July 2023 Archives

At that moment however, a warning whistle sounded. "What's that alarm?" I demanded of the closest worker. Short-long-short.

"I'm not sure. It started with short, so it's something about security." Right. If it had started with a long, it would've been safety related. The Calmenan operants hadn't really developed auros yet, and telephones hadn't been a priority, so there was nothing for it but to take off as fast as I dared for the main gate.

Some kind of security warning! I'm on my way to the main gate! I informed Asina

Short-long-short is a location sequence, she replied, West Annex - your area! I'll be there soon as I can!

I changed direction, rounding the end of the warehouse just in time to observe two indistinct figures disappear behind the west end of the same building. West end of the new casting-house. I'm coming in behind them to cut off escape.

Tipaym na forton amash boy. Her response in Mindlord indicated she was coming around the building the other way, so we could trap them between us. It was a large building, but the entrances and exits were all on the south side, away from the outer fence and towards the water and the rail spur.

I looked around. Nobody in sight - so I risked a short teleport saving me nearly an ifourth of distance. Without breaking stride I rounded the corner onto the west side of the building. The two figures in front of me looked like they'd dropped to all fours. Likahns, I confirmed to my wife. A thrall race from fractals having more than three dimensions, able to control their projection into a three dimensional instance, they were often used as scouts or reconnaissance because they could look like humans or various animals at a distance. I fired two shots, but wasn't sure I'd hit anything - kored didn't work as well on likahns. If I'd been able to use Imperial weapons, it wouldn't have mattered, but those were off the table in this setting, as three or four of our other workers were approaching from the waterfront or the rail spur.

The fact the intruders were likahns told me that the demons were interested in what was going on. Likahns weren't independent agents. Where there were likahns, there were demons to control them.

The likahns ran faster now they knew I was behind them. That was fine with me - they'd run right into Asina. I was stronger than her in terms of brute mental force, but my wife was more practiced and more deadly in just about everything. Unless they changed course to head straight for the waterfront through the four guards I could now see, they'd run right into someone more deadly than all of them put together. I knew she had just passed the opposite corner of our new casting building. The likahns could outrun humans, but the trap was closed. There was nowhere they could run that they would be safe from one or the other of us.

I passed where the likahns had been when I shot at them. A small trail of ichor drops began at that same point. At least one of them is wounded.

Good. A big slug like that would have done a lot of damage - and they were being forced to run. Their blood would be being pumped out the wound all the faster.

Both perception and Asina warned me as I prepared to round the next corner - one of the likahns, most likely the wounded one, doubled back to attack me. In broad daylight I don't know what he thought he was gaining, but I had plenty of time to draw my sword and slice his apparent chest open and one of his legs off. No instant kill - I wanted a chance at his mind. The likahn made a noise somewhere between a scream and a yelp and collapsed. Yes, he'd been bleeding from a bullet wound already, and his ichor was coming out in a torrent. I paralysed him with auros and began ripping open his mind. Dying and desperate, he tried to fight me but I got the opening I needed when we both heard the three shots of Asina executing his partner, distracting him. It had been only four days since we arrived, but I pulled the confirmation I needed from his dying mind, then held him immobile as he bled out. Neither side took prisoners in this war. Well, the demons might, but when they did it was for food and slaves, not exchange.

They were sent. There's someone on the human side working with them.

Copyright 2019 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

Good morning my love! Her message came, Peyer just called me from Bolthole. Tratruoh and Melise have arrived. They should be arriving tomorrow morning.

Looking forward to seeing them again, even if it's only for a few days. We'd be introducing them to the locals, preparing the way for them to take over our work. If everyone in N'yeschlass knew we were leaving our possessions in their care, there shouldn't be any trouble. Then a vacation back in the Empire.

You make it sound wonderful, but...

We'll be fine. Born on Calmena, Asina had never had a vacation in her life. Even when she went to Earth to learn to become a Guardian, she'd never taken a break. We've been working twenty years without a break, and we've been paid well. We've got plenty of money to live for a couple sixties of years without working if we wanted. Even after making a donation back to the people that took care of you.

