Excerpt from The Invention of Motherhood

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This is early on in the story, just after she's been mustered out of the military.


It had been a while since I was on Indra, and twenty years since I'd been through Fulda. Instead of teleporting, I caught a portal to Sumabad, several thousand kilometers south and west, where it was still the middle of planetary night. Overhead shone the span of Indra Habitat One, the closer of two annular habitats encircling Indra's star. When I'd first been here, the framework was just going up, now it was rapidly filling with people. It was so close, it felt like you could reach out and touch it - the six Indra Rosette Worlds orbited only two Imperial seconds (just over a million kilometers) inside the huge band - less than half the width of the habitat, close enough to watch storms and identify seas and major cities. It didn't really get dark on the Rosette Worlds any more, with the habitat shining more brightly than a dozen full moons on Earth. It looked like we'd be passing in front of Habitat Two, orbiting perpendicular to Habitat One ten seconds further out, in a few more days.

Fulda was a small town by Imperial standards - only a few million people. The spires of Sumabad, by comparison, held somewhere over a billion, facing the Sumabad Strait. Sumabad was literally older than the Empire; it had grown up as a port city during the dark ages of Imperial prehistory. When the Empire reached Indra, it had already been the largest city on the planet. It hadn't been one of the Empire's largest cities in a long time, but it was impressive for what it was. Twenty kilometer high arcologies, each five to eight kilometers on a side, each separated from the others by about five kilometers of jungle style greenbelt studded with berths for the great spherical ships that were the largest freighters. Scimtar's former flagship Response In Will was permanently grounded in front of the closest, an eighteen hundred meter radius sphere of dark gray metal looming over the jungle but in turn miniaturized by the spires around it.

I turned and entered the arcology. I wasn't strong enough to teleport twenty-three kilometers straight up in one jump, but the arcology's portal system could handle it just fine. It had been a while since I'd been back; caution seemed called for. I chose a destination just outside the official Residence, and emerged into a brightly lit corridor. It wasn't packed by any means, but there were people moving along it, moving with the air of those on their way somewhere. I left the receiving portal platform as I accessed Residence security and submitted my identity for scan.

Residence security agreed that I was cleared for the Residence and admitted me. I got about two steps before my perception said someone was there and I was swept up in a big bear hug by Scimtar himself.
"Welcome home, daughter!" Scimtar was the definition of larger than life - a full seven feet tall, wearing the uniform of his own family - gold trimmed with blue, reversing the Imperial colors. I'd never seen him anything other than in complete control of a situation. Scimtar was Asto's grandfather, the head of the family, a legend throughout the Empire, and, at nearly thirty square (108,000 Imperial or 75,000+ Earth years) one of its oldest citizens.

I hugged him back, "Good to be home, grandfather!" then stepped back and saluted. He returned it, twinkle in his eye.

About then Anara - Asto's mother - also zoomed in for a hug. "Congratulations! Asto told me you already started!" She was in civilian dress, but she was wearing the gray triangle of an Octus-in-fact. She was much younger than her father, barely past her first square (3600 Imperial years or 2500 Earth). My baby was her first grandchild. Not far behind, her husband Gilras was more restrained in his hug. I noticed he was wearing a uniform with three purple stars of rank - a First General - but white staff epaulets rather than the black of active command. Unusual as First General was a command grade, not staff, but I was no connoisseur of what went on at those exalted ranks.

Asto's Aunt Anana was close behind, and Helene, Scimtar's wife, his grandmother, then Ononi and Imre, Scimtar and Helene's youngest children, screaming "Aunt Grace!" Well, technically, they were my aunt- and uncle-in-law, but they'd been children when I met them. Now, they were the family's youngest adults. "Lady and More are waiting in your apartment!" they told me, a reference to the two dogs Asto and I had adopted. I was tempted to let the dogs out to greet me, but first I wanted to get the family under control. Parnit was the last of the adults to join the gathering, together with his brood of four children ranging from ten year old (7 Earth) Imar up to twenty-one year old (15 Earth) Anesto, with two girls, Urona and Anosha, in between the boys. Anesto had been just over a year old when Asto and I enlisted; we didn't know the kids well. That would have to change. I had plenty of practice being 'Aunt Grace'.

Earth natives wouldn't have thought any of them were related to each other. Scimtar was tall, dark-skinned like some Earthly South Asians and hawk-faced, like his grandson Asto. Anara looked like a fair-skinned Celt with fiery red hair and was a foot and a half shorter, the same height as me. Anana could have passed for my sister, medium-dark brown hair and skin of that shade that can be found on tanned Anglos, Mediterranean people, or lighter-skinned Mexicans. I was slightly darker, but close enough. Helene always reminded me of a young Katherine Hepburn with the grace and dignity of the same actress much later in life. Imre was tall with skin the color of dark chocolate, while his fraternal twin Ononi was my height and fair, like her older sister Anara except blonde. None of Anana and Parnit's kids looked especially like either one of their parents. But they were a family. Imperials, especially Guardians, could easily determine their own appearance. I was at the lower end of the modification scale - all I'd added was a couple inches of height and about sixty pounds of dense, augmented muscle. I think Scimtar himself was fairly close to what nature had given him, but there was no way to know other than asking him.

Scimtar's two older sons, Iaren and Amras, Amras' wife Corella, and the other four grandchildren were elsewhere. The family was one of the most active in both government and military circles, but they'd earned what they had. There were pictures in the family archives of all of them (except Scimtar) freshly graduated from initial military training, wearing the single black disc of a brand-new Trained Private. They had commercial interests and businesses that they all took turns running; Anana was about halfway through her sixty year turn, and Ononi and Imre were her current assistants. But Asto's elder sister Anri was a Squadron Corporal somewhere, Amtre was a First Staff Corporal, and youngest brother Etonas (whom I mostly remembered as an overly brash teenager) was already a Squad Private, having served a little under three years of his first enlistment contract. Their cousin Anosh, intermediate in age between Asto and Etonas, was a Platoon Private, senior to me despite less time in service. But that was okay; he'd agreed to the longer hitch while I hadn't, and he had a more capable mind.

"Grace, it's good to have you back, but Gilras and I were in the middle of something," Scimtar said, "I look forward to catching up over dinner."

Most of the others followed suit pretty quickly. In a few minutes, I was left alone with Anara and Helene. "I have a performance in an hour and a half," Helene said to Anara, "Make sure she knows what she's letting herself in for."

"I will, mother." Anara said, and Helene strode out, saying, "Welcome back, Grace. We'll do more catching up over dinner, but make certain to listen closely to what Anara has to say."

"Well, mother, I'm all ears," I told her.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on September 23, 2017 1:58 PM.

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