May 2023 Archives

When I woke, the light was late afternoon. I checked the clock - almost four. I guessed I'd been out almost twelve hours. As strung out as I'd been, I wasn't surprised. I was pretty certain ScOsh had gone the last two days plus of his life without sleep, but I didn't know the trick to doing that yet.

I had to do something almost as scary as fighting the basileus - tell Papi the truth, and convince him it was the truth. Did I mention he's a high school math teacher with forty years of experience? He's heard it all, many times before, and Occam's Razor is something he was so used to applying I'd learned it by osmosis so early I couldn't remember. Mama was pretty sharp, too, but she'd believe me if Papi did. I had to carefully consider what hard evidence I had.

Item: one Mindsword, no longer "alive". I could maybe buy a live mouse at the pet store to demonstrate its killer cancellation effect, or use it to cut something. In fact, the brand new sweatshirt it was wrapped in was halfway shredded already, despite how careful I'd been. Not exactly impressive evidence, and dangerous to handle as well. It might be good supporting evidence, but Aurora by itself would never convince Papi. Not unless I was so irresponsible as to let someone touch it, which wasn't going to happen. ScOsh, wherever his soul had gone, would never forgive me.

Item: one small hand blaster. I checked it and the charge level was back to orange. I remembered that ScOsh had told me to dial it up, so I dialed it back down, and the meter cycled through colors back to blue. According to what ScOsh had told me, it should have recharged itself completely in about eight hours, so I figured the power per shot was about comparable to the original setting. I considered turning it off for safety, then decided against. ScOsh had been pretty certain he'd gotten all the stons, but he hadn't even tried for whatever minions they might have, and I had no way of knowing how many demons were wandering loose around Earth, and I had no way of knowing either group hadn't been given information that would lead to my parents. I left it on, and put it back in my bag. Not only self-defense, but good hard evidence as well. Earth had nothing like it.

Item: about thirty thousand dollars in cash. ScOsh had destroyed the rest. Also, what appeared to be a numbered Swiss account with a balance of just shy of six million Swiss francs, as well as various other financial instruments that I might or might not be able to access somehow. Not evidence; too many less outlandish and more morally questionable ways of acquiring it. It would be useful to the extent I could tap into it, which would have to be done carefully, but it wouldn't do anything to convince Papi.

Item: one "logbook" that ScOsh had handed me with Aurora. Problem was, it didn't look like anything more than a small case of some indeterminate material. No display, no readouts I could access. Not impressive. It might be a miracle device for all I knew, but for all I could demonstrate to Papi, it might as well be a paperweight.

Item: one "pocket". I unfolded it. Jackpot! I could actually see into it, and there was not only ScOsh's other sword, which could be handled a lot more safely than Aurora even if it was less unearthly, there were side pockets of a more mundane nature inside holding other stuff. Some if it was mundane Earth stuff (including more cash), other items were nothing I could identify. Nothing I was going to fool with, but what looked like the "gun" he'd used on the gangbangers and another similarly styled device, probably a different gun. I didn't know how to handle them, but they weren't Earth made, that was for certain. Half a dozen items like nothing I could identify. I didn't know for certain they were Imperial, but it seemed likely. I wasn't going to handle any of it more than was necessary, and I certainly wasn't going to fool with trying to use them, but the pocket by itself was probably going to convince Papi. Imagine your kitchen trash can. Now imagine all that you could see was the mouth of the trash can, with no apparent "trash container" attached, but that still held whatever you had put into it. The "mouth" was a cloth-like material about the size of a scarf or bandanna on one side with a 'lip' around the edges, but you could reach into the other and pull stuff out, or put it into for storage, without apparent care for what the pocket was resting on. A three dimensional space, carried around like a two dimensional piece of cloth, and with only the apparent mass of the cloth. Kind of like the hole that the Roadrunner was able to pick up and move like a physical object, whenever doing so would frustrate Wile E. Coyote. I thought about putting Aurora inside the "pocket", and decided ScOsh hadn't done it despite obvious opportunity, so that might not be a good idea somehow. Still, while the hand blaster might conceivably be not be too far beyond Earth's technology, and I knew even less about the other pieces of hardware I had been given custody of, this was demonstrably so far beyond anything Earth could do that Occam's Razor would tell Papi that the least complex explanation was that I was telling the truth - at least as well as I knew it.

