April 2023 Archives

Luz's office occupied the corner closest to the ocean. The coastline runs closer to westbound than north in that area, but the building had been built so two sides had almost equally good views, and she had the corner between. The floor was the same pseudo-marble as the rest, but the walls were richly paneled in dark hardwood or a converter-produced close facsimile. The chairs might not have been leather, but they looked and felt like it. There was enough mist or fog in the air to limit the visibility, but she still had a view of several miles of the California coast through pristine glassteel. The sun itself was just visible high on my far left as we took seats across the hardwood expanse of her desk. Despite the opulence, the office had a feel of being little-used. My perception showed me seven bugs in various places within the office; I destroyed all of them with matris, not worrying about their provenance.

"This feels like you don't use it much," I remarked.

"I told you Grace, I'm really just a figurehead for Earth. Peter is the general manager; Carmen's husband David does all the real work on the Earth end."

"I've killed the bugs. Are you unhappy about your position?"

"Actually, it suits me well enough. I may look young, but I'm well over two hundred now, and my training never extended to running something this size. A few landscaping crews I can manage, but this is something else. I don't know how Dalia did it."

"Most likely by learning a little bit at a time as it grew."

"Well, yes, but this actually suits Assad and me well. We can take off without worrying if my absence is going to screw up the company."

"Okay, but be warned. I trust David, too. He wouldn't do anything intentionally, but if he makes a mistake, 'I was just a figurehead' cuts no slack with an Imperial Primus. I'd be learning enough to follow the goings-on were I in your shoes."

"I know, I know, but David's been doing a good job for over thirty-five years now... But this isn't why you're here. You said this was family business."

"Yes. You remember what I was like as a teenager?"

"Boy do I! You must have aged Mama and Papi thirty years! But then you pulled yourself together. Always wondered what changed."

"Do you remember Gerry?"

"The ex-Marine, older? Problem with drugs?"

I nodded. "Yeah. He'd been through a lot. PTSD, and he turned to drugs to help. But we were just so right when he was sober, and I thought could save him. Dios, I was a fool." Any Guardian could have saved him - but that was five Earth years before the first Imperial came to Earth.

"Whatever happened?"

"He OD'd. I told myself it was accidental at the time, but later I realized it'd been deliberate. He couldn't fight his demons any longer."

"Oh, Grace, I'm so sorry."

I shook my head. "Old news, even for me, hermana, and I wasn't exactly blameless. I was high, too, when the cops got there. The difference was the hospital saved me. Then they told me I was pregnant."


"Yeah. Dalia and her husband saved me. They persuaded the police they'd put me on what Peter Senior called 'the straight and narrow'. It being my first run-in, and Peter still being a Senior Chief at the time, it worked. They brought me down to live with them. I spent my pregnancy there. I was overweight then..."

"I remember."

"...and the last couple months were winter, so I stayed bundled up. I don't think any of their kids realized."

"Quit. Cold turkey. I decided the day they told me, even before I told Dalia. Peter told me if I relapsed even once he'd kick me out, but it wasn't necessary. I paced, I prayed, I did everything I had to do to break it. Never touched them again. Got a job waitressing. Peter introduced me to a guy he knew, got me started studying chemistry, then I got a better job through him. But I knew I wasn't ready to be a mother, and well, Gerry was..."

"Black. Yes, I remember abuela not liking him because he was black."

"So I knew the family might pretend, but there'd be problems. I understand things have changed now, but this was then." Luz's current husband was descended from Somali refugees. I'd only met him once, when I rescued them from the demonic assault on Los Angeles.

She shook her head. "Papi wouldn't have stood for it. His problem with Gerry was the drugs. Well, that and he thought the man was too old for you. He'd never allow any baby to be blamed for what its father had done."

"But they'd have blamed the baby's mother. It was a cop out, but I didn't make this whole journey overnight, or even in five years. I put the baby up for adoption. Never even held him in the delivery room. Only knew it was a boy because the doctor said so."

"I'm so sorry Grace. But why is this relevant now?"

"Because the Empire notified me that my son has had his adulthood revoked. I'm here to see if I can take custody of him."

"So you're going to have a two hundred year old child?"

"When I'm only seventy-eight by the same measure. He's likely set in his ways, but I owe it to him to try."

