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"Have you made a decision about the offer?" Scimtar asked conversationally. He was present in person tonight. Despite being about thirty square years old, he looked like he was at most 25 Earth years of age. Seven feet tall if he was an inch, and thin, with dark brown skin. Had we been on Earth, I'd have guessed his ancestry was somewhere in the Indian subcontinent, but his sharp hawk-nosed face was pure European aristocracy. I think he was keeping his physical appearance close to what nature had given him, but the only person who knew for sure was Scimtar.

"I haven't had a chance to discuss it with the kids and Asto without distractions. I'm planning to bring it up after dinner. You did say I had fifteen hours." I'd decided I wanted to accept it, but I'd figured out that you don't presuppose a result when you're asking for your family's feelings on the matter. Alden was ten - seven Earth. Even Esteban hadn't chosen to start puberty yet. Their father was able to provide a splinter to supervise them at all times - but that didn't mean I didn't want to be involved. I'd promised myself I wouldn't be an absentee parent. Unlike my own mother, I had every prospect of being just as youthful and healthy when they were all adults as I'd been when I'd first gotten pregnant. Unlike my mother's experience, me being a parent wasn't a sacrifice in any meaningful sense - it was only a delay of other things I might do someday.

"Permit me to provide more incentive?" Iaren's splinter asked. The firstborn of Scimtar and Helene's children, he filled a position I still didn't understand on the Supervisor's staff. A few inches shorter than his father, he looked otherwise similar. I didn't need additional incentive, but it might be a good idea for the kids to hear it, so I gave an affirmative nod.

"This is not classified, although wide distribution is not in our interest," he began, "War is imminent. The fractal demons have committed to a series of movements and changes which they cannot maintain for more than a year. Our current half probability estimate is twelve weeks before they attack. Logistics and massive movements always take them longer than they plan for, but not infinitely so."

Twelve weeks in the Empire was 48 days. Hearing that was a shock. To hear it stated in so many words. The Empire had been planning on war with the fractal demons since before Earth had been recontacted - more than twenty years since Asto and I figured it out on our own, and the planning had been going for sixties of years before that. After so long coming, it was something difficult to hear that the moment of reckoning was almost upon us.

I'm not going to lie - the news caused a certain body part to pucker. Yes, the Imperial Great Old Ones - one of whom had just asked me a question - were capable planners with squares of experience each. But so were the demonic leaders. In fact, they'd sucker-punched us once already. Each side had different strengths. It was impossible to guarantee the outcome of this war. No matter who tried, they were limited by the fog of war and their own preconceptions. "I'd say that puts a certain urgency on the job, as well as a limited time frame."

"Don't delude yourself, Grace," Amras' splinter told me, "Just because open war begins doesn't mean the shadow war won't go on. It will likely become more desperate as well. But you aren't under an oath of service." He might as well have been Iaren's twin except his skin was more chocolate than dark cinnamon.

So the Empire couldn't legally force me into service. But that didn't mean they wouldn't exert pressure - especially not in a Great Family. The Scimtars breathed ji da to pront. It meant 'part of the price' - as in part of the price for all the trappings of wealth and power. That alone should tell you the differences between the Empire and every Earth nation I'd been aware of at the time of contact. Every single member of the family spent time in the military - and we'd all begun as bottom rank privates - that was a feature of the imperial military. I'd made it as far as Staff Private - a rank outside of the chain of command used for non-combatant functions, but theoretically senior to Section Private, which went with command of prime forty combat troops, and yes, I had been a section leader. Call it about equal to a first lieutenant in the old US Army. Asto had spent almost double the time in I had, and was a First Corporal, roughly the equivalent of a Brigadier General, except he was now was in Tactical Space - a branch concentrating on smaller warships such as Starbird fighters. Various of his siblings and cousins were scattered up the ranks into the bottom Sergeant grades, then there was a big jump - about forty ranks - into the much older and more experienced older generation who'd fought through the Reunification. All of their spouses were relatively senior as well.

"Grandfather, I'm scared." That was Ilora, the most sensitive of my five. I knew Alden would have done the same if she hadn't spoken up first. The tone of voice was reserved for Great-grandfather Scimtar, rather than Gilras, Asto's father.

"Nothing wrong or shameful about being scared, young one, but never let it control you. You'd have to be a fool not to be scared, but there's no avoiding this particular fight and pretending we could would likely get most of us killed. Let your fear motivate you to be prepared and to be careful."

"I carry my weapons everywhere."

"I know that you do. Practice with them so you're ready when it happens. That will make it easier to control your fear instead of letting it control you."