Finally, item: Graciela Juarez, newly operant but without much practice and only the most basic level of training. I decided against telling them anything I didn't have to about the changes I'd been through. I'd last been home on Sunday, so it had been less than a week. They had to know that I'd been through a change of some sort because of the difference in my appearance, but I wasn't going to tell them their baby girl was now a bruja. Papi was only one generation removed from Mexican farmworkers who might as well have been medieval peasants. Abuelo had been a wonderful warmhearted man who got his two sons through college through incredible hard work and saving, and educated his three daughters at least through high school, but some of the superstitions I remember him having when I was a little girl were more than enough to persuade me to keep my mouth shut. Abuela, who'd only died a couple years ago, had been sweet and cheerful and happy, tough as nails beneath, and even more superstitious. Mama's family wasn't that much different. No, Graciela Juarez was not going to say one word about the marvelous things she might be able to do someday.

I heard some scratching on the door. It was Riley. An older, smallish lab, I'd still been living here when Papi brought him home from a trip to the grocery store. I let him in and sat down on the floor to get some cuddle time in. He wasn't permitted on the furniture, and he knew it. He didn't even try to change that when Mama got Candy, her golden cocker spaniel, and proceeded to spoil her rotten after I moved out. Candy was allowed on the furniture, given too many treats, and otherwise completely indulged. Riley was too good a dog or too set in his ways to try and follow suit. To Candy, I was competition for Mama's attention. To Riley, I was part of his pack, a stray puppy that came back home sometimes, to be welcomed firmly. To me, Riley was a welcome companion. I have him a big hug, and he positively glowed with the attention. It had been too long since I got down on the floor with him, and he melted with the attention. I reached out to him to see what I could learn with my new senses, and was surprised by the realization that he was a lot more aware than people thought. It wasn't a verbal and sight oriented intelligence like people; it was a social and smell oriented one. Papi was his god, but Mama and I were objects of veneration as well. He was sad that he wasn't allowed to get away with any of the things Candy did. He thought he must have somehow offended the people, his gods, but grateful he was allowed to linger in our presence. Still, it upset him that Candy was rewarded with attention where he wasn't. I reached out with my new senses, not needing to speak to tell him what a good boy he was, and I'd never be able to explain Candy's privileged status to him. He would never understand why Candy got away with it, but I was able to communicate that he was the one who was special to me, and to Papi. Despite being close to ten years old, he was wriggling with joy after a couple moments, and for the first time in years, asking for a belly rub. I gave him a good one. The whole encounter was good therapy for both of us.

Copyright 2014 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved

I got the impression more time than an hour had passed, and I was right. It had been an hour and ten minutes. I couldn't have done it in less than four hours before. Then I remembered ScOsh was ten minutes overdue. The way he came and went was creepy, but he seemed to have it pretty well under control. Where was he?

He stepped out of the hall closet just then. God alone knows where he found the room, but he did. He wasn't carrying anything that looked like it could hold a million dollars, but I'd reserve judgment on that. He hadn't been carrying the sword I'd seen, or the other weapon, the one that killed the gangbangers, either. "Sorry I'm late," he said, "But exchanging the money turned out to be more complicated than I thought. I found out about your physical libraries last night after you went to bed, so I walked through first your local college library, then the Library of Congress. Then I went to Atlantic City, and went through all the casinos there. Then Las Vegas"

"You cheated the casinos?" I interrupted, incredulous, "You cheated the mob-owned casinos?"

"I did no such thing," he said, "It's not cheating to use skill. If they don't have rules posted that forbid it, it's not cheating. There were rules posted, but absolutely nothing about using any of the skills I employed. I borrowed a chip from someone for a few minutes, and used it to win. Then I gave the original chip back to the owner with interest. I went from casino to casino. Didn't win too much from any of them. When people started to take an interest in my winning, I lost a little, then changed tables and started winning again. I know how not to be noticed. Speaking of which, that applies right now. You're about to have visitors. I'm not here; don't expect them to find me no matter what they do, so act natural. Don't do anything out of the ordinary. Your planet doesn't have the technology or the wizardry to catch me. I want to keep it to a minimum because there's at least one person around who can." Then he simply disappeared right in front of me, just as there was a knock on my door.

