August 2023 Archives

We'd reached a portal. The Residence took up something over twenty cubic ithirds at the top of the arcology; the parking garage was at least a cubic ithird on its own. I didn't need to worry about most of the commercial or military volumes; only the actual family part of the Residence. All I needed to know was how to look up where stuff was, but one of the ones I knew was the portal near Ferugio's office. Security knew I had a guest, so no problems in the Family part of the Residence and we'd get Lemarcus his own access when we replaced his datalink. Earth had portals, too; Lemarcus didn't blink or hesitate as we walked through.

We emerged about thirty ififths up the corridor from Ferugio's office, just a few seconds' walk. "Ferugio, this is my son Lemarcus Wilson di Juarez. He'll be staying with us - his training is my responsibility. I expect Scimtar will have created his security profile by now."

"Yes, I've been given instructions," Ferugio over-topped me by better than half a head, but that didn't change my impression of him as a small, prissy little man. He spoke pedantically at the best of times, but he'd found a niche he could prosper in - he did know how to manage training. Despite the fact he hadn't mastered a lot of what Scimtar considered essential within his family, he knew what subjects in what order would produce a superior product - in other words, a newly minted adult ready to contribute to the family and with the best chance of surviving inter-family squabbles. "He's to have free access to general materials; only when it comes to instructor time or significant expendables will I be allowed to bill you."

"The more I think about it, the more I think I'll be sending him to Paladin for Guardian training when the time comes, although that won't be until after he's regained his adulthood. Asto and I will likely work with him on auros, but the rest needs to wait."

Ferugio looked shocked when I mentioned Lemarcus regaining adulthood. I have to admit Scimtar allowing someone who'd lost adulthood into the Residence was surprising, but perhaps he'd realized if he didn't Asto and I and perhaps our other legal children would likely have moved out. "Well then, we'll have to see about the adulthood modules first."

"He'll need refreshers on Traditional and Technical before those. Living on Earth, seems he's let his proficiencies go."

"Oh my, that is sad. As you say. Can't learn anything if he doesn't understand the languages they're taught in."

"He'll also require a new datalink up to the task. His current model is insufficient to the task."

"Why yes, I've got a validated spare here, already configured for him. Let's get to it."

I didn't know if Ferugio had thought of that himself, but the day I caught Scimtar not being at least three steps ahead of everything, I'd be worried. I told Lemarcus in English, "Ferugio is going to replace your datalink with a better one. Hold still." Switching back to Technical, "Not that any datalink is going to be a bit of good until he gets some language the local service providers offer service in."

He laughed, a dry chuckle. "Since he's not leaving the Residence until he's regained at least Environment qualification, not an immediate worry."

Lemarcus, for his part, graduated from lost to outraged, "Look, I know you're talking about me. But it's rude to talk about people in languages they don't understand!" It was a good thing Ferugio was so practiced with datalinks - the new one was already emplaced.

"Then you should have maintained your proficiency in Traditional or Technical," I told him, "So we could find a common language. But Ferugio has never had a reason to learn English, and I need to discuss your status with him in order to determine your learning priorities. We were using spoken language out of deference to you. Would it make you feel better if the two of us switched to telepathy?"

"Don't be ridiculous!" he all but shouted in return.

"Then shut up and let me get this over with." Switching to Technical for Ferugio, "Best not to schedule him for anything beyond basic fitness until he's regained legal adulthood. I'll take care of any combat instruction I want him to have before then." Lemarcus' surface thoughts confirmed that while he might have some idea about a few Traditional words, he was completely ignorant of Technical. "He seems to understand a few words in Traditional; nothing in Technical."

"That was my assessment as well, so we'll begin his instruction with Traditional."

"Copy Asto and me with his schedule and assignments. He's not trained even in auros, so he's effectively Natural State for the time being."

"You appear to have a significant task here."

"We all know how to deal with big jobs, Ferugio. One bit at a time." To Lemarcus, "We're settled. Ferugio will get us a copy of your schedule presently. Asto and I will work on teaching you auros in the gaps."
"Why you want me to work so hard?" he whined, "I been 'round two centuries; ain't never had to work so much."

"You mean you've chosen not to work so much. The fact that you've had multiple fraud convictions speaks to how well that's working for you. I'm not going to allow you to be so lazy; the easiest thing for you will be adhere to the training schedule we give you. Asto will help me there."

"When do I get to meet this Asto?"

I gestured to the portal we'd emerged from. "We're headed there right now, along with four of your five siblings. Esteban is actually on Earth right now, meeting more of our Earthside relatives."

"Any chance one of them might adopt me?"

I didn't have to read even surface thoughts to understand what he really wanted. Lemarcus was a drifter, the sort who believed in coasting on minimum possible effort. Breaking him of that would be the most significant challenge of being his guardian. "Why should they? I already did."

"Just that seems a lot closer to me, culturally."

"Culturally and personally, the easiest thing to do would be enlist you in Planetary Surface Forces. Since they don't accept legal children, I'm going to figure out how to make you a productive human myself, with my husband's help, of course."

"I'm a man, not a fucking insect!"

"Convictions for fraud and mindrape argue otherwise. Your species gives you a choice in what you produce. But you will produce something that your fellow humans are willing to pay for."

"Some people have so much, they can afford to give me a little."

"Nobody will stop them from donating if they want to. But nobody's going to force them. That would be coercion, and likely to lead to battery. You going for the whole seven?" There were seven actual criminal offenses in the Empire that concerned ordinary citizens, not including mindrape for operants and malfeasance for those in government.

"I never had to worry about Mom helping me!"

"Then she should have told you 'no' occasionally. Better get used to it, because I will, and so will Asto."

"You can't make me!" He tried to puff himself up to loom over me, trying to win with intimidation what he couldn't with emotion.

I laughed in his face, or at least to his chest. "I can and will if I need to." I pointed to the outer, junior-most of my chest insignia. "This green triangle with the stick figure human? It means I'm a Fourth Order Guardian. I could make you slather yourself in honey and jump into a nest of fire ants while howling a Pryanti mating call. I can make you scream in agony any time I want, for as long as I want. I won't unless you make it the least unpalatable alternative, because I'm a civilized adult. But I could. More to the point, I can stop you by any number of means from momentary paralysis to killing you instantly if I need to, and there is nothing you can do that will make the slightest difference to any of them. If we're talking sheer physical power, I'm at least three times stronger than you even without adding what I can do mentally, and I've spent most of the last fifty Earth years under instruction from some of the Empire's best in every form of physical combat. You really want to push it to a contest of who can make who do what?"

He'd shrunk back from me as I explained his situation to him, exclaiming "No!" several times as if his surface thoughts hadn't make his meaning completely clear to any telepath. He wasn't just a drifter; he was a bully and a coward as well.

"I've realized how badly the system I gave you to failed," I told him, "I am sorry for that failure, but that's no excuse for not performing my duties as a parent, either then or now. Far as I'm concerned, you will always have the right to refuse me as your guardian, so any time you want to go back to Adulthood Services you let me know. But until you make that decision or achieve adulthood again, you will obey my orders and abide by my decisions. Is that clear?"

Frankly, his position was pathetic. He could do what I told him, or he could be returned to Adulthood Services and sent to an exile planet. Yeah, I'd failed him fifty-five Earth years ago, or two hundred, but he had somehow passed the adulthood tests at some point, which meant he had to bear some of the weight of blame himself. Keeping my voice quiet and even, "I asked you a question."

Finally, "I'll stay, for now."

"Then let's go meet the rest of your new family." A few paces up the corridor, the portal awaited. The destination was our family apartment.

Copyright 2023 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

The idea for the series is simple at its core: The fractal demons are well aware that the reason the Empire of Humanity is a match for them are the mental powers of operants. Suppose they decide they want some human operants loyal to them, allowing them to better infiltrate the Empire? So they kidnapped some humans from a peripheral world cut off from the Empire (Earth), took them to another world, and began breeding subservient humans.

Preparations For War is a grunt's eye view of the long struggle between the Empire and the fractal demons. The viewpoint character, Joseph Bernard, begins as a vanilla human in unusual circumstances. While his aunt Grace is a powerful Guardian, mixing in Imperial society at the highest levels, Joe is still a low-level player at the end of the series. He's not in the Imperial military, but he works with ordinary people at the level of the individual soldier. The scope of his actions are personal, despite the wider ranging effects they may have. The most powerful person they deal with is at the level of leading a Calmenan city-state.

Unfortunately for the demonic plan of breeding operant human stooges, demons are incapable of treating humans in a way which leads to contentment as slaves. Demons thrive off power and fear; the cannon-fodder manes are perhaps the least cruel - they'll simply grab a human and eat them within a few seconds. Some of the demonic nobles can make their victims last several weeks. So successes in their program were few and far between, and the allegedly successful operant lines they did produce were too conditioned to subservience to pass for Imperial humans.

