Politics of Empire: The Price of Power

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Since I'm working on the third novel in this series, might be a good idea to bring people up to speed on the set up

The Price of Power is the second novel in the series. It has been about six years Imperial since the events of The Invention of Motherhood. As the novel opens, Grace is near the end of her fifth pregnancy, having decided to carry all of her previously stored fertilized eggs naturally. Her husband Asto is still in the military. Since preserving the family secret of the Scimtars requires she not live in military housing with him, she has been (with the aid of her niece Tina) working as an Interstellar pilot while raising her family.

This is the opening scene:

******

Ilras, quit trying to squirt your sister with ketchup. The inverse square law is on her side.

But mom! I'm just trying to teach her defense! Meanwhile, baby Imtara giggled in delight at frustrating her brother's dastardly plan.

Dear, even if she was asleep, she'd have plenty of time to wake up and divert the stream. She's well past that drill. All you're doing is giving the dogs a mess to clean up.

Ilras didn't realize it, but his sister had ally. Esteban, the oldest at six Imperial years of age (4 Earth), scooped together a good-sized dollop with matris, stealthed it with a buffer of matra and brun, and flung it at his younger brother. I usually expected better behavior from Esteban, but under the circumstances, I let it slide.

Splat! It caught Ilras right on his jawline. No fair! Ilras cried indignantly, then had the awareness to look abashed when I gave him the mental equivalent of a cocked eyebrow. Ilras wasn't ready for the drills Esteban was doing yet, and Esteban had just made use of that fact to slip a counter-attack his brother wasn't ready for under his defenses. Given the impetus of an older brother who wasn't above using his advantages, I suspected Ilras would learn quickly.

Meanwhile, Mischief, our English Cream longhair miniature dachshund, gave a plaintive whine that she'd been deprived of her snack, most of which was now plastered across Ilras' face, and looked expectantly at Esteban for a replacement. Her name really was doubly appropriate; we ended up calling her Miss Chief about half the time. How she knew Esteban was responsible for her deprivation, I don't know, but no replacement was forthcoming. Scarecrow, our chocolate and tan shorthair male, gave a muted but pre-emptory bark informing us he wanted ketchup, too. We were at the table; we studiously ignored them.

I felt a muted thunk as Tina, my assistant, slid us into the control plug of my latest contract, followed a few seconds later by a datalink message of control verified, ready for Vector. I'd chosen Tina for the job because she was my niece and already a fully qualified in-system navigator, but despite my hopes after six years nearly constant exposure to the kids, she hadn't gone operant yet, so I still had to do all the Vectoring. I relieved her, re-computed the Vector for confirmation, performed it, verified position, and (because our next pickup was in this same system) transferred the helm back to her for in-system maneuvering to our next job. It had taken all of six seconds, and I'd still had a couple of para to keep the peace at the dinner table.

Mama, how long until we can play with baby Alden? Ilora wanted to know again.

About three more weeks, honey, I told her. Truth be told, despite all the advantages of being a Guardian, I was ready for my last pregnancy to be over. Next time, I would plan on one child, two at the most. But I really had only myself to blame - I could have just used artificial gestation for Esteban, same as everyone else, and then most of the Empire wouldn't have known about the advantages of operant mothers carrying operant children themselves. I'd introduced Alden to his older siblings on several occasions, but most of the time, kept him swaddled away where only I or Asto could interact with him. Since Asto was a First Corporal, assigned as executive officer of a squadron of Planetary Surface troops out in Ninth Galaxy, that didn't happen as often as any of us liked. The rank was an almost exact match to Brigadier General in the old US Army; a squadron was 14,400 combat troops plus their support staff of roughly another 3600.

Alden, for his part, wanted out into the great wide world. It took two of my para full time to keep him occupied and learning, and he still wasn't satisfied. Can I play with Ilras and Esteban, Mom? It was tempting to just blow off the last three weeks of this pregnancy, knowing any physical defects could be fixed later, but neither I nor Asto was ready to experiment with Alden's emotional development. The Empire had tens of thousands of years of evidence children were more able to deal with the world after a full gestation, even in an artificial womb. Neither of us wanted to experiment more than we'd already done with our own children, carrying them naturally as I'd done.

Dinner was just about over, winding down with chocolate ice cream for everyone, when Asto told me, It's official!

Children, some news. Your father is getting a new assignment. He's going to be a Staff Corporal assigned to maintenance and repair in Indra System! We're going to go live in the Residence, where he can be home every day!

Why is he getting demoted? Esteban wanted to know. Staff Corporal was a four grade drop, although two of them were staff grades, out of the line of command.

Because he's transferring to a space unit. You always transfer from Planetary Surface to Strategic Space or Tactical Space at a lower rank. He'd be expected to absorb an entirely new set of protocols; but a maintenance and repair assignment meant he'd henceforth be eligible for direct transfers or promotions within either of the space-borne branches.

It was a necessary move if he wanted to advance. He could wait until the sergeant grades if he wanted to, but above that, slots in Planetary Surface Forces were few and rare. The higher you went the harder it was to transfer and the bigger a demotion you'd probably have to take. All the important commands went to Tactical or Strategic Space Officers, because they all involved spaceborne warfare. Planetary Surface troops were important, but battles and wars were won in space. The Empire really didn't like to destroy habitable planets or even functioning bases, but they'd do it if they had to. Nobody talked about it much, but when even a one-man fighter could blow apart an unshielded planet, there weren't any defenses that could hold off a determined assault. Imperial planets were shielded against accidental or inadvertent destruction, or perhaps against small groups of madmen, not an intentional fleet action. Asto needed to move over to a Space assignment to continue his advancement, so taking the demotion was something that we'd known about for a while. But Asto was sharp; he probably wouldn't lose more than five of the much shorter Imperial years regaining his former rank. And by taking this particular assignment, he enabled us to be together as a real family. At least for a little while, and with the kids being young, that made it even more worth the cost.

So what are you going to do, Mom? Esteban wanted to know. He'd figured out the concept of consequences - when you drop a rock in a pond, the ripples always spread. And Aunt Tina? What's she going to do?

You're going to have to ask your Aunt Tina what she intends to do. I'd love to keep her on, but there are a lot of reasons it's a bad idea for me to keep being a Vector Pilot under these circumstances. She signed on for the benefits to her career as insystem crew the job would give her. Tina loved the kids; maybe she'd stay a while. But she shouldn't have any trouble landing a job as an insystem merchant ship's commander if she wanted - this was the sort of chance insystem crews usually only got in the military. That was the prize she'd had her eye on when she signed on. Well, that and the speculative chance of going operant.

But that was dodging the real question. I'd been the Dog Lady on Earth, but ever since I'd left, I'd been a Vector Pilot, the Imperial equivalent of an intergalactic trucker, broken only by a stint in the military. I really didn't know what I'd do when that option was off the table. Maybe I'll just concentrate on raising the five of you for a few years. Across the millions of light years between us, Asto sent me a mental snort indicating I was lying to myself. The universe knew Asto and I had plenty of money. We never needed to work again if we didn't want to. But that's not the way either one of us was programmed, and we both knew it. I'd think of something; I just had no ideas at the moment.

But I did have to break the news to Tina. She deserved to know as soon as I could tell her in person. After dinner, I gathered the kids and headed up to the piloting station. The dogs followed as a matter of course. They went where their people went. "Tina, I have some news that affects you, too. Asto got the berth in maintenance and repair, so we're going to be living in the Residence to be with him. I'll gladly keep you on at your current pay level and get you an apartment in the Residence, but I know it's not what you had in mind when you took the job."

Miss Chief demanded to be picked up by scratching Tina's pants; she knew there was no reason Tina couldn't pet her while piloting. Tina ignored her for the moment. She was a tallish willowy brunette, just dark-skinned enough that people in our California childhood knew she was Mexican and not white, not that it made any difference in the sort of schools we'd both gone to. She kept her long, dark wavy hair pinned up while she was piloting.

"I haven't made up my mind yet, Tia. When do you have to know?" She gave in to Mischief's importuning, bending to help the little golden dog up into her lap. Mischief and Scarecrow loved the kids, but the kids were kids and sometimes startled them. Tina and I and sometimes Asto were their real people for now. Esteban was learning; Scarecrow could see that he was the best chance for attention now, and made his own overtures for attention there.

"I'll be selling the pilot module, but you can just move into the Residence until you make up your mind what you want to do. Take your time." It wasn't like Tina couldn't have decided to move on at any time. After five years working with me, she'd had the career boost she'd wanted for some time.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on September 22, 2020 4:26 PM.

Politics of Empire: The Invention of Motherhood was the previous entry in this blog.

Work-In-Progress First Draft Excerpt: The End of Childhood is the next entry in this blog.

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