I went to the door. The spyhole showed two cops in uniforms, right out of central casting. One Mexican, one Anglo. "Can I help you?" I said, loudly enough to be heard through the door.

"Riverside Police. Ms. Graciela Juarez?" The Mexican's accent was medium strong. Probably didn't grow up around a lot of Anglos, like I had.

"That's me. Can I see your badges?" You don't let cops in without making sure.

"Yes ma'am." First one guy, then the other. Looked normal enough, not that I was sure I'd be able to tell bad ones. I opened the door and stood there.

They looked me over in a way men never had before. I wasn't certain if I liked it right now, but I could tell my earlier surmise about male attention was correct. They were both appreciating the scenery. There was a wedding ring on the lead cop's hand (the Mexican) but not the Anglo's. Neither was too far from my age.

There was one thing they might be there about. They'd also have a pretty good idea I didn't really have a cold already. So I decided to tell some of the truth.

"We found four bodies in the street in front of your office last night. We asked if anyone had seen anything, and Mr. Martinez said you had been working late. Building security logged an exit at 8:38, and the bodies were killed sometime between seven thirty and nine."

"Yes officer, I saw the bodies and I panicked. I came out, started walking to my car, saw them and ran. I'm sorry, I know I should have called, but I was just so scared." All the while doing my best little girl at the horror movie act. "I drove home and just shook a while down there in the parking lot, then I ran up here and ate. I was so hungry, I hadn't eaten since lunch, and then I ate some more because I sometimes do that when I'm upset, and before I knew it I had eaten like 5 sandwiches. Then I went in the bathroom and threw up. Then I sat there for a while, on the bathroom floor. Then I went to bed, and shook until I fell asleep. I don't know what time that was. When the alarm went off this morning, I just couldn't go back yet. Please don't tell my boss I'm not really sick! Please?"

"Mind if we come in and look around?"

This was it, the moment of truth. I decided to take ScOsh at his word. He'd been more than fair with me. Actually, he had already been absurdly generous and was promising more. But solid citizens don't just roll over for the cops. "You got a warrant?"

"No, ma'am." The Anglo. I could tell he'd bought the fear, hook, line and sinker. Maybe a little too well. "Just want to take a quick look around, make sure you're okay here. Never know if their friends tracked you down. Some of these people, they don't care if you had nothing to do with it, didn't see a thing. They want to know who offed their homies and they don't take too well to 'I don't know.' We could probably arrange protective custody if you want." He winked suggestively.

Dios Mio! Someone who's just had a scary experience like that and you're hitting on her! Still, I decided to ignore it. "Okay, take a look around if you want, but no protective custody. I have an exam tonight. I need to finish my degree. I'll make myself be okay by then"

They came in, took their time. I was grateful Mama made me learn good housekeeping. I hadn't cleaned the bathroom last night, but it was clean enough to look like maybe I had. No puke or residue or anything. The bed was made, of course. The kitchen trash backed up my story. No obvious holes, except, "Who is this blanket for?" the still-unused blanket was on the couch.

"I was just about to watch some TV when you knocked. Anything to have some voices around. And it's cold. Maybe ask Mama to come over, or my sister. If they can."

"You sure you don't want protection?" the Mexican asked, "Maybe it's not such a good idea to bring your family into it if the gangs get nasty. We got women we could put you with." So his partner being on the make was at least faintly embarrassing to him.

"No, but thanks." I was pretty certain I had better than they could possibly offer, if I needed it.

"Okay, Ms. Juarez. Thankyouforyourcooperation." It all came out like it was one word. He would have said it many times. They left.

Copyright 2013 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

I had to wait a few seconds longer than the minute and a half on the clock when I walked into Adulthood Services, which was what I expected. My number was called by a young-looking man with a vaguely Hispanic look to him. "I'm Grace," I introduced myself as I approached him.

I saw him notice my official badges. Epaulets showing brown triangles embossed on a bare metal circle may have been derivative authority - but there weren't a lot of people walking around with connections to a Nonus. Add in the green triangle (with stick figure) of a Fourth Order Guardian on my Achievement Bar, and a lot of people overlooked the lowly white disc next to it that said I'd last separated from the military as a Staff Private. Especially since I also had the small red triangle of a Tertius-in-rank. "Is there something I should know, anb?" he asked in Technical.

I shook my head, "I'm here in a personal capacity. Notice the circle is plain - I'm a specialist, not a viceroy myself - and my personal badge of rank is present separately." Tertius-in-rank had no personal authority, it was only a sign of eligibility. I still had more to learn before anyone would consider giving me charge of even a Primus' district. "I can only wield viceregal authority in connection with assigned duties." I didn't tell him I was an Investigator; that would likely only fluster him for the remainder of my visit. It may be derivative authority, but Investigator is as broad as derivative authority gets.

He relaxed,"Pedro Mendoza, amn." Even the amn honorific was pushing it, but cut him some slack - like I said, the brown triangles of a Nonus' authority were rare. "What is the nature of your personal business?"

"I got a notice that my son has been sentenced to a loss of adulthood, and if I was willing to assume responsibility for him to present myself to this office."

"Your identification?"

This was official government business. I had to use my real Imperial ID, not a graycode. I gave him the twenty-digit identifier in base sixty.

"First key?"

That was another twenty digits - what the Empire used as a password to confirm identity in non-critical cases. Everyone had three levels of key. I entered it directly into his system.

"Oh," he said, "Lemarcus Wilson. One of the more interesting cases. Your son didn't name you as a potential guardian - your relationship came up in a secondary search after a lack of response. It's been almost a year; your son is in stasis."


"Because he's operant. If nobody volunteered to become his guardian, he would have been transported to exile next week."

"What was his offense?"

"Fraud and mindrape."

Oh. The Empire got really hardcore about mindrape. Justifiably. Abusing the operant gifts to force compliance was an assault upon the entire identity of the victim. Conditional exile was a light sentence for mindrape - any of the actual criminal offenses could result in a death sentence if egregious enough, but mindrape was one of the three where a death sentence was common for offenders and 'special circumstances' meriting specifically barbaric punishments wasn't rare. With our mental abilities, the advantage was with the defender, so most often the victim of mindrape was a Natural State human. Natural State humans were still five-sixths of the population - if they thought operants had any kind of official sanction for mindrape, we'd have riots that would make the demonic raids look attractive. The thought of my son committing mindrape gave me a sharp spike of nausea - but I clamped down on the puke reflex with necris. Let's be clear - there was no way you could pass two of the adulthood tests without understanding what mindrape was or that it was a crime, so he was evidently a real piece of work. But I owed it to him to try to bring him up to being a human being. The alternative was to pretend I wasn't his mother, that I had somehow been coerced into conceiving and birthing him, step back, and lie to myself and everyone else for the rest of my life.

"What do I need to do?"

"He's physically in stasis in Minor Habitat Three, but you need to agree to an assumption of guardianship, then they will bring him back to Earth soon as they can schedule a trip. When he arrives, you will be required to sign for custody."

"He's that dangerous?" Meanwhile I read the guardianship agreement. It was shorter than I expected, although there was an attached explanation I didn't need that was significantly longer. I was agreeing to be completely responsible for my son and anything he did. Given that he was a convicted major criminal, not an insignificant consideration. His travel would also be restricted until he regained adulthood. I noted the exit clause - If he proved beyond my ability to raise, there had to be a way to halt the damage done. I'd still be responsible for what happened before, and until he was once again in custody, after which his sentence of exile would be reinstated. That was a necessity, as no matter what I owed my son, I also owed obligations elsewhere, and everyone's resources were limited.

"Probably not to a Fourth Order Guardian such as yourself. But he's been convicted of mindrape. The Empire is not willing to risk further repetition of his crimes. Regaining his adulthood will require full mental examination, and he will be required to wear a damper until his adulthood is restored. Will that be a problem?"

"How strong a damper?"

"One bar."

It'd make it harder to use my Guardian abilities around him - comparable to walking around with a weight on my wrists and ankles. For the Seventh Order Scimtars, I doubted it would even be noticeable. But the other spouses were another matter. Some of them were weak Second Order - within a couple ififths of Lemarcus, it'd be like having their external abilities cast in concrete or steel for something my son had done. But Scimtar had to have known that when he gave me permission - and not only were the weaker spouses full Guardians where my son was not, they could expect assistance if required. "Where do I get one?"

