September 2023 Archives

Look! Imtara pointed the rest of us back to the feed. Waterfront Blue arcology was starting to fall, slowly. Cutter bombs in the foundation, just like Blue Gold. That was decades before she was born, but a disaster that killed more than sixty to the fourth power who were almost all civilians didn't get forgotten even in an Empire with several times sixty to the thirteenth inhabitants.

I thought arcologies were supposed to move their gravity generators after that? Esteban asked.

They did, his grandmother replied, But they must have been separately destroyed.

Should we move? Imtara wanted to know.

No. All of us can teleport if it becomes necessary. We're still safer here than we would be at ground level. It would have been difficult for any of us to resist Anara taking charge; not only was she Asto's mother, she had over a square of experience as an Octus-in-fact as well as a Quadrant General, including fighting through the Restoration. I was the oldest of our little family at prime thirty-eight; I had a total of twenty years in the military, peaking at the exalted rank of Staff Private. Even Asto with thirtyseven years of service was only a First Corporal. She had a point, too. The nearly ten ithirds of potential above the surface we had here would give us a lot of options if we needed to teleport.

Asto's splinter was scoping out the corridor outside. Clear for the moment.

The feed for Waterfront Blue showed it more than half impacted. It was tilting out towards the Straits, which was good because it meant it wouldn't hit any of the other arcologies on the way down. None of us had any idea how many people were trapped inside; we hoped it was low but I couldn't see it being much under a fourth. That many human casualties meant that it would be hard to classify this battle as a victory no matter how many demons we killed.

Check the estimated casualty counts, Mom. The bottom range is twelve fourths for the demons.

Twelve fourths of manesi, terostes, and lemuure! 'Shake and bake' expendables! The people killed were mostly older than me, and each represented thirty years or more of training, thirty times that of expected economic output! They won't be doing that! Nor will they be having children or training replacements! Not to mention the investment lost, not just in Waterfront Blue, but all the rest of Sumabad!

I thought the body count...

There's an old maxim, Anara interjected, trainees talk tactics, grunts talk strategy, veterans discuss logistics. Wars are won by the side that can pay for them, young man!

Embarrassed, Ilras shut up. Asto's splinter took up his mother's line of instruction, Your grandmother uses 'pay' in the broadest possible sense. There's a reason defense may win battles, but it never wins wars. If they're being fought on your territory, it's your production and your people doing the paying and the dying! We just 'paid' with a fourth of expensive bodies that they 'bought' with twelve fourths of cheap ones! That doesn't consider the cost of the equipment - at least ten sixths! The big arcologies far outmassed - and out-cost - even the biggest military starships. We have to take the war to the demons in order to win. In order to do that, we had to know where they were and where to hit them to make it hurt them instead of us. The Empire has spent the last forty years or more learning precisely those things. He didn't need to mention there was no protecting the rear areas in this war; that was obvious. Both the Empire and the demons had the ability to strike anywhere they thought advantageous.

Copyright 2021 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

Excerpt from The Price Of Power

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Speaking of the dogs, Children, it's time for a treat. We're going to the park for an hour. Save your lessons; you can come back to them later. Tina helped by carrying Imtara; the baby could walk but her legs were still too short to keep up. The real point of the exercise was a treat for Mischief and Scarecrow; excursions out of the pilot module had been rare. When you're trying to hide from rival houses, you don't give them easy ways to find you. But here in the Residence our defensive strategy was different, which allowed for family excursions as long as I didn't allow them to become predictable. The two dachshunds followed us out, unsure of what was happening but secure in the fact they belonged with their people.

Everyone remember what Case Blue means?

Yes, mama! they chorused, obey now, explanation later. Children from the Great Families learned early about the dangers to them. Outings had been rare when we were aboard the ship, but even Imperial ships had life-threatening events.

Enroute, I used my datalink to purchase access to the park for all of us and Asto for an Imperial year. It didn't take long to get there; into one portal and out another, a short walk of maybe a minute from the destination portal brought us into a park within the arcology. The ecology of the park might be described as temperate mountain meadow - if you used an Indran definition of temperate. It was a warmer planet than Earth on average, so the park was kept somewhere in the eighties, Fahrenheit scale. Humidity was higher than an Earth native like me preferred as well. Perhaps half of it might have been yellow-green grasses, well-manicured in the same manner as Earthly lawns of my youth. Small clumps of three or four trees each broke up the expanse, the grasses becoming sparse to non-existent within a pace or two of each trunk. Most common was a shortish, gnarled variety no more than two to three times human height with vaguely circular leaves. The entire park was indoors and fenced; it had been seeded with small wildlife that put me in mind of rabbits and squirrels and ducks.