Yes, it was different advice than I'd gotten growing up. A child of her age in the United States I'd grown up in would have been looking for reassurance. But to be born into a Great House of the Empire meant facing reality from infancy. Ji da to pront - part of the price for who we were.

This will be the third book in the Politics of Empire Series when it's done; the working title is The End of Childhood


Cascaya worked as a programmer for the system patrol, which explained what the demons wanted with her. If she could bollix up the interrogatory responses, or make it seem like invaders had passed interrogatory even for a few seconds, that could be a critical advantage. I messaged the patrol, indicating I had evidence she might have been approached for treasonous purposes, and to evaluate her work for compliance with interrogatory standards and security.

Since I needed to wait for an answer, I moved on to the other prospective traitor. She lived in the Weiburz arcology, out on the fringes of Sumabad, up in the hills. Like Cascaya, Hessonsi's job was something that might be able to hide enemy attacks - surveillance and sensory processing. Theoretically, she was a weather technician, but since those were also the people who would be expected to be the first to report mass incursions by the fractal demons, this was a vulnerability. The weather on the Rosette Worlds was watched but rarely influenced. It was the weather on the two annular habitats that they kept under control, lest storms and other phenomena with anywhere from two seconds on up build to unmanageable levels. I knew the Golden Ocean on Sharanna Prime was eight or ten seconds in length - four or five million Earth kilometers. A major demonic incursion not promptly identified could build to unholy levels - at least sixths, maybe eighths or ninths. It would be damned difficult to defeat an demonic concentration with those numbers. Like Cascaya, Hessonsi was a natural state offspring of a Guardian. Like Cascaya, I matched her event line to the event line which had interacted with the nephraim. I sent her employers an alert that she was suspected of colluding with the demons, and to crosscheck her work and notify me of what they discovered.

Since I did not yet have solid evidence of cooperation with the fractal demons, I needed to wait until I did. Their employers were alerted; any additional treachery would be quarantined before it could do any damage. If I'd had solid reason to suspect something imminent that would kill lots of people before it could be repaired, yes, I could have arrested them. In the absence of that, bringing the weight of the government down on individuals on the mere suspicion of intent would do more damage than waiting. M'Don's Equations were merciless in their illumination of the damage abuse did. Politicians of my original home had lived in denial of those facts, expecting to be long dead before the damage came to a head. The Imperial hierarchy expected to live long enough for the metaphorical chickens to come home to roost; had they been the sort to willfully ignore damage, they would have had their reign and their lives shortened by revolution long since. JeSarba had been Guardian for nearly three thousand Imperial because she tolerated no needless abuse in her Viceroys.

But before I could decide whether to return home or undertake a different errand, I received a response from the system patrol. Cascaya's work attempted to insert a false code for allied craft into the system.

How many of you are prepared to give testimony to this?

Four, Investigator. We can document the code it was done under. If it wasn't Cascaya, it was someone to whom she divulged her access in violation of her contract.

Please send your documentation to me at my official address. I will be in touch about official testimony. I'm sure you're already aware that where one person has succeeded another might also have
.

Yes, Investigator. We've already begun a thorough audit of the entire list. I'm sure if I'd been physically present he would have patted me on the head like a little girl, but that was expected. If I hadn't mentioned it, I'd have been negligent. Some people, all they see is the work they personally have to do. Now my report could reflect that detail - and someone from the military or with a rover's commission could be assigned to follow up. The man had - through no fault of his own - suffered a security breach. It was understandable he would be prickly and defensive about securing that breach.

Which left the job of taking Cascaya into custody. I checked the workload for the Enforcers, and they were down two bodies at the moment. When there were about twenty Enforcers scheduled for an entire Secundus district, that might be a big deal. Given the situation, I supposed it would be best to do it myself. I walked to a nearby portal, and used it - I didn't want to drain myself to travel three ithirds up against gravity. When entering a potential confrontation, never drain yourself.

I was a couple ifourths away from her apartment on the same level. I began walking when there was a report of laser fire in the corridor right outside my destination. It didn't take much imagination to figure out what had gone on. System patrol had revoked her access and notified her of contract termination, and unless she was completely oblivious, she had to be aware of what came next.

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Amazon review

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It started innocently enough. Joe was the engineer on one of Earth's first explorations beyond the Solar System, using borrowed Imperial technology. Captured on a hostile planet, he has to make a plan for his crew to escape - and then he discovers his real mistake!

He becomes a Missionary of Civilization on a primitive planet caught between massive empires - and the enemy has to think it's all native ingenuity!

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