February 2024 Archives

Ilras, quit trying to squirt your sister with ketchup. The inverse square law is on her side.

But mom! I'm just trying to teach her defense! Meanwhile, baby Imtara giggled in delight at frustrating her brother's dastardly plan.

Dear, even if she was asleep, she'd have plenty of time to wake up and divert the stream. She's well past that drill. All you're doing is giving the dogs a mess to clean up.

Ilras didn't realize it, but his sister had ally. Esteban, the oldest at six Imperial years of age (4 Earth), scooped together a good-sized dollop with matris, stealthed it with a buffer of matra and brun, and flung it at his younger brother. I usually expected better behavior from Esteban, but under the circumstances, I let it slide.

Splat! It caught Ilras right on his jawline. No fair! Ilras cried indignantly, then had the awareness to look abashed when I gave him the mental equivalent of a cocked eyebrow. Ilras wasn't ready for the drills Esteban was doing yet, and Esteban had just made use of that fact to slip a counter-attack his brother wasn't ready for under his defenses. Given the impetus of an older brother who wasn't above using his advantages, I suspected Ilras would learn quickly.

Meanwhile, Mischief, our English Cream longhair miniature dachshund, gave a plaintive whine that she'd been deprived of her snack, most of which was now plastered across Ilras' face, and looked expectantly at Esteban for a replacement. Her name really was doubly appropriate; we ended up calling her Miss Chief about half the time. How she knew Esteban was responsible for her deprivation, I don't know, but no replacement was forthcoming. Scarecrow, our chocolate and tan shorthair male, gave a muted but pre-emptory bark informing us he wanted ketchup, too. We were at the table; we studiously ignored them.

I felt a muted thunk as Tina, my assistant, slid us into the control plug of my latest contract, followed a few seconds later by a datalink message of control verified, ready for Vector. I'd chosen Tina for the job because she was my niece and already a fully qualified in-system navigator, but despite my hopes after six years nearly constant exposure to the kids, she hadn't gone operant yet, so I still had to do all the Vectoring. I relieved her, re-computed the Vector for confirmation, performed it, verified position, and (because our next pickup was in this same system) transferred the helm back to her for in-system maneuvering to our next job. It had taken all of six seconds, and I'd still had a couple of para to keep the peace at the dinner table.

Mama, how long until we can play with baby Alden? Ilora wanted to know again.

About three more weeks, honey, I told her. Truth be told, despite all the advantages of being a Guardian, I was ready for my last pregnancy to be over. Next time, I would plan on one child, two at the most. But I really had only myself to blame - I could have just used artificial gestation for Esteban, same as everyone else, and then most of the Empire wouldn't have known about the advantages of operant mothers carrying operant children themselves. I'd introduced Alden to his older siblings on several occasions, but most of the time, kept him swaddled away where only I or Asto could interact with him. Since Asto was a First Corporal, assigned as executive officer of a squadron of Planetary Surface troops out in Ninth Galaxy, that didn't happen as often as any of us liked. The rank was an almost exact match to Brigadier General in the old US Army; a squadron was 14,400 combat troops plus their support staff of roughly another 3600.

Alden, for his part, wanted out into the great wide world. It took two of my para full time to keep him occupied and learning, and he still wasn't satisfied. Can I play with Ilras and Esteban, Mom? It was tempting to just blow off the last three weeks of this pregnancy, knowing any physical defects could be fixed later, but neither I nor Asto was ready to experiment with Alden's emotional development. The Empire had tens of thousands of years of evidence children were more able to deal with the world after a full gestation, even in an artificial womb. Neither of us wanted to experiment more than we'd already done with our own children, carrying them naturally as I'd done.

Dinner was just about over, winding down with chocolate ice cream for everyone, when Asto told me, It's official!

Children, some news. Your father is getting a new assignment. He's going to be a Staff Corporal assigned to maintenance and repair in Indra System! We're going to go live in the Residence, where he can be home every day!

