July 2021 Archives

The leader of the picket was twice the size of the others - one of the new breed of manesi bigger than an African Elephant. The resources that went into them would probably have been better spent elsewhere, but the demons thought that if big massive centauroids had worked for so long, then bigger faster more massive centauroids would work now. Come to think of it, Earth's military had been subject to the same sort of thinking.

One of the ordinary manesi tried grabbing Asina, but the 'super' manes wasn't having it. It slapped the hippo-sized smaller demon down. The smaller manes was thrown completely off its feet and dropped Asina as it fell. She rolled away, pretending the fall had somehow damaged her.

I had just enough time to think that maybe we might be okay when the super manes grabbed me instead. I guess I was the bigger piece of meat. It just reached out a massive paw and grabbed me by the right shoulder, lifting me off my feet towards its open maw, lined with triangular, shark-like teeth.

Well, there was no hope of escaping a conflict now, but the hold the big demon had me in made things more difficult. I had to twist to get my left hand into my kored pocket where I'd stashed my Calmenan pistol.

I was a crappy shot with my left hand, but BLAM!, Asina put a shot directly into the demon's paw, and it obligingly dropped me. I engaged full undertime, calmly switched hands and BLAM! BLAM! put two .55 caliber hollow-points right into its braincase on the way to the ground. The big super-manes obligingly dropped right where it stood. Before I'd even touched the ground, BLAM! I shot another of the picket's members.

Meanwhile, Asina had shifted into full undertime as well. Soon as she knew her first shot cause the biggest demon to drop me, BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! five more shots accounted for five more manesi before the slide locked back on the empty weapon and she dropped the first magazine out. BLAM! I shot the patrol's final member before Asina could reload.

Now what? I asked her. Both of us were reloading, automatic reflex action.

The western corner of the kiwana grove. Leave your metal bar, put your pistol back in the kored pocket, just make sure your auros broadcast is in place and act normal! Soon as we arrive, find a place to hide for a few moments quick as you can. We'll be approaching from a different direction, so even if any of the demons saw, we won't have anything to do with those humans who killed the pickets.

Blink!

The western corner of the kiwana grove was about what you'd expect. The trunks of the trees weren't big enough to conceal a human, so I dived into a drainage ditch, mud and all. Asina did the same. When no immediate outcry was raised, we stuck our heads up to look around.

Copyright 2021 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

The stons were dead, but that left Grace alone to try to learn to control her new abilities. When a solution presents itself, she begins learning just how far there is to go on the new journey she started. A new family, a new home, and learning to adapt to a completely different environment.

But for greater challenges, she also discovers there are greater rewards - and the universe always has a greater challenge in store.

******

I was just coming out of the bedroom when there was a chime. It seemed like a doorbell so I went to the front door, and I was right. There was a man standing there, maybe a couple inches taller than I was. He looked gray and faded somehow, with the unworldly air of a college professor. On Earth, I would have said he was between twenty-five and thirty, but his frizzy hair was gray, his clothes were a different gray and even his shoes were a nondescript brown pair that looked for all the world like an ordinary pair of loafers. He was carrying two small objects. "Graciela Juarez di Scimtar?" When I answered yes, "I'm Ferugio Torgonos, the training master. I understand you're newly operant? I have here your datalink and interim infertility implant. Would you like to have them implanted out here or in the bedroom?"

What the...? "I don't know about that. If you're messing with my brain, shouldn't you have some sort of sterile field and an operating room? And I'm not sure I want or need an infertility implant. My plans don't include any of that kind of activity for the foreseeable future."

"Come, now, you can hardly expect a Nonus-in-fact to neglect his basic responsibilities, can you? My instructions are that you are to have both immediately." Ferugio had a prissy, didactic way of speaking. He reminded me of a professor that lives in their own ivory tower.

I remembered my conversations with ScOsh: "Childhood pregnancy is rare because our children are routinely given birth control when they reach sexual maturity" and "We don't permit children to have or raise children." I was legally a child for now; not yet competent to manage my own affairs as far as the Empire was concerned. Clearly, my new foster family realized that unplanned pregnancies happen because unplanned sex happens, and they could lock me away in a monk's cell or they could do this. The monk's cell wouldn't work; this would, at least until I knew enough to reprogram my own body, and I for one had zero intention of reprogramming for children until I was well established with a husband of my own. At least this seemed an indication they weren't planning to enforce abstinence upon me. This was the way the Empire did things, I could leave the Empire or I could adjust. "I didn't see a bed in the bedroom, perhaps the couch would work."

"No bed? I'm sure this apartment had one when DelMartos was here. Well, a chair should be enough for either. The datalink requires the right side of your head near the base of the skull; the implant can go anywhere. Most people use their upper arm or shoulder."

It really was almost that simple. Yes, the datalink wired itself into the brain, but it turned out Ferugio was one of those born operants with no ambition to become a Guardian or advance in the government or military. Still, he was competent enough as a healer, I never felt a thing with either the datalink or the implant. The datalink started some sort of initialization cycle about two seconds after Ferugio let go of it. It was a small addition to the right side of my neck for now, smaller than a flash drive; perhaps operants had a way to cause it to internalize. "The datalink will take a couple minutes to initialize, when it tells you 'ready' you can start giving it commands. The first you should know is 'help' - it should give you a list of available commands and accesses in a given area; the list is quite extensive. You can delimit that with additional terms - for instance, 'help sleep' or 'sleep help' should direct you to your sleep field unless someone has removed it. Follow me, please," and without waiting for an invitation he strode into the bedroom. "You have a sleep field right there," he said, pointing at the low platform I'd noticed earlier, "Your datalink is set to control everything in this apartment, so if you want temperature changed, or air circulation, do it. And now, I understand that you'd probably like some rest as ScAnara informs me that you've been awake for over fourteen hours. If you want to set a timer, think 'help timer'. The family dinner is at fortyone thirty; it's thirtyfive fortytwo now, I would suggest setting the timer no later than fortyone zero zero. We'll start setting your course of study tomorrow morning at fortyeight thirty." With that, he walked out, closing the door as he went.


Copyright 2014 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

I left them to it. I didn't have time to waste with hand-holding. There were supply chain problems I had to deal with. Taman was a good enough accountant, but he was an accountant, not a production manager. We needed fuel and sheet metal and rivets and screws and nuts and bolts and washers (Oh my!) and everything else under the sun, and we had to keep getting deliveries even while the demons marched on the city. It was nearly as exciting as watching paint dry and completely without drama unless you're the sort that gets a thrill from baroque mathematical word problems, so I won't go into details. The big problem was that the pipeline and rail lines were likely to be cut before the demons reached the city, so I had to arrange for ships from Tabbraz and other ports to carry what we needed - and even assuming the city hadn't fallen before they got here, those ships weren't likely to get much of a return cargo, except maybe people desperate to escape the city, and we wanted at least the adult men to stay and fight. The supply chain problems ate most of the day.

About an hour before sunset, I got a call from the front gate. Seems there was a mob of people building who wanted passage out of Yalskarr. I couldn't really blame them, but there was only one ship in the Lesser Harbor at the moment - Yonshall's. Which was full, mostly of children. I didn't expect there'd be a whole lot of ships left in the Great Harbor, either. "Get me a microphone and a loudspeaker," I told them, "I'm on my way."

Security was in a line of uniforms when I got there; all of them armed with the Calmenan AK-47 knockoff. We didn't often have the need for violence in our yards, but when we did, there was no sense being half-assed about it. Since a goodly number of the crowd would be armed as well, I didn't want to start anything. It would turn into a bloodbath on both sides, and the only ones 'winning' would be the demons. I turned the microphone on and tapped it to test; it was working fine. This wasn't a wireless set up like back on Earth; I had to be careful with the cord. I stepped in front of the security line and spoke, "I'm here because you seem to want something from us that we don't have ourselves. If you'll appoint a spokesperson or line up with your concerns, I'll be happy to answer all of them."

Some of them began yelling even more angrily and pushing against the gate harder, so, "Lock and load!" Our security folks chambered a round from their magazines, "If you want to talk about the situation, it's possible I can help you. If you decide to get violent I guarantee everyone leading the charge will die. We might be overrun in the end, but it won't be by anyone in the front ranks. If you want something I can give you, the first thing you need to do is calm down and start talking. You can always decide to die later."

"We want out!" a young man in the front row yelled, "The demons are coming and we want out of the city!"

"They'll let you out any of the roads," I replied, "I haven't heard of any orders issued to prevent leaving the city. Even if I'm wrong, there are no roads out of our Yards and the only ship is already full of children and a few women, and they've cast off awaiting sunset anyway. Even if they were still at the dock, we'd have to throw at least one person off for every person we let board. Are you telling me you're such a coward you want us to throw off two or three kids in order to let you escape?" And I stared him down, contempt in my eyes, "Nobody here inside the gate is getting out on a ship. Not me, not these guards, not the workers I still have building bombers and repairing Guard vessels in the hopes of doing enough damage to the demons to keep the city alive. All you can do is force us to kill each other. If you want to live, there are better ways."

