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Finished the first draft of Gifts Of The Mother Friday. Just over 75,000 words. Managed to get the clean-up edit done late Saturday night, and it's off to the betas now. Even got a few paragraphs of my next project (Politics of Empire 4) done. Here's the last excerpt from Gifts of The Mother's first draft:

I made sure the door was locked, headed to the elevators, down to the lobby, and out to the parking lot. It was three or four miles to the courthouse. If I walked the whole distance, it would be at least an hour until I was even ready to begin looking. Instead, I got into the Porsche and started the engine. I'd probably have to leave it parked somewhere that wasn't legal, but so be it. I could pay a parking ticket, a towing fee, or even replace the damned thing a lot easier than I could replace Julie.

For the record, even the streets on the way were a mess. You'd think everyone would be trying to get away from an area of riots, but you'd be wrong. There were at least as many headed in as were headed out. Maybe some of them were like me, trying to rescue someone inside. Maybe others lived nearby and were trying to get in to protect their property or grab whatever was portable before they left. Doubtless, there were a lot of idiot spectators also, and maybe even a few looking to take advantage of the riot for some five-finger discounts, but it was pointless for me to worry about which were which. Chaos was everywhere, people honking, ignoring traffic signals, and just taking advantage or any opening they could find in the traffic. The advantages of the Porsche were speed and maneuverability, but I had to be willing to risk collisions in order to take advantage of them. I found myself wishing for something like an Abrams tank instead. Tanks just crushed whatever got in their way, and if there were little bumps in the road, so be it. Nobody was going to pull in front of an Abrams, an advantage the Porsche did not have. I managed to stop in time to avoid several, but hit a compact Nissan across the left rear - the driver cut me off and kept going after the collision. Whether they didn't care or simply had something that important to do, the result was the same. It wasn't like cops were going to be responding to little fender benders or even hit and runs in the middle of a riot.

I'd expected to run into a cordon of some sort, keeping people away from the riot, but I didn't. Instead, I could see the smoke getting closer as I approached the 110. First and Second split off from each other; I followed First but saw what looked like a grass field on the left. I pulled into a full parking lot to dodge trees along the street side, and left the Porsche parked on the edge of what looked like a soccer field. Not like anyone was using it at the moment, and I was willing to take whatever my chances were with parking enforcement. It had been less than twenty minutes since I left Zeb - actually pretty good time for the streets of Los Angeles. If I'd tried to walk, I'd most likely have been run down - especially with Zeb's 'not important' spell working.

I'd expected that the freeways would be a natural barrier for the riot, but it was starting to leak through here, and not just the usual members of the underclasses. As I'd seen on the news, these rioters cut across all levels of society. Suits and the remnants of ties were at least as prevalent as homeless grime and tatters. I thought I saw the remnants of judicial robes on one woman. Even here on the fringes, there were several bodies lying scattered about, beaten unconscious or dead by the mob. I had to force myself to ignore them. Much as I wanted to help, if I stopped to look at every body strewn about, I'd never find Julie.

I skulked along the edge of the sidewalks, next to the buildings, taking advantage of every bit of cover that interrupted line of sight that I could. Downtown L.A.'s parking situation made things a little easier - cars were parked everywhere that wasn't blatantly illegal, and a few places that were. Just a normal day in LA before this riot had started. I concentrated on Julie, and got an area still in front of me, which made sense. I think the official address was on Hill Street, but First went right by what most people thought of as the front of the building.

Passing under California 110, I noticed the lack of the homeless people that normally took advantage of the shelter of the freeway. Their stuff was still strewn about, filling rusty shopping cards and blocking the sidewalk, but the people themselves were somewhere else. No doubt either fled, participating in the riots, or as one of the bumps lying around, beaten senseless or worse. The sound of gunfire erupted at some distance in front of me, abruptly cutting off. It was a warning that the .45 I carried was an absolute last resort, and it probably wouldn't save us if I used it. My hope was in stealth and in not being noticed.

The fire station on the north side of First just the other side was on fire itself, the trucks burning fiercely in their bays, already mostly consumed. The building itself was engulfed in flames; I hoped there was nobody left inside but there was nothing I could do for them if there were. Even if there was an organized firefighting unit on the scene, the best they could have done was keep it from spreading. But no firefighters were in evidence, organized or not. Judging by what I'd already seen, they'd been caught up in the rioting themselves.

Copyright 2022 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

Finished the climactic scene for Gifts Of The Mother last night.

There is still a more important than usual denouement chapter to finish, but should be done with the first draft in the next few days and then off to the beta readers while I look for cover art.

Next project will be the fourth book of Politics of Empire, which I still don't have a working title I'm happy with. Grace is the viewpoint character, as with the rest of the series. The current plan is to begin it with Esteban attaining official adulthood, which allows me one more novel of Grace trying to keep Ilras within allowable limits for Seventh Order children. It'll also add a worthy dimension of interplay between Ilras and a new character I'll be introducing.

"Is Julie at the Courthouse?" It was John on the phone. "There's a riot!"

"She's not supposed to be there, but I'm going to call her and find out!"

I cut him off before he started to reply, and hit autodial for Julie. It was barely after noon, but that was no guarantee she wouldn't be there early. No answer. I pulled up a local TV station on the computer, and saw a scene of complete mayhem as seen from above. Fires burning, smoke rising, people running amok in clusters; some dressed in prisoner orange, others in suits, a few in law enforcement uniforms, but all taking part. It took a moment for it to register that this was a recording - their helicopter had evidently crashed or been shot down, and everyone trying to record from ground level was missing.

"Lost 'er!" A voice from behind alerted me to the presence of Zeb, holding the rabbit's foot he'd given us to contact him the previous week. "Got th' signal, but was 'n th' middle o' somethin'. Took me a cupple minnits, 'n' when I got there, all I found was this. Sorry."

"Without you, there wouldn't have been any way to find her or even know where she was for sure. What's going on, and what can we do to find her?"

"'s The Mad God, a mind 'fect. 'm not much good with mind magic. Barely got m'self pertected 'fore it got me.'

'"How can we find her?"

"Sym-pa-the-tic magic," When he had to, Zeb enunciated carefully. "Easiest if'n she's still got 'er ring. Can use yers to find its mate. Harder person to person, but th' two o' yas 'r' a match, so I think I could help yas. Gotta pertect ya from The Mad God's spell, though."

"We're not protected by our obscuring spell?"

"Not if'n it's an area effect. Don' need ta find ya, jes blanket 'n area. Ever'one inside gits hit."

"Oh. Can you do that?"

"Yeah. Not much differ'nt than pertectin' m'self. Only good fer so much, but the thin' 'bout area spells 's 'ey're spread out so's nobody gets too much o' em. Spe-cif-ic pertection 'gainst area spells works better'n 'gainst ones cast on one pers'n. Good thing, 'cause I caint fight The Mad God on pow'r."

"So you're going to use two spells to enable me to find her in that chaos?

"Three. Also gotta gitcha a 'not 'mportant' spell. This 's a man-i-fes-ta-tion o' th' Wild Hunt. 'Ey'll kill ya's if'n they notice ya, so ya's don' wanna draw notice. Only oth'r chance 's ta join 'em. Give the rabbit's foot a rub when ya got 'er."

"You're not coming?"

"Nope. Ah'd like to have a cupla 'prentices and a cupla so'cerers helpin' me, but not enough to risk the Wild Hunt. Best if'n ya's kin git out yerselfs, but if'n ya's need 't, rub the foot 'n' I'll pull ya's out."

That convinced me more than any lecture or statistics would have that what I was about to attempt was insanely dangerous, but I couldn't not do it. This was Julie. So, "What else do I need to know?"

"She's either hidin' better'n anybody I ever heerd o', or she's joint 'em. Ye'll have ta git 'er 'lone somehow, then slap 'er outta 't."

"Slap her? Zeb this is the twenty-first century! I know it was acceptable sometimes when you were young, but here and now men aren't supposed to hit women - ever! Especially not pregnant women!"

"It's that 'r take 'er chances 'til the riot burns out. Not a choice I'd like to be facin', but this time ya gotta!"

"What about a protective circle?"

"Good 'gainst conjured critters. Don't do a thin' 'gainst spells that already gots ya."

"Isn't there a spell to clear her head?"

"Yabbut ya ain't ready ta larn 't!"

"Try me!"

"''lright. Watch m' fingers," and they went through a dance I couldn't hope to follow.

"Can you slow that down?"

"Nope. Th' speed's a part of 't. Then there's the chant."

"Okay, Zeb, point made. I'm not ready. Any other ideas?"

"Ya kin try throwin' water on 'er, if'n ya got any."

All I had in the office was little narrow-mouthed half-liter bottles, stacked next to the mini-fridge for drinking. I picked on up. "This enough?"

"Ya kin try. But ya prob'ly need more'n 'at. Two might do it, specially if'n ya got somethin' t' make it all hit at once."

Well I could put a couple of the bottles in my pants pockets. Better than hitting my wife, no matter the justification. Extra bullets wouldn't hurt, either - one of the three classic things that never helps is 'ammunition you don't have'. I had no intention of shooting anyone I didn't have to, but I couldn't go buy more ammunition in the middle of what I was about to try, either.

"'lri, one more thin'. Do ya want me ta tie 't all up in one spell?"

I considered. The holster re-appearing would be a useful mark of the spell disappearing. But the holster being visible would also be a red flag to any cop who happened to see me, and would probably get extra attention if there were any video cameras left. "No, leave the holster out of it. I know there's plenty of power there to keep the holster hidden, but if something leaches it all, it's automatic trouble. You can tie the rest together if you think it's a good idea."

"'llri, ah'll tie 't ta the 'cain't find ya' spell. All o' it of'n th' same pool o' pow'r. Pro'lly wanna let it leach out after this, les'n ya wan' yer people to fergit 'bout yas. But this way, ya kin add pow'r if'n ya need ta."

I nodded. "But make the spell to find Julie one that finds her directly, if you can. Maybe something got her ring. But if they have, I can replace it later. I want to find Julie, whether or not she's still got the ring. Even if it's just her body. The ring isn't what I'm looking for. Julie is."

