Dan Melson: August 2018 Archives

The next morning, I had some easy queries from people looking for property, but nobody wanted anything that required my actual presence, so Anesto and I went out in a Starbird to finish up his pilot ratings. I wanted to grab something equipped with the old Interstitial Drive, but it had been nearly thirty years since it had been superseded. Net result: Interstitial Vector was all that was available in a ship the two of us could run. The exceptions were all military craft, cruiser size and above, configured to require more crew than merchant versions.

I even tried asking Scimtar, Is there anything with an old style Interstitial Drive available that's not showing? I was going to take Anesto out today to finish his pilot ratings.

No, Grace, there isn't. Are you sure you want to be the one testing him on that? Assuming I recall correctly, it's been thirty years for you, and once you were done training with EnIlas, all you did was go straight to Earth and back.

Anesto says he's having trouble finding an instructor.

That's because all of the other instructors want to wait until he's a legal adult. There are plenty of them out there, Grace. You're plenty good at what you do, but you haven't been really working with Interstitial. I'd rather have Anesto tested by someone who's been doing exploration work recently.

He had a point. It hurt my pride, but that didn't mean it wasn't valid. Someone who had those qualifications would demand more from their students. Sorry, I didn't realize you objected to me certifying him.

If I objected, I would have prevented it. You're good at everything else, but it's been too long since you really worked at Interstitial, and you never really practiced with it. Stick to the rest of the pilot ratings. He's not piloting a ship until he takes his last adulthood test, anyway, and once he does that he'll be relieving Ononi and Imre so they can join the military, and he won't need an Interstitial certification for at least five years after that.

But Urona is only two years younger than him!

Urona is problematic. We also want him to understand what the important role really is, and there's no substitute for the assisting job to learn how important business operations are to the family. Anesto will be helping his mother at least until Anosha is of age. Plenty of time for you to refresh yourself by buying an Interstitial equipped vessel and bidding a couple exploration jobs if you want. And he was gone from the link.

No, I wouldn't be taking that much time away from my children, even if Asto's splinter was there to take care of them now. It would be thirty years before Alden was an adult - I wasn't going to be away from them more than an occasional overnight until that happened - end of discussion. I was Mom or Mama first until my children were adults.

So when I met with Anesto, I had to apologize, "I tried to find something with the old Interstitial Drive," I told him, "Because I will bet that when the time comes, the military is going to be using it to get at the fractal demons. From public data, most of their habitats have access points that require getting there via tongues or bridges in the Interstitial." A tongue was something like a peninsula in terms of the eleven dimensional structure of reality, a bridge was analogous to an isthmus like Panama. "Your grandfather persuaded me it wouldn't be helping you. It's been close to thirty years since I used Interstitial in reality and I was hoping for a refresher myself, but I should do that before I certify anyone else in it. Interstitial Vector is much better commercially and it accesses all of the instances we know of where human habitable spaces can be found, but it doesn't handle tongues or bridges." I realized while saying it that I had no particular desire to return to piloting for the forseeable future. It was time to be doing something else. I'd become a real Imperial in my attitude towards careers - you changed careers when the one you had no longer worked for the life you wanted.

"It's okay Aunt Grace. I didn't expect you to teach me Interstitial. I'm sure when I get into the military, they'll be happy to teach me if I already have all the other ratings."

"Perhaps you can explain to me the military implications of the two and their differences?"

"Interstitial Vector is like Vector Drive within our Home Instance - a force multiplier. It enables our units to move essentially immediately between any two points, while opponents without take anywhere from hours to years to move the same distance. Even in tactical engagements, it enables our units to escape enemy fire and allows us to concentrate instantly where needed. Old style Interstitial, while slower, can more easily get to places on the edges of the Interstitial medium where the arrival path isn't necessarily orthogonally based."

"In basic terms, a fleet equipped with Interstitial Vector will outfight one that is not. A fleet equipped with old style Interstitial can find places of refuge from one that is not."

One of the best things about our Great Old Ones was that the Empire only needed to learn lessons like that once, and we'd had that particular lesson long ago. The Empire's rulers wouldn't allow it to be forgotten. When the rematch came with the fractal demons, humans might be prepared to hide if we lost - but the demons would never be allowed to hide if we won.

"Good enough," I told him, "Let's see you dazzle me with your knowledge of Interstitial Vector. Take me to the solar system of Earth, outside the mandatory control zone."

