First Draft Excerpt from Measure Of Adulthood

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"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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