I feel that I owe them.

They're a charity, my love. You don't owe them. But it would be responsible to repay them, and virtuous to add enough so they can help more people.

Thank you for understanding.
'
You could feel it all over when Asina was smiling. I enjoyed the sensation every chance I got. Going to be home tonight?

Only if there's an emergency. She didn't want her ability to teleport becoming generally known. It could only make our mission more difficult. She'd been helping the operant Calmenans learn to use their talents, but there was so much they didn't know, didn't have the background to learn yet. The plan is the western tributary tonight, back tomorrow night.

As I already knew. But you can't blame a husband who misses his wife for trying.

We didn't sign off so much as return to what we'd been doing, our link active in the background. It let us know that the other was well, and helped us stay close. It's hard to have a real fight with someone when you're constantly aware of how much they love you.

I lit my forge, began stoking it. I was trying to copy an old European design for a metal framed heavy wagon, capable of holding more weight but requiring four to six horses (or in our case, swasses) to pull it. Once I got it down, I'd sell lessons in how to make them if the other smiths didn't pick it up on their own. Asina was checking on the customs inspectors and upkeep of the fort that would shelter the people nearby if there was need. I'd been there once; it was a finished adobe structure where keeping it from being torn down by the rains was a constant race between repairs and the rains. But clay was cheap and easy to work with, and even N'yeschlass was poor by the European standards of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth century. The rest of Calmena was even worse, but an entrepreneurial economy was improving things. When we'd arrived, the few scattered people of N'yeschlass had been unable to do anything more than live off the land in the fashion of the most primitive Indian tribes before the arrival of the Europeans. We'd shown them how to band together, and keep the slavers - human agaani and demons - from raiding for slaves. Now the people around here were the richest on the planet. Yes, our ability to leverage Imperial technology in secret had made a lot of difference, especially at the beginning. But creating a situation where people could work on their own behalf was a far more important factor. As a consequence, the city was both wealthy and powerful. If the city was menaced, the fyrd could muster a couple 3600s of armored pikes, and three times that many longbows. At least double the number of bows if the folk from the surrounding countryside joined the muster. Cavalry was still non-existent except for the demonic manes, but there wasn't a human agaani lord or demonic holding on the planet big enough to have a hope against the city's full muster. We were protected against the other members of the confederation by the fact that it was too risky. There were softer targets for expansion.

It definitely wasn't the Empire. But the best place to be human on Calmena was N'yeschlass, and it was getting better.

Copyright 2017 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved

Now with new cover!

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As we filed out, we were met by a guard of armed men. I'm no expert, but their armor didn't look like anything I've seen in the movies. Breastplate, helmet, and smallish shield, but they looked thicker than in the movies. Rustier, too. Most of the armor was worn over leather or leather-like clothing of some description. Every one of them had at least two pieces of edged weaponry on them, but they were mostly swords that looked longer and thinner than most of what you see in the movies, crossed like an X on their backs. Most carried a short sword or dagger on their hips as well, and they moved much more easily than I would have believed under that kind of load. A few had long spears with really heavy heads - I later learned that the actual term was "pole-arms." I hadn't really been exposed much to our military; most Americans aren't, but I started to wonder if it was just that they were used to the load or if there was something else going on. For some reason the whole show made me a little nervous. I was carrying a little Mark 7 disrupter Tia Grace gave me and showed me how to shoot and handle, but it's not imposing like that much metal, and I'd developed the habit of carrying it mostly because Tia Grace expected me to. I could hit something with it, but I was no trained commando.

A line of the armored men came between us and Golden Hind, and I used my datalink to close the hatch so they wouldn't go in. We didn't really have a method of communication, so that seemed a smart thing to do in lieu of slapping their hands away from everything they weren't supposed to touch. All of the armed men were larger than average for this time and place, but even Will was taller than any of them. One of the armored men said something in a harsh, guttural tongue that sounded nothing like any of the languages I knew, but it sounded challenging. John Dulles tried to respond, "I don't know what you're talking about, but I'm sure it's nothing to get upset over." He spread his hands in that calming way that most Americans will use to reduce tension. The native leader gestured imperiously, come here. I felt a certainty it was not directed at me, but Dulles walked straight towards him, like a zombie in a trance.

