December 2022 Archives

It's about 13 years Imperial since the events of The Price of Power. Grace has publicly admitted to being middle grade Fourth Order, while in reality she's near the threshold of Sixth. Her children are nearing official adulthood. The Empire is still at war, and showing some strain.

Copyright 2022 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved

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Official Imperial Time had nothing to do with planetary cycles. Right now, family dinnertime was in the predawn hours for Sumabad, and the wide band of Indra Habitat One stretched across the sky, barely two seconds distant, shining with a light that exceeded thirty full moons on Earth. Indra's planetary day was slightly shorter than the Standard Imperial Day, so every official day was a little more advanced in terms of planetary day than the one before it. People who needed to synchronize with planetary day were few; I'd be getting ready for work about the time the sun came up, but that was just coincidence. The angle of the window was wrong to see the almost equally bright arch of Indra Habitat Two - we'd had a crossing just four days previous and the best view was on the other side of Residence Arcology. But ten ithirds below, the lights of private water-going ships dotted the Strait of Sumabad, once the busiest commercial artery on Indra, now simply a place for people who liked watercraft to sail. Goods traveled by portal or by starship now. The massive spherical bulk of a size six capital hull reflected lights off its dark gray hull descending in the greenbelt between arcologies off to my right as I took my place next to Asto's splinter at the table. Fortyfive ifourths in radius - call it three and a half Earth kilometers diameter - it was nonetheless dwarfed by the arcologies that towered over the greenbelt. From my previous profession as a pilot, I knew more than most about the intricate dance that kept goods flowing into and out of imperial planets.

But for the past twentyfour imperial years, I'd been an Imperial Investigator. These days, my warrant came from Scimtar himself as I was strong enough to hunt most noble-caste enemy on my own. I still didn't want to face any basileus, and I stepped carefully around jopas as well, but the two top castes together were only a tiny fraction of contacts. Even spraxos were less than four iprime of the total and these days I didn't hesitate to take on two of those at once. The fractal demons were hard pressed, most of their agents had always been nephraim, and they'd begun using even terostes.

Tonight the family meal was something I'd never had before. Had no idea what it was called, but it tasted like I imagined a too-spicy rat stir-fry would. One of Helene's rare misses. From the way Scimtar ate, though, I'd guess it was a childhood favorite. I had a few bites to be polite to Helene, then got a double cheeseburger and fries out of the converter.

I won't say the mood was grim at dinner that evening, but it was restrained. It was a common mood these days. The major offensives against the fractal demons were over - successfully. Every demonic holding we'd known about when the war started, and many we'd discovered since then, had been eradicated. But it was a big cosmos, and the demons could reproduce faster than we did. We had to keep the pressure on - or everything we'd won would be in vain - but major battles were getting fewer and further between. Meanwhile, they were still dangling out the prizes of false operancy to induce turncoats, and they'd adapted their strategy to raids that were intended to kill people and destroy industrial capacity, rather than conquer and hold territory. A nephraim would lead a few prime of manesi on a raid of an Imperial planet or habitat, kill a couple square humans do a couple fourths of damage, and be gone (usually with captive humans for later consumption) before organized resistance could respond. It took the Empire at least thirty years to produce a new citizen, and a lot of opportunity cost. The demons could toss off an adult manes much faster and for almost no opportunity cost.

When we could find a demonic holding, superior Imperial tech would enable clearing it at casualty and expense ratios that would be conclusive in the setting of a direct war with another human polity. But the fractal demons didn't work like that. Bottom line was they were born with everything they needed to wreak havoc. Humans weren't. We were winning the war, but it wasn't as one-sided as you'd think, and the Empire was under a noticeable strain. This showed in the social atmosphere, here more obviously than most - many of the family were directly involved, and everyone knew the issues.

Corella and Anara were talking about the issues with building a detection array, enabling the Empire to locate demonic holdings directly.

"It seems you want to build something like the fixed tachyonic network that connects First Galaxy and a lot of our more thickly settled holdings," Imtara asked, "Could you please explain why you can't make them mobile?"

"It's not that we can't make them mobile," Corella explained to her, "It's that it adds a lot of expense to a given unit. The array range is dependent upon physical size."

"Wouldn't it drastically cut the number of units required?" Imtara asked, "It's not like a new demonic holding is going to be dangerous in an hour or even a day, and if they're mobile, each array can cover many such locations. Do we really need continuous monitoring at all station posts?"

"We haven't got anything big enough to move the sensor arrays intact."

"Do they need to be intact to move? Even if the answer is 'yes', Mom told us about how she was working mass haulers for a while." That had been all of three days, ending with a duel that had damned near killed me and Esteban as well.