"You've got five Seventh Order kids, Grace. From what I remember, all of them well-behaved and above average for their preparation."

"Yes, even by Seventh Order standards Scimtar is happy with them. By the way, Esteban is now adult, and told me he's planning a visit. But kids I was in contact with from the day their minds started working are not the same as someone with two hundred Earth years of set habits."

"I'll be glad to see him again," she said, meaning Esteban. "So do you think you're up to the task of making your other son into a real adult?"

"I'd like to think so, Luz. But I just don't know. I think it will be easier in the Empire, but also more difficult. Asto says we'll do it together."

"That's a bonus. You won't be trying to do it alone."

"But we have four other non-adult children. Even if any of them could pass the adulthood tests tomorrow. And they have special dispensations he won't have."

"The only one without the same privileges as everyone else."


"The only advice I have is to tell him the others have earned those privileges. If he wants them too, he needs to earn them."

"That was my experience, too. There was a time when Ilras was jealous of Esteban, then Imtara had the same problems with Ilora. Alden was easy by comparison when he was too small for what everyone else had done. But someone who's been an adult will present different problems."

"Maybe the people in charge of him now will have some guidance."

The notification from Adulthood Services alarmed. It said the estimate was about six minutes Imperial before my turn. Plenty of time if I didn't waste it. "I could use some. Sorry but I just got notification my turn is soon. Would you rather walk me out or find my own way?"

"I'll walk you out. Not like I have real work to do."

We walked briskly. Luz had to be aware that I had to get there in a certain amount of time, and she knew I was a Guardian, capable of teleporting at least directly to the portal. Not simply teleporting out was a social courtesy. When we reached the elevator, however, she turned to me and said, "Grace..."


"There's no shame in turning this down, if it seems too much once they explain it. It wasn't easy with Shirley; it'll be a lot harder with someone older who used to be an adult. Imperial rules..."

"Imperial rules are something I've been living with for a long time, and I have resources you didn't. I'll be careful. Take care, Luz." And I gave her a quick hug as the elevator opened.

"Take care, Grace!"

Copyright 2023 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

"Somehow, I thought there would be more for a god to do."

"Why husband, you always seem busy enough," Petra replied.

"Those are my own projects, and I know I spend more time than you would prefer on them. But I presumed the position of being a god came with its own duties and requirements. Thus far, I have found none."

"Husband, we are both Eternals - minor gods as such things go. We know there are at least two tiers above us. I spent ten thousand years and more as an Immortal. Outside of the chains of my creation, I was never tasked with anything. Art thou disappointed?" She'd taken to wearing what I called her Ultimate Lady from The Next Farm Over appearance most of the time we were together. She appeared as a dusky, light brown-skinned young lady with shoulder length medium brown hair, just barely into the first flush of maturity and shapely to the point where she drew eyes from all the men, even now at the end of her pregnancy with our first child. Petra's skin glowed with health, her hair shone with golden highlights in the soft brown. Nothing exaggerated or fancy - her breasts and buttocks were if anything slightly smaller than average, her parts just all fit together perfectly. Her hairstyle was dead simple - straight with just a hint of wave. She never wore complex fashions or glaringly sexual clothes or anything that clung too tightly, just simple and loose, hinting at the lush curves beneath. Nor was she particularly thin. Maybe by some perverse standards she might even be a little overweight. She almost never used cosmetics of any sort. But most women of King Edvard Haraldsson's court hated her for the way she drew male eyes despite everything they did to keep attention centered on themselves. They'd never understand what Petra had spent ten thousand years learning - men liked simple and elegant. These days, Petra was happy and content, and that amplified attraction even more.

"Nay, O Lady of My Heart, I am not disappointed, but happily surprised. The fact it is a happy surprise does not alter the fact it is a surprise. Why does the universe allow us to exist, when it does not require our assistance? Why are we thus privileged? There must be some purpose to allowing us this power."

"Why question thy good fortune, husband?"

"I am ultsi, milady, by habit if not by fact. We are seekers after knowledge, which requires us to be askers of questions, and I'm not explaining myself clearly, so let's approach it from another direction. Have you ever seen a living thing simply exist?"

"Trees. Grass."

"Trees and grass do not simply exist. They're in competition for soil and sunlight and water. All the other trees and blades of grass want these same things, and there's only so much to go around. Where are our competitors?"

"Other gods."

"The niche seems suspiciously empty. One of the rules is populations expand to make full use of resources. Doesn't it seem that with so much energy available, there would be more and more beings clamoring to take it for their own survival? Yet it seems that there's plenty there for all, and there's a disturbing next question."

"I would rather not be disturbed at present, husband, but it does seem that the number of gods is increasing."

I let the next question lie for now. "And our rivals?"

"Kiltig and Klikitit would fit that description."

She had a valid point. Perhaps I came from a place so energy-starved that we'd been forced to learn to make more efficient use - and now suddenly I'd been given access to a place where all the energy you could want was there for the taking, and my competitors simply had less ability to take advantage of that energy? But resource rich environments served as a beacon for organisms from less fecund locales. Aescalon was so energy rich its divinities never learned skills that even the weakest martsi and natsi - ordinary humans with the weakest level of mind power - learned as a matter of course. "Not the same thing, milady. Those are personal animosities. Given the energy rich environment of Aescalon and its fountain of plentiful energy, there should be so many gods clamoring to partake that there is none to spare. I can think of two possible reasons why this is not the case, but I'm unable at the present to test either hypothesis."

"What are those possibilities?"

"First, that the amount of energy has seen a recent increase, although 'recent' in this case is in terms of natural time, and I've insufficient data on the length of divine generations. The second is that there was a population collapse - something caused the number of divinities to drop - and we're still building back up to equilibrium. In either case, resources would seem to be plentiful until the new population increased to fill the niche."

Copyright 2020 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

My brother been right; the antigravity stopped working as soon as I was through. The pallet collapsed heavily onto the two axles I'd just installed.

The surface I was on was hard rock. Despite the fact that all I could see or perceive of this place was flat or at most gently sloping, all of the rock appeared to be igneous. Granite, basalt, pumice, etcetera, and all the variants, but absurdly rich in uncommon elements. Crystalline minerals glittered upon the surface in profusion up to the size of my hand or so, and my perception informed me that this was the case below the surface as well. Many of those crystals were precious or semi-precious stones. Pools and puddles of water ranging in size from nothing on up to perhaps a couple ifourths across speckled the landscape, the markings of small streams flowing out of them. This place broke all the rules of planetary geology. At least the rules we thought we knew, and the Empire had seen trillions of planets and planetoids.
Smaller rocks and loose soil were practically non-existent. Nor did there seem to be any sort of indigenous life. No plants at all. I wondered where the oxygen-rich air was coming from.

True to the warning, the dimensionality here was roughly three point twelve. Due to higher dimensionality, material borders were somewhat more difficult to traverse - the fractal surfaces generated more friction with the cart's tires than a strictly three dimensional surface would have.

It seemed that the most recent rain couldn't have been too long ago. I didn't see signs of significant evaporation from the natural limits of the depressions sheltering the water. But what my perception 'saw' was completely unexpected - the water was charged with an energy that reminded me of quantum foam, but tangible in the macroscopic universe, the richest source for matra I'd ever seen, or been told of for that matter. The water literally shone in some of the larger pools, merely glittering in the smaller ones. Perhaps the difference in intensity was a clue to how long it had been?

A trail had been worn onto the rock nearby, and people were following it. How had a trail become worn in a place seemingly devoid of plant life, which by all the rules I knew would have also precluded animal life?
Around me were several different sorts and even different species of what were obviously sentients, although even on the trails, there was plenty of room between individuals or groups. Humans I obviously recognized. There were also human variants, like a group of tall pale white stick-thin people with bright blue or violet eyes and hair that ranged from white to pale blue to pale yellow. It wasn't the thin of starvation or inactivity as they had excellent muscle definition, instead it seemed to be what was natural for them. I did a quick scan; genetically they were as human as I was, which is to say human with a few additions. As I walked, I discovered that there were also an amazing variety of nonhumans, from anthropoid to saurian to insectoid and just about everything else imaginable. As I said, this place appeared to break all the rules I thought I knew.

The trails seemed to follow mostly higher points in the terrain. At irregular intervals, there would be a junction or a branching. Some of them were barely footpaths, others were worn so smooth and wide they might as well have been a paved highway. Gently sloping swaths of bare rock surrounded us, none of them more than a few times human height. Despite the presence of the various sentients within my sight range, there were no permanent structures visible anywhere.

Visibility was low; there was a ubiquitous mist. Vision was restricted to no more than a few minutes' walk at most. At times, it was as low as perhaps sixty long paces or so. Nonetheless, it seemed we were on the inside of what could be most easily described as the hollowed out center of a large rock, the cavern no bigger than I could travel completely around at an easy pace in a few hours. What was holding us to the surface of the enclosing rock wasn't easy to describe. It wasn't gravity, and it wasn't centripetal force like an annular habitat. It seemed to be a byproduct of dimensionality that seemed to increase the closer you got to the center of the cavern. It seemed I weighed no more than half what I had on Nexus, but dimensionality varied from barely more than three to three point eighteen just over the narrow range of elevations I'd already encountered. Up at the very center, it seemed most likely dimensionality would be the full eleven. You could hear water falling constantly; sometimes the trail would parallel a small stream for a distance. Above us, somewhere in the mist, were some kind of multicolored light sources. I wasn't certain how many there were at present but I was certain there was more than one. The thick mist precluded shadows, but there were diffraction patterns in the mist that were beautiful, gold and blue and red and white sparkles. Further establishing the particulars seemed like something that could wait until I was established.

On second thought, maybe what I heard wasn't necessarily water. It was liquid, and the only liquid I'd seen was water, but I couldn't be certain that all of the liquid I was hearing was water. And since my brain had kicked in, I decided that before I wandered off too far I'd better mark my point of arrival and see if I couldn't figure out the translation that had brought me here. An inter-bubble gate was a major working; I should be able to back trace it for some time but it would never be easier than now. No, I wasn't planning to renege on my deal to leave the Empire and stay out, but knowing where I was in relation to the Empire would be useful someday. Besides, if survival necessitated me sneaking back to the Empire at some point in the future, better I was in a position to make that decision based upon practicality rather than have ignorance eclipse one of my options. With that in mind, I began a return to my starting point.

Copyright 2018 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved

It's looking more and more like a fifth book will be required, so using "Measure Of Adulthood" as a working title. It may change before publication.


As far as what to do in the interim, I was kind of regretting not bringing the dogs. Given that I'd have to cut it short whenever I got the notification I was third in line, it seemed rude to me to just show up unannounced with family and expect them to make time for me. Still, I sent messages to Luz and Esperanza and to Carmen and David, not expecting a reply. But Luz called almost immediately.


"Grace! It is you! So glad to hear you're on Earth!"

"Only for a few hours, waiting for my turn to talk to a government agency." Imperial hours were 1.7 of Earth's old measure, but still. "I'll be leaving after. Sorry but I have to get back."

"What brings you back to Earth but not long enough to see family?"

I realized she didn't know - Dalia had never told her. "I'll tell you when I get there. Where are you?"

"At the Earth Dogs office. I'm the Dog Lady figurehead for Earth now. David does all the real work. It won't matter if I step out for a while, and he can find me if he needs me."

"Where is the new office?" The Pendleton Zone had been wrecked in the first days of the war, but that was fiftyone Imperial years ago here.

"Same place it was when Dalia ran things. We moved back in as soon as the building could take us. We've got three floors now. I'll meet you at reception."

I set the portal and stepped through, found myself in front of a significantly larger tower than I remembered - probably closer to thirty ifourths than twenty in height, and a larger footprint as well. Other towers of similar size showed to the south and east. I surmised the landlord had decided the demand would support the bigger buildings. Earth Dogs was listed as being on the fifteenth floor; I called an elevator and rode up. The buildings may have been larger than before, but they still weren't big enough to support a portal on every level, let alone multiple portals per level as the much bigger arcologies on Indra and other core Imperial worlds did.

The elevator opened on a lobby looking out over the Pacific Ocean from a height of perhaps three ifourths, which gave plenty of height to see San Clemente Island and Catalina further north. Dalia had never wanted the upper levels of the tower, just something high enough for a little bit of view. The tower might have been rebuilt, but Earth Dogs was about the same height as it had been before the invasion.

Luz was waiting at reception - she looked exactly like she had as a young mother, all those years ago. Maybe three isixths shorter than me, same shoulder-length wavy dark hair, just a shade or two from black.


"Grace! So good to see you!" We hugged, and she asked, "Can I have Brenda take our picture? It'll be good for the newsletter and some other places."

I saw a young-looking woman with her red hair in curls. "Brenda is...?" I expected her to be a family member I didn't recognize. It had been fiftyone years here since my last visit.

"Brenda is our receptionist. Sorry Grace. There wasn't enough family left after..."

"I'm not upset about that. I'm upset that four prime thirtysix of our relatives died. I should have expected you'd have to hire more from outside the family. You've done well, though. Earth Dogs is actually an increasing share of my income."

"Give David the credit for whatever our Earth office has achieved. Peter is the big boss these days, but he's out in the Empire. I'm here because even though David's been married to Carmen for almost two centuries, he's still a spouse." She was talking Earth years; it was approaching five prime Imperial years. I owned a quarter of Earth Dogs, but I hadn't been involved in management since I left Earth. My remaining siblings and other surviving family owned the rest. If they wanted a blood relative as official head or public face of the company, their wishes would prevail. "Did you want a tour?"

"Not really. Just wanted to do what catching up I could in whatever time I have here. Are the Lees still here?"

"Sorry, Grace, none of them survived the demons."

Damn. "Where do you get Chinese food these days, then?"

"Haven't really found anywhere in particular. The younger generation doesn't seem to be as good."

Understandable. They'd grown up with converters and programming rather than meat and vegetables and spices. "What do you recommend, then?"

"Not really hungry, Grace; we just had lunch here." It was noon by the sun or maybe a bit after. "Want to come back to my office and talk? I'll order you something."

"No, that's okay. How about a walk? I think I need to talk to someone." I didn't need to eat. I'd been hoping for good Chinese food while I was on Earth. Now that I knew the Lees were gone, I wasn't hungry.

"Really? You haven't asked to talk to anyone for a couple centuries now. Why not your husband?"

"Because he already knows, and he's not here. Please Luz, I need to tell someone in the family. Dalia knew, but she's gone now."

"The only walk is the memorial along the beach. Too depressing."

I had one of my para pull up the information. It was paved with the pictures of people who'd died in the demonic invasion. The two fourths who'd died in Los Angeles had been the lowest casualty count of the seven major assault points, but they'd included more than four fifths of my Earth family. "Then how about just through the streets of the industrial park? It's not like we're going to get lost or assaulted." I just wanted a plausible illusion of privacy.

"Grace, my private office is what I'll offer. Take it or leave it."

Her private office would be bugged by everyone and their great-aunt Zelda. I doubted Earth Dogs kept someone on staff to keep it clear - it would be a major expense on an Earth where Guardians - or even partly trained operants - were rare. But I supposed I could do something about it for now. "I'll take it."

She led me back through the offices of Earth Dogs. Unlike the cube farms of my youth, the people who worked on-site would have reason to offer guests at least the illusion of privacy. Accordingly, they were corridors lined with small private offices, doors open. Offices on my left had an actual window to the outside and most were larger than the offices on my right, which were internal and barely big enough for the occupant and a couple of human guests and perhaps a furry one or two. Floors were tiled in something that might have been travertine by the look of it, but perception told me it was thicker and more durable. Perhaps it was marble, now that everything came out of a converter anyway. Being the company Earth Dogs was, there were a sprinkling of dogs in with the workers, from some teacup toy mix I wasn't sure of to a big Rottweiler in one of the offices on the interior side.

Luz's office occupied the corner closest to the ocean. The coastline runs closer to westbound than north in that area, but the building had been built so two sides had almost equally good views, and she had the corner between. The floor was the same pseudo-marble as the rest, but the walls were richly paneled in dark hardwood or a converter-produced close facsimile. The chairs might not have been leather, but they looked and felt like it. There was enough mist or fog in the air to limit the visibility, but she still had a view of several miles of the California coast through pristine glassteel. The sun itself was just visible high on my far left as we took seats across the hardwood expanse of her desk. Despite the opulence, the office had a feel of being little-used. My perception showed me seven bugs in various places within the office; I destroyed all of them with matris, not worrying about their provenance.

Copyright 2023 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.


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