First Draft Excerpt from Measure of Adulthood

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"Look, I have an assignment. Asto's splinter will get you home. If I'm not back, expect a wakeup at eighteen forty. You'll be expected to be at your console ready to learn by nineteen zero."

"Thought you said the days were fifteen hours."

"The weeks are sixty hours, and that's how the clocks are set up. Add fifteen hours for times on day two. Family dinner at eleven thirty daily means twentysix thirty, fortyone thirty, and fiftysix thirty as well."

"Where you going?"

"Contact trace in Osh City on Habitat One." I pointed towards the sky, where it shone bright against the stars, "Going to look for traitors."

"Bring them in for trial?"

"That would be a pleasant change."

"Huh?"

"These don't surrender."

"Never?"

"Not a single one yet."

"And you don't subdue them and bring them in anyway?"

"They've soulbound themselves to demonic parasites in order to become operant. That's how precious the gift of operancy is. If you need more explanation you'll understand when you get to Guardian training."

I left the room before teleporting to the parking garage. I suppose I could have teleported direct to somewhere on Habitat One, but Osh City was over ninety (Earth) degrees away from Indra's current position, and I'd rather use a Starbird despite the time. Someone would probably do a portal linkage between the Rosette Worlds and the Major Habitats eventually, but it hadn't happened yet. I queried for an available vehicle, teleported again to its berthing area, did my preflight. I did not file a full route flight plan, which was part of the 'being careful' I'd talked to Lemarcus about. Instead I eased out of the Residence garage into aerial traffic, headed into a departure lane, and Vectored outside the participation zone before contacting System Control for routing to Osh City. Four minutes and another Vector later, I was landing in a public garage near my destination. A single portal put me within easy walking distance.

I was roughly eight ithirds up an arcology called Player View. It wasn't actually on the shore of Player's Lake - A freshwater lake roughly the size of the Atlantic Ocean, one of several such bodies embedded within the city along with rivers connecting them - but it did have an unobstructed view on two sides. Most of the viewscreens in the public area showed sun glinting off clear blue water and white sands below, pleasure craft plying the shores. In the distance, several island arcologies were visible, towering as high as any on the mainland. The horizon curved ever so slightly upwards on annular habitats, but as on Earth, thick moist air near sea level often limited visibility. The public area was fairly dense with people around the portal, an otherwise open area roughly an ifourth square, the ceiling viewscreens six ififths overhead. The main access hallways crossed here; twelve ififths each wide, the occasional small delivery vehicle moving slowly among the crowd, basically impeller-driven pallet jacks with a seat for the driver. That might be a decent profession for Lemarcus once he learned some patience - you moved with the crowd in those, not faster. I, however, was under no such constraints. My target was two units, on adjacent floors but roughly ten ifourths apart. Four people were known to live in the first unit, two in the second. While I was there, I'd check Event Lines to see if anyone else was a matter of concern.

The path I was on made the second unit the natural one to visit first. The residents were a man and a woman, Bezeers and Salama. She was a commercial dispatcher; he was a programmer for a company that had a contract to build military cruisers. I was hopeful; they'd called for Enforcers and there'd been a short engagement. Arriving, I pinged their door with "Investigations."

"Identify yourself please."

"Investigator JuaGrace, regarding the incursion." From outside, I could tell that the invader had indeed been a jopas. If they were legitimately innocent, it was a miracle they and all their neighbors weren't dead. Dipole moment for a duel between jopas and someone capable of killing - or even not being killed by - said jopas was likely fatal to natural state humans out to a distance of about two ifourths, maybe more.

The door opened. Salama was a lot like me, almost exactly my height and as heavily built, medium dark skin, maybe a touch less olive and a touch more straight melanin, hair even darker than mine but still not quite black, although hers was straight and bobbed short. She was dressed in a beige blouse and brown trousers that wouldn't have been out of place on Earth of my youth. Bezeers was almost exactly the same size and build, a few shades lighter of skin but with pale green hair, perhaps a little longer than hers. Since I could immediately tell they were both operant, they were perfectly capable of changing anything about their appearance they didn't like; height and build were probably artificial as they conformed to the 'endurance' build that was the most common body type among operants. Everything else about their appearance was none of my business, right down to the ridiculous orange tunic Bezeers was wearing that would leave everything exposed if he bent over. Taking in my epaulets, Salama said, "They warned us there'd be an Investigator, but they didn't say it would be a Nonus' representative."

While she was talking, I'd been using kored and spak to check for other event lines in congruency to the demonic high noble. "Jopas are powerful. Not the very strongest demons, but right below them. When one shows up anywhere in the Empire, we want to know why, and sometimes what they leave behind is dangerous. There aren't a lot of Investigators wearing green and purple." Fourth Order Guardians wore green Guardian insignia like I did; Fifth wore purple. Most Investigators were Guardians, but most were Second or Third Order, and weaker than average Second or Third Order at that. Too many better opportunities for the stronger or more experienced Guardians to keep working a government gig. I wasn't the strongest Guardian with Investigator authority in the Empire, but these days I was the strongest one on Scimtar's continuing payroll or any of his subordinate viceroys. When he had something I couldn't handle, he had to handle it himself or bring in a special contractor. "You do understand why there needs to be an investigation?"

"That has been made entirely clear to both of us," Bezeer seethed, "My programming clearance has been revoked, and Salama's been locked out of her work as well. The longer it continues, the more clients she loses."

Salama had my particular sympathy; unlike starship pilots there were plenty of commercial dispatchers. Whatever her situation, there wasn't a lot of tolerance for her not working. "Then let's get it over with. The sooner I can certify you as uncorrupted, the sooner it will end. To make it clear, you have the option of not cooperating with the investigation as there is no evidence of an actual crime committed at this point. However, if I can't certify you uncorrupted, your employment options will be limited to those without any military or Imperial components." Even after thirteen Imperial years of war, the government share of the economy wasn't large, but few companies and even fewer large companies had absolutely no government contract work and didn't care for the extra expense of segregating those cleared from those not. Damned near every commercial flight had some military equipment or personnel onboard - just a consequence of the fact most commercial carriers were huge Size Six capital ships and any military or government cargo would be reason to bar them, even if it was three privates on routine reassignment or a pallet of rations the military found some reason to ship rather than creating out of a converter on-site. And even if there weren't a military or government component to a particular task, not many companies would be enthusiastic about potential threats to their own assets. I understood the bad place these people were in might be none of their doing, but there were good reasons things were that way - the fractal demons would take any advantage they could. "The investigation requires you drop your mental defenses and answer truthfully without evasion. If I sense mental evasion, a more active probe will be necessary. You have the option of stopping at any time unless I discover evidence of a crime or intent to commit one, however certifying you uncorrupted requires carrying the session through to completion."

"Proceed."

Copyright 2024 Dan Melson. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on January 1, 2024 7:00 AM.

First Draft Excerpt from Measure of Adulthood was the previous entry in this blog.

Excerpt from Preparing The Ground is the next entry in this blog.

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