Eventually, the humans of the planet the demons used for the experiment learned to rebel with occasional success. Operant agaani humans, while not nearly the equal of trained Guardians in the Empire, could learn to fight the demonic combat castes, and independent human settlements began to sprout up, barely holding on as the demons were always trying to conquer them. Technology was primitive - barely iron age - and the threat of being conquered and enslaved again by the demons was always present. They had to keep producing workers and agaani or the demons would grind them down by weight of numbers. Those people had to be fed. Brutal, grinding poverty was the fact of life they all lived with, and the agaani became feudal overlords over the rest of the humans.

In the first book, Preparing The Ground, Joseph Bernard is an Earth human on Earth's first attempt to earn some hard Imperial currency via discovering habitable planets. Earth has recently been added to the Empire, and needs ways of earning Imperial resources. Discovering habitable planets is one such way; one Earth corporation has gained a settlement in Imperial currency allowing them to buy a couple of small ships equipped with a timejammer drive, usable by non-operant pilots. After several successes, they stumble upon Calmena and are captured by a group of agaani. Fighting their way free attracts the attention of a nearby demonic hold, and they are taken prisoner again by a group of manes and terostes demons, along with most of the formerly 'free' humans, including a young Calmenan woman, Asina, with a young daughter. With Asina's help, Joe manages to break himself and surviving shipmates free, only to discover on departure that they've run afoul of an Imperial interdiction. Joe is sentenced to an indenture in the only Imperial base on Calmena, hidden high in a mountain range on the biggest continent. It's a stressful posting with not much to do other than work, and with nothing better to do, Joe participates in the hedonism of the troops he's stationed with. However, he happens to meet Asina upon her return to Calmena. She is now a trained Guardian, intending to bring technology and a better means of fighting to the humans of Calmena, and she recruits Joe to the task. They find a small, independent community of humans, and begin the task of giving them the tools to fight the human agaani and the fractal demons. Thus is N'yeschlass, (literally, 'no slaves'), the first free human town, founded.

Building The People begins fifteen years later, as Joe and Asina hand over control of the operation they've built in N'yeschlass to a new team. After a short visit to Earth and into the main part of the Empire to visit Asina's daughter, they begin a new project to advance the free humans of Calmena: water transport. To this end, they found a new settlement, Windhome Bay, and starting with single mast shallow draft yampans, start teaching the locals about sailing. But the fractal demons have a new trick up their sleeve to overwhelm the new human communities, and they have to fight off an infestation of lemuure, which secrete a virus which gives lemuure control over their victims.

The third book, Setting The Board, begins about seventy years later. After a break on Earth to raise three children, Joe and Asina are returning to Calmena, taking over an existing station in an agaani-run town on the fourth (smallest) of Calmena's continents. Their projects this time are marine diesels and primitive aircraft. First, however, they have to deal with the meddling agaani, and then they discover that the agaani leader has been collaborating with the fractal demons for personal benefit, as as soon as the human overlords have been dealt with, they are faced with a demonic invasion force for which there's no time to prepare.

The final book, Moving The Pieces opens with the demons mobilizing their forces for assault on the Empire. As the die is cast, Joe and Asina (and the rest of the teams on Calmena) frantically try and complete preparations they'd hoped to have another twenty years or more to bring to fruition. The latest project is a few aircraft based upon Earth technology post World War 2. As Joe and his assistant test the latest prototype aircraft, Asina tries to prepare the people of Yalskarr for the massive onslaught coming through the demonic Gates, which may be aimed at the Empire but is sufficient to annihilate everything they've built on Calmena in passing.

Preparations for War is a complete series. If I ever do anything more with the characters of Joe and Asina, it will be in an entirely different setting. They will never return to Calmena.

"Starting tomorrow morning, we're going to have you on the same course of study I underwent when I got here. You will spend six hours per day in four instruction blocks. Once you can pass the automated adulthood tests, we'll start training your operant abilities so you can learn how to really use what you've got."

"Why should I do that? I thought you were rich?"

"By the standards of Earth, I am. But that doesn't mean I intend to support you in an eternal childhood. That'd be a waste and a failure on my part as well. Part of being a responsible adult is bringing your children up to be productive adults themselves. It doesn't have to be anything in particular. If you're happy in a menial position for the rest of your life, that's on you. But you will become self-supporting. You'll be fed, you'll be housed, you'll have access to education and anything else you need to become self-supporting, but once that happens, you'll be expected to furnish your own support. Anything else would be a failure by both of us."

