April 2021 Archives

The first warning they had was the general alarm.
WARNING, BRUSTEN 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!

Masson was an agricultural tender, so his family lived far from the Brusten's major cities. It wasn't an onerous job, in the sense of the farmer from time immemorial, but it required he be present to supervise and repair the automata and monitor the pests and the output. With converters supplying most food, agriculture of any kind was a legacy serving those with extra money to spend, so it was moderately lucrative.

He paid close attention to the alert, so he wasn't alarmed until his northern fence was trampled under and monitors showed thousands of manesi swarming over the property line in utter disregard for his crops - except to eat them as they trampled over what they left. Then suddenly his datalink was saturated with warnings of anomalous activity, which in this case meant misshapen hippo-sized omnivorous demons roaming his fields and eating his crops and everything else in utter disregard for his property. His defense drones, meant to defend the crops against animal intruders, were swiftly shot out of the sky.

Not that he had pinned any hopes for self-defense on the drones. He grabbed his two children out of bed and forced his wife Lamira to abandon her duties shepherding the weather for the region and head for the portal. "'Mira, we need to run!"

"I know! I'm just making sure the invasion alerts have triggered!"

"You can do that from your datalink! Let's go!"

They ran out of the house for the portal, only a few steps distant. Before they could step through, however, power died.

"What now?" his son asked.

"The hauler! It's just around the corner of the barn!"

He picked up his daughter to run, but before they got there, four of the huge asymmetrical demons rounded the very corner they were headed for.

The children screamed, but it did them no good.

Mouths full of jagged triangular teeth gaped in front of them.

EOC Cover.jpg

It wasn't long before we reached First Wall. It was really a series of three walls of mixed stone and concrete construction, each of them really nothing more than a curtain wall roughly twice the height of a short human with a wooden catwalk behind. Each of the walls was separated by two sixty-fours of paces, kept clear of obstructing vegetation. The walls stretched perhaps twenty miles in all, perpendicular to the road. It was possible to flank them, but the point was to motivate the demons to turn aside for easier targets. There was a caretaker force preparing for combat, clearing as much of the vegetation growing in front of the western-most wall as they could for clear lines of sight. A small cadre manned the walls, staying alert for signs of the advancing demons.

There was a Second Wall, perhaps fifteen kilometers east of the first set, not nearly so complete or well maintained. There was talk of a Third Wall, to protect those farmers and miners closest to the Gate, but the Guard itself was doing all it could to prevent that. The Iron Law of Bureaucracy was universal. They didn't want to be stationed out in the hinterlands, within spitting distance of the actual Gate.

A sentry at one of the periodic gates asked our names, and why the four of us were together in this vehicle. We gave our names and Asina explained, "These three lost their perfectly good airplane scouting over the Gate, and I came to get them."

"How did you lose your airplane?"

"We think the brakiri shot us down. Suddenly we were on fire in two places," I explained.

"Why did they do that?"

I snorted, "Don't you already know the answer to that question, Guardsman?"

"I guess I do. Still I need to see a drop of your blood before you pass. Each of you." He gave us a small piece of white flax-like graffs to bleed on.

Makis had a small knife. He stuck the ball of one of his fingers and squeezed a drop onto the graffs, then passed the knife to Ghent.

"Hope you've got a lot of graffs," Ghent said before copying Makis. He passed the knife to me and I followed suit before passing the knife to Asina.

"Yes, we do," he replied, "Pointless to build walls if you're going to let anyone pass without testing."

Asina smiled as she duplicated the ritual. She might have had something to do with the thinking behind it.

I didn't particularly need to be involved in the older boys' lesson, but it was a good way to be interacting with my kids without distracting them from their lessons. I couldn't help Alden or Imtara in theirs as they were beyond my learning thus far in what they were doing. Anara would ask me if she wanted my help. But despite my little hellions being more advanced than I in bladework, I knew I could contribute to the lesson - and it was never a bad idea to get another lesson myself. I teleported to the gym.

Scimtar's splinter was sparring with both of the boys simultaneously, while Asto's splinter watched. The splinters were using titanium rods, while the boys were using practice blades sized for their smaller frames. Not that a real blade would hurt a splinter. The titanium rods, however, would inflict a nasty bruise or even broken bones - and such injuries happened regularly. Esteban and Ilras had been healing themselves from such injuries for years - the family believed it was necessary. As much as it clashed with my American upbringing, evidence was on their side. The boys were wearing head protection, but I knew from personal experience Scimtar could hit practically at will with the lighter titanium, and he would intentionally inflict broken bones or worse if he thought it necessary to drive home the lesson.

Since the boys were busy, I began by drawing my weapon and practicing parry-riposte drills with a drone. Dead boring - and absolutely necessary to keep muscle memory fresh, even for Guardians. Scimtar had produced a program that randomly mixed up the major drills. Contrary to the fevered dreams of fiction writers unfamiliar with actual swords, there were exactly eight basic guard positions or parries against point attacks, six against cutting attacks. There were variants on each, yielding parries versus circular versus active and a few others as well, but they were variations on the basic theme. More complex were responses to compound attacks, which began with a feint. However, you still had to move to parry the feint or the drone would hit you.

Similarly, there were only four basic thrusting attacks and three cutting, and although there was a choice of complicating maneuvers, from what Earth swordsmen would call degage to coupe to moulinet and others, and the possibility of feinting or turning an attack into a compound action, there remained only seven basic attacks. Start multiplying all the possibilities out and you'll understand there are a large number of possibilities, and I haven't even mentioned stop actions or counters yet, but you have to practice them all to keep them in muscle memory, and they really do spring from a comparatively small number of basic actions.
I winced as I saw Scimtar's splinter disarm Esteban, hit Ilras across his forearm, and move back to strike Esteban on his protective headgear all in one smooth action. Ilras' arm was broken, but he kept from crying out and transferred his blade to his off arm in time to parry Scimtar's return stroke. I kept at my practice, pretending not to notice what had just happened, or Scimtar's critique.

"You louts determined to waste all your mother's hard work carrying and raising you? You've got to work together if you don't want a single opponent to use that lack against you, ending up in both your deaths! If you want to kill yourself, we can't stop you but don't get your brother wiped, too!"

I kept up my drills, pretending not to pay attention. Cut-parry-feint-thrust. Cut-parry-feint-thrust. Thirty repetitions of each drill, change to the other hand and repeat. Keep it engraved in muscle memory, so all I had to do was tell my muscles what program to follow, and they would do it. After thirty more repetitions, thrust to a new line, parry the riposte, feint a thrust, then turn it into a cut in different line. What Scimtar was doing to the boys might sound like abuse to some, and if we were back on Earth with no Great Families full of Sixth and Seventh Guardians for rivals, I'd probably have agreed with them. Not here. My children needed to be able to handle deadly threats before they were adults, in whatever way those threats presented themselves.

The boys had learned enough not to argue with their great-grandfather or his splinters. They'd get no sympathy from anyone else in the family, either. Esteban was helping Ilras heal himself while the two of them endured their great-grandfather's admonishment. Their father's splinter looked on in disapproval of their slipshod efforts. I studiously kept to my drills.

Scimtar's splinter ended his tirade once Ilras' arm was healed, and struck a guard position. "Asto, illuminate your offspring as to the nature of teamwork." Asto's splinter struck a guard position as well, parrying Scimtar's first attack, a circling parry in what an Earthman would have called octave, which defeated Scimtar's initial degage, flipped his sword up into a quartre riposte to Scimtar's high inside line. The boys were slow off the line, but attacked in Scimtar to the low outside and low inside as well. Scimtar enveloped Asto and Ilras' attacks in quartre himself, retreating from Esteban's attack. Esteban redoubled, Asto in turn bound Scimtar's blade on his yielding parry, and Esteban scored a hit thanks to his father controlling Scimtar's blade. "Better," he admitted, "Now let the boys do it on their own. Go spar with your wife for a while."

No, this isn't an April Fools Post.

This book will be the third in the Politics of Empire Series.

Genre is Space Opera/Thriller.

This is a little more complex than most of my blurbs. Let me know if it fuzzes the message (or any other issues)

******

The die is cast.

The Empire has caught the fractal demons marshalling troops for assault, and there is no avoiding the decisive Armageddon between humanity and the fractal demons. Both sides have their strengths and there is no certainty about the outcome. While the Empire is free-falling towards the decisive moment, Grace is tasked with nudging the odds a little bit, ferreting out traitors to humanity, bribed with the seeming of the most precious gift possible but with a nightmare catch.

Then at the moment of the first skirmishes, personal tragedy strikes, clearing the way for a long-delayed impulse, which results in horror and tragedy.

But out of the disaster, a new Grace emerges - one ready to stand on her own, fully realized as a potent force in her own right.

 



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