Excerpt from The End Of Childhood

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Soon as everyone was through and the portal collapsed, Asto made a general announcement, "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but the long way home has become the certain way. This last Gate was a rush job, and I'm no longer certain I know the exact displacement to either Tastimuno or to Instance one fortythree twentyone twelve. But the Empire has beacons established to determine position when we get closer to the Imperial Home Instance."

"Can we not retrace our Gates back to Industry Fractal, sir?" Annoying as the question was, he had to admit Yrka was sharp to have asked it.

"Certainly I can. But then we'd have to deal with the Elemental Lords on that last world, and the planetary scale eruption I'm sure the remaining energy of our Gate triggered. Then there's Industry. The Fractal Demon nobility uses Gates like we walk. Soon as we Gated into Industry, they'd be all over us. Do we know that Planetary Surface forces are holding any point on Industry currently? Do we even know if the initial assault was successful?"

"Point made, sir."

"I can still get you home. It's just going to take a little longer. But the further we get from Industry and the closer to home, the friendlier the choices get. Look around you - isn't this a better place to be?"

It was a better planet. They were at the edge of a clearing, leading down to a lake of perhaps fifty ifourths by forty. Behind them, fronds of fern-like plants grew thickly enough to prevent seeing more than a few ififths into the growth. Primitive trees with thick, round leaves not unlike iceplant grew in clumps to a height of six or ten ififths. Grasses grew in-between everything, yellow-green blades anywhere from isixths to nearly four ififths in height. The temperature was warm, and the oxygen content in the air was fourteen iprime. Both perception and suit analysis said the atmosphere was breathable.

Asto cracked open his helmet to test it. "Give it ten minutes to be certain, then we can all breathe natural air for a while." Guardians were the natural test subjects - any allergic reaction or trace poisonous element to the air, they could heal themselves through it. It wasn't precisely a pleasant smell; the air was hot and humid and contained enough sulfur and other organic compounds to smell like rot. But it was breathable, which would give their suits a much needed rest after two days of continuous use. After charging weapons, everyone shut their suit siphons down. They trampled the grass down in an area thirty ififths across, and took turns sleeping while a few stood watch. It wasn't the most comfortable sleep any of them had ever had, but after better than a day of heavy action none of them had any difficulty sleeping.

Life was young on this world, which circled an orangish yellow sun. Plant leaves were primitive, ferns and succulents. Hexapodal lizardlike creatures the size of dogs scurried about, but their legs splayed to the side, rather than underneath, and their appendages included vestigial fins, still partially adapted to water. Nothing flew except small buzzing insect analogs, no bigger than a mosquito.

Nobody saw any creatures bigger than about forty prime in mass - not nearly large enough to feed a large predator, despite the log entry noting them. "Whether that's in a different area or they're simply rare in this locale, keep your eyes open on watch," Asto warned, "If there are pack hunters present, they don't have to be large individually to be dangerous."

Hynaria asked, "What about suit endurance? Aren't we going to be stretching the siphons and converters beyond their design limits?"

"What caused Talamasa's suit to fail is conjecture, but I'd bet it was extended use close to or even over the rated limits. They're designed to last, but we've been using them hard. With breathable atmosphere and the much smaller probability of firefights burning energy to recharge weapons, they should last much longer. Nor is there any maintenance issue we cannot fix here among us with five Guardians. It's just difficult to make such repairs while the suit is in use. Do a full check on your suits - visual inspection, electronic diagnostics, output tests. If we bring the maintenance up to specification while we've got a breathable atmosphere here, we can repair anything that might be getting ready to fail. I downloaded several alternate paths back to the Empire for use if it came to it, and we can make a beacon detector as well."
Senior Private Jumar asked, "Don't our advanced bases have beacons?"

"Yes and no. There are beacons fully equipped starships can use in combination with an ephemeris to find the base, but they're nowhere near the base itself. If you were the Merlon, would you want a beacon your enemies can use right on top of your forward base?"

"I hadn't thought of that, sir."

"The Merlon and many others in the Imperial staff are paid to think about things like that. Not to mention base commanders and anyone else involved."

"We're still going home," Private Ambosta said, "It's just going to take a little different path to get to the goal."

"Exactly, Private. We're still going home. It's going to be a long journey and not very exciting, but we'll get there."

Copyright 2021 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on December 6, 2021 7:00 AM.

Excerpt from Moving The Pieces was the previous entry in this blog.

First Draft Excerpt from Gifts of the Mother is the next entry in this blog.

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