January 2022 Archives

There is a point near Castaic where the Grapevine starts to climb steeply. No problem for my Porsche, but semis and other heavy vehicles can't climb the hill at freeway speed, the north- and south-bound lanes actually pass over and under each other a couple of times and you have to pay attention due to the speed differentials. It's one of the few areas of Southern California where there aren't sprawling subdivisions, just a few small villages like Gorman and Newhall, the road and the mountains around you. Just before the big descent into the Central Valley, there's historical Fort Tejon. RaDonna had told me there was a border outpost there on the other side; we were entering territories held by the West Elves on the parallel world but they didn't have anything like modern Interstate highways or all their attendant businesses; it was much faster to follow our roads and make the transition to the other side closer to the Margrave's City.

I've been told the interchange between I-5 and California 99 used to be intuitive, but was re-worked sometime late in the last century so you have to keep left for California 99, which heads off to the right up the eastern side of the Central Valley. A little over twenty miles past that, I took California 58, which heads east over the Tehachapi Pass, but before it gets there goes through suburban Bakersfield and is the best way towards where the Margrave's City sits on the other side. About ten miles east of 99, we exited the freeway and turned northward again. The warehouse we'd seen before where the Elves cross-loaded their produce wasn't far from that point.

The parking lot was every bit as full as it would have been during the week. Human semi drivers were used to working odd hours and I had no evidence that the elves had anything like a weekend. One end of the warehouse was completely ordinary; loading docks for semis on this side that would distribute the fruits and vegetables to wherever they needed to go on this side of the gate. I'd been told they were marketed as 'organic' and therefore received premium prices. But there was a twelve foot high fence completely enclosing the receiving end and perhaps a hundred feet more. On that end were gleaming aluminum arches dedicated to (I presumed) The Smith, where the somewhat smaller and more rugged trucks they used to bring their produce from the other side would back into a more enclosed set of docks and perform the correct invocation as they did so, enabling them to 'cross over' and be unloaded on this side.

Beshogtowa was waiting for us. He was well over seven feet tall, broad enough to play a lineman in the NFL, and an athletic build despite his size. He was turbaned to hide to the curves of his elven ears that came to a sharp point. He had the rich chocolate skin characteristic of the West Elves, and his eyes were ever so slightly more pointed in the corners than a human's, just enough to notice if you knew what you were looking at. His pupils and irises were still round, though. Except for his ears, he could pass for human. He wore livery in a dark red and a brownish yellow - the Margrave's colors. He moved like a dancer - fluid but tightly controlled. I'd never seen him in action, but I was pretty certain he'd be a dangerous elf in a fight.

Without a word, he gestured for us to follow and strode off towards a door in the side of the warehouse served by semis. We had to hustle to keep up, but didn't waste our breath asking him to slow down. He wouldn't have slowed a twitch The Elves might have decided they owed us, but that didn't mean they didn't look down on us. I caught the door before it closed behind Beshogtowa and held it for Julie before following myself. We crossed under an arch at the far side of the warehouse, near the receiving end, and performed the invocation for The Smith. It worked, and we walked through into a different world.

The warehouse on this side of the gateway was smaller and dingier. It looked much older and more worn, and the building materials more primitive. More wood, less metal, and barely high enough for an elf to walk without banging their head on the rafters. There was no inventory on this side, only equipment and a few elves or mixed-bloods I presumed were mechanics. Following Beshogtowa out the door on the far side showed us a world far different than the one we'd been in a few seconds ago. The parking lot on this side was dirt, and unfenced. The aluminum arches marking the gateways were still present, but the trucks were smaller, mostly about the size of a U-Haul, with four or occasionally six wheels and an onboard 'box' rather than an articulated trailer and eighteen wheels. All of them bore marks of familiar companies from our side of the Gates - Ford, Mercedes, etcetera. Correspondingly, there were far more of them to keep the warehouse filled while semis were loaded out the other side. There was a fueling station with an above ground tank and a line four or five trucks long on each of the three pumps.

Beshogtowa was quick-marching towards a limousine, a Rolls of some sort, probably a couple decades old, dusty from the dirt roads but well-maintained. The West Elves couldn't afford to not take care of their equipment. He got in and sat there rather than holding the door; I opened the door for Julie and she climbed in before following myself. Without a word, our escort started the engine and left the dirt lot.

The road was dirt, albeit well-packed by the wheels of however many moving van-sized trucks. Near the warehouse it was wider, and we passed by fields of crops. California's Central Valley was the biggest breadbasket of our Earth; this side appeared to be wetter - we crossed a single lane wooden bridge over a river at least twenty feet wide, while all of the rivers south of Sacramento on our side were at best shrunken rivulets you could comfortably hop across by this time of year. We simply drove through two smaller streams in the few miles between the warehouse and the Margrave's City.

I'd presumed we'd be parking at the moat and heading into the walled town on foot, but instead he stopped a little ways outside the city and pointed to a barracks-like building, one of several surrounding a flat area of dirt perhaps the size of a football field. He still hadn't said a single word to us, but we figured out that was where we were supposed to go. The building itself might have been a hundred years old, a long low single-story rectangular wooden building, white paint fading. The sun would still be up for a half hour or so, but a light-bulb burned over the door on the narrow end. I got out, gave Julie my hand to help her, and we walked towards the building.

