It wasn't long before we reached First Wall. It was really a series of three walls of mixed stone and concrete construction, each of them really nothing more than a curtain wall roughly twice the height of a short human with a wooden catwalk behind. Each of the walls was separated by two sixty-fours of paces, kept clear of obstructing vegetation. The walls stretched perhaps twenty miles in all, perpendicular to the road. It was possible to flank them, but the point was to motivate the demons to turn aside for easier targets. There was a caretaker force preparing for combat, clearing as much of the vegetation growing in front of the western-most wall as they could for clear lines of sight. A small cadre manned the walls, staying alert for signs of the advancing demons.

There was a Second Wall, perhaps fifteen kilometers east of the first set, not nearly so complete or well maintained. There was talk of a Third Wall, to protect those farmers and miners closest to the Gate, but the Guard itself was doing all it could to prevent that. The Iron Law of Bureaucracy was universal. They didn't want to be stationed out in the hinterlands, within spitting distance of the actual Gate.

A sentry at one of the periodic gates asked our names, and why the four of us were together in this vehicle. We gave our names and Asina explained, "These three lost their perfectly good airplane scouting over the Gate, and I came to get them."

"How did you lose your airplane?"

"We think the brakiri shot us down. Suddenly we were on fire in two places," I explained.

"Why did they do that?"

I snorted, "Don't you already know the answer to that question, Guardsman?"

"I guess I do. Still I need to see a drop of your blood before you pass. Each of you." He gave us a small piece of white flax-like graffs to bleed on.

Makis had a small knife. He stuck the ball of one of his fingers and squeezed a drop onto the graffs, then passed the knife to Ghent.

"Hope you've got a lot of graffs," Ghent said before copying Makis. He passed the knife to me and I followed suit before passing the knife to Asina.

"Yes, we do," he replied, "Pointless to build walls if you're going to let anyone pass without testing."

Asina smiled as she duplicated the ritual. She might have had something to do with the thinking behind it.

I didn't particularly need to be involved in the older boys' lesson, but it was a good way to be interacting with my kids without distracting them from their lessons. I couldn't help Alden or Imtara in theirs as they were beyond my learning thus far in what they were doing. Anara would ask me if she wanted my help. But despite my little hellions being more advanced than I in bladework, I knew I could contribute to the lesson - and it was never a bad idea to get another lesson myself. I teleported to the gym.

Scimtar's splinter was sparring with both of the boys simultaneously, while Asto's splinter watched. The splinters were using titanium rods, while the boys were using practice blades sized for their smaller frames. Not that a real blade would hurt a splinter. The titanium rods, however, would inflict a nasty bruise or even broken bones - and such injuries happened regularly. Esteban and Ilras had been healing themselves from such injuries for years - the family believed it was necessary. As much as it clashed with my American upbringing, evidence was on their side. The boys were wearing head protection, but I knew from personal experience Scimtar could hit practically at will with the lighter titanium, and he would intentionally inflict broken bones or worse if he thought it necessary to drive home the lesson.

Since the boys were busy, I began by drawing my weapon and practicing parry-riposte drills with a drone. Dead boring - and absolutely necessary to keep muscle memory fresh, even for Guardians. Scimtar had produced a program that randomly mixed up the major drills. Contrary to the fevered dreams of fiction writers unfamiliar with actual swords, there were exactly eight basic guard positions or parries against point attacks, six against cutting attacks. There were variants on each, yielding parries versus circular versus active and a few others as well, but they were variations on the basic theme. More complex were responses to compound attacks, which began with a feint. However, you still had to move to parry the feint or the drone would hit you.

Similarly, there were only four basic thrusting attacks and three cutting, and although there was a choice of complicating maneuvers, from what Earth swordsmen would call degage to coupe to moulinet and others, and the possibility of feinting or turning an attack into a compound action, there remained only seven basic attacks. Start multiplying all the possibilities out and you'll understand there are a large number of possibilities, and I haven't even mentioned stop actions or counters yet, but you have to practice them all to keep them in muscle memory, and they really do spring from a comparatively small number of basic actions.
I winced as I saw Scimtar's splinter disarm Esteban, hit Ilras across his forearm, and move back to strike Esteban on his protective headgear all in one smooth action. Ilras' arm was broken, but he kept from crying out and transferred his blade to his off arm in time to parry Scimtar's return stroke. I kept at my practice, pretending not to notice what had just happened, or Scimtar's critique.

