February 2021 Archives

These are books in two different series taking place in the same fictional universe at roughly the same time.

Both books cover the beginning and first engagements in the long-awaited and prepared for war between the fractal demons and the Empire of Humanity, and they will be release at about the same time.

End of Childhood happens from the main Imperial perspective; how the people of the Empire fare against the demonic invasion. The technology is far advanced, as are the people - but it's been so long since there was a serious threat, many are not possessed of the skills of survival. The main viewpoint character is Graciela Juarez di Scimtar ("Grace"), an Earthwoman who happens to be married to a man from one of the most powerful families of the Empire.

Moving the Pieces takes place on Calmena, a primitive planet nominally under control of the demons but seeded with human slaves. The Empire has been using the planet as a doorway for scouting the demonic realms, and as a side project, has been surreptitiously stirring up the natives to slowly pry themselves away from demonic domination, bringing the technology from barely Iron Age up to roughly equivalent to Earth in the 1950s over a period of a little under two Earth centuries. The main viewpoint character is Joseph Bernard ("Joe"), a man who's been on the technology upgrade from the beginning.

The books take place at basically the same time - End of Childhood begins a few days earlier - and share some background events.

For everything there is a price.

Grace has married into one of the most important families of the Empire. The Scimtars are wealthy and powerful in every sense of the term. Her five children will be among the Empire's elite when they are ready, and Grace herself is not without influence or importance despite her relative youth. But Imperial politics are deadly, and the more you have, the more your rivals want what you have.

There is no shelter from The Price of Power.

*****

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!

Pregnancy is dangerous in the Empire

For thousands of years, Imperial women have used artificial gestation. But Grace was born on barbarian, pre-contact Earth. She can't call herself a mother without doing it the hard way at least once.

Grace has married into one of the most important families in the Empire - and Imperial politics are deadly at the top.

Despite the risks, she discovers that there are advantages, both to herself and to her unborn baby.

The Empire will never be quite the same again.


Later, Asto and I were in our quarters. He's a tall, thin Guardian; the body type sometimes known as 'hound' on Earth. Six feet six, broad shoulders, long legs, and thin as a whip, except for tiny little bulges here and there, intended to give him a reserve of energy if he needed it. He'd changed his skin color, darkened it slightly and added a touch more bronze than when we married, so it looked rather more like what my Earth family would think of as pure indio rather than mestizo, but his face was still on the aristocratic Northern European mold, hawk-faced and sharp, with eyes that were always alive with light whenever I saw them. That was amusing, love, he told me, watching Whelsed try and talk you out of something you've had your mind set on for most of twenty years. It was a tribute to my resolve, of sorts. Ending my commitment at twenty years had been part of our agreement with each other to work as Eyes. They might move him to solo work as a Finger, but he wasn't so much as going to hint at me changing my mind. We kept our promises to each other, always.

You do seem amused, I observed.

We've been in rapport for twentyfive years now, love. I know better than to try to wiggle out of an agreement, but I do confess I was less than fully convinced you wouldn't agree to what someone else pretended to need from you. You do sometimes let yourself be led astray by others' expectations.

Guilty as charged, I said. Of course, if I hadn't been, my life would have been completely different, and much poorer. I would never have met my wonderful husband, for instance. I take it I passed the test?
Can't ask a better score than perfect, he replied. The mental subtext was playful, and I gathered he'd changed his mind about starting early. If you still want to, how about adding one to the head of the line? he asked. He hadn't wanted to before. He'd been concerned I might change my mind when they tried to persuade me to extend, and then I'd be pregnant with more time to serve. I could always transfer the baby to artificial gestation or halt development - I was a Guardian and just as capable as any other healer - but both had their drawbacks. We had four fertilized eggs in storage, just in case. In the Empire, it was standard to use artificial gestation, but being a barbarian from Earth I didn't think I could look my sisters in the eye and call myself a mother if I hadn't done it the same way they had at least once. Besides, I'd like to surprise Anara and Gilras (and Helene and Scimtar) with an extra child to the four we had planned and in frozen storage.

What else could I do? I attacked him before he could change his mind.

Afterwards, we lay there in happy communion making certain the newly fertilized boy would be healthy, adding the last little touches to what he would become. When we were satisfied, we made love again, slow and passionate, each possessive of the other in a way that said both 'mine' and 'yours' simultaneously. We belonged to each other in ways that no Earth human would have understood before Imperial contact. We might live separate for years at a time - given that he was remaining in the military and I wasn't, we'd have no choice on some occasions - but for me, 'home' was where Asto was. And vice versa. We weren't necessarily all demonstrative about it out in public, but we didn't need to be. Our rapport, a constant mental connection to each other, left no doubts. Not that we shied away from demonstrations, either.

There's a moment on approach when you make a mental shift from thinking you're in space getting closer to the planet to thinking you're on the planet even though you're not on the ground yet. For me, it's when I start being able to make out individual features in the video feed. The nameless mountain in which Bolthole Base was embedded was usually it, followed by the small alpine meadow below the base. The mountain itself - second highest peak on the planet - was perpetually ice crowned, even though it was no higher than Mount Whitney in California and within a couple degrees of the planetary equator. There wasn't time in Calmena's short year of 145 Earth days (136 Imperial or local) for the snow that fell to melt. The lake below waxed and waned with the weather.

The pilot picked up the approach path, and slowing still further apparently headed straight towards the side of the mountain. At the last moment, the illusion of solidity melted and the viewscreen showed a massive cavern holding fifty or sixty Starbirds and cutters. The base and the cavern holding it had expanded in the time I'd been here, but it was still too small for anything bigger than cutters to land.

The base commander, Sephia, was waiting to greet us. Sephia looked like a blonde college coed of my youth, her white-blonde pageboy cut barely ruffling in the sheltered cavern. "Welcome back, my young friends!" she greeted the two of us. As soon as she opened her mouth, her attitude and manner of speaking betrayed the fact that she was old for a natural state human - perhaps a full square by now. I didn't know exactly - what I did know was she'd held a higher rank than she did now at the end of the Reunification, three thousand Imperial years ago. Except for occasional leave, she'd been base commander for over an Earth century now, and she had no intention of applying for promotion. "This is where the next war with the demons will start," she'd told me when I first arrived. Taking a promotion would mean leaving Calmena for her.

 



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