I knew I was nobody's idea of a great orator, but a little touch of auros can help with crowds - especially if none of them have any Imperial training. "If you want to get out by the Tabbraz Road, I'd suggest starting soon. The fuel stocks along it have been gathered up and are returning to the city. You might get a couple eight legions of paces before you run out of fuel, and it's about a three eight-day walk with the demons coming hard behind you. If the city falls - or even if it doesn't - my guess is you won't make it two days before they catch you. Personally, I think we've got a better chance here in the city, trying to keep the demons out."

"Aren't you building any more ships?" someone asked from back in the crowd.

"The question asked is whether we're building any more ships," I repeated to make sure everyone heard, "The answer is 'not at the moment.' They're all at least an eight-day from seaworthiness; our workers' efforts will be better spent repairing damaged Guard vessels. Those can bombard the legions from the sea or the Great Harbor. Every demon they kill at range is one we don't have to kill while it's trying to eat someone on the walls. Next question," I pointed to a woman with her hand up.

"I'd rather ask my question privately," she hinted,

The time to take that bull by the horns was now. "Whether you're offering money or sex, the answer is 'no." I'm not throwing anyone off the ship we have loaded, and I don't have any more places to give anyone, no matter what they offer." Privately, I hoped she had the sense to clear out fast before her neighbors could realize what she'd done. But if I said anything, she'd never escape their wrath in time, so I changed the subject.

"I'm assuming everyone here would like to survive?" I was greeted by an outburst of emotion shouting things that all amounted to 'yes!'

"Then go back to the walls and prepare them for the defense, or find some other contribution you can make, like making ammunition, or preparing food for the Guardsmen and anyone else aiding them on the walls. Get a weapon and carry it everywhere in case you meet a noble that's Gating them in without taking the walls. If they take us down here, there will be nowhere that is safe. You will be running for the rest of your lives, which will not be long. They're using all of Calmena as a conduit to pass their armies through to elsewhere. But they carry few supplies with them. If we hold them off for a very few days, they'll start eating each other. Their nobles will have no choice but to take them where they might find easier meals. Your best hope of survival is to do everything you can to keep Yalskarr from falling, and persuade every adult that can to make their own contribution. Now go do something to help us all live and let me return to doing what I can to keep Yalskarr from falling and keep us all out of the demon's bellies!"

"Is there really a hope of holding them off?"

"If there wasn't, I'd already be on gone, not here in the city, and definitely not standing here telling people who should know better that you can't outrun the demons - you have to outfight them and out-think them. My wife is out there with the Guard; she says nearly three-quarters of the Guardsmen defending First Wall were saved and are falling back to the City, and we have three fresh legions here defending the City. The demons can't do what they did to First Wall here - there is no outflanking these walls! They go all around the city! Now go build up those walls, or I understand most of the ammunition makers are begging for helpers, or find something else constructive to contribute. The longer I have to stand here talking, the less time I have to do things that might keep us all alive!"

A final push with auros, and the crowd started breaking up. Some of them were muttering, but they were leaving, heading back into the city. Not a minute too soon, either, because the two Nhadragh prototypes were returning from their first mission, and I didn't want to explain that they didn't have the range to make any of the other cities with a hope of beating back the demonic advance. I hijacked a forklift and headed off to the military area to hear from the pilots.

Copyright 2021 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved

There was one thing I hadn't been able to do without forcing Asto to choose between his family and me: Take our kids home to Earth to meet all their cousins. My niece Tina had helped me with them and my pilot module, and they'd met her older brother Peter Junior who ran the Imperial end of Earth Dogs, and once their brother Joe and his wife Asina. That was it as far as meeting my relatives. My siblings alone had about three prime descendants now in the time since I'd left. Start including my uncles' and aunts' descendants, and it was probably three or four times that. I'd been back exactly once in the last twentyeight Imperial years - about eighty of their longer years on Earth with the time differential - and that was when I was only a couple days pregnant with Esteban. Since putting Asto in a 'no win' situation wasn't concern at the moment, I was going take advantage of the opportunity. A plan was already forming in my mind. Perhaps not a very smart plan, but it could take advantage of some excellent distractions.

I knew the reasons why the Scimtars kept their children mostly sequestered. I even agreed with those reasons. But my kids also needed to get out and see how the rest of the Empire lived - not just the completely tamed major system that was Indra. My children ranged from ten to almost seventeen Imperial years of age - seven to eleven and a half Earth years - and they'd never visited their Earth cousins. It was past time to change that. The war had begun; I was on a sabbatical to allow me to look for Asto - time to take advantage of that while everyone else was distracted, too.

As soon as we emerged into the Imperial Home Instance, I sent Asto's splinter a message Please meet me in the park with the children in an hour. Bring Mischief and Scarecrow as well. I knew Asto had constrained the splinter to do whatever I said regarding the children. The little dogs would be perfect camouflage for what I intended. It would be a dirty trick to take the kids away from them, but it couldn't be helped..

When we were on landing queue, I used a graycode to buy a cutter. Cutters were small, cheap, little craft reminiscent of NASA's old space shuttles, delta wings to either side of a central tube for passengers and cargo. They were capable of seating four in the cockpit and up to about twelve in the cargo bay, depending upon configuration. This was a standard model right out of the catalog, already sitting in a parking garage across the Straits from Sumabad. Soon as we touched down and I finalized the rent for the Explorer Cruiser with TorGethaz, thanked the crew, and teleported directly to the nearest portal. A quick jump to a shopping area in a nearby arcology, and took less than ten minutes to purchase a few extra things, just in case. They were a little more expensive than usual due to the recent invasion, but not a significant difference for me. Then I dropped my package off and took possession of my newly purchased cutter, linked my datalink to it and began a security and readiness check while taking care of the physical inspection. I had up to four days to move it out of their garage; that would be plenty.

The whole idea was not to draw any suspicion from the other Scimtars, especially Anara. Asto's mother was at home in the apartment right next to ours the majority of the time, and strong as she was, her perception radius was big enough to cover our entire apartment. Soon as I walked through the door, she'd want to know how the search had gone, and then she'd want me to go back to work finding covert traitors. But if her son's splinter took the kids to the park while I was still out, that was simple daily routine. Particularly if the dogs were involved. Mischief was Queen of the Park by virtue of attitude, and Scarecrow was a crazed ball dog whose favorite locale for the game was the park where he could play with other ball dogs.

The first rule for plans is to keep them simple. Complex plans that depend upon multiple factors all going in metronomic precision are going to fail. They seemed awesome in mass media when I lived on Earth, but despite my in-laws' predilection for planning, one thing I'd noticed was all of their plans were simple, with no more than a few steps to the goal. If that goal was reached, there would be a second plan to reach a second goal. Maybe the individual goals were small steps, but add them up, and they became overwhelming. I needed a ship they didn't control, and I needed a few minutes away from direct observation by their grandmother to get the kids away. Simple, easy goals, put together in sequence. This most especially applied to my military experience. The good commanders were the ones who had simple goals that built on advantages to the point where they were overwhelming.

When I arrived at the park, I simply collected the children, told them we were going on an outing, and asked Asto's splinter to cover for me. "Stay here with the dogs another fortyfive minutes before returning home. Don't try and obstruct anything, just don't help. We'll be back in a few days." I wasn't kidding myself it would take the Scimtars long to figure out where we'd gone - I'd bet Earth would be the very top of their list - but it's easier to get forgiveness than permission. They knew I wouldn't keep the kids out more than a few days, and Earth's roughly four to one time differential meant maybe only a day or so was likely to pass in the main part of the Empire.

This was the key part of the whole thing. "We're going on an excursion," I told the kids, "But we've got to keep it secret. No telling anyone except Daddy's splinter. Not Grandmother Anara, not Grandfather Gilras, and definitely not Grandfather or Grandmother," meaning Scimtar or Helene.

We walked out of the nearest exit to avoid the park's portal having an obvious record, then portaled to the garage on the far side of the Straits. Into the cutter by teleportation - the days of the kids being more hindrance than help in teleportation were behind us. I told Alden and Imtara to strap into the third and fourth seats in the control cabin, where I could keep an eye on them, and tell the three oldest to find seats in the back and keep their hands off anything. "The trip should be over in a five minutes, unless you do something to make it take longer!"

For their part, the kids were excited. They never got to leave the Residence except for trips to the alternate Residence, over on Major Habitat Two. Who they interacted with in either place was controlled. All of their play friends were children of important House Scimtar employees, who also lived in the Residence. The older ones remembered our occasional excursions back when I'd had the pilot module, when they might meet anyone. "I'm taking you to meet your Earth cousins," I told them, and they actually cheered! The Great Houses were all built on the idea of 'family', but the paranoid isolation of the children cut off more than half of theirs.

Then it was time to maneuver out of the parking garage, get clearance for lift with immediate Vector, which was approved.

Blink

We emerged in interstellar space, halfway across First Galaxy, nobody nearby on sensors. We were away clean. I set an Interstitial Vector for Earth's Instance below the plane of the ecliptic about as far out as Saturn, double checked that my interrogatory was functional and programmed correctly, then fed the energy in for the jump.

Blink

Copyright 2021 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

 



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