My Author's Brand

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One thing I should try and make clear to you, the reader, is what my author's brand is about.

First and foremost, I want to entertain you. I will happily give up everything else in order to entertain. If you don't come away from the book with a sense of "That was fun!" and wanting to read the next book, I've failed. I am trying to entertain you, and if I don't do that, you shouldn't give me any more of your money. Since I want you to buy more of my books and tell your friends I'm an entertaining writer, I'm going to try to entertain you. I don't try to have flippant smart-asses tossing off one-liners every three words, but I do try to slide a few in.

Second, I want the characters to think. I want you to come away from the book thinking that everyone did what they did for rational reasons or at least motivations real people have. Nobody in my books is evil because it says so on their character card. The antagonists are pursuing their own best interests as best they see them. Sometimes the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Similarly, I try really hard to avoid violations of the Evil Overlord's Principles. If it were possible to game the antagonist with a cheap shot, someone would already have done it. I want you to have the feeling that it took some real thought to plot this story - that all the characters all thought and worked for their chosen ends, and that the resolution reflects this.

Third, I want the ending to be something good that the characters have earned. I'm not going to promise that they all live to get there, but all that work and risk should earn them a better place than they started from according to what they value. I'm also not going to promise it's the place they thought they were going in the first place. But if the work and risk wasn't going to earn them a better place, why should they bother? Even if it's just saving other people from a disaster, the characters should get something out of it. The ones who survive and persevere, anyway.

Fourth and finally, I'd like to think that I maybe gave you a little bit of a different way to think about things. I'm not looking to preach at you like a tenured professor, I just want to illustrate that there are different ways of looking at the same issue. I don't think I'm going to change your mind. But maybe - just maybe - I can induce you to have a thoughtful conversation with someone who doesn't agree with you. There's far too little of that these days.

didn't have long to wait. Cindy had always looked unnaturally young, for as long as I'd known her anyway - like a young doctor fresh out of residency, if not a first year med school student, when Cindy had been a practicing doctor for at least thirty years, and now I knew why. She exited her office; I hit record on the cell phone peeking out of my pocket and walked around the corner, "Good afternoon, Cindy. I've got some questions you're going to answer."

She went white as a sheet, and looked around for the stairs, then started back towards her office, but I got between her and the office door. "Now is that any way to react to seeing an old friend, especially the husband of a woman you 'helped'?"

"I can't tell you anything! I don't know anything!"

"Oh, I think you know quite a lot. Here you are looking like you could be seventeen, not fifty-seven. I think you're right in the middle of what happened to Diane, and one phone call from me - or me not coming back - will be all that it takes to have the police crawling over you and your practice like flies on a fresh piece of shit."

"I don't know anything!"

"Oh, you know plenty and I can prove it. Like what the cult does, and where to find the bigger fish in it. Otherwise, you'd have been useless to them and they would have made you do the same thing they made Diane do - leave her old life completely behind. So the question becomes 'are you going to tell me now, willingly, or are you going to tell the police tomorrow morning?"

"I can't tell you anything! They'll kill me!"

"Oh, I agree they'll kill you if you become a liability to them. Like if there's an official investigation and the police start investigating all of your patients and former patients. But if you tell me now, the cult doesn't have anything to connect me to you. It wasn't pretty, what happened to Diane. I don't know how to describe it, or the agony she must have gone through. But I know it hit every cell in her body, all of those nerve endings firing pain into her brain. Maybe the whole thing even scared her to death, literally. The autopsy hasn't come back yet."

I stopped for a beat, and looked right in her panicked eyes, "Hell of a thing to do to a friend. So I won't have a qualm in the world if it happens to you. And these people you're recruiting for, you know they'll do it, too." Yes, it was a bluff. I'd slept through whatever happened to Diane. But Cindy didn't know that.

Cindy's eyes were wild with fear. She knew this cult would do whatever happened to Diane. "You have a choice, