Dan Melson: September 2020 Archives

Since I'm working on the third novel in this series, might be a good idea to bring people up to speed on the set up

The Price of Power is the second novel in the series. It has been about six years Imperial since the events of The Invention of Motherhood. As the novel opens, Grace is near the end of her fifth pregnancy, having decided to carry all of her previously stored fertilized eggs naturally. Her husband Asto is still in the military. Since preserving the family secret of the Scimtars requires she not live in military housing with him, she has been (with the aid of her niece Tina) working as an Interstellar pilot while raising her family.

This is the opening scene:


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!

Why is he getting demoted? Esteban wanted to know. Staff Corporal was a four grade drop, although two of them were staff grades, out of the line of command.

Because he's transferring to a space unit. You always transfer from Planetary Surface to Strategic Space or Tactical Space at a lower rank. He'd be expected to absorb an entirely new set of protocols; but a maintenance and repair assignment meant he'd henceforth be eligible for direct transfers or promotions within either of the space-borne branches.

It was a necessary move if he wanted to advance. He could wait until the sergeant grades if he wanted to, but above that, slots in Planetary Surface Forces were few and rare. The higher you went the harder it was to transfer and the bigger a demotion you'd probably have to take. All the important commands went to Tactical or Strategic Space Officers, because they all involved spaceborne warfare. Planetary Surface troops were important, but battles and wars were won in space. The Empire really didn't like to destroy habitable planets or even functioning bases, but they'd do it if they had to. Nobody talked about it much, but when even a one-man fighter could blow apart an unshielded planet, there weren't any defenses that could hold off a determined assault. Imperial planets were shielded against accidental or inadvertent destruction, or perhaps against small groups of madmen, not an intentional fleet action. Asto needed to move over to a Space assignment to continue his advancement, so taking the demotion was something that we'd known about for a while. But Asto was sharp; he probably wouldn't lose more than five of the much shorter Imperial years regaining his former rank. And by taking this particular assignment, he enabled us to be together as a real family. At least for a little while, and with the kids being young, that made it even more worth the cost.

So what are you going to do, Mom? Esteban wanted to know. He'd figured out the concept of consequences - when you drop a rock in a pond, the ripples always spread. And Aunt Tina? What's she going to do?

You're going to have to ask your Aunt Tina what she intends to do. I'd love to keep her on, but there are a lot of reasons it's a bad idea for me to keep being a Vector Pilot under these circumstances. She signed on for the benefits to her career as insystem crew the job would give her. Tina loved the kids; maybe she'd stay a while. But she shouldn't have any trouble landing a job as an insystem merchant ship's commander if she wanted - this was the sort of chance insystem crews usually only got in the military. That was the prize she'd had her eye on when she signed on. Well, that and the speculative chance of going operant.

But that was dodging the real question. I'd been the Dog Lady on Earth, but ever since I'd left, I'd been a Vector Pilot, the Imperial equivalent of an intergalactic trucker, broken only by a stint in the military. I really didn't know what I'd do when that option was off the table. Maybe I'll just concentrate on raising the five of you for a few years. Across the millions of light years between us, Asto sent me a mental snort indicating I was lying to myself. The universe knew Asto and I had plenty of money. We never needed to work again if we didn't want to. But that's not the way either one of us was programmed, and we both knew it. I'd think of something; I just had no ideas at the moment.

But I did have to break the news to Tina. She deserved to know as soon as I could tell her in person. After dinner, I gathered the kids and headed up to the piloting station. The dogs followed as a matter of course. They went where their people went. "Tina, I have some news that affects you, too. Asto got the berth in maintenance and repair, so we're going to be living in the Residence to be with him. I'll gladly keep you on at your current pay level and get you an apartment in the Residence, but I know it's not what you had in mind when you took the job."

Miss Chief demanded to be picked up by scratching Tina's pants; she knew there was no reason Tina couldn't pet her while piloting. Tina ignored her for the moment. She was a tallish willowy brunette, just dark-skinned enough that people in our California childhood knew she was Mexican and not white, not that it made any difference in the sort of schools we'd both gone to. She kept her long, dark wavy hair pinned up while she was piloting.

"I haven't made up my mind yet, Tia. When do you have to know?" She gave in to Mischief's importuning, bending to help the little golden dog up into her lap. Mischief and Scarecrow loved the kids, but the kids were kids and sometimes startled them. Tina and I and sometimes Asto were their real people for now. Esteban was learning; Scarecrow could see that he was the best chance for attention now, and made his own overtures for attention there.

"I'll be selling the pilot module, but you can just move into the Residence until you make up your mind what you want to do. Take your time." It wasn't like Tina couldn't have decided to move on at any time. After five years working with me, she'd had the career boost she'd wanted for some time.

Since I'm working on the third novel in this series, might be a good idea to bring people up to speed on the set up

Grace and Asto have been married about twenty-five Imperial years (17 Earth) at the beginning of this series. They enlisted in the military together, and now Grace is coming to the end of her enlistment, while Asto still has another forty Imperial years in his term of service, but Grace nonetheless wants to start their family now. The overarching theme of the series is that Grace will be raising that family while becoming more aware of the situation she has thrust herself into by marrying into House Scimtar.


Later, Asto and I were in our quarters. He's a tall, thin Guardian; the body type sometimes known as 'hound' on Earth. Six feet six, broad shoulders, long legs, and thin as a whip, except for tiny little bulges here and there, intended to give him a reserve of energy if he needed it. He'd changed his skin color, darkened it slightly and added a touch more bronze than when we married, so it looked rather more like what my Earth family would think of as pure indio rather than mestizo, but his face was still on the aristocratic Northern European mold, hawk-faced and sharp, with eyes that were always alive with light whenever I saw them.

That was amusing, love, he told me, watching Whelsed try and talk you out of something you've had your mind set on for most of twenty years.

It was a tribute to my resolve, of sorts. Ending my commitment at twenty years had been part of our agreement with each other to work as Eyes. They might move him to solo work as a Finger, but he wasn't so much as going to hint at me changing my mind. We kept our promises to each other, always.

You do seem amused, I observed.

We've been in rapport for twentyfive years now, love. I know better than to try to wiggle out of an agreement, but I do confess I was less than fully convinced you wouldn't agree to what someone else pretended to need from you. You do sometimes let yourself be led astray by others' expectations.

Guilty as charged, I said. Of course, if I hadn't been, my life would have been completely different, and much poorer. I would never have met my wonderful husband, for instance. I take it I passed the test?

Can't ask a better score than perfect, he replied. The mental subtext was playful, and I gathered he'd changed his mind about starting early. If you still want to, how about adding one to the head of the line? he asked.

He hadn't wanted to before. He'd been concerned I might change my mind when they tried to persuade me to extend, and then I'd be pregnant with more time to serve. I could always transfer the baby to artificial gestation or halt development - I was a Guardian and just as capable as any other healer - but both had their drawbacks. We had four fertilized eggs in storage, just in case. In the Empire, it was standard to use artificial gestation, but being a barbarian from Earth I didn't think I could look my sisters in the eye and call myself a mother if I hadn't done it the same way they had at least once. Besides, I'd like to surprise Anara and Gilras (and Helene and Scimtar) with an extra child to the four we had planned and in frozen storage.

What else could I do? I attacked him before he could change his mind.

Afterwards, we lay there in happy communion making certain the newly fertilized boy would be healthy, adding the last little touches to what he would become. When we were satisfied, we made love again, slow and passionate, each possessive of the other in a way that said both 'mine' and 'yours' simultaneously. We belonged to each other in ways that no Earth human would have understood before Imperial contact. We might live separate for years at a time - given that he was remaining in the military and I wasn't, we'd have no choice on some occasions - but for me, 'home' was where Asto was. And vice versa. We weren't necessarily all demonstrative about it out in public, but we didn't need to be. Our rapport, a constant mental connection to each other, left no doubts. Not that we shied away from demonstrations, either.

The ideas for this character and another associated one have been in the back of my mind for a while. I thought I was going to do a viewpoint shift in my Work-in-Progress, but I've decided to do something different. Nonetheless, I'm probably going to do something with this character eventually


"We have an Empire-wide alert. The fractal demons have begun massive assaults on Imperial systems throughout the Empire. The Empire is now in a state of war. There are no protected areas in this war, and Earth is one of the most exposed planets. The demons have a major marshalling point only seventeen years distant. Be prepared, be alert. We will do our best, but our resources are limited and demonic nobles can appear anywhere and bring troops with them. Your best defense is yourself."

-Announcement made by Brigade Ensign HoshTeremas, commander of Sol system defenses


It caused an almost planetary panic.

Despite the Empire's brutally frank acknowledgements that war was coming, and that it was likely the Earth would be the target of an invasion force the limited numbers of troops in the system would be unable to contain for a century prior to the war, the actual start of hostilities caught almost everyone unprepared.
The hollowed-out brigade assigned to Earth was more than we should have had, by a strict accounting. Even a group - one fourth the troops - would have been generous. But that didn't mean people were ready for what happened.

I was better prepared than most. I'd spent thirty years in the Imperial military. When separated, I'd used part of my savings to purchase my combat suit from the Empire. I'd been strict about keeping it up to maintenance standards in the time since, too, and kept a full load of expendables on hand. When I'd settled near San Onofre, in the old Camp Pendleton Enterprise Zone, I'd even found a group of like-minded veterans and we'd practiced together in the simulators a few times per Imperial year. It was what we had time for.

I had good reason to keep myself in shape, too. I'd become a prostitute.

Pick your damned jaw up off the floor. For that matter, courtesan was probably more accurate. I was born on Earth, and I liked Earth, but I'd learned some of our attitudes were... provincial. By the time I'd been discharged, I had no qualms whatsoever about ignoring them. I wasn't going to be so careless I got pregnant, and a session with a healer could kill any disease known to the Empire - and Momma was a Guardian even if I wasn't, as well as my mentor in 'the business'. If anything had come up, she'd have been happy to heal me - not that it ever did. When first I returned to Earth, I'd had to keep physical side of my operations to the Pendleton Zone and the Channel Islands Military Reservation or south of the border in what used to be Mexico, but when the old United States finally voted to disband, I no longer had even those minimal concerns.

I was valued, too. My base rate was forty luc per Imperial hour, and it was a rare customer I probably wasn't going to see again that didn't volunteer more. I even enjoyed the 'work.' Since Earth was still dirt poor by the standards of the rest of the Empire, my clientele consisted mostly of off-worlders, I lived well on a couple hours 'work' per week - I had a ten prime ififths squared condo on the third-highest level of one of the San Onofre highrises, a four-seat Starbird of my own even though I was only an in-system pilot, and other investments totaling over forty fifths - perhaps nothing special in most of the Empire, but here on Earth I was the equivalent of a billionaire. Most of my customers were here because they were assigned or passing through for some reason either business or charitable. The native churches didn't care for us much, but Imperial Viceroys didn't answer to voters or elections, so those who would have made trouble had seen their power evaporate as thoroughly as all the other old splinter special interest groups who'd thrived off the threat of making fifty-one percent into forty-nine. Served them right. Momma named me Uhura, after a character on an old entertainment before contact. She told me it meant 'freedom,' and I was damned if I was going to fall short of that name. Great-Grandmama might have been an enslaved 'comfort woman' but I chose to do what I did. It suited me for now. Maybe someday it wouldn't - but I had plenty of other skills, and the Planetary Surface forces would be right glad of an experienced Squad Private anytime I wanted - especially now.

So despite over three prime of warnings from the Empire that war was probably going to hit Earth, most of the planet was still dreaming that nothing would ever happen. They said a good definition of humanity was 'an otherwise sentient species known for its unwillingness to plan ahead,' and the reaction proved them right. Near as I can tell, roughly three fifths - two billion plus by the old numbers - tried demanding free passage offworld on Earth's one commercial run that might have held a cube or even two - if they'd jammed 'em in with a shoehorn. Never mind that the destination systems would have been just as liable to get hit. Both the transport company and all the Viceroys laughed at them, of course.

Most of the rest of Earth's fourteen fifths - eleven billion - tried the old adage, 'when in danger or in doubt, run in circles scream and shout.' It was not a pleasant experience for those few of us more inclined to solving our own problems. But I suppose that's why they weren't all rich, and why Earth still absorbed way more charity than planets with four times the people. Close on two Earth centuries since Imperial contact, and the planet was still working through all the crap I remembered from my youth. Damn but we were crazy back then! Almost made the rotten bastards that had enslaved Great-Grandmama in Korea look sane! Least they were willing to work at what they wanted, instead of having it handed to them! Maybe it would've been better if the Empire had just let the old folks die off, instead of healing them all and giving them another life. But since that saved Momma and got her training as a Guardian, I'm just as glad they didn't


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