Copyright 2018 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

Measure of Adulthood Update

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Got the files back with feedback from the beta readers, and done going through them. The interior of the book is now essentially finished, just waiting on my cover artist (which was officially due on the 11th, but I'd told him the 18th was fine so I'm standing by that.)

No, they didn't make me fly myself back to Indra. Another Staff Private flew the cutter so he could bring it back. I didn't stand on ceremony. As soon as the cutter grounded, I thanked him, unstrapped, grabbed my gear bag, remote-walked my combat suit out after me, and headed for the base personnel office, through a nearby portal. While walking, I reported in via datalink. Staff Private Graciela Juarez, reporting on terminal assignment.

You're on our list of those scheduled for today. Eight days was plenty of time for my records to arrive. You have plenty of leave, and we don't have any pressing needs in your qualification areas. Unless you have some objection, we can essentially discharge you right now. Were you intending to buy your combat suit, Private?

I am not. Some people timing out did go more or less directly into private armed forces, and some wanted to keep their suits 'just in case.' I wasn't planning anything in civilian life that might require one, and I could always buy one later. A Planetary Surface soldier always had a combat suit, from the time they were issued in initial training until officially separated. Fulda was a training base for natural state humans; they'd reassign my suit to someone else when I was officially out. Until then, I was required to have access to it and maintain it.

Five minutes later, I'd surrendered the suit and had my discharge orders, which put me on leave for the last four days of my contract, "subject to recall for the needs of the Empire" after which I was a civilian again. I was still subject to military discipline until the end of my contract, expected to wear appropriate uniform while in public - essentially the standard dress uniform, equivalent to office wear for the military: tunic, trousers, belt, and hat, all in the gold-trimmed blue of the Imperial military. The Empire and its military believed in showing the uniform. No matter where you went, there was always at least a thin smattering of uniforms. If I was going to be getting dirty for some reason, I'd switch to work uniform, the equivalent of fatigues.
It had been a while since I was on Indra, and twenty years since I'd been through Fulda. Instead of teleporting, I caught a portal to Sumabad, several thousand kilometers south and west, where it was still the middle of planetary night. Overhead shone the span of Indra Habitat One, the closer of two annular habitats encircling Indra's star. When I'd first been here, the framework was just going up, now it was rapidly filling with people. It was so close, it felt like you could reach out and touch it - the six Indra Rosette Worlds orbited only two Imperial seconds (just over a million kilometers) inside the huge band - less than half the width of the habitat, close enough to watch storms and identify seas and major cities. It didn't really get dark on the Rosette Worlds any more, with the habitat shining more brightly than a dozen full moons on Earth. It looked like we'd be passing in front of Habitat Two, orbiting perpendicular to Habitat One ten seconds further out, in a few more days.

Fulda was a small town by Imperial standards - only a few million people. The spires of Sumabad, by comparison, held somewhere over a billion, facing the Sumabad Strait. Sumabad was literally older than the Empire; it had grown up as a port city during the dark ages of Imperial prehistory. When the Empire reached Indra, it had already been the largest city on the planet. It hadn't been one of the Empire's largest cities in a long time, but it was impressive for what it was. Twenty kilometer high arcologies, each five to eight kilometers on a side, each separated from the others by about five kilometers of jungle style greenbelt studded with berths for the great spherical ships that were the largest freighters. Scimtar's former flagship Response In Will was permanently grounded in front of the closest, a thirty-five hundred meter sphere of dark gray metal looming over the jungle but in turn miniaturized by the spires around it.

I turned and entered the arcology. I wasn't strong enough to teleport twenty-three kilometers straight up in one jump, but the arcology's portal system could handle it just fine. It had been a while since I'd been back; caution seemed called for. I chose a destination just outside the official Residence, and emerged into a brightly lit corridor. It wasn't packed by any means, but there were people moving along it, moving with the air of those on their way somewhere. I left the receiving portal platform as I accessed Residence security and submitted my identity for scan.

Residence security agreed that I was cleared for the Residence and admitted me. I got about two steps before my perception said someone was there and I was swept up in a big bear hug by Scimtar himself.
"Welcome home, daughter!" Scimtar was the definition of larger than life - a full seven feet tall, wearing the uniform of his own family - gold trimmed with blue, reversing the Imperial colors. I'd never seen him anything other than in complete control of a situation. Scimtar was Asto's grandfather, the head of the family, a legend throughout the Empire, and, at nearly thirty square (108,000 Imperial or 75,000+ Earth years) one of its oldest citizens.

I hugged him back, "Good to be home, grandfather!" then stepped back and saluted. He returned it, twinkle in his eye.

About then Anara - Asto's mother - also zoomed in for a hug. "Congratulations! Asto told me you already started!" She was in civilian dress, but she was wearing the gray triangle of an Octus-in-fact. She was much younger than her father, barely past her first square (3600 Imperial years or 2500 Earth). My baby was her first grandchild. Not far behind, her husband Gilras was more restrained in his hug. I noticed he was wearing a uniform with three purple stars of rank - a First General - but white staff epaulets rather than the black of active command. Unusual as First General was a command grade, not staff, but I was no connoisseur of what went on at those exalted ranks.

Asto's Aunt Anana was close behind, and Helene, Scimtar's wife, his grandmother, then Ononi and Imre, Scimtar and Helene's youngest children, screaming "Aunt Grace!" Well, technically, they were my aunt- and uncle-in-law, but they'd been children when I met them. Now, they were the family's youngest adults. "Lady and More are waiting in your apartment!" they told me, a reference to the two dogs Asto and I had adopted. I was tempted to let the dogs out to greet me, but first I wanted to get the family under control. Parnit was the last of the adults to join the gathering, together with his brood of four children ranging from ten year old (7 Earth) Imar up to twenty-one year old (15 Earth) Anesto, with two girls, Urona and Anosha, in between the boys. Anesto had been just over a year old when Asto and I enlisted; we didn't know the kids well. That would have to change. I had plenty of practice being 'Aunt Grace'.

Earth natives wouldn't have thought any of them were related to each other. Scimtar was tall, dark-skinned like some Earthly South Asians and hawk-faced, like his grandson Asto. Anara looked like a fair-skinned Celt with fiery red hair and was a foot and a half shorter, the same height as me. Anana could have passed for my sister, medium-dark brown hair and skin of that shade that can be found on tanned Anglos, Mediterranean people, or lighter-skinned Mexicans. I was slightly darker, but close enough. Helene always reminded me of a young Katherine Hepburn with the grace and dignity of the same actress much later in life. Imre was tall with skin the color of dark chocolate, while his fraternal twin Ononi was my height and fair, like her older sister Anara except blonde. None of Anana and Parnit's kids looked especially like either one of their parents. But they were a family. Imperials, especially Guardians, could easily determine their own appearance. I was at the lower end of the modification scale - all I'd added was a couple inches of height and about sixty pounds of dense, augmented muscle. I think Scimtar himself was fairly close to what nature had given him, but there was no way to know other than asking him.

Copyright 2017 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved

I was so relieved to have this done Saturday I got the clean-up draft finished last night, and already this morning I have sent it off to my beta readers and got a cover artist I've worked with before started.

******

"I have the helm," Asto told Sergeant Trimza.

"I am relieved," she agreed, transferring control to him.

"Condition Gold. Launch Starbirds."

"Condition Gold, Launching Starbirds," First Corporal Vidos, responded. Wandering River had a full platoon of fighters despite being a Strategic Space vessel; the auxiliary bays were the single largest allocation of her volume. Shaped like a fat bullet, the ship was fifteen ifourths in length, roughly four ifourths in diameter. It was a post craft's length that qualified her for this mission; yesterday Asto had had three crews in suits crawling over the outside of his ship, laying down three strips of exotic metal out of a specialty converter the length of the cylindrical two-thirds of her hull, connecting them to the ship's power grid and installing a new program for reading the results.

"Any idea how we got so lucky, ang?" Battalion Sergeant Masgera, the ship's head engineer, had asked sarcastically.

"I know exactly how it happened. My mother asked for me, and the rest of our post ships came along for the ride." he'd replied.

"I'd forgotten you're a Scimtar. What's the idea?"

"She's an Interstitial physicist. Instead of trying to put a whole detection array on one ship, Mom and her team decided to try dividing them up among several ships to increase the size of the baseline for measurements and as well as allowing a broader angle of dispersion. It's also cheaper and allows us to use existing ships rather than custom building ships the size of a big moon. Ours is a prototyping configuration. The hope is detecting demonic infestation across the full eleven dimensions at a range I think is incredible, but I only have a six rating; she's probably the top researcher in the Empire right now, and Dad's a nine, as well. She thinks we'll be able to use any number of sensing elements within about a two year range of each other, but we'll need test data to confirm. I imagine whatever the results, there will be assault missions to confirm within days if not hours."

"So our big break in finding the scaly djhanta?"

"Let's hope so. It's become a lot more urgent - the demons may have found a strategy that that shifts the balance their way."

"So why did she ask for you?"

"Because she knows I know enough, and am a good enough Interstitial pilot, to demand correct spacing and get her the quality of data she needs to make a real determination of the limits of the system."
"She's not coming?"

"She isn't replaceable at the moment, so no. The Merlon put her on Safety Reserve; none of us can see an appeal being successful."

"Must be nice."

He hadn't bothered explaining he'd been in the military fiftytwo years under war conditions because it was safer than being fully exposed to political rivals of his family; those outside the Great Houses never really understood. It had claimed the life of his younger brother despite the protection of being in the military. Instead, "She's not happy about someone else gathering the data for her. Said if I wasn't careful about it, it'd set us back five years. Said she'd remove my adulthood and force my wife to divorce me. Nothing was said about our children."

"She can't really do that? Never know with you Oranges." The Great Houses were a rule unto themselves, but in an Empire of over two thirteenths, there were still less than twenty prime of Seventh Order Guardians - and that counted those still legally children.

"No, but she was making a point. I will be careful."

Asto brought himself back to the present as Corporal Vidos reported, "Status Gold achieved, ang. All Starbirds mass-linked."

"Have our partners confirmed the position data and references?"

"Affirmative."

"Then signal control we're ready to begin the mission."

"They say Vector when ready."

"Aye, counting down from five....four....three...two...one..."

A single large ship with auxiliaries of comparatively negligible mass was about as easy as mass-linked Vectors got; all of the power was coming from Wandering River, and the small surrounding masses tended to help even out the stresses rather than accentuating them. Green band rose slightly and red band was falling off, but nothing that any Vector pilot couldn't have managed. Gray band and gravband were almost steady. As Grace says, easy peasy.

Blink.

The outside cameras showed the interstitial media dimly backlit, a thin, smoky, fog-like substance not unlike dark nebulae inside an instance. There wasn't enough light to see any color in it. The few sources of light didn't really illuminate unless they were close, cosmically speaking. "Confirm position!"

Asto himself was helm; that made him responsible for the most important piece of that confirmation. Bearings were fuzzy due to the interstitial medium, but peak readings on sources of radiation showed the correct angles of divergence. Their position was less than an ithird from plan. "Auxiliary release mass link!" he ordered, cancelling velocity as well as he could, precessing slowly to line up with the most prominent source of radiation. "Shields off! I say again, shields off! Strobe the interstitial probes!"

Engineering fed small amounts of power into the three strips of exotic metal newly installed on the hull, in carefully measured sine waves. The point was signaling ready to their five cohorts; when all six were strobing the program would take over. Unfortunately, it would also be a signal potential enemies could home in on. Shields had to be off; otherwise they'd absorb the energy the ships were trying to sense. That was what gave the mission its pucker factor, and why the auxiliaries were on high alert. Hull charge limited the damage; it didn't stop it from happening entirely.

"Two strobes, ang! Three! Ranges nominal, one year forty-five. Five strobes confirmed! Program engaging!"

Asto took over, "Emissions zero!" The ship's other active sensors needed to be off to sense the echo.

"Countdown to pulse! Three...two...one...pulse."

Even on the scale of a post craft, whose primary weapon put out the energy of several hundred G-type stars, the pulse energy was significant. "Capacitors at twentytwo iprime!" Engineering reported, "Siphons at full draw...forty iprime...capacitors full; banking siphons!"

Asto was watching the returns. Like primitive radar, the returns started almost immediately. The fastest returns were the closest objects, and returns would be ongoing as long as anyone was there to sense them. Unlike radar, the scale wasn't a single planet and the velocity of the pulse was more than sixty to the fifth power times faster than the speed of light. Theory said a galaxy-sized return in eleven dimensions could be painted in under thirty minutes; the longer they could hold position like this, the bigger the volume they'd get data on. His mother told him the theoretical limit to the range was over a fifth but nobody expected them to hold position that long; mission instructions were to return in four days even if they encountered no fractal demons. He hoped the fractal demons wouldn't realize what they were up to. Failing that, he hoped the Empire's adversaries didn't get a good location. Not a very strong hope, that. Were the situations reversed, Asto would have expected to be in energy range of a demonic ship he was hunting within a minute. However, the demonic gremlin caste technicians were known for slip-shod results. Just have to hope their brakiri masters aren't on the spot.

Now we wait.

It was lonely, being the only ship of any size for over a year in any direction. The other five post craft could support them or vice versa - if they got a message off and survived long enough. Starbirds were small enough their non-combat power was negligible, but the main ship would be the first target, and they were sitting in what could be demonic territory with no active sensors and shields off, waiting for the return off their searching pulse. From the returns, Asto was assembling a picture of the limited return they'd gotten off the strobing phase of emission. It was low power, therefore with limited range, but no demonic fractals were showing up within it. That was a good thing for Asto and his shipmates, not so good for the mission, which was to find demonic fractals so they could be destroyed.

The first significant return happened eleven minutes into their wait, a projected distance of seven square years fortytwo. "I need a courier," he told Corporal Vidos. Assuming that the test was valid and it was the closest demonic realm, there was enough distance that the demons might be a while, and passive sensors might notice their approach in time to give warning. Asto realized there was no reason he was aware of the ships sending the pulse had to be the ones receiving it. In other words, once the pulse was sent, there was no reason for the ship sending it to wait for the return - which could be sensed by an entirely different set of ships in stealth mode anywhere within two years or so. Ships which hadn't sent out a universe-spanning energy pulse to call attention to their position. The Empire has all the post-size craft it could want. But we're committed for this test. Better to hope they don't realize what we're up to yet. But demons are lazy, not stupid, and I suspect we'll be doing this many times in the future.

"Courier assigned. Activating reserve." Even a ship with a crew of several squares didn't have an unlimited number of Interstitial qualified pilots, and most of them were already out in the Starbirds, flying cover.

"Return to base with the location of that demonic realm. Advise them I advise an immediate attack in at least division strength, and request an update on whatever action is performed." These days, the mission was always destruction, and that was cheaper than conquest. The demons weren't linking their new domains any longer; there was no longer a reason to pay the higher costs of conquest rather than destruction.


Copyright 2024 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

Measure Of Adulthood

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Finally finished the first draft of Measure Of Adulthood, fourth and final of the Politics of Empire series.

Things dovetailed better than I thought they would; the rough draft comes in about 53,000 words, a short novel. We'll see how things go when I go back through it for continuity and clean-up.

If I decide to write more about Grace or her children (most likely Ilras if any), it will be the start of a new series. This will move me away from the particular window I also wrote the Preparations for War series in; I've been working there since 2015, and the last few thousand words did not want to come. I'm working on a standalone novel called A New Embassy, also set in the Empire of Humanity, and trying to decide whether I want to work on The Crazy Lady or Bubbles of Creation (both Connected Worlds novels) or the third Gates to Faerie novel (so far untitled) in tandem with it.

 



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