The door opened, and an elf-woman I presumed was RaDonna's great-grandmother stood there, saying, "Come in, come in," gesturing impatiently. Like Beshogtowa, she was tall - perhaps just under seven feet - with the rich chocolate or fertile earth-colored skin that seemed characteristic of the West Elves. She was thinner than Beshogtowa. Her clothes seemed to be silk dyed mostly in browns and oranges, and she wore a goodly amount of jewelry, mostly gaudy larger pieces in silver or platinum or gold with large stones set in them. At least four rings, one armband depicting sheaves of grain, a pectoral necklace based upon a fruit tree of some sort, and two earrings that did not match, one gold with a green stone, the other platinum (I think) with a pair of red stones. I wasn't certain whether they were rubies or what, but they were each several carats in size.

Inside the building was a hallway with a couple doors off of it before it opened into a wider area that looked like it had once been a barracks, but now was simply an empty floor of clean, well-swept hardwood. A few dim incandescent bulbs glowed wanly. For the moment, the sun through the few windows was brighter. A single narrow bed, something like an elongated twin built for elf-sized sleepers, was placed near the far end, a woolen blanket tucked hard and drawn tight. There was no pillow. "You," she pointed at Julie, "wait here. You," she pointed at me, "come with me." Her accent was something like that of a French-speaker who rarely spoke English, soft and musical, but her attitude was no-nonsense like a doctor.

Copyright 2022 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

This is a scene between Grace and ScOsh, after ScOsh has rescued her from local law enforcement by some means she doesn't understand yet. But this is the tension between technology and individual abilities (the operant disciplines) I have maintained through all eleven published works in the Empire of Humanity thus far: technology can be accomplished by anyone with the proper accompaniment. Magic - or its equivalent - requires the active participation of a skilled individual.


He meant imperial seconds, which were longer than ours, but ten seconds or seventeen, I figured I could handle it if ScOsh thought I could. I was curious, though, All my life I've heard that magic is simply technology we don't understand yet. But this seems to be the real thing. Magic, not just engineering.

That's not the distinction we make. I read multiple references to an Arthur C. Clarke, who was a technologist and science writer of note on Earth, as well as a writer of speculative fiction, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." A brilliant man, but we in the Empire would disagree. Technology consists of things anyone can produce using the appropriate mechanism. Magic is what needs a particular human skill or ability in the mix. Technology can be mass produced, warehoused, bought, sold, traded, and it will work for anyone who can manipulate the machine correctly. Magic must be individually produced on the scene, at the time, by someone with a special skill, knowledge, or ability. In the Empire, they can often be substituted one for the other, but that doesn't make them the same. Consider the example of musicians, with which you should be familiar. Some are capable of capturing a crowd emotionally, others who may be technically superior in the production of music cannot. You can put a guitar or piano into the hands of sixty people, even sixty trained musicians, and the ones who stand out will be those with a particular ability to capture and manipulate their observers. It is often correlated with superior technical skill, but any musician in the Empire will tell you that while there is a feedback between technical skill and the appeal added by the special talent, they aren't the same thing. Another example is persuasion. Earth's history is rife with examples of nations and lesser groups being led into disaster by individuals who were telling something known to be false, verified to be false, pointed out by many people to be false, and yet the people as a group chose to follow the persuasive fantasy rather than those who correctly pointed out that the liar's claims did not coincide with reality. Another thing I've noticed is that your society has a notable confusion between the notion of anyone being able to observe a given effect, which has general scientific validity, and anyone being able to produce a given effect, which does not. Both magic and technology are real, scientifically verified concepts in the empire, but one requires an individual talent, the other is based upon some outside mechanism that will work for anybody. Applications of one often turn into applications of the other; for instance in the Empire we have portal technology that allows for instant transport within certain energy constraints - much like what I'm doing to move us . I should mention that I prefer technology because the more widespread knowledge and ability are, the less they are subject to abuse and the more good they can do. We use magic, we know it can be beneficial, we know it can be reliable - but there is a level of unease with it inverse to the number of people capable of producing a given effect. A power possessed by a single individual is highly susceptible to abuse; one possessed by everyone present is less so. Nobody is threatened by your telephones or our datalinks - they work for everyone, so everyone has the capabilities they grant. But if you're the only telepath around, there is potential for abuse in the situation. Yes, Grace, there is real magic, and we have experience with this fact.

Copyright 2013 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

(I do apologize that pneumonia had a hold of me for about three weeks there, and all of the leftover energy had to go into immediate day to day things)

This series will be completed with the release of Moving The Pieces.


"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

-Mark Twain
(roughly 120,000 years after Merlak)

Chapter One

Outward Bound

The view inside a time-jammer bubble is pretty.