There were other dogs in the park, of course. Earth Dogs' second outlet had been opened in Indra System, over on Habitat One, and of course we'd had dogs in the Residence before that. There were about thirty dogs in the park including a couple other dachshunds; Imperial housing arrangements favored smaller breeds and dachshunds had been one of the first breeds I'd started working with. I didn't follow the business closely but I was pretty certain dachshunds and cocker spaniels were still the two most popular breeds. Mischief was in her 'Miss Chief' mode; she wanted to establish dominance but I kept her firmly in check as she sniffed the other dogs. Scarecrow was lower key about it; he wasn't the top dog and he knew it so he was happy to play with a little black cocker and a yellow chihuahua that greeted him.

The kids infested an unused hadul emplacement. Hadul was the closest thing the Empire had to a mass spectator sport - a configurable three dimensional volume, perhaps a little smaller than a football field in terms of footprint but three dimensional up to an altitude of about half the length. At varying altitudes, plates and cubes and spheres (among other shapes) were placed within, and gravity within was variable from one standard imperial gravity (slightly stronger than Earth's) to minus one. Neither I nor Asto were fans. All I really knew was that it was a simulated wargame, and the salient features were that the playing field wasn't fixed from contest to contest and there was a budget in terms of total player time on the field. But it was a great place for the kids to play and explore and meet the other children who were here. I judged the oldest three to be completely safe in terms of not hurting themselves (and I could heal them if they did), and even baby Imtara was really in no danger - she understood how to save herself with matris, same as she'd used it to save herself from Ilras flinging ketchup at her. Still, I needed to keep them under observation. The Scimtars were wealthy and important. Kids were safe from the other major families but there was always a chance someone had a grudge or thought they saw an opportunity for profit. Besides, it was fun to observe them playing the games kids play while exploring new territory. There were forty or so kids playing in the hadul volume and it seemed to me that close to half were operant. A higher ratio than most of the Empire, but not unexpected close to the Residence, where many of Scimtar's assistants and subordinates were themselves strongly operant.

I told the dogs stay where you can see me, and they reluctantly complied. Mischief pretended it was her own idea, sauntering over in all her imperious dignity. Scarecrow, reluctant at first, broke off from his two playmates of the moment to slink slowly in our direction. It reminded me of Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh, until the cocker and chihuahua decided to bring the game over to Scarecrow, where they were joined by a couple other dogs. Our chocolate and tan wiener dog perked right up as the game re-joined him, and then Mischief decided to join in, also. We were keeping them young, essentially fully grown puppies that hadn't settled into adulthood yet.

Some of the kids had evidently looked up the rules for hadul; the majority of the children present joined into a more organized activity. Esteban may have been only six, but he was a holy terror - he'd had as much physical and Guardian training as I could give him in the pilot module, and that would expand now that we had access to the Residence. I expected Scimtar himself would be tutoring the kids as well in all the major forms of survival through violence. For right now, though, Esteban was organizing the other kids into something like a hadul game in progress. Hand-to-hand combat was built into hadul, any touch by another player had a sliding scale of consequences in the actual game. Nor were there allowances for what's euphemistically called 'friendly fire'; it was a simulated war game. Even though the gravity field wasn't on, that didn't stop the kids from behaving as if it were. They swarmed over the field in a mobile clump that moved with the main action. It seemed Esteban was the primary ringleader, but Ilora and Ilras were in it, too. The dogs followed the action on the ground, barking as if to say, "We want to play, too!"

It was oddly restful watching them. Imtara needed her own supervision, but the other three reliably could keep themselves from getting hurt if they fell, so except for baby Alden's interface to the world, I could relax and let them play. Tina was watching, too, although she wouldn't be able to do anything but yell for me if something happened. It was restful watching the four of them do the same thing that didn't require constant "Mom!"

And then it was shattered.

Grace, get the kids back to the Residence! Etonas may be dead!

Copyright 2018 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

Most of the others followed suit pretty quickly. In a few minutes, I was left alone with Anara and Helene. "I have a performance in an hour and a half," Helene said to Anara, "Make sure she knows what she's letting herself in for."

"I will, mother." Anara said, and Helene strode out, saying, "Welcome back, Grace. We'll do more catching up over dinner, but make certain to listen closely to what Anara has to say."

"Well, mother, I'm all ears," I told her. She wasn't my mother, but she was a wonderful mother-in-law, and we had a great relationship. Plus she had been one of my legal parents when I came to the Empire, which was how I'd met Asto. Mother was a title she'd earned, and I was happy to grant her.

"Before I start, I want you to know that I think you can do this, and that I will support whatever decision you make. I just want to make certain you understand what you're getting into. Operant babies are difficult at best to control in the womb. Strongly operant babies take that to an entirely different level."

