December 2020 Archives

Getting close to finishing this. There is a nugget in this passage foreshadowing events later on.

******

The rules of bladework sparring were simple: blade only. You were allowed to use auros to plan, but no mindbolts or anything else. This wasn't a duel; it was a test of our skills with the blade. The point continued until someone drew significant blood. When you could heal anything but brain function, lesser wounds might be painful, but they weren't life threatening. You'd heal yourself and be good as new in a few seconds - maybe a minute or two at most. The ilestar floor covering would soak up any blood that fell, and as soon as the room was vacant, one of the little robots would be along to replace the ilestar. Clothes were just as replaceable. Head protection prevented practice weapons from doing anything that couldn't be healed.

The point was that we didn't hold back. Our family could use the same sword moves we'd use in a real duel, and do so in earnest. This meant no bad habits to break in a real duel, we wouldn't be used to 'holding back'. I had no reason to suspect that the other Great Families did anything different. Swordsmanship settled roughly a third of all Imperial duels. If you were reasonably matched mentally, greater sword proficiency gave you a real advantage. It wouldn't balance out a large disparity in mental power - as I'd learned the hard way in my one duel - but it could be what allowed you to defeat an opponent that might otherwise have worn you down mentally. I had no intention of fighting any more duels - but sometimes circumstances gave you no choice. I'd learned that the hard way, too. Since I wanted to keep enjoying my husband and children for as long as the Lord allowed, I practiced with blades regularly.

Parry riposte parry riposte parry riposte, and ow! A hit on my wrist from the titanium rod meant momentary pain, and a bruise I'd be healing later, but no real injury. In a real duel, it might have been the opening for an opponent to win decisively before I could transfer my weapon to the other hand. A beat later, I re-started the engagement with a cut to his head.

Attack parry riposte remise parry riposte. He'd hit me several times before my blade nicked his elbow. Good! He acknowledged the touch, and we kept going. Unlike a real human, Asto's splinter didn't have blood - a splinter was a projection, not a real human body. Ordinary action with a sword didn't damage them. Even in a duel with a real opponent, it would have been at most a minor annoyance - healed in a moment to negligible blood loss. But it felt good to have the acknowledgement that I'd gotten some of my own back. Good enough to trust me to take our kids to meet my family?

You're going to have to talk to Mother and Grandfather about that. Children of Great Houses did not leave the security of the Residence for anything more than short excursions that could be cut short at any time. They were too vulnerable to other Great Houses. No matter what the rules said about targeting children, every time I requested an Earth visit, I was told the gains wouldn't justify the risk.

Eventually, our sparring ended. Scimtar's splinter indicated it was time for my lesson. I was already sweaty and tired, but you didn't refuse even a short lesson from one of the greatest living masters.

The technology can move ships millions of light-years in quantum time, keep people young and healthy indefinitely, or destroy planets almost without noticing. But people are still human - or a little bit more.

******

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.


Teaser for Empire and Earth

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The technology can move ships millions of light-years in quantum time, keep people young and healthy indefinitely, or destroy planets almost without noticing. But people are still human - or a little bit more.

******


I know you're trying to figure out how to interest other people in Earth, he told me, There won't be an official response, but have you considered asking for private assistance? Just because the Empire won't do something official doesn't mean it won't allow individuals to take action. M'Dorna's Hypothesis applies; all forbiddance and official requirements contribute to the overall load on the Empire, while there is only so much benefit possible from government services. Anyone sane wants to keep the balance as positive as possible.

I hadn't really thought about it before, but the Empire did allow private armed forces. To be precise, it didn't try to outlaw them, and all the major families kept at least some troops of their own. I didn't know how big Scimtar's forces were, but I was pretty certain they were numerically superior to every army on Earth put together, and there were families with even larger private forces. The question is, why should any private forces help Earth, or me?

You're still looking at it wrong, love. The families hire forces for specific purpose, but there are individuals who have plenty of money to live for a while, and might decide they want to help. Other people might want to bring back dogs to sell, so they do help Earth because without Earth, there are no dogs. But even if grandfather probably won't help you with people, he might be persuaded to lend or give you some obsolescent equipment. He's not the only one. Others might well contribute money instead of time. Perhaps an existing charity can be persuaded to assist in some fashion. Talk with mother when she gets back; she'll probably have some good ideas.

Anara is gone?

She and father went on a scouting trip; they've got an improved module of the Interstitial Vector. It's not a major breakthrough in itself, but they think it might generate the data for a significant improvement. They might be getting within a few iterations of something commercially viable.

That would change the entire universe when it happened, but my concern at the moment was what shape Earth would be in when the Empire got officially interested. Can we ask Anana? Your grandfather?


******

Empire and Earth is Book Three in the four book Rediscovery series, copyright 2014. It is available in e-book and paperback from both Amazon and all the Books2Read retailers and library services.

The first warning they had was the general alarm.

WARNING, JACKPOT IS UNDER ASSAULT. DEMONIC FORCES AT LEAST FORTY FIFTHS IN NUMBERS HAVE GATED ONTO THE PLANETARY SURFACE. MOST SEEM TO HAVE ARRIVED IN AREAS NEARBY BUT OUTSIDE MAJOR CITIES. SPACEBORNE UNITS ARE ENGAGED, PLANETARY SURFACE UNITS ARE RESPONDING TO INCURSIONS BUT ARE SIGNIFICANTLY OUTNUMBERED. EXPECT TO BE ON YOUR OWN FOR AT LEAST FOUR HOURS. ARM YOURSELVES AND SHARE INFORMATION. STAY ALIVE!

Tashor and Crazan looked at each other and wordlessly agreed that band practice was cancelled, but it was still a good idea for everyone to meet. "Just bring weapons instead of instruments!" Tashor sent to the other members of their group. "Where are you going?" he asked Crazan, who headed into their spare room.

"If we aren't going to use the suits we bought when we left Planetary Surface now, then when?"

"Point. They were officially replaced with the Prime zero two model almost twenty years ago. When we rejoin, they'll issue us the new model."

"Be a dear and pop the storage pods - Thank you!" Crazan walked the suits out of their storage, and told them to open up. "Was that a proposal to change our plans?"

"Wasn't intended that way, but I'm not opposed. It's not like the band has a huge following yet."

"At least it came now, before we've really begun. But it wouldn't be right to just abandon the others."

"Not like two out of practice section leaders are going to determine the course of the war." Tashor's suit was fully open. He stepped into the open cavity, and told the suit to seal itself.

Crazan was a moment behind him. Soon as the suits were sealed, diagnostics were run. Both suits were well-maintained; neither returned any faults. "Ready for full power?"

"Yes. But this may be our only chance for real combat experience. Even the nonhumans in Second Galaxy would be absurdly outnumbered if it ever came to war."

"Get real. You can bet your sweet backside some of them will try to take advantage of the Empire being distracted."

"You're right, dear. It's just we agreed we wanted to try music for our next careers."

"We can still do that. We can do ten years standing on our heads, even if the Empire doesn't offer early discharge. Full power achieved. Ammunition bay full?"

"Of course, silly. Siphon at full, capacitor full. Turns out Ashan and Yalta also bought their suits when they mustered out. So it's going to be four suits and five others. Tilton doesn't have anything."

"What a useless twunt! Don't give him a weapon - don't want him hurting anybody."

"As if I would. Let's have him be guarded by sweet little Yalta. Won't that be ironic!"

Tashor snorted, "Serves him right. Masca nit and he doesn't know how to pull a trigger!"

"No, but he knows how to sing and how to haul the little girlies in to spend their allowances."

"I want him alive, too. I just won't mind seeing him taken down a few bits."

"He is a source of drama. But it's not like there's nobody else who can do it. It would be harder to replace you."

"Not planning on dying. That's why we're in our suits. Mind the door frame."

"Yeah, wouldn't want to damage the door. The agency would make us pay to repair it." Both carefully negotiated the opening to the corridor.

"Portal?" Tashor took a step in that direction.

"Unless you want to walk most of an ithird. We're too out of practice not to bounce off the walls. The parking airlocks are on the next level down."

"We could just portal down to the greenbelt."

"The portals between arcologies are all offline. There has already been fighting."

"Right. The airlocks it is." Crazan led Tashor through the transmission portal, to another a level down. The walls were less finished, and the parking area had a ceiling almost twice the height of the residential corridors. Personal Starbirds were parked all around them. The airlock to outside was only a few steps away; necessary at a height of nearly five ithirds. "Think we can ping a few demons at this altitude?"

"Probably. But the others are going to be waiting. Pile in." Tashor cycled the airlock, and the outer door opened. They emerged onto a landing ledge fifteen ififths high, plenty to land in even the worst crossdraft. "Heat them up."

"Nobody said we had to be stationary to do it. Good hunting. You ever heard of a flyer caste?"

"No. Their nobles move them by teleportation, same as Guardians. Why would they need a flyer caste?"

"The delve is saying they've got Starbird fighters or something like them."

"But not very many, and our space units are cleaning them up."

"It only takes one." They both knew how Starbird versus suit played out.

"Don't be a snowflake. Here we go." Their suit impellers lifted them off the ledge, then after clearing it, they dropped in altitude.

"Looks like a concentration over there, near the west entry."

"Then let's take a minute to clean them up. Don't want to come back to a trashed apartment." Both suits' multibarrel laser cannons strobed. Several sixties of manesi died on the plaza in front of their arcology.

"Think I can get the nephraim?" Crazan asked, then exclaimed "BULLSEYE!"

"Showoff. Djhanta could have hit you with one of their mindbolts."

"You know the nephraim hardly ever know how to do what our operants do."

"It only takes one who isn't so lazy, dear. It's not like the nephraim would have kept attacking on his own."

"You're such a snowflake."

"This snowflake doesn't want to deal with your posthumous affairs."

"Will you let that go already? 'Taya was the only woman I've slept with in two years. The contract says we're allowed."

"Doesn't mean I'm happy with it."

"Then find yourself your own side piece."

"I love you."

"What's that got to do with it? Not like anybody's going to get pregnant."

"I know, and if we actually catch something we can go to a healer. But it's not the same as it is with you."

"Land in front of Blue Shores, on the land side."

"I read the group message, same as you. Looks like another group of invaders."

"Shields to maximum dear. Wouldn't want one of them to get lucky."

"Eeeeww! I'll never be that randy."

"Glad there are some limits. Looks like there's another half dozen in suits at the entry. Let's go help them."

"Just don't try to take charge."

"I know the formula." Both suits' multibarrels strobed again. Manesi died in rows as they landed on the landward side of Blue Shores Arcology, where they were meeting the other band members. "We're only 'cooperating for mutual benefit'. How do the demons figure they're going to come out ahead, throwing troops away against us?"

"Not our problem, sweetie. Just be glad they do. Might get ugly if they used their troops efficiently."

"Probably can't believe we're allowed to be armed. At least, they just forget when they're making a plan. You know how they treat their lower castes."

"Yeah, I remember. Glad our leaders are smarter than that."

The first warning they had was the general alarm.

WARNING, MINTARA IS UNDER ASSAULT. DEMONIC FORCES AT LEAST TWENTY FIFTHS IN NUMBERS HAVE GATED ONTO THE PLANETARY SURFACE. MOST SEEM TO HAVE ARRIVED IN AREAS NEARBY BUT OUTSIDE MAJOR CITIES. SPACEBORNE UNITS ARE ENGAGED, PLANETARY SURFACE UNITS ARE RESPONDING TO INCURSIONS BUT ARE SIGNIFICANTLY OUTNUMBERED. EXPECT TO BE ON YOUR OWN FOR AT LEAST THREE HOURS. ARM YOURSELVES AND SHARE INFORMATION. STAY ALIVE!

"Evada, wake up!"

"I'm awake, Gorsh. I got the same announcement you did!"

"What are we going to do?"

"I've got a laser pistol, don't you?"

"Yes, but we've practiced what, twice?"

"Better than not at all! No reports of any fighting here in East Ridge."

"That's good. Do we have any spare magazines?"

"No. Let's see if we can find a converter program."

"Searching ... found one for our model, but it requires the specialty converter!"

"Better the specialty converter than nothing. Glad we bought the same model!" The small specialty converter began to hum, printing the capacitor atom by atom. The small flat module would fit in either of their hands. Within a few heartbeats, it was already mostly complete.

"Tell it to keep printing. I think we want as many as we have time for."

"No argument from me. Charge them up, too. We can always feed them back into the converter later."

"How safe are we?" They were on the twelfth level. Mintara was a comparatively new colony; the arcologies were small for the Empire.

"Looks like there's no such thing as really 'safe'. They generally move in strength with one of their noble caste gating their way. Anywhere from a couple sixties up to a square or so at a time."

"We can't fight off more than a few on our own. Let's see what the neighbors say."

"Looks like this Antara is a former Troop Corporal in Planetary Surface. She says walls aren't going to stop them. She suggests meeting up at the park on the next level, we can combine our firepower. She also says most of the combat demons are big; takes about half again default power settings to reliably put one down."

"Let's set them for that then. I suppose that means we won't get as many shots."

"About forty per fully charged magazine. How many we got?"

"Finishing the fourth one now."

"That'll have to do. Food and water might be good, and some warm clothes in case we have to go outside." Mintara was a cold world, newly settled. The Empire hadn't yet built orbital heaters to warm the planet up. "I'll make us up some Life and water." The regular converter began to hum.

"Yuck! Do we have to eat that?"

"It's nutritious, it's easy to carry, and it doesn't ruin easily, just in case. I don't like it either."

"I'll go grab our pockets."

"Got everything?"

"Food, water, body wraps, pistols, charged spare magazines."

"I think that's it. The body wraps charged?"

"Yeah. I did it after that last hike. Throw them in the pockets and let's go."

"Keep your pistol out. Might need it in a hurry."

"Right. Let's see if there are any programs so we can put them somewhere we can get to quick."

"Here's one. Adjustable holster, made of Nemourlon. Even has spots for the spare magazines. Looks like the regular converter can handle it."

"Well, we can afford a few more seconds. Print them out, and dig your magazines out of the pocket."

"Yes, let's do that."

"How do we put these on?"

"I'm not sure, but we can figure it out once we're there. Let's go."

 



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