September 2023 Archives

As we entered the family dinner that evening, Lemarcus realized how out of place he was.

He'd dressed for an Earth culture that had seen its peak before Imperial contact. Flamboyant clothes in bright purple and orange with yellow accents, heavily ornamented in gold chains and medallions, sunglasses even though it was long past sunset. His shoes were the only part of his wardrobe even vaguely sensible, and that was because there were no patterns for what he wanted in the converter's database.

"Why don't you just wear a shirt that says 'Shoot Me First'? had been Ilras's comment when he and Asto's splinter got home from the range. Ilora, arriving home to change for dinner, took one look and said, "If flamboyance is all you've got, you're going to be disappointed." When requested for support, Alden had replied, "Well, it does scream you're only the distraction. Still, the distraction leads back to the perpetrator, too." In the confusion, Josan escaped unnoticed by Lemarcus, and Imtara's simple "Just stab their eyes out - it'll be less painful," also went home unremarked.

The Scimtars at dinner, by contrast, were understated. Several of the adults, including Scimtar himself, were in military uniform - tunic and trousers in House colors, pale gold accented with a sapphire blue, or the dark blue Imperial uniform accented with gold. But House uniform or Imperial, Imperial uniforms were simple. Insignia of rank was the only decoration on the field uniform, and even the dress uniform only added branch of service, achievement bar (Most of us had service points enough for Primus-in-rank or better, and all of the adults were Guardians) and possibly military decorations denoted by ribbons similar to those once worn by Earth's armed services. The difference was that Scimtar himself, with something over twenty square years of service, had exactly seven ribbons, and none of the others more than four - all for outstanding valor or ingenuity in a combat situation. My late brother-in-law, retired out of the US Navy as a Senior Chief, had had five or six rows of them, only one of which was a combat decoration.

The Scimtars in civilian dress didn't all wear their achievement bars, most of which carried three badges: Earned title was almost always the seniormost (mine was the red triangle of Tertius-in-rank), followed by most recent military rank (single white pip of a Staff Private for me - lowest in the room except for Anesto's splinter), and finally, Guardian status (mine was a green triangle with stick figure denoting a Fourth Order Guardian). Wearing an achievement bar was mandatory for those in the military or wielding government authority, whether direct or derivative, but private individuals could choose to wear them or not. Most of the civilian women wore a piece or two of small jewelry - I had on my wedding ring, Helene a pair of earrings, and so on. Civilian clothes tended to be nondescript, covering everything from feet to neck, and in muted colors or patterns.

Lemarcus, by comparison, was wearing at least five prime-weight of gold chain, several large flashy rings with huge stones, a large earring, and a medallion about the size of my hand embedded with several bar-weight of diamonds. Mass is mass to a converter, and the cost in wear-and-tear was minimal, so there really wasn't a reason to have an argument over it. He wasn't hurting anyone else with how he wanted to dress.

"Been a while since I've seen those colors," was Scimtar's remark. He was present only by splinter tonight. I told him I didn't understand.

"Purple and orange were House J'Pit colors."

That was a name I recognized. J'Pit had been the fifth and youngest surviving son of Merphon's first batch of spawn (I won't dignify the situation with the term 'family'). He'd been the military specialist, but just as much a piece of work as his four littermates. His descendants had been the fifth of the Fifteen Great Houses before the Interregnum, but none were known to have survived the bloodshed of that time. Still, J'Pit and his descendants had been a prominent fixture of the Empire from its founding until comparatively recently. Scimtar had lived most of his life in rivalry with them, even though they'd now gone the way of Carthage and Tyre.

I resolved to have a word with Lemarcus over changing his color choices until Scimtar sent, Not important now. Let it go. You ready for assignment?

Never removed myself from active; just took a few hours off duty. I'll be back on by zerothree, sooner if you have a priority assignment.

Strong trace, likely spraxos near Osh City but possibly a jopas.

Probably the majority of my assignments were in the environs of Sumabad, a consequence of it being the seat of a Nonus, but this was one of the others. A jopas was second in power only to a basileus, now that the Great Uniques were gone. Even if it was a spraxos, it was likely to be an old and canny one rather than a more recent spawn. I can go now.

It's already gone. After dinner is soon enough to trace its contacts.

"What's he mean?" Lemarcus wanted to know what Scimtar was talking about with House J'Pit. Sometimes, operants got ahead of Natural State humans because we'd augmented our mental speed and telepathic exchanges were nearly instant.

"He means you're wearing colors declaring yourself allied to a former rival family. Even if they're extinct now, it's declaring yourself ignorant at best."

"I happen to like these colors. They make me look good."