"He'll come to you already fitted with it. The charge will be levied against his fine. If he breaks it, an alert will be triggered. Repairs or replacement will also be charged."

"I presume I will be among those alerted?"

"If you request. You may also request additional alerts."

"I live in Indra System, with my husband's family."

"Register with Adulthood Services upon arrival."

"One more thing. My husband's family is politically important. I'm exposed to their rivals here. Is there any way to expedite his return to Earth, or that I can physically go fetch him?"

"Are you authorized for the habitat?"

I was authorized to be anywhere, particularly anywhere under Scimtar's jurisdiction. "Let me check... apparently yes."

"Not many are, so you might want to message ahead. Otherwise, they might ship him before you get there. Your acceptance of the guardian contract is on record. Remember to notify the Adulthood Services branch for your local Secundus when you arrive - here is a copy of his official record. They will ask for it. Make sure you get an acknowledgement in case of legal complications, and let them know if you want a notification of his damper malfunctioning to you or anyone else."

"Is there anything else?"

"Local Adulthood Services will likely assign you a contact as a monitor and for special requests. Be advised anything special will involve a charge, as will the examination for restoring adulthood - your ward owes the Empire money for his care and reimbursement to his victims. The Empire is not a charity, but there will likely be some charities willing to help with rehabilitation." There were charities for everything in the Empire. I contributed to several myself. "That covers it," Mr. Mendoza finished.

"Thank you for your assistance." I got up to leave, shook his hand, and walked out.

Copyright 2023 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved

"You have a point. It will be morning at least before bail will be set, so you are going to spend the night here in jail. Try not to arouse any of the other inmates. If necessary, pretend to be some ordinary person picked up for an unremarkable offense like traffic tickets. Do not call attention to yourself and do not tell any of your fellow inmates anything of your real predicament. Many of them will willingly inform on you, and given the nature of this case, the police will make a special effort to recruit informers. Understood?"


Mister Stuart opened the door to the interrogation room back up, gestured to Ramirez to take me away, and went off, presumably to rescue Julie. Ramirez, for his part, grabbed me by the arm and 'escorted' me to the holding tank as roughly as he could contrive.

The tank was an open area separated into cells by bars and not much else. Each had four bunks attached to the 'walls' two sets each of above and below. There were already three occupied bunks so I simply climbed into the fourth, the upper bunk on the right, the side 'behind' the cell door. It had neither pillow nor blankets; I presumed one of my 'roommates' had appropriated them. Mr. Stuart had instructed me not to arouse the other inmates, so I simply made myself as comfortable as I could under the circumstances.

I wasn't asleep yet when the lights suddenly blew out.

I had just time enough to think, this is not good when my cell mates jerkily got out of their bed in unison, like human marionettes on invisible strings, illuminated by the low, eerie light of computer monitors from the room next door.

The only way to make it obvious I wasn't the aggressor in whatever was about to happen was to stay right here in my bunk and scream, "Guards! GUARDS! GUARDS!" There was no immediate response. I kept yelling it anyway. It made the theater of what was going on undeniable. In the dim light, I noticed the inmates in the other cells also moving jerkily, like someone was controlling them.

"The guards can't help you now," a low growling voice issued from every other throat in the room. In the darkness, it sounded sibilant, like a snake. "You have angered the God, and you shall be made to pay."

I'm not going to kid you, I nearly lost control of my bladder I was so scared. But suddenly it was like all the strings were cut; the marionettes broke free. I supposed there had to be limits; they couldn't all have been minions of the Mad God. They hadn't accepted his bargain - he couldn't make them do much.

The lights were still out in the room. A few of my fellow detainees fell over, but most managed to preserve their balance, shaking their heads and asking questions that were variations on "What just happened?"

I was not going to attract attention to myself. I just lay there pretending nothing had happened. The mental state of my fellow detainees being what it was, none of them realized I was 'odd man out' before others had returned to their beds. Now that it was over, I had to admit I was glad the Mad God had tipped his hand - now I knew he was gunning for me, and was at least forewarned of other attempts.