I could almost see his dreams of an easy life crashing before his eyes. "But you're rich!"

"You're expecting the Earth culture of the wealthy coddling and protecting their children. We don't do that here, as a result of which family wealth in the Empire generally accumulates. While on Earth, most wealth dissipated in the second generation, most Imperial families continue to build wealth, which contrary to the evil lies still common on Earth today, makes it easier for others to build wealth too. I've only been here fifty Imperial years, but the mean, median, and mode levels of wealth have all at least doubled in that time, and that's with a currency which has remained essentially constant." The Empire was feeling the strain of the war with the fractal demons, but the lot of the average person was still significantly above what it had been when I arrived from Earth.

"Why'd you tell me you're rich if I don't get any of it?"

"Because it's opportunity for you, if only you'll work. You don't have to worry about being charged for room and board, you don't have to worry about how you're going to pay for the education you need, you don't have to worry about paying for adulthood exams to be reinstated, and you'll have opportunities others won't simply because of exposure to wealthy people. If something comes up where you'll do as well as anyone else, why shouldn't they choose you? You want to live life on the edges, or do you want an opportunity to have whatever you want? The fact you're operant gives you easy steps up any ladder you want - if only you'll learn control and self-discipline. The difference in the effort isn't much. Do you want to be the poor schlub who's always worried about next month's rent, or do you want to be able to get into a position where your money earns enough to pay for everything you need and earning more is something you do because you want to, not because you have to?" What he wanted was obvious to me by now - to be paid for existing. But I didn't expect him to admit it out loud.

"I liked that monthly check I used to get."

"For what? I don't see any incurable defects that mean you can't support yourself. The Empire doesn't subsidize sloth or wastrels - that's a shortcut to self-destruction and we know it. There are any number of charities that'll help folks get on their feet, get training for something that lets them support themselves and more, but none of them just hands over money. Nor will I or the family - definitely not the Scimtars and not even my Earth family." I saw the outrage bubbling in his surface thoughts and continued, "It's not about having the money to do it. It's about wasting your life. You may want to be a nothing, but we know you're capable of more. If you had a physical or mental defect, I'd heal you myself - or my husband would, or any number of charities - but the only defect I can see is moral. Which would be fine with us, so long as you didn't hurt others. However, you committed mindrape as well as fraud."

"I didn't do anything wrong."

"I read your file when I signed the Guardianship agreement. It was solidly documented by evidence and your own memory. I'm blue-gold rated, would you like me to check your mind to see if it's been altered? If true, you'd be helping us clean up corruption, and you'd be compensated for what happened to you. Of course, once I was in your mind I could see if you need mind surgery and see that it happened."

"NO!" he shouted, "I'm fine. He stepped in close, looked down, tried to be physically intimidating, "You just leave me alone and get me what I need."

I laughed, "That's what I'm doing. What you want may be to drift through life being supported by others, but what you need is someone who loves you enough to straighten you out." As he tried to loom over me even more, "Trying to intimidate a Fourth Order Guardian with physical size is pitiful. If you push it to violence, you'll never touch me, so there's no element of fear possible. If you learn what I want you to, someday you'll be able to look back and laugh at how pathetic you are. You'll also thank me. The alternative is I turn you back over to Adulthood Services now and off you go to exile for the rest of your life. Good luck as a peasant slave farmer."

"I thought you loved me!"

"I do, but if you're going to act like an entitled child and refuse to learn, I'm wasting my time and I might as well get the pain over with. So what's it going to be?"

"Maybe I'll try."

"Try what?"

"Learning what you want me to."

I popped the hatch, "We're here. Climb down and let's get you a place to stay. Dinner is at eleven thirty - you will be expected to attend daily, to interact with the rest of the family. We'll introduce you to them tonight, but right now let's get you to Ferugio." Speaking of which, I sent Ferugio a message I was incoming with a new resident who needed a new datalink and a training schedule; he told me to come to his office.

Copyright 2023 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

So Armageddon was upon us.

There was no point in contacting the rest of the Advancement teams; they'd all received the same message we had. They'd know what it meant, same as we did: The war we'd all been preparing for was upon us. Imperial Intelligence - the Eyes and Ears that were the reason for Bolthole Base's existence - had discovered that the demons were on the move, and their armies would be pouring through the Seven Gates soon, as well as any other means of access to the Empire they might have.

Asina's hand tightened in mine. Thanks to our rapport, both of us knew the other was scared but determined. A few more years would have made an enormous difference, but we didn't have them. Might as well wish for something we could get, or at least hope for. Any chance of getting action out of the Guard before the demons actually show up? After so long together, most of our communication was telepathic.

I can try, but without evidence to lay before the officers it's not likely to happen. Not to mention that without the other cities helping, all we'd be doing is making them a target.

We don't need them to take the field early. We just need them to be ready to take the field. With modern transport, Calmenan troops can outmaneuver most demonic armies.

But the homefront is easy prey for any demons their nobles Gate around our interdiction.

Suddenly, I had a realization. We're talking here like we can defeat the demons in the field. If they're bringing the massive numbers the Empire has been finding in their rear areas, our strategy is going to have to be survival, not victory. Try to defend the people of Calmena, and make it easier for the demons to find prey elsewhere. Yalskarr was barely an isquare from the Karnel Gate, closest of the seven permanent Gates the demons had built upon Calmena. Humans could walk that far in four days easily. If they had a reason for haste, a day and a half. Demons would move faster.

I think our only chance is defense-in-depth. Start hitting them right away, trying to channel them away from the city while we build defensive lines to make it more difficult to reach the city with large numbers of troops.

So how do we get the Guard to cooperate? There's only a few square of them to defend the city. Their official complement as of right now was six legions of regulars and a dozen of reserves. A legion, true to Calmena's history with the demons, was a sixty-four of sixty-fours - the humans of Calmena used demonic base eight numbers for everything because the demons had kept them as slaves, laborers, and food sources for thousands of years before the first humans had escaped or broken free, permitting them no other way of doing things.

A good question. It costs money for them to take the field, so they don't want to do it if there's any doubt. Similarly, it costs money to build defenses, even temporary ones. Hard to explain extinction was expensive, too, if you didn't have any evidence you could show them that it was coming. But it doesn't cost much money to get ready so the Guard is in the field immediately when the evidence comes. If necessary, we can guarantee them the funds. Calmena was still on a precious metals standard for money. There was paper currency, but it represented real obligations of the government to come up with actual metal. Given that we had Imperial converters, we could produce as much of any element as we wanted.

Asina was right, as usual. Politics of any sort wasn't about good solutions - it was about making those in power happy. The only solution was to keep as much as possible away from government and therefore out of politics. Unfortunately, only government commands the resources for things like massive military. Even in the Empire, none of the House contingents could have challenged the Imperial military as a whole. Then better get to work on it. Do you want me involved?

She shook her head. This isn't your area, and you don't know the people involved. I was the technical side of our partnership; she was administration, which included people. I'll let you know if anything pops up.

Do you have time to see how much ammunition Bustere can send us?

I think that's something you can do. You'd have better results batting your eyes at him than I would. She was teasing; although Bustere and his partner Kilman were gay. In the Empire, that was nobody else's business, but here on Calmena they pretended to be only business partners. It made little practical difference; since they were both operant, they could teleport to each other's homes unobserved. Yeah, it would have been nice if they could just go about their business, but in the face of keeping everyone on the planet from being eaten, sometimes you had to let other battles wait. I'll instruct Taman to shut up and pay the invoices promptly.

Her sandy hair was shot with gray these days if you looked. My dark brown hair was too. Her skin had cosmetic sags and wrinkles to pretend to be aging as time passed. We'd been here in Yalskarr over a hundred twenty of Calmena's short planetary years. Crow's feet bordered her eyes. But the eyes themselves were still the lively green they'd been when we met. The great thing about being operant was we could keep age at bay where it mattered. We were as fit as the day we'd arrived, none of the decay or infirmities of age. Assuming we both lived through the coming war, we could look like young adults again in no time. That was a perk available to everyone in the Empire, but as trained Guardians, we could do for ourselves.

It suddenly hit us: Whatever else happened, this phase of our life was coming to an end. We'd both been barely adult when we'd met - I'd been twenty-two, Earth age, and close as we could figure, she'd been a little younger. Four assignments here on Calmena with a break to raise a family on Earth - just over 150 Earth years since we met - and once the war was over, we'd be done with our mission on Calmena, too. She was the first to say it. Any ideas what you want to do when this is over?

Copyright 2021 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved


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