"You louts determined to waste all your mother's hard work carrying and raising you? You've got to work together if you don't want a single opponent to use that lack against you, ending up in both your deaths! If you want to kill yourself, we can't stop you but don't get your brother wiped, too!"

I kept up my drills, pretending not to pay attention. Cut-parry-feint-thrust. Cut-parry-feint-thrust. Thirty repetitions of each drill, change to the other hand and repeat. Keep it engraved in muscle memory, so all I had to do was tell my muscles what program to follow, and they would do it. After thirty more repetitions, thrust to a new line, parry the riposte, feint a thrust, then turn it into a cut in different line. What Scimtar was doing to the boys might sound like abuse to some, and if we were back on Earth with no Great Families full of Sixth and Seventh Guardians for rivals, I'd probably have agreed with them. Not here. My children needed to be able to handle deadly threats before they were adults, in whatever way those threats presented themselves.

The boys had learned enough not to argue with their great-grandfather or his splinters. They'd get no sympathy from anyone else in the family, either. Esteban was helping Ilras heal himself while the two of them endured their great-grandfather's admonishment. Their father's splinter looked on in disapproval of their slipshod efforts. I studiously kept to my drills.

Scimtar's splinter ended his tirade once Ilras' arm was healed, and struck a guard position. "Asto, illuminate your offspring as to the nature of teamwork." Asto's splinter struck a guard position as well, parrying Scimtar's first attack, a circling parry in what an Earthman would have called octave, which defeated Scimtar's initial degage, flipped his sword up into a quartre riposte to Scimtar's high inside line. The boys were slow off the line, but attacked in Scimtar to the low outside and low inside as well. Scimtar enveloped Asto and Ilras' attacks in quartre himself, retreating from Esteban's attack. Esteban redoubled, Asto in turn bound Scimtar's blade on his yielding parry, and Esteban scored a hit thanks to his father controlling Scimtar's blade. "Better," he admitted, "Now let the boys do it on their own. Go spar with your wife for a while."

No, this isn't an April Fools Post.

This book will be the third in the Politics of Empire Series.

Genre is Space Opera/Thriller.

This is a little more complex than most of my blurbs. Let me know if it fuzzes the message (or any other issues)

******

The die is cast.

The Empire has caught the fractal demons marshalling troops for assault, and there is no avoiding the decisive Armageddon between humanity and the fractal demons. Both sides have their strengths and there is no certainty about the outcome. While the Empire is free-falling towards the decisive moment, Grace is tasked with nudging the odds a little bit, ferreting out traitors to humanity, bribed with the seeming of the most precious gift possible but with a nightmare catch.

Then at the moment of the first skirmishes, personal tragedy strikes, clearing the way for a long-delayed impulse, which results in horror and tragedy.

But out of the disaster, a new Grace emerges - one ready to stand on her own, fully realized as a potent force in her own right.

You'd think there'd be more for a god to do.

Alexan and Petra have become Eternals - minor gods, binding themselves together in their divinity. According to most stories, that's where 'happily ever after' would start.

However, there's a divine ecosystem, as red in tooth and claw as any other part of nature, competing for power and worshippers and other divine benefits. There's also the diligar deity Klikitit, who's appointed Alexan his personal enemy for having dared defend himself against one of Klikitit's Sons. Then there is the question of how do they achieve the next step on the divine ladder? All of this while dealing with divine curses which bind both of them - for all divinities are cursed.

The Connected Realms are certainly more complex than they appear at first glance!

******

Catharin was most appreciative of my efforts for the next half hour, until Petra called me. Milord husband, I should like to hold our daughter, if you will permit. Playing submissive and subservient - two things she was not. I was definitely going to need to spend time elsewhere until she forgave me for being right about threats to Catharin.

Milady wife, your happiness is my most important goal. I considered asking her about Roni's issue, but in her present mood, I foresaw nothing but trouble in that line of inquiry. She'd tell me if she wanted to. We are returning to the salon, but I can teleport if you would prefer more speed than walking.

To Catharin, Mother is not pleased with me at the moment. If you feel any tension between us, it's nothing you should be worried about. We'll work it out in a few days.

What's wrong, father?

That's between your mother and I. A good husband does not air marital conflict with anyone other than his wife.

So what's your excuse? Her mother had not stinted Catharin's education in that regard. Catharin was more advanced than a lot of twelve year olds in terms of sarcasm and repartee. She'd learn discretion later, I hoped. Then again, she might know how thick my skin was with regards to her.

Shh! I 'whispered' lightheartedly, even if it's all an act, if I break character I ruin the play!

Father!

What?

You're hopeless!

I prefer to think of it as adaptive, like some animals who change their skin color to blend in to their environment.

They do that? Catharin was surprised and intrigued.

Yes. There are more things to learn in the universe than anyone will ever know. I think of it as a guarantee of endless wonder and surprise, if only I will look. But a goodly number of the lurking surprises are dangerous if you are ignorant. Some of them are dangerous even if you are not, but learning will give you the opportunity to avoid the danger. If you keep looking, you never know when you'll discover something useful or something wonderful. Your mother was one such surprise.

Perhaps there is something to your curiosity fetish.

That had the sound of something Petra would say. Speaking of which, I re-entered the salon about that time. "Milady wife, you requested the return of our daughter."

"I humbly thank thee husband. Poor wretch than I am, I would have been too distracted to care for her."
That was about as likely as the moon giving birth to the sun, but I did not snort in derision. There was no winning the game when Petra was in one of her white mutiny moods. All I could do was to be as solicitous of her desires as possible. She'd decide she'd taunted me enough in a day or two.

What if the Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court was a real wizard?

Alexan is exiled from his home for reasons of politics and health, sent to a primitive locale to guard against the misuse of the massive power coursing through the fabric of reality. He discovers that he is what the locals call a wizard. Unfortunately for him, there are many other wizards and even gods connected to this power, and they tend to be unfriendly to those they fear might rival or replace them - people such as Alexan.

And what about this demigoddess that keeps popping up with obscure hints about her divine curse?

******

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 general situation is that the three people portrayed here have been shot down and are trying to stay ahead of a demonic wave invasion. This will be the fourth and final planned book of Preparations for War, about the Calmena Advancement Mission, a charitable initiative meant to help the local Calmenans advance their society and give them a chance to survive the oncoming war between the fractal demons and the Empire of Humanity

****

"How did your generation ever survive?" Ghent wanted to know. He kept putting one foot in front of the other, though.

"A lot of us didn't. Especially here near the Gate. Even today, the people near the Gate are always prepared, and they're tough, but a lot of them still get eaten." Choosing to live near the Gate was a calculated risk. Land was cheap and fertile. There was mineral wealth for miners, too. You could make yourself wealthy in a few years - if you didn't get eaten. It seemed like every family out here was about to lose that bet.

There was an addition to one of the big trees. A likahn had tried to meld itself to the trunk for camouflage, but my perception picked it out. Since they were more than three dimensional, they stood out like a blazing beacon to perception. The catch was we hadn't really told the locals about perception, except as an aid to what limited healing we'd shown them. So I had to wait for the moment the shapeshifter began to return to its normal shape before acting. Soon as it did, draw-aim-fire, all in one smooth motion. Four shots left in the pistol, a second dead demon.

"Damn you're fast, especially for someone as old as you are!"

"No virtue of mine. Agaani can make themselves react quicker." Guardians could move a lot more quickly than agaani, but I had to keep my visible abilities down to what the locals could match. If I deployed full undertime, I'd have to kill any surviving witnesses. Since I didn't want to do that, I was limited to reflexes about half again as fast as a natural state human. I didn't stop to admire my handiwork, but kept walking.

