Dan Melson: August 2020 Archives

"Nothing in the Game of Houses is certain and nothing is forever. The only guarantee is we all die someday."

I still remember the first time I heard that - Scimtar himself said it to me while training me as a Guardian. Eventually we all make the fatal mistake. That said, the fact it was Scimtar saying it changed the subtext - he'd been playing the game for over thirty square. Just because you were going to die someday didn't mean it had to be today or any time soon. Maybe the metaphorical dice would come up snake eyes for you today. Maybe you had enemies who'd do their best to make it happen. But you got to influence those dice, too. The leaders of the Empire were all masters at loading the dice in their favor, or better yet, controlling the outcome so the dice were never rolled.

But you're not the only one the dice can turn fickle on...

-Graciela Juarez di Scimtar

It never begins dramatically.

It started on an ordinary day, when I'd been doing the perfectly ordinary thing of gathering evidence for a hearing. The case I was investigating had to do with the tort of infringement. In this case the plaintiff was alleging the defendant was generating excessive noise and interfering with the plaintiff's enjoyment of their property. Evidently, the defendant had refused negotiation on the subject and so the case was going before the relevant Primus the next day.

Both were out on the fringes of Sumabad, out in the hills, out where the towering arcologies holding tens of millions each petered out, and the residents generally had reasons to need or want ground space. One was an academy for self-defense, with classrooms for hand to hand disciplines and ranges for things like disruptors, lasers, flechette guns, and even the occasional firearm. The other was the Grubaro Club, a nightclub catering largely to the Tumar culture which had a large presence in Sumabad and environs. Tumars liked explosions while they were eating and dancing. Tumars thought loud noises were exciting and envigorating. Unfortunately for their neighbors, these explosions and other noises often reached ear-splitting levels, and it was not only disrupting to the peaceful conduct of the instruction at Hills Academy for Preparation and Discipline next door, many of the patrons and instructors were combat veterans. It wasn't my place to judge, but I was pretty sure the Primus was going to mostly rule against the Grubaro Club - they had a responsibility to see that any noise they generated did not disturb their neighbors, and my spak recording was getting readings consistently louder than an original Learjet on high-power takeoff.

Scimtar himself contacted me. Grace, I have a job if you're interested, or rather a series of jobs. Mixed family and imperial. It involves demonic traces, mostly spraxos and nephraim.

I was no longer the barely trained woman who'd been nervous about facing a terostes by herself, but neither was I a Sixth or Seventh Order Guardian. I was mid-range Fourth Order - albeit trained by House Scimtar. Furthermore, if I were observed taking on spraxos, that could be the end of me pretending to still be Second Order. What's it entail?

We're seeing a surge in the number of demonic traces, not only here in Indra System but everywhere in the Empire. The conclusion is obvious.

The fractal demons were trolling for treason. It's what they did. The vast majority of their troops would be easy pickings for Imperials when the inevitable confrontation came. Unless they could get us to turn on each other, the eventual war would be notable mostly for a lopsided casualty count. They'd seduced the old stons without anyone realizing it until the old Empire was already gone, resulting in a civil war that ended up destroying the Empire - and afterwards, almost the entire human species. This time the leaders of the Empire were alert for their tactics.

The assignment?

Match demonic traces to human contacts by Event Line congruency. Investigate the human contacts by behavior. If you happen to destroy demons, we'll pay a bounty - nephraim are worth three fourths, spraxos thirty. Ancilliaries too, although manesi and lemuure aren't worth much. What we're looking for is evidence to convict or exonerate treason, and we'll double your normal rate for results.

The money was nice even if Asto and I could live very comfortably off investments if we wanted, but demonic nobles were dangerous - and they had a habit of bringing in help when threatened. But I didn't think Scimtar would be offering me the job if he didn't think I was able to handle myself doing it - I'd given the family five children thus far, all of them above average tracking metrics for Seventh Order Guardians their age thanks to yours truly carrying them naturally instead of using artificial gestation. I'd done it for my babies, not for House Scimtar, but I knew Scimtar valued my efforts.

Grandfather is offering you a way into the Guardian's Ears if you're willing, my husband Asto put in his two cents.

I thought the Guardian's Ears didn't accept candidates born outside the Empire?

Maybe not, but it's worth pursuing if you want to win appointment as a Primus yourself someday.