Not that the Imperials built ships with windows. It almost defeated the purpose of having a hull, to leave a hole in it where radiation could get in or some random piece of debris could punch a hole and let your air out. If anything, time-jammers were more vulnerable to that than most Imperial vessels. Unlike Vector Drive, time-jammers actually had to travel the entire distance, and so time-jammers weren't used for anything over a few hundred light-years. But they didn't require operant mindlords to pilot them, something Earth was in short supply of at the moment. Nor could most transparent materials accept hull charge, which meant they were, comparatively speaking, fragile as ancient glass.

If you wanted to look out of an Imperial vessel, you did it electronically. The sensors weren't cameras, technically speaking, but that's what everyone called them. In a time-jammer under drive, you couldn't really see anything but the lights of the capture buffer, accretion disk, or whatever you wanted to call it. Photons got caught in the buffer, and took anywhere from about forty seconds on up to work their way clear. The capture buffer provided heavy lensing as well as drastically slowing the photons within. The upshot was the entire leading hemisphere of the bubble glowed soft, shifting pastel colors like the auroras of Earth. Travelling faster than light, the entire front hemisphere captured photons that struck the field surface. The ones that were eventually emitted inwards were spread out over the entire inner surface of the field. Photons that weren't absorbed by sensors or the dark gray hull of Golden Hind went through the whole process again.

Piloting a time-jammer was a lot like an old song from one of the rock stars my parents liked - Driving With Your Eyes Closed. I remember it being a fun little song, but the reality not so much. The piloting sensors used direct detection of mass akin to the operant discipline of farza, which allowed the computers to extrapolate mass from natural bodies from their effects on the metric of space - in other words, gravity. Imperial gear was crazy good. Anything shields or hull charge couldn't handle would get detected in time for a good pilot who was on the ball to avoid it, even at a couple hundred thousand times the speed of light. The problem was the potential for other ships. Gravity only propagated at light speed. It's all very well and good for natural bodies which are on the course God last set for them billions of years ago. Their gravity propagation was a thing of long standing. Not so much other ships traveling faster than light. As far as any such ships were concerned, we were driving with our eyes closed.

We didn't think there were any such ships around, but we didn't know. Difficult as it was to believe, we were actually going where no humans we knew of had ever been before. When the Imperial military had come to Earth, they'd done a fast survey looking for signs of advanced civilization, but signs of anything advanced enough to worry the Empire could be seen at interstellar distances. Nobody had actually visited Barnard's Star, our first destination, or any of the other nearby star systems we were planning to visit.

Back in the Empire, Tia Grace says time-jammers are essentially a hobby, and an uncommon hobby at that. Most interstellar ships use Vector Drive, or the brand-new Interstitial Vector. From point A to point B with effectively no in-between. But Vector Drive requires a pilot with auros and para, two of the disciplines of operant mindlords. Computers can simulate para just fine; even on Earth it's been done in hardware for decades. But computers can't quite get the fine ability auros gives a trained operant to anticipate with acceptable precision. The Empire had given up on computer-piloted Vectors thousands of years ago - the errors were too large and the accidents were too many. Except for my aunt, all of Earth's operants were currently somewhere back in the Empire undergoing initial training. So without operants, Earth had a stark choice for faster-than-light: time-jammers, or nothing.

Given how poor Earth was, and what people elsewhere in the Empire would pay for, finding usable real estate was one of the few things likely to show a profit. Tia Grace had led the way in finding a market for dogs and cats, and I'd worked for her for close to a year now. Imperials were crazy over dogs - even an unremarkable mutt could go for five years of entry-level wages. Some food items were also developing a following, but with siphons and converters the economics of that was different than on Earth. Even on Earth, things were changing in a major way as we found the means to buy siphons and converters. Starvation was a fraction of the global concern it had been a few months ago, mines were shutting down, and refineries were mostly going out of business. Automobile racing was also attracting a tiny following back in the Empire - but 'tiny' in the context of the Empire meant billions or even trillions of people, hundreds of times more customers than Earth had people. You could feel an Earth-style automobile, in ways that Imperial designs had left behind tens of thousands of years ago. Nobody sane would argue that Earth-style vehicles were better, but they appealed to a certain type of person in the feel of power. Automobiles were strictly recreation in the Empire, not transport.

Imperial vehicles were more like this ship: quiet, and almost too powerful. Thirty meters from nose to tail, roughly twenty six from wingtip to wingtip, with the central cylinder being roughly eight meters in diameter, Golden Hind was reminiscent of one of NASA's old space shuttles. It had the same type of outer hull, minus the rocket nozzles - it was powered by a main siphon that could provide about ten percent of the power of the sun, essentially forever. A converter was attached that could use that power to produce matter in most configurations from machine tools to food. Impellers were capable of about 1200 gravities of acceleration in normal space - from grounded to 99% of light speed in less than seven hours. The Vistula Space Corporation, or VSC, had ordered a standard transport cutter, with a time-jammer addition. The faster-than-light time-jammer was designed and rated for over two hundred thousand times the speed of light. That meant Earth to Barnard's Star in about fifteen minutes at top speed - which would be like traveling to the corner store at Mach speeds. It even had a Vector Drive in case an operant pilot became available. One person could operate Golden Hind, but we had a crew of five.

Copyright 2016 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.


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