"What are the Interstitial coordinates?" he asked, but I told him to check the ephemeris. While he looked, he brought the capacitors to full charge. When he found it, "Is this the system you mean, Aunt Grace?", and when I told him it was, blink! and there we were, directly 'under' the Earth-Moon pair a light minute below the plane of the ecliptic.

At that range Earth and Moon were barely resolvable into two distinct dots unless you magnified the feed. I admit my eyes still got a little misty - Earth wasn't 'home' any more but it was where I was from - but then I told him to take us directly to Arwind System, where we'd been the day before, again outside the participation zone. Blink! and there we were. Then five more Interstitial Vectors in quick succession, all to various Instances other than the Imperial Home Instance, before I agreed, "Looks like you're ready to fly on you own, nephew. Or at least you will be once you pass your final adulthood exam." I logged his endorsement, and told him to take us home to Sondergard in Indra System.

"Thank you Aunt Grace!" he told me. I could tell he'd been hoping for more actual piloting time, but even if nothing had popped up in my absence, I needed to start working on my promise to train Tina as a Guardian and in piloting. Blink! we were in the Indra System, and he was contacting System Control for a clearance into the mandatory zone and a landing sequence at Sondergard. Five minutes later, we were grounded and he was shutting down the Starbird for the next person.

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Gates of Faerie Intro

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This is the prelude to my back-burner project The Gates of Faerie, which will probably be next after I finish The Price of Power

I was fourteen the first time I saw someone vanish.

It was a girl, of course. I remember her as being tall and thin, her skin the rich dark brown of fertile soil, with tightly curled black hair, falling in clumps to her shoulders. Her bathing suit was lighter brown, and looked as if it were completely dry. In fact, I don't remember water dripping off her at all as she exited the lake.

Looking back now, I'd thought I was being cool and low key about scoping her out as she left the lake, which means I was staring and probably drooling. I knew she was way beyond me, or anyone else in the troop. We were all watching.

I saw from the way she moved that she wasn't really a girl at all. She moved lightly, not disturbing the leaves or dirt under her bare feet. Young as I was, I knew she had to be older. Nobody that age masters that kind of grace and effortless self-control. Not the dancers who practiced in the loft above the gym and took private lessons, not the martial arts devotees who spent every possible moment at the dojo and might already be fourth or fifth dan or the equivalent, and definitely not boy scout science nerds like me, no matter how much time we spent outdoors learning how to move quietly and not disturb the animals. She made the best of us look like clumsy blind bumblers, and she did it effortlessly. She looked maybe sixteen or eighteen, but she had to be older.

You could tell there was something special about her just looking at the way she moved, like the sunlight that hit her was somehow made special by her presence. Yet she had an air of complete nonchalance. She knew she was beautiful and desirable, but to her it was nothing special, it was just the way she was. She knew we were watching her, enjoying watching her, but it didn't harm her and so she enjoyed our enjoyment.
As she approached a large stand of manzanita, she turned and I caught a glimpse of her ear as her already dry hair moved, trailing her head through the turn. The ear I saw was small, and pointed, like some of the aliens on Star Trek. Our collective jaws dropped. She looked right at me, and laughed. Canines more pointed than anything I'd seen on a human flashed momentarily.

Then she turned back to the manzanita. Suddenly, her clothing shifted, no longer a two-piece thong, becoming instead a gown in rich earth colors, somehow all the more alluring. She turned again, walked under an arch of overhanging red branches, and was gone.

Not "out of sight" gone, "vanished" gone.
Being fourteen and both disturbed and intrigued by what I'd seen, I remember picking myself up off my towel on the lakeshore to check. Several other members of the troop followed. We could barely make out that she had left a trail, light footprints with long toes in a couple of places where she had crossed bare dirt. But it stopped dead under the manzanita arch. Nor was there a path to continue. Beyond a small space under the arch, the bushes closed in and became impassable to anything bigger than maybe a cat. There wasn't anywhere further to go.

We talked it over for half an hour, and intermittently the rest of the weekend and occasionally after, among those who had been there. We all agreed that we'd seen a young woman leave the lake. But beautiful young supermodels do not vanish without further trace in a manzanita thicket. Eventually, we agreed she'd somehow managed to go around rather than through. Agreeing that it had to be true didn't make it so, however, and I remembered what I had seen in the back of my head. I think we all knew that something unusual had happened, but didn't want to admit it for fear of appearing naïve.

What a group of children we were.


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