About forty paces further on, we abruptly came to a cleared area - a farm, perhaps thirty hectares. You could see an area off to our right where they were clearing away more. That was the general way it was here - you owned what you could keep clear of jungle and work. An older tractor sat next to a small farmhouse and somewhat larger barn, and an older Calmenan version of a pickup truck, basically a small flatbed, was in front of the house. The buildings looked no more than a few of the short local years old. But I didn't see any people.

The likahns would have been better advised to circle around the edge of the farm and pick us up on the far side, but that's not what they did. Instead, the four of them tried to rush us from behind perhaps eight or ten paces after we'd broken cover.

This time, Ghent had plenty of warning, so he was able to take his own weight, and even draw his revolver and kill two himself, although it took him three shots. Makis drew, but was in no hurry to fire. I presumed that meant he wanted to let them get close so he'd be sure of hitting, but I'd killed the other two with one shot each.

This time I did change magazines. Since I now had one in the chamber, that left a single round in the old one. "Likahn problem solved!" Ghent crowed, re-loading his revolver. I handed him the leftover round - three rounds in his reloader now instead of two. There were advantages in designing many weapons around the same round.

"Probably," I conceded, "But that's not our only problem. Where are the farmers?"

"I think we have our answer," Makis pointed. Two manesi corpses between the barn and the treeline off to our left. Which was strange. Manes would eat each other, almost as happily as anything else. Why were the corpses still here? Unless...

Two more manesi emerged from behind the barn. Even from here, you could tell they'd been eating meat. Which meant the farmers were beyond help.

The big mis-shapen blue monstrosities bellowed, and four more came into view.

This was not good. Generally speaking, manesi were the equivalent of old-time heavy cavalry - shock troops. Heavy enough that momentum and numbers were expected to allow them to wash over enemies like a wave. But they were capable of wielding firearms as well as melee weapons. If they had rifles and decided to use them, both Makis and Ghent were toast, and I'd have to execute some fancy work with matris to survive.

Aescalon is the cavern linking the 165 major Connected Realms and all the trillions of lesser ones. It is also the portal by which mass-energy penetrates into them. One of the original titles I played with was "Blowing the Bubbles of Creation" (and I'll likely use that title eventually) as that is what Aescalon is: The focal point of the creation of new universes.

Aescalon and to a lesser extent, the Connected Realms are far richer in energy of all sorts than the place Alexan, the major viewpoint character, is from. Alexan is something like a revenant, as he was a detached part of someone whose soul departed. His original was one of the strongest of a group of humans with mind powers. Competition between the families is fierce, and as a result, they have a large amount of knowledge about what works, what doesn't, and how.

The second most important character is Petra. Petra was inspired by Circe from the Odyssey. When first we meet her, she is cursed as a seductress who punishes the men she successfully seduces. She's been stuck in this role since she was created, having never had parents, childhood, or anything like a normal development period. She was originally supposed to be a minor character appearing only twice, but she ended up hijacking the story (twice!). She realized Alexan might be the man she was looking for, able to help her break her curse.

King Edvard I of Treemount is a former military man Alexan persuades to take up the crown after Alexan defeats the former wizard-king of the area in an improptu duel. He's in his fifties, but Alexan rejuvenated him to the appearance of mid-twenties. He's a good, conscientious king.

Queen Veronia is in her mid-twenties, a minor wizard and daughter of a magical mother who used Veronia's power to help herself. But she hit it off well with King Edvard when Edvard was searching for a bride, and Edvard was old and experienced enough to realize what he wanted and needed in a bride was someone he could trust who had her head on straight. It wasn't quite a love match, and yet they're growing closer as time goes on.

Lady Yusidree is a wizard who runs a restaurant in the capital of Treemount. She does not wish to become an apprentice or beholden to anyone, so she insists upon paying for instruction she receives from Alexan.


Our takeoff roll was barely twenty ifourths before Ghent gave me the signal that meant we'd achieved the speed necessary for flight, and I pulled back on the yoke. The plane's nose lifted in response, and we were airborne. Since we had no particular reason to climb high I levelled her off at a height of a thousand paces or so and headed for the area of the Yalskarr Gate. Once I eased off the throttles, it was possible once again to shout above the noise of the engines.

There were pretty much always a few demons around the Gate, manesi and likaans and similar nuisances. They'd try to sneak through, eat a few humans and livestock, or maybe kidnap them for slaves and eventual meat, and run back through. I was hoping to find some live targets. The Guard kept a permanent presence in the area of about two sixty-fours, and the local residents had a reputation that would have compared favorably to most Texans and southerners back home. They stayed alert and kept weapons ready. The major difference was nobody barbequed manesi or any other demons - there was no way to make the meat palatable.

It took about half an Earth hour - neither the Swass, Nhadragh, or the C-130 they were based on were fast airplanes. Their usefulness was in other areas. Ghent tried checking in via radio with the local Guard contingent, but received no response. Not too out of the ordinary, even if everything were all sweetness and light near the Gate. Radio was vacuum tube-based here on Calmena, and much less reliable than anyone would like.

Meanwhile, I spotted what looked like a whole squad of manesi - Eight of the big ugly blue beasts. Maybe more hidden in the vegetation. The original Spectre had the guns controlled by the pilot, but developing the automation would have taken time and people we didn't have, so the Nhadragh's weapons were manned. I gave the crew a yellow light, and ten seconds later they sent back the 'ready' signal. I pointed the left wing at the area and got ready for the fireworks.

It took them a few seconds to find the targets, but then the area around the demons began erupting, explosions sprouting all around the ugly misshapen brutes. We'd never introduced tracers here in Calmena, precisely because tracers didn't have the same flight path as 'ordinary' ammunition. Earth had fought two world wars and smaller wars for decades thereafter before someone actually figured out that tracers were a good way to insure that your fire wasn't going where you really wanted it to. Not repeating that mistake had been a no-brainer.

In the Nhadragh, our gunners had the feedback of watching where their bullets and grenades hit. If their first rounds missed, they could 'walk' the aiming point on to where they wanted it, which was what happened here. That was what happened here. The first few rounds failed to compensate for the motion of the plane, but they rapidly figured out where to point the guns to achieve the desired effect, and the manesi disintegrated in a hail of bullet and grenade fire. "Not bad," Ghent admitted.

These are books in two different series taking place in the same fictional universe at roughly the same time.

Both books cover the beginning and first engagements in the long-awaited and prepared for war between the fractal demons and the Empire of Humanity, and they will be release at about the same time.

End of Childhood happens from the main Imperial perspective; how the people of the Empire fare against the demonic invasion. The technology is far advanced, as are the people - but it's been so long since there was a serious threat, many are not possessed of the skills of survival. The main viewpoint character is Graciela Juarez di Scimtar ("Grace"), an Earthwoman who happens to be married to a man from one of the most powerful families of the Empire.

Moving the Pieces takes place on Calmena, a primitive planet nominally under control of the demons but seeded with human slaves. The Empire has been using the planet as a doorway for scouting the demonic realms, and as a side project, has been surreptitiously stirring up the natives to slowly pry themselves away from demonic domination, bringing the technology from barely Iron Age up to roughly equivalent to Earth in the 1950s over a period of a little under two Earth centuries. The main viewpoint character is Joseph Bernard ("Joe"), a man who's been on the technology upgrade from the beginning.

The books take place at basically the same time - End of Childhood begins a few days earlier - and share some background events.

For everything there is a price.

Grace has married into one of the most important families of the Empire. The Scimtars are wealthy and powerful in every sense of the term. Her five children will be among the Empire's elite when they are ready, and Grace herself is not without influence or importance despite her relative youth. But Imperial politics are deadly, and the more you have, the more your rivals want what you have.

There is no shelter from The Price of Power.

*****

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!

 



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