He nodded. "Ya's gots a soul link ta each oth'r. But it gets kinda fuzzy, 'n 'count o' bein' sen-si-tive to where she's plannin' ta go. If'n she's close, might be a big blur all 'round ya's."

"I understand."

"Then hol' still a minnit." Zeb didn't have to chant or make the passes for his magic to work - one of the major differences between sorcerors and true mages. His magic was something his brain could work directly. But he still did it for spells he found difficult, to aid in concentration. I didn't understand a thing he said, but he made some passes with his hands, a circular motion about himself and a meeting of two index fingers were the only thing I really caught. But about ten seconds later, I got a sense of which direction she was in. Then he started something else, moving a lot faster, but I didn't feel anything directly with that one. Finally, he simple stood still for about ten seconds, and I got a feeling like seeing the world in a smoky room, or like maybe when you know there's a fog because you can see it out in the distance, but it's not enough to obscure things close by that you're actually paying attention to. "'kay, yer ready ta go 's yer gonna be."

"Thank you, Zeb. I'll try and get all your apprentices and helpers out safe."

Copyright 2022 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

Excerpt from Empire and Earth

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I had just passed abeam the last Imperial beacon on my way back to Earth when I got a hard contact in the instance I was using for a Vector run. I was getting my breakfast and Lady's at the time, piloting by remote, mostly holding station, not really paying attention. I brought the shields up to full as I ran into the control center, Lady following behind. I brought the main weapon online as the shields recorded a hit. The energy drain was nothing to be concerned about; barely perceptible in fact. Even if I lost shields entirely, it'd take the aggressor days to break through my hull charge with that much energy.

I hit the gas - immediate quick Vector to where I planned my next Interstitial. About four hundred years' distance, ran a quick confirmation of position, and applied the Interstitial. Wrench. It worked, but the ship wasn't happy about it, and the stress on the hull shot up to about twelve iprime torsion around one of my Interstitial field anchors. It was out of alignment - without hull charge the ship might have torn a hole in itself. I started re-aligning the anchor to align with the rest of the field, while trying to figure out what had gone wrong. My Interstitial velocity was about two thirds what it should have been, but it built back to nearly full as the torsion on the hull dropped and the system was restored to alignment. Lady whined; she could pick up there was something wrong, if not what.

It wasn't life threatening, or even trip threatening, but as soon as I stopped manual precession, the anchor started drifting out of alignment again. I was hungry, and I knew Lady was, too, but breakfast was just going to have to wait. I tried taking the anchor offline, out of the system completely, and Interstitial velocity dropped to about sixty-eight Imperial years per hour - it should have been about seventy-four - while the hull stress picked up slightly from zero, but the temporary configuration was stable now, and no threat to the ship in any way. It would add to the maintenance load of the rest of the system, and I'd want to have the entire system checked out when I got back to the Empire, but first I was continuing on to Earth. However, I wasn't leaving the control center until I was grounded, or at least inside the solar system. Lady could tell my stress level had dropped, and she perked her ears and made false starts in the direction of the living quarters, as if to ask about breakfast, but I explained to her we were going to have to wait, be patient, be a good girl, breakfast will come but not now. Telepathy really did help with dogs; she understood and settled right down in her bed next to the command console.

I'd have to look at the system when I grounded, to see if it was something I could fix. There was an Interstitial node right where the weapon had hit. My best guess was that the enemy weapon had done something weird to it. This was confirmed by careful review of the data from the attack. But there were other systems' components in that area of the hull, too. Net result: I was not leaving my command console until I could shut the ship down. Vector equalizers were fine, as were inertial integrators or there would have been a major irregularity in internal gravity, but what about the impellers themselves? There was an impeller not five feet from the failed Interstitial anchor. It was on minimal power right now as Interstitials were moving the ship, but what about when it was time for the impellers to take over? I was kind of regretting not giving that damnable pirate an in-kind response, but I knew I had made the right choice in ducking out. Technologically inferior or not, the other ship had been designed for battle, and probably had the crew to repair damage while the fighting was going on. My ship was designed for cargo, and I could hardly fight the ship effectively while unbolting hull plates to fix damage. I was a merchant, not a military vessel. For me, victory meant survival, and I had survived un-captured.

It turned out the impeller I was concerned about was fine. I grounded at the sanctuary outside Mentone without further incident, but then Adela met me and asked, "Tia Grace, aren't you going to turn on the camouflage?"

Oh, no. I had turned on the holographic camouflage before I entered atmosphere. The holographic system said it was working just fine. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case when you actually looked. The cruiser was a whale roughly twenty meters tall from belly to back and over eighty meters from front to back; it didn't shine like most Earth people expected metal to shine, but its dark grey towered over the citrus trees surrounding it, and anyone looking down the mountainside would see it plain as day. I could hear the dogs we kept for Earthside adoptions setting up a ruckus near the front of the property; stretching my perceptions I "saw" that a San Bernardino County Sheriff had turned up the drive, lights flashing. "Delay him thirty seconds if you can," I told her, "I'm getting out of Dodge. I'll call you later on the tachyonic communicator."

Copyright 2014 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.


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