First Draft Excerpt from Measure of Adulthood

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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.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on August 28, 2023 7:00 AM.

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