"I need some time on this," Anara broke in, "Mounting the arrays on a ship would help us ameliorate a production bottleneck. But I need some time to program simulators." Anara was the multispacial specialist between them; she and her husband Gilras had participated in the patent that made Interstitial Vector commercially viable. Corella was more of a talented production engineer. For all I knew, Anara already had one of her other splinters working on the idea, but so far as I knew, Corella couldn't make splinters any more than I could. She might have a couple of para working the problem internally, but no external splinters.

Right there in the middle of dinner, a priority message came into my queue. Thinking it was from one of the support types I worked with over on the military side of the Residence and could simply deal with it via one of my para, I accessed it. But it was a much bigger bomb than that, from Adulthood Services back on Earth.

It seemed my bastard child had lost his adulthood and named me as a potential parent.

Had a nasty cold since last Tuesday. Fits and snatches of sleep here and there. Day job went completely by the wayside. Tried to sit and write a couple times, but was too doped up on cold meds. Just now starting to get over it.

Excerpt from Working The Trenches, Book 4 of Rediscovery. Copyright 2014 Dan Melson All Rights Reserved

Eventually, they sent an inoperant trained private in to take us to a meal. He formed us up into a file, and walked us about half a kilometer to a place where they served three different kinds of tasteless glop; protein glop, carb glop, roughage glop. The glop was nutritious, but about as appetizing as cold baby food. It was likely mass extruded out of a converter that could just as easily have produced something appealing. Once again, the military had their reasons for everything. They wanted you to think of yourself as one more cog, no more important than the one next to you. Once that pattern of thought was engrained, trained soldiers got better food. Oh well, I suppose they could have just thrown us a chunk of Life and a cube of water, so it could have been worse. Come to think of it, as unappealing as the glop was, I'd rather have gnawed a chunk of Life.

Meal concluded, the same private escorted us back to more hours of waiting. One more operant inductee joined us, and then the same Trained Private came in with an operant Staff Private. Addressing us, he said, "This is Staff Private Ugatu," gesturing at the Staff Private, "He will be escorting you to your training facility and turning you over to your unit Instructor. Follow his instructions." Why was a lowly Trained Private instructing us to obey a Staff Private, several grades higher? Because staff ranks were not part of the chain of command. Yes, a Staff Private was senior to us, but wasn't normally entitled to give orders, to us or to anyone else. Technically speaking, if we obeyed an order from a Staff Private without such an instruction, we'd be responsible for the consequences. "There are reasons for everything the Imperial military does," Parnit had explained over and over. "You might not understand or even agree with those reasons. You might think they are pointless, even counterproductive. The reasons are never explained, for reasons that won't be explained to you, either, at least not until you achieve your first staff rank. But every single one of them has been field tested and cross-checked over thirty square (75,000+ Earth years) of successful operations covering an incredible volume of space and situations too varied for you or even me to imagine."

The Imperial solutions were definitely different than the ones the US military had employed. My older sister married a Navy Senior Chief, so I thought I understood what sorts of things to expect. I was wrong.

"Grab your clothing bags," he said, "Form a single file line starting here. Follow me. When we get to the ship, move aft to the cargo section. First one in, move to the left side of the ship and all the way back, one to a seat, fill that side then fill the right in the same manner. Place your bag under your seat and strap in." Asto and I were third and fourth in line; if it was a standard cutter we'd be sitting together in the two front left cargo seats. If we were headed for a different type of hull, we'd have been given different instructions. Destroyer hull seating was in front-facing rows, like an airliner on Earth. I didn't know of any Starbirds able to seat eight or more, and their cargo section wasn't separate from the flight deck.

We didn't walk; it was more like a trot. It wasn't a difficult pace to keep; about eight kilometers per hour. No, they weren't trying to march us or wear us out, yet. Maybe fifteen minutes later (twenty-five Earth), we came to the edge of a landing field that looked like it could land an assault cruiser or fifty, as the white pavement stretched at least a kilometer in each direction. There were actually three assault cruisers I saw, as well as sundry other craft, but our destination was a cutter, landed in 'belly down' mode near our edge. Think of something shaped like the old NASA shuttles, roughly thirty meters long by twenty-six in wingspan, with no rockets on the rear.

The first woman in started to move left in the cargo bay, Ugatu barked out, "Ship's left!" and she corrected her mistake, moving to our right. I didn't see what difference it would make, but my opinion didn't count. Ugatu hadn't said anything abusive, from his tone of voice I gathered he didn't think we were worth it. It wasn't quite a standard cutter, as there were two rows of six seats each facing each other across the cargo bay, as opposed to the more usual four per side, at least on the models I'd been in. There was still plenty of room, and it meant Asto and I were actually close enough to hold hands. The last man in line was left all by himself on the right side of the ship, all the way in the back. I threw my bag under my seat and pulled out the star-shaped five point harness that would be recognizable to most Earth pilots, if different in the details. I strapped myself in and put on my passive waiting face.