Maybe half the other detainees had returned to their beds. The rest were milling about in the low light trying to figure out what had happened, talking to each other. Two of the other three in my cell had returned to their beds. The third, a huge slab of meat, stalked the small cell in the shadows trying to find someone to vent his wrath on. "You! What did you see?"

"I woke up standing on the floor in the dark, same as everyone else," I said.

"I didn't see you!"

"It was dark and I was behind you. I didn't see anything I could do about whatever it was, so I went back to bed."

He probably could have taken offense to that if he'd really wanted to, but he didn't. His gaze lit on something else, and he left me alone. Eventually, he gave up his search for something to lash out at. But the lights stayed off and none of the guards came to investigate. I hoped things weren't as bad as that omen presaged, but there was only so much my mind could worry the situation without more information, so eventually I fell asleep.

Later, I woke up to the sounds of people replacing the lights in the room. They didn't seem interested in answering a couple of questions other detainees asked, and nothing else seemed to be going on at the moment, so I after half an hour of trying, I managed to get back to sleep.

Copyright 2023 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

"Hello Mark?"

It had been seven years since she abruptly served me with divorce papers and promptly disappeared. "What do you want, Diane?" I replied, not bothering to conceal the hostility I felt. It had been a decent enough day until now.

"I'm sorry, Mark. I know I hurt you, but it was the best thing I could have done. You don't owe me, and I don't have any right to ask, but I'm desperate and there's nobody else to ask. I need a place to stay for a few days. Is there any chance I can borrow your couch? I'll sleep on the floor if I have to. You're not with anyone are you?"

"I pay you plenty to afford a place to stay, Diane. What's this really about?" Being an ex-husband in California wasn't quite like being a field hand in Alabama before the Civil War, but it wasn't far off, either

"Mark, if I go home, they'll kill me. If I use a credit card, they'll find me."

"And this is bad because...?" I asked, callously. I mean, no more alimony.

"I suppose I deserved that," she admitted, "Goodbye, Mark. I wish I could have explained, but I didn't want to drag you in. For what it's worth, I'm sorry."

"Wait, Diane," I told her. It was close to ten already. "You can stay here tonight. Tomorrow, you need to find something else." She had to have another friend somewhere. I'd put her on a bus if I had to. I started to give her my address, then stopped. I'd changed my cell number when she left. "How did you get this number?"

"Mark, I'll be there in half an hour. I can't explain much without dragging you in, but what I can, I will. I know where you live. Thank you!" She hung up.

Well, shit. She'd suckered me again. Seven years since she just vanished (well, except for the lawyer that worked the divorce for her). I hadn't been able to make a go of any relationship since, and I knew exactly why, and she'd still suckered me.


She'd said half an hour, but it was only eighteen minutes before she knocked softly. I didn't even finish berating myself for my own stupidity and lack of balls to tell her no and make it stick.

I wanted to just sit there and pretend I wasn't home. But I'd told her she could stay the night. Reluctantly, I levered myself off the couch and slouched my way to the door.

At first I didn't recognize the woman standing there. Honey-blonde hair where Diane had always been a medium brunette, a face that looked like it might have been eighteen but probably belonged to someone younger. Then I took in the green eyes, the pert nose that was somehow smaller but still hers, the immaculately perfect eyebrows, the lips I'd kissed so many times. It was her.

The rest of her looked somehow younger as well. The breasts were perkier and smaller than I remembered, she'd shed a few pounds and looked even more stunning. I knew this woman was forty-two - three years older than me - but she looked like a teenager and I didn't know how.

She saw the recognition in my eyes. "I can't explain, Mark, but it's me. It's been a while."

"You look good," I said, "You hook someone better off than me?" Alimony was until she remarried. Her having a sugar daddy on the side didn't let me off the hook.

"Mark, I never wanted to hurt you," she replied, "I'm sorry that I did, and if there was any other way that wouldn't have made it worse, I'd have done that instead. I'm sorry to reopen old wounds, but I'm desperate and I don't think I deserve to die for what I did to you."

"According to you, someone thinks you deserve to die for what you did to them."

"Mark, I already told you I can't explain. It's all tied together. What I can tell you is this: Cindy told me I had breast cancer. Stage four. Not much chance of beating it, not much time if I didn't. She said she knew somebody who might be able to help me."

"Well, you're still here."

Copyright 2019 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved


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