With unbelievable speed, the leader then drew his short sword and gutted Dulles. Dulles stood there for a moment as in disbelief, then crumpled, bleeding and bloody, onto the muddy ground.

Simultaneously, his men cut us off from Dulles, fencing us in with suddenly drawn weapons. We didn't speak a word of their language but their gestures with their weapons were pretty much universal speak for stand right there and don't do anything to make me kill you.

Copyright 2016 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

"Sol Minor Three Local, Starbird zeroeight twentynine fortyfour zeroone inbound bearing nineteen by zero, range four iprime, interrogatory enabled." I'd sent a message while walking to the portal from my meeting with Adulthood Services, and received a response detailing procedure. They should be expecting me. System Control had explicitly instructed me to remain outside the published exclusionary zone, which was unusual because that was a standard requirement where one existed. The habitat was in Solar orbit at a distance of one minute, roughly half the orbital radius of Mercury. Nothing came this close to Sol accidentally.

"Starbird zeroeight twentynine fortyfour zeroone, Sol Minor Three Local, contact. Proceed inbound under impellers only, beacon zerofour. You are number one, cleared to land bay zerofour."

Evidently, they didn't get a lot of traffic here. I didn't hear another contact in the three minutes it took to reach the habitat. Most places, I could have been docked in fifteen seconds or less by Vectoring in, but they'd explicitly instructed impellers only. Since this was one of the closest things to a prison the Empire had, understandable. If you'd done something to merit being sent here, you arrived in stasis and generally left that way, too. Most controllers were military, but the entire station was probably military staffed - and if there were two full teams of eight, the station was overmanned. They couldn't afford not to be careful.

The arrival bay was unusual as well - instead of a simple docking clamp with interior access, it was a large, well-lit bay in the tip of a long metal arm extending outside the main shield. I saw the firing head of a craser pointing straight at my ship from within the bay on the video feed. There was a single landing area marked on the floor of the bay. Essentially, 'put your ship down here or we shoot.' "Sol Minor Three Local, Starbird fortyfour zeroone landed."

"Starbird fortyfour zeroone, shut down all power and bleed your capacitors. Station will provide restart." A large bondsteel hatch began to swing shut. It wouldn't prevent them opening the bay to space, but it would make a Vector out of the bay suicidal.

Look, if I was planning a jailbreak, all this wouldn't have made it impossible - but it would make it more difficult. Likely to delay even me more than long enough for a response force to foil the attempt. "Starbird fortyfour zeroone, will comply."

It took a few minutes, but once power was dead, "Starbird fortyfour zeroone, you have atmosphere. All persons must exit to the bay."

"Starbird fortyfour zeroone acknowledged."

Imperial Starships were built differently than our pre-contact visualizations. There were no actual windows on the Starbird, and the cabin wasn't on the surface of the ship. It was even possible, although difficult, to wiggle into or out of a spacesuit in the cramped cabin - I wiggled into a basic survival suit, just in case, although I didn't secure the helmet. The exit was on the underside of the ship.

I was halfway expecting them to do something like electrify the hull, but they didn't. The same voice I'd been talking with came over speakers set in the wall. "Your ship reads clean. I understand you're here for a prisoner."

"Yes."

"Please identify."

"Graciela Juarez," and followed with my official number.

"First key?" I reeled off the first of my confirmation numbers.

"We'll bring him out to you."

"Standing by." I hoped it wouldn't be too long, as I didn't see anywhere to sit. Oh, well - one of the perks of operancy was physical endurance.

It only took a few minutes. They brought in a stasis chamber, accompanied by two troops in combat armor, one of them a Second Order Guardian. "Sign receipt for custody," one of them shot my datalink a copy. I signed and transmitted back.