That was a carrot that had my eye. Most Secundus-in-fact had more applicants for Primus-in-fact than they knew what to do with. Even a 'might be' defect like being born on Earth before the Empire arrived could be enough to make them pass you by. Also, I was a di Scimtar, which had advantages but also carried baggage. I wasn't really qualified yet - but I needed something to counter-balance the possible defect I couldn't cure, and it was never too soon to pick up that extra little something that would put me over the top when I was. I already had work in the Merlon's Eyes to my credit. Add something equivalent to the Guardian's Ears and that might be enough.

Why me? I asked Scimtar.

You've had ten years' experience as an investigator now, and we both know you're Fourth Order. Most of our investigators are Second Order, and weaker than average Second Order at that. They might be able to handle a nephraim, but a spraxos would squash them, and if they stumbled across a jopas it would be hopeless.

If there's a basileus?

You've survived two confrontations with them. There isn't another active investigator who can say that anywhere in the Empire.

I'd rather not risk it a third time.

So be careful and don't confront anything you're not certain of. Scimtar never had any sympathy for getting caught by your own mistakes. If there's the possibility of jopas, basileus, or something even stronger, bring it to my attention and I will use an appropriate agent.

When do you need a decision? I asked Scimtar. Who are you trying to fool, love? Asto asked me. I want to talk to the kids about it, I told him.

Tomorrow, I could tell Scimtar wasn't fooled either, fifteen hours from right now. He knew this was an opportunity as well as a risk. You can bet he thought he was doing both of us a favor. He broke contact without further complication.

What do you think? I asked Asto.

I think this is a good opportunity for you. The kids are taking care of themselves, and we've got my splinters to provide any parental supervision they actually need.

You know being a parent isn't just about supervision.

They can talk to you as easily as I can, anytime. It's not like they have music recitals or hadul games you have to attend.

I don't want to miss Mom stuff. When I'd had each child, I'd committed myself to thirty years of being Mom before anything else. As much as I needed to get away a few hours a week, I enjoyed it. Unlike the situation on Earth before contact, I could expect plenty of lifespan after - Guardians lived until something killed them. According to personal duration, I was 98 Imperial years old - 69 Earth. I kept myself healthier and looking younger than I had the night ScOsh stepped through the portal back on Earth. Even among the natural state humans, that was the way things were in the Empire. I hadn't seen anyone who looked middle-aged or old since my last trip back to Earth. At somewhere over 80,000 Earth years of age, Scimtar himself looked no older physically than the college students of my youth.

You won't miss it. Things will just be a little different for a while.

I had to admit he was right. Thanks to our situation, even ten year old Alden was beyond what I could teach him about most subjects. At sixteen Imperial, Esteban was starting to show glimpses of the amazing man he would become - even if his voice had just started to crack. Ilora, Ilras, and Imtara, between them in age, were all starting to show specific interests and dispositions. I appreciated Ferugio - Scimtar's teaching master - more now than I had when under his tutelage. The kids' physical training was also more advanced than Asto had been at their age, as Scimtar himself had dedicated a splinter full time to teaching the family self-defense and dueling. Even Amras and Iaren - the oldest of his surviving children, each well over a square in age and formidable opponents in their own right - took lessons from their father occasionally. But the upshot was that my kids - and my husband and even I - were better prepared to defend ourselves than otherwise. His splinter might literally be a shadow of Scimtar himself, but it knew everything he'd learned in his long and adventurous life.

Will you be home tonight?

I did tell you that our schedule was for thirty hours of fleet exercises?

Yes, but I could hope for a change. His splinter would still be there, but his splinter wasn't Asto.

I love that you're always ready to hope the universe will be kind.

I love that you humor me. I'll talk with the kids tonight.

"Hello Mark?"

It had been seven years since she abruptly served me with divorce papers and promptly disappeared. "What do you want, Diane?" I replied, not bothering to conceal the hostility I felt. It had been a decent enough day until now.

"I'm sorry, Mark. I know I hurt you, but it was the best thing I could have done. You don't owe me, and I don't have any right to ask, but I'm desperate and there's nobody else to ask. I need a place to stay for a few days. Is there any chance I can borrow your couch? I'll sleep on the floor if I have to. You're not with anyone are you?"

"I pay you plenty to afford a place to stay, Diane. What's this really about?" Being an ex-husband in California wasn't quite like being a field hand in Alabama before the Civil War, but it wasn't far off, either.

"Mark, if I go home, they'll kill me. If I use a credit card, they'll find me."

"And this is bad because...?" I asked, callously. I mean, no more alimony.

"I suppose I deserved that," she admitted, "Goodbye, Mark. I wish I could have explained, but I didn't want to drag you in. For what it's worth, I'm sorry."

"Wait, Diane," I told her. It was close to ten already. "You can stay here tonight. Tomorrow, you need to find something else." She had to have another friend somewhere. I'd put her on a bus if I had to. I started to give her my address, then stopped. I'd changed my cell number when she left. "How did you get this number?"

"Mark, I'll be there in half an hour. I can't explain much without dragging you in, but what I can, I will. I know where you live. Thank you!" She hung up.

Well, shit. She'd suckered me again. Seven years since she just vanished (well, except for the lawyer that worked the divorce for her). I hadn't been able to make a go of any relationship since, and I knew exactly why, and she'd still suckered me.


Gates artwork small.jpg


Available through Amazon and the Books2Read retailers

#fantasy #urbanfantasy

The idea was simple: Demons have found a species (humanity) that has more potential to resist their conquest than any they have previously encountered due to operant abilities. But they've also found a planet which has lost contact with the main part of the Empire, and has also lost understanding of the gifts and of the technology - but that doesn't mean there are no genetic carriers of the gifts.

So as they did with the likaans so long ago, they kidnap a number of humans, taking them to a nearby world (Calmena, aka Epsilon Indi A II), to breed them for operant gifts and for obedience.

Unfortunately for the demons, humans are more resilient than the likaans were. A few do indeed become part of bloodlines prized for their obedience and usefullness in controlling other humans. More are simply ignored, except as slaves or food. And one managed to lead the first successful revolt, establishing an independent human stronghold on Calmena.

It's been twenty thousand Earth years or so since then. The operant agaani, leaders of the independent humans, have become nearly as oppressive as the demons they won independence from. The fact that their independence is holding on by its fingernails is only an excuse for their abuse of the non-operant humans they lead.

That's the situation when the Empire of Humanity finds Calmena. Since Calmena has long established gates leading to the demonic homelands, it's the starting place for a fast route into the heart of the demons power. If the Empire can map those gates and where they lead, they will have the opportunity to strike a critical, perhaps decisive blow against the demons when hostilities resume. But while the Empire cannot have the demons learning that the Empire knows about Calmena, they are not without compassion for the humans forced to live in such a place. To that end, they form a charity with the goal of helping the Calmenans free themselves. Those working on Calmena must be careful to make the advances appear to be native ingenuity.

Preparations for War has three books currently, and I'm working on the fourth, which will be the last. They are available in e-book or paperback, from Amazon and the Books2Read retailers (Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, etcetera. Includes at least two library services, so you can request them from your public library, too)

Book One: Preparing The Ground Amazon Books2Read retailers

Book Two: Building The People Amazon Books2Read

Book Three: Setting The Board Amazon Books2Read

Book Four: Moving The Pieces will be the last. I'm currently writing it in conjunction with The End of Childhood, with which it has some events in common.

Since my last feature was from The Monad Trap, I thought this one should be from the novel preceding it, as well as the First Book in Connected Realms.

My brother been right; the antigravity stopped working as soon as I was through. The pallet collapsed heavily onto the two axles I'd just installed.

The surface I was on was hard rock. Despite the fact that all I could see or perceive of this place was flat or at most gently sloping, all of the rock appeared to be igneous. Granite, basalt, pumice, etcetera, and all the variants, but absurdly rich in uncommon elements. Crystalline minerals glittered upon the surface in profusion up to the size of my hand or so, and my perception informed me that this was the case below the surface as well. Many of those crystals were precious or semi-precious stones. Pools and puddles of water ranging in size from nothing on up to perhaps a couple ifourths across speckled the landscape, the markings of small streams flowing out of them. This place broke all the rules of planetary geology. At least the rules we thought we knew, and the Empire had seen trillions of planets and planetoids. Smaller rocks and loose soil were practically non-existent. Nor did there seem to be any sort of indigenous life. No plants at all. I wondered where the oxygen-rich air was coming from.

True to the warning, the dimensionality here was roughly three point twelve. Due to higher dimensionality, material borders were somewhat more difficult to traverse - the fractal surfaces generated more friction with the cart's tires than a strictly three dimensional surface would have.

It seemed that the most recent rain couldn't have been too long ago. I didn't see signs of significant evaporation from the natural limits of the depressions sheltering the water. But what my perception 'saw' was completely unexpected - the water was charged with an energy that reminded me of quantum foam, but tangible in the macroscopic universe, the richest source for matra I'd ever seen, or been told of for that matter. The water literally shone in some of the larger pools, merely glittering in the smaller ones. Perhaps the difference in intensity was a clue to how long it had been?

