, Traditional, Technical, or any language of humanity to express it. I returned the thought, with interest, and we each grabbed for the other. This time our lovemaking had an undercurrent of desperation, and making it last. When it was over and we were spent, we made love a third time, gently and tenderly, then subsided back into a satisfied mutual embrace and put ourselves into a sleep, setting ourselves to waken at thirtythree thirty.

 



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