"He's all yours."

I deactivated the stasis field and opened the door. Out fell a man most of a head taller than me, skin the same dark chocolate color I remembered on Gerry, dark brown hair almost the same color as mine, dressed in the pink and white stripes of someone in custody. The damper was attached in a mostly circular band around his skull near the top of his ears, perhaps two isixths in thickness.

"This him?"

"Lemarcus Wilson," the Guardian in the combat suit repeated, and gave me his ID number.

I made a quick genetic scan with perception. Because of the damper, it felt like I was stirring not quite set concrete - but this man was genetically my son. "Do you understand Technical?" I asked in Technical. It was possible to live in the Empire speaking only Traditional. Not smart, but possible.

He looked at me blankly.

I wasn't certain if he was disoriented or didn't understand. "Would you prefer Traditional?"

"I can understand Traditional, but I prefer English. Who are you?"

Joy. He had to have had enough comprehension of either Technical or Traditional to have passed the adulthood tests at some point - they were never administered in any other language. The Empire didn't care what local languages there were, it did business in Traditional, Technical, Mindlord, and Concept. Most people (including Guardians) used Traditional or Technical, and you really needed both. Traditional was more useful for art, Technical for precision. Letting your proficiency in either go was sabotaging yourself.
"Lucky for you I do speak English. But almost nobody else does in Indra System, where we're going. I'm Graciela Juarez, your genetic mother."

"Where's Mom?"

"No idea, but you were in stasis almost a year. Nobody else was coming for you. Will you accept my guardianship, or would you prefer to go back into stasis for exile, where basically nobody will speak English?"

"I want Mom - Ashley Wilson!"

I was an Investigator, so I had access to records. "She died three days after you were put in stasis. Her former husband is still alive, last reported in the area of Bakersfield."

"Jim and I never got along. We put up with each other for Mom's sake. Shit!"

"That sort of language has very little tolerance in our home. We express our disdain more skillfully. What's it going to be, me or exile?"

"You threw me away! Why do you suddenly want back in?"

"Because you're still my child. Nor did I throw you away. I had real problems that might well have ended up hurting you, so I did what I thought was best for you - put you into a system that was supposed to be able to give you a better parenting than I could at the time. It was the law back then that adoptions were private, but I signed permission to share my identity with you and your adopters. Did you ever try to look me up? I would have been easy to find."

"Why would I want to do that?"

"The point is your actions indicate you didn't want anything to do with me. But I've been out in the Empire for a long time now. I understand why responsibility delegated is not absolution for poor results, and I'm here because I love you, I believe I can do better now, and I want to help you. But you have the right to reject me as a guardian. Do you accept me as your guardian?"

"What kind of deal you offering?"

"No special considerations. I'm offering you myself and my husband as parents. You will have five siblings, one of which has just achieved adulthood. You will be a legal child, and be expected to behave thus until your adulthood is restored by an appropriate viceroy. There is a large extended family on both sides, and my husband's grandfather keeps a large residence in Sumabad which is home to his extended family, including us."

"But I'm an adult! I'm over two hundred years old!"

"You're grown, but you are not a legal adult. Otherwise we wouldn't be having this conversation in an Adulthood Services facility. Since the Empire has adjudged you unable to assume responsibility for yourself, you have a choice of accepting someone else or leaving the Empire. I've visited an exile planet - life there is ugly."

"I'm in prison either way!"

I laughed. "Only if you want to be. You go into exile, your chances of earning your way back into Imperial society drop to almost zero, and there will be nobody there to help you. Whereas my husband and I will attempt to channel you into the bounds the Empire demands of citizens, as I evidently should have done all those years ago. You're not paying attention! We're rich by the standards of Earth!"

I knew that was a mistake as soon as I said it. I wasn't reading beyond the bounds with auros, but his surface thoughts changed completely. He didn't have to say he was attracted to rich - it was plain in his thoughts. Nothing wrong with that - who isn't attracted to having means? But it shouldn't be anything like enough on its own. I'd have loved Asto if he was living in a tiny cubicle in the middle of a building, barely scraping the essentials of life. For Lemarcus, his thoughts all became 'easy life!', and an easy life is not a meaningful one.

"All right, I'll give you a try."

I shouldn't have let it stand. But watching the combat-suited observers, it wasn't their job to sit there and watch me argue with my son. "Climb in." I didn't bother telling him not to touch anything; instead I deactivated the manual controls and followed him up.

"Sol Minor Three Local, Starbird fortyfour zeroone requesting departure..."

Copyright 2023 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

Jereya took absolutely no notice of the impending storm. I didn't believe for a moment she hadn't noticed, but she didn't show that she had. We trotted past several boomerang-shaped assault cruisers and empty, recessed berths in the white pavement intended to hold others as large raindrops started splattering on the pavement and on us. Within minutes, it had become solid rain with occasional sheets, and we were all soaked. She trotted on, apparently oblivious, as the wind began driving the rain into our right side. After perhaps fifteen minutes, we came to a portal, which she programmed and led us through.

We emerged into the middle of a multistory building, kind of an atrium without glass. The light was artificial. Around us, snowflake-like, six wings of barracks in six levels. "This is Operant Training Barracks Two, your new home! Each bay holds one section in three squad rooms! The squads I am now assigning you to will be your place here until you are otherwise notified! The assignments have been made at company level and are not subject to appeal! Your squad leader has been apprised of your joining their squad and has your records! Your first assignment will be to stow your gear, change your wet disgusting clothes and report to your squad Leader! Move"

My datalink informed me I was being assigned to Third Squad, Third Section, Fourth Platoon, First Troop. What that meant was I was in Bay Six on what Americans like myself would describe as the fifth floor. When I informed Asto of that, he said he was in Second Squad, First Section of the same Platoon, in Bay Four of the same floor. Well, it could have been worse. We'd known they wouldn't put us in the same squad, no matter what. At least he was only two bays over, when he might not have been in the same building or even at the same base. I saw a couple other recruits teleport up to their new assignments, and nobody called them on it, so I followed suit. I walked into Bay Six, found Third Squad's room, noted that one bunk of the sixteen bunk beds was empty, along with the corresponding footlocker. No sleep fields here. I used perception to check my bunkmate's use of her locker, peeled my wet field uniform off along with the underclothes, dressed in another outfit, identical to the first. My civilian clothes went under the stack of neatly folded clean uniforms on the right of my locker, then I went into the squad bathroom to wring out my soaked used set before depositing it on the left side of my locker. Perhaps eight people would be comfortable in that bathroom. Too bad it had to serve thirty-three. The squad room as a whole looked like it had all the privacy one could reasonably expect in building full of operants. Unless the double doors into the section bay were open, nobody could see in. Of course, being operants, everyone else around me had a sense of perception, too, and even if that had not been the case, there was absolutely no privacy from other members of your squad. I'd had a few years to get used to the fact that the Empire didn't segregate by sexes, or I might have been really taken aback. The only ripple from Asto at the notion was mild amusement at the fact I still wasn't completely acculturated on that point. It also looked like eating was permitted in barracks - there was a large, neatly stacked pile of Life bars, next to a similar, even larger pile of water cubes.

That accomplished, my datalink told me my squad was doing something called obstacle course three. Well, I'd seen army movies back home, so I thought I might have some idea of what that entailed, and silently damned Instructor Jereya for telling me to change out of one soaked uniform in order to promptly soak another. I escalatored myself down to the main floor by jumping over the railing and slowing my fall with matris. It seemed the fastest way down. The portal refused my request, so I took off out the front door of the barracks at a run, headed for where my datalink told me my squad and its Leader were. I teleported twice when I could see far enough to make it worth my while. Even so, it took a good five minutes - about eight and a half Earth - to get to where I was going, by which time I was soaked again.

Copyright 2014 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

 



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