A trail had been worn onto the rock nearby, and people were following it. How had a trail become worn in a place seemingly devoid of plant life, which by all the rules I knew would have also precluded animal life?
Around me were several different sorts and even different species of what were obviously sentients, although even on the trails, there was plenty of room between individuals or groups. Humans I obviously recognized. There were also human variants, like a group of tall pale white stick-thin people with bright blue or violet eyes and hair that ranged from white to pale blue to pale yellow. It wasn't the thin of starvation or inactivity as they had excellent muscle definition, instead it seemed to be what was natural for them. I did a quick scan; genetically they were as human as I was, which is to say human with a few additions. As I walked, I discovered that there were also an amazing variety of nonhumans, from anthropoid to saurian to insectoid and just about everything else imaginable. As I said, this place appeared to break all the rules I thought I knew.

The trails seemed to follow mostly higher points in the terrain. At irregular intervals, there would be a junction or a branching. Some of them were barely footpaths, others were worn so smooth and wide they might as well have been a paved highway. Gently sloping swaths of bare rock surrounded us, none of them more than a few times human height. Despite the presence of the various sentients within my sight range, there were no permanent structures visible anywhere.

Visibility was low; there was a ubiquitous mist. Vision was restricted to no more than a few minutes' walk at most. At times, it was as low as perhaps sixty long paces or so. Nonetheless, it seemed we were on the inside of what could be most easily described as the hollowed out center of a large rock, the cavern no bigger than I could travel completely around at an easy pace in a few hours. What was holding us to the surface of the enclosing rock wasn't easy to describe. It wasn't gravity, and it wasn't centripetal force like an annular habitat. It seemed to be a byproduct of dimensionality that seemed to increase the closer you got to the center of the cavern. It seemed I weighed no more than half what I had on Nexus, but dimensionality varied from barely more than three to three point eighteen just over the narrow range of elevations I'd already encountered. Up at the very center, it seemed most likely dimensionality would be the full eleven. You could hear water falling constantly; sometimes the trail would parallel a small stream for a distance. Above us, somewhere in the mist, were some kind of multicolored light sources. I wasn't certain how many there were at present but I was certain there was more than one. The thick mist precluded shadows, but there were diffraction patterns in the mist that were beautiful, gold and blue and red and white sparkles. Further establishing the particulars seemed like something that could wait until I was established.

On second thought, maybe what I heard wasn't necessarily water. It was liquid, and the only liquid I'd seen was water, but I couldn't be certain that all of the liquid I was hearing was water. And since my brain had kicked in, I decided that before I wandered off too far I'd better mark my point of arrival and see if I couldn't figure out the translation that had brought me here. An inter-bubble gate was a major working; I should be able to back trace it for some time but it would never be easier than now. No, I wasn't planning to renege on my deal to leave the Empire and stay out, but knowing where I was in relation to the Empire would be useful someday. Besides, if survival necessitated me sneaking back to the Empire at some point in the future, better I was in a position to make that decision based upon practicality rather than have ignorance eclipse one of my options. With that in mind, I began a return to my starting point.

But when I turned back around, pulling my wheeled pallet behind me, I encountered a small troop of what appeared to be somewhat crustacean-like creatures. They thought of themselves as the diligar. They had hard exoskeletons, which obviously molted at regular intervals while growing. Six three-segmented, insect-like armored legs supported each one, perhaps knee height off the ground or a little more, rising slightly towards the front of the segment. They had a broad, fleshy, flat tail, also armored, behind their torso. A front segment of their torso rose at an angle roughly two-thirds of the way from horizontal towards vertical, to a final elevation about my own height, and sprouted four more armored, three segmented legs, each with four fleshy manipulative appendages in a rectangular pattern at the end. Probably not as flexible as human hands, but plenty good enough for grasping, and twice as many of them. Two faceted, insectile eyes on short, independently moving eyestalks rose from the top of the front segment. Color seemed to be very dark brown, fading around the edges of the segments to a dirty white. Age seemed to make the colors more vivid rather than darker. Perception said that only the underbelly of the horizontal torso was less than fully armored, likely where they escaped their shell when it was time to molt. The three individuals out of fourteen who seemed to be highest status had a metal plate across this vulnerable part of their belly, held in place by fibrous straps. Several others had a similar covering that might have been a piece of a previously molted shell. It seemed likely the species had aquatic ancestry, and still spent some part of their life cycle in water. They carried bladed, serrated iron spears slightly more than human height in length.

I was pulling my cart along the trail at the fold of land between two gentle hills, walking back the short distance back to where I'd appeared when they confronted me with angry sounds and gestures telling me to get off the trail, I was an obstacle to them. Fair enough; there were fourteen of them and only one of me although it would have been just as easy for all fourteen of them to walk around my cart. Auros made it easy enough to understand what they were thinking despite the language barrier. Yes, they were being more aggressive than there was reason to be, but I wasn't looking for trouble, and it was better not to get involved in any confrontations before I understood the set-up around here. So I began pulling my cart off the 'trail' to allow them to pass.

Their young leader, decorated with a red star in four points, hauled off and tried to hit me with his blade, thinking to punish me for not having been faster. For having the temerity to think that perhaps I had the same right to the trail as him. And that I was not going to tolerate. My charged bondsteel sword was in my hand, and I parried, forcing his spear down into the ground with the flat of the dark gray blade. He would have had to have been blind not to see the difference in quality of the metals. I was yielding the trail because I didn't want trouble, not because I was incapable of contesting it. And I stood there calmly, gaze on the closest thing he had to a face (the area between his eyes), while I used auros to send to all of them, I yield the trail because I prefer not to fight. If that's your desire, go in peace. But if you're determined to have a fight, there's no point in me evading one.

Several of them were mentally startled at the message. An older member of the troop, with more discretion and perhaps a veteran's eye for how easily I'd responded, tried to defuse the situation, gently tugging his leader in a direction that would have taken them both around me and the cart.

The leader wasn't having it. Obviously a young male, he barked a short command, and tried to wrench his spear away from my blade in attack. The other soldiers began moving their spears in my direction.
I simply stepped inside as the leader's spear wrenched away, and calmly cut him in two just above the angle in his carapace. The bondsteel blade was sharp, three to four atoms across on the edges, and hull-charged. I could have cut a solid steel block almost as easily as I cut through the young aristocrat. On the back stroke, I caught the three spears closest to me, gathering them on the strong part of the blade in a classic circular parry before I used the base of the main edge to cut the heads off those spears.

I took one step back, viewing the tableau in front of me, sending We are taught that those who attack us should not do so with impunity. Your leader attacked me twice, but he has paid with his life. This doesn't need to go any further.

The Fountains of Aescalon is available in e-book and paperback from both Amazon and all of the Books2Read retailers



#fantasy #manyworlds

Instead of an excerpt from my work in progress, here's an excerpt from my most recently published novel, The Monad Trap, Book Two of Connected Realms. It is available to the right through Amazon and all of the Books2Read retailers.


Afterwards, I felt her revert to her more accustomed shape as we lay entwined together, enjoying the feeling of simply touching and being touched as we enjoyed each other's company. "Hast thou an entertainment planned for Queen Veronia's salon?" she asked.

"I hadn't planned on one. You had told me you wanted to provide a contribution, and since most couples include but one wizard, I had not thought it necessary."

"Is my lord husband concerned I shall be angry if his entertainment is superior?"

"The thought had crossed my mind, milady, but the real item of concern is I am not of Migurd as yet. My last entertainment drew admiration from the other wizards for technical ability, but little applause from the crowd for pleasing their tastes. I am certain they shall enjoy your contribution more."

"You're still worrying the concern we discussed earlier."

"Aye, and a hundred others as well. If ever an ultsi focuses upon a single task, milady, then you should be concerned."

She laughed, a musical sound I loved to hear. "That is obvious to all who have met you. The only thing I've seen you focus on completely was the diligar invasion."

It was my turn to laugh, "Milady, I solved the nature of Eternals while facing Klikitit, and several other problems besides. It would take more than that to cause me to focus all of my resources. A hostile ultsi or pentsi would be the least of such concerns as could claim my undivided attention, not least because of the damage they could wreak in passing did I not do so."

"And what problem are you worrying now?"

"The largest such cluster not banned from discussion by your edict earlier is the nature of monads."

"And what have you learned?"

"Mostly, how little information I possess. The obvious conclusion is I must devise a means for locating them and studying them directly."

"You intend to capture a monad?" She was horrified.

"I did not say that, milady, merely that I intend to locate and study them. I would never begin an inquiry with an action likely to draw ire."

"I notice you haven't ruled it out, either."

"I haven't ruled out burning down all of creation, O Jewel of My Heart, yet you do not seem concerned over the likelihood I should do so."

"You're obsessed, not insane," she began, then realized the implications, "Oh," and smiled.


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