"Mother, Asto and I read everything on the subject that's publicly available." To her credit, she at least credited me with the elementary sense to do it anonymously. "I understand that they start to have a perceptible mind around the twentyfive day mark. And I understand that the minds of children are pure 'I want!' It's my job to educate and civilize them. I may have been the youngest of five, but I helped with all of my nephews and nieces from the time when they were born."

"Are you aware that with artificial gestation, you're a lot less vulnerable to what they might do? You know children kick. Operant babies do a lot more than that. Furthermore, with artificial gestation, they don't have to be monitored every second of every day until they're ready to be born, and other people can give you assistance. If you're doing it natural style, that assistance becomes harder, because they've got to be inside your defenses to help."

"That's in accordance with my understanding."

"Now, imagine your child has a mind as strong as Asto. Can you keep them under control?"

"As strong as Asto, but untrained. Unfocused. Also, I'll be having a rapport with him that lasts until he's born. I'll feel what he does, but he will also feel what I do. By the time he's able to focus, he'll also be awake enough to be aware of the consequences." Guardian minds began developing in the womb, if you let them. By the time they were born, they would be as mature as any twelve year old Earth human, and more so than some alleged adults.

"Finally, imagine what happens if your son starts manifesting the full range of his abilities. Our family masquerade is exposed, with all of the consequences." Since Iaren had been born, Scimtar's descendants had been pretending to be Fifth Order, rather than Seventh. It insulated them from the worst of the strife of the inter-family rivalries. Let the other Great Houses vent upon one another. By pretending to be less than they were, Scimtar's heirs were exempted from the worst of it.

"I understand, mother. My plans were to do some commercial piloting while I was pregnant, but I can restrict myself to the Residence if I have to. You all taught me that I am in control of my body, but I realize I have no right to endanger the rest of you."

"Just be clear on the dangers, Grace. You'll be more of a target, also, once news of your pregnancy spreads, and we'd all be upset to lose you." I wasn't important as a Second Order Guardian. Even as Asto's wife, my value was mostly theoretical, and Scimtar had made the costs of striking at his family quite clear in the past. Rival families had bigger fish to fry. But give them a Fifth Order Scimtar in infancy with only Second Order defenses, and that might strike someone as a risk worth taking. Especially if anyone knew the younger Scimtars were Seventh Order, not Fifth.

"I understand the risk that concerns the family," I told her. We both knew that the real risk was that my Second Order abilities might not muffle the power of a Seventh Order Guardian's naked ego well enough, and it would be discovered that the family was Seventh Order. "I'm going to make a visit to Earth, but after that, I can confine myself to the Residence if you think it would be wise. Or I can build a new graycode and buy a new pilot module, and move freight anonymously. Actually, I think that would be even safer. The other Great Families can look into the Residence if they try hard enough, and they know exactly where it is and what it contains. Out there, I'd be just another pilot Vectoring stuff from system to system, and there would be nobody else with us to see what was going on."

"If you're sure that you want to do this, Grace, I'm on your side. It's just that Helene uses artificial gestation, and Corella did, too." Helene and Corella were the other female spouses with children. "For that matter, so did Anana and I." Anana I knew about, Anara I suspected, but their time was ungodly valuable, both economically speaking and politically. I made a fair chunk piloting, but nothing in their league.

"I'm sure. My sisters did it this way, as did my parents. We both know how hard pregnancy is on natural state mothers. If they can do that, I can get through this, especially as I'm a Guardian."

"You have considerations they don't know about. The other Great Families have no reason to come after them."

I clamped down hard on my frustration. Asto was amused. I knew Mother wanted the best for me and her grandchildren, but we'd been over that. "Agreed, Mother. Do you think we'll be safer from discovery in the Residence or in an anonymous pilot module nobody has any reason to suspect hides anything unusual?"

"Put a gestation chamber in your ship, just in case," she said, "And don't be too proud to change your mind if something happens." She'd picked up on my frustration despite my attempt to hide it.

"Good idea, mother!" I said, pretending I hadn't already had it. She really was concerned. And I wouldn't be afraid to change my mind if something happened to demonstrate a need. I wasn't suicidal.

"I'm sorry if I seem overprotective," she said, "You're young and haven't been involved in politics, but being pregnant with one of us puts you squarely into it. Be careful, Grace, for yourself and for the rest of us."

"I know, Mother. I'm sorry if I seem snippy. I promise you I'm not letting my hormones get out of balance. It's just that I spent twenty years thinking about how to make this work." I guess I really was cheating - no morning sickness, no mood swings, no swollen ankles, or any of the myriad other legitimate complaints of pregnancy. But those would have been carrying the point too far.

Copyright 2017 Dan Melson. All RIghts Reserved.


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