"Esteban Scimtar Juarez, you have passed the threshold of adulthood. There is no return to childhood in this life."

The ceremony was pure show. My eldest had wielded most of the trappings of adulthood for years. The few deficiencies had already been rectified within a second of his passing the final formal test, Implied Responsibility. But Scimtar was a believer in the power of such ceremonies, and he was head of the family. So we were all standing around the family dinner table.

My part was simple. "You have unlimited access to your money." Most of what Esteban owned, he'd earned himself. Legal children weren't prohibited from working; it merely required parental concurrence because the child could not be responsible.

"You have unlimited access to public data and public spaces." That was Asto's splinter, standing in for Asto himself.

"You have an adult's access to family resources." That was Scimtar again.

"You have an adult's tools and weapons." Amras, the family heir and current commercial head, buckled on belt with holster and sheath, Asto's splinter presented Esteban with a blaster for the holster and I handed him a bondsteel sword for the sheath. Esteban had better - these were family heirlooms from Scimtar's youth, and would be returned before the end of the evening. These days, most hand weapons were lasers or antimatter needlers, charged bondsteel for swords. Esteban carried all three to my certain knowledge, in kored 'pockets' hidden from casual sight.

"Use them responsibly," the entire family chorused, ending the ceremony.

Really, the major change for Esteban was that henceforth, his family's consent would not be required for what he'd already been doing, and he would be solely responsible for his deeds. When he returned from a planned visit to his cousins on Earth, he would begin his first adult job, as an assistant to Amras, expediting and troubleshooting issues facing House Scimtar's commercial interests. It was far and away the most important of the family's activities - only the commercial operations head and assistants focused solely upon a single sector of House Scimtar's activities. Everyone else timeshared with commercial, even Scimtar himself. Assistant to Operations was the traditional first job for the family's new adults. These days, it was a minimum of two of the youngest generation. Esteban's majority would likely release Urona immediately, and perhaps Anosha as well once Esteban was up to speed on the job. Urona wasn't quite useless on the scale of the rest of the family, but she lacked dedication to anything except her own immediate gratification. I was sincerely grateful that none of my five had her issues.

Brief ceremony over, the rest of the family moved to sit at the table. Nightly family dinners were a tradition among the members of House Scimtar, going back to the end of the Interregnum at least. The table sat close to forty; it said we were a prosperous and growing family. It was important to Helene that we were a family; daily attendance was mandatory for all blood members, either in person or by splinter. Spouses, not being able to generate splinters, could be absent if they had a conflict, but I tried to attend every night. I hadn't yet discussed when I transitioned to Sixth Order - but at four point fiftytwo in reality, I'd accepted it was probably a matter of time rather than a question of 'if'. Like my transition to Fourth Order, we'd likely pretend I hadn't transitioned as long as possible.

Official Imperial Time had nothing to do with planetary cycles. Right now, family dinnertime was in the predawn hours for Sumabad, and the wide band of Indra Habitat One stretched across the sky, barely two seconds distant, shining with a light that exceeded thirty full moons on Earth. Indra's planetary day was slightly shorter than the Standard Imperial Day, so every official day was a little more advanced in terms of planetary day than the one before it. People who needed to synchronize with planetary day were few; I'd be getting ready for work about the time the sun came up, but that was just coincidence. The angle of the window was wrong to see the almost equally bright arch of Indra Habitat Two - we'd had a crossing just four days previous and the best view was on the other side of Residence Arcology. But ten ithirds below, the lights of private water-going ships dotted the Strait of Sumabad, once the busiest commercial artery on Indra, now simply a place for people who liked watercraft to sail. Goods traveled by portal or by starship now. The massive spherical bulk of a size six capital hull reflected lights off its dark gray hull descending in the greenbelt between arcologies off to my right as I took my place next to Asto's splinter at the table. Fortyfive ifourths in radius - call it three and a half Earth kilometers diameter - it was nonetheless dwarfed by the arcologies that towered over the greenbelt. From my previous profession as a pilot, I knew more than most about the intricate dance that kept goods flowing into and out of imperial planets.

But for the past twentyfour imperial years, I'd been an Imperial Investigator. These days, my warrant came from Scimtar himself as I was strong enough to hunt most noble-caste enemy on my own. I still didn't want to face any basileus, and I stepped carefully around jopas as well, but the two top castes together were only a tiny fraction of contacts. Even spraxos were less than four iprime of the total and these days I didn't hesitate to take on two of those at once. The fractal demons were hard pressed, most of their agents had always been nephraim, and they'd begun using even terostes.

 



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