"Your choice when not attending a family gathering. Here at dinner, either learn what color combinations declare an allegiance or wear family colors." It was less important now - which meant it wasn't actively looking for trouble. This wasn't the era of the Fifteen Families, and in the last twenty years over forty new families had publicly admitted attaining the capabilities of Sixth and Seventh Order Guardians. But Imperial politics could still turn deadly. Asto's younger brother Etonas and Iaren's daughter Onta had been killed in the last House War. Wearing rival family colors was still gauche.

"Dang you keep addin' to the load. Is there any end to it?"

"You can tell me to notify Adulthood Services any time you want out. But you might start by understanding the situation you're in. In an Empire of two thirteenths, you're in the home of one of the five or six most important people. Scimtar and the family are among the Empire's wealthiest, he's one of the most important Nonuses, and probably the second or third most senior military commander as well as high on the list of strongest Guardians. Don't make his life more difficult - especially not while under the jurisdiction of Adulthood Services. All he has to do is order your exile moved out of suspense, and you'll be gone before you can blink. He's playing host to you voluntarily, but understand the only thing restraining Scimtar is himself. Certainly none of us here can." Not to mention that nobody else would want to. Defying the head of your family was something nobody would do without a much better reason.

"You make him sound like a monster."

"He's not. He understands why he shouldn't abuse his power. But give him a reason and the only reason he'll notice rolling over you - or me, if it comes to it - is that he's a sharp observer. He's almost perfectly self-controlled - he's had about eighty thousand Earth years to practice that control. But don't push him. He might regret it because he values me, but he will do whatever he thinks he has to in order to protect the Empire or his family. And he's always three or four steps ahead of anything I or Asto can manage yet. Respect him, and not just because he's dangerous. He's earned it. Look around you. Nobody handed him all this. Yeah, he was in a good position during the Restoration - but he made it all happen. Anyone else could have outhustled him and his family, but no one did."

"But don't push him."

I nodded. "He's got a lot of patience. But when necessity strikes, he's completely merciless. So is everyone else in government. They're inclined to give potentially productive citizens every opportunity - else you wouldn't be standing here. But if it comes to the welfare of the Empire or humanity, they're harder than bondsteel. Right now the Fractal Demons have us hard pressed. We think we're winning, but there's not as much slack as there might be at some other time."

Copyright 2023 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved

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

| | Comments (0)

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.


Buy My Science Fiction Novels!
Dan Melson Amazon Author Page
Dan Melson Author Page Books2Read

Links to free samples here

The Man From Empire
Man From Empire Cover
Man From Empire Books2Read link

A Guardian From Earth
Guardian From Earth Cover
Guardian From Earth Books2Read link

Empire and Earth
Empire and Earth Cover
Empire and Earth Books2Read link

Working The Trenches
Working The Trenches Cover
Working the Trenches Books2Read link

Rediscovery 4 novel set
Rediscovery set cover
Rediscovery 4 novel set Books2Read link

Preparing The Ground
Preparing The Ground Cover
Preparing the Ground Books2Read link

Building the People
Building the People Cover
Building the People Books2Read link

Setting The Board

Setting The Board Cover
Setting The Board Books2Read link

Moving The Pieces

Moving The Pieces Cover
Moving The Pieces Books2Read link

The Invention of Motherhood
Invention of Motherhood Cover
Invention of Motherhood Books2Read link

The Price of Power
Price of Power Cover
Price of Power Books2Read link

The End Of Childhood
End Of Childhood cover
The End of Childhood Books2Read link

Measure Of Adulthood
Measure Of Adulthood cover
Measure Of Adulthood Books2Read link
The Fountains of Aescalon
Fountains of Aescalon Cover
The Fountains of Aescalon Books2Read link

The Monad Trap
Monad Trap Cover
The Monad Trap Books2Read link

The Gates To Faerie
Gates To Faerie cover
The Gates To Faerie Books2Read link

Gifts Of The Mother
Gifts Of The Mother cover
Gifts Of The Mother Books2Read link

The Book on Mortgages Everyone Should Have!
What Consumers Need To Know About Mortgages
What Consumers Need To Know About Mortgages Cover
What Consumers Need to Know About Mortgages Books2Read

The Book on Buying Real Estate Everyone Should Have
What Consumers Need To Know About Buying Real Estate
What Consumers Need To Know About Buying Real Estate Cover
What Consumers Need to Know About Buying Real Estate Books2Read

Dan Melson's San Diego Real Estate and Mortgage Website

↑ Grab this Headline Animator

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from September 2023 listed from newest to oldest.

August 2023 is the previous archive.

October 2023 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Powered by Movable Type 4.21-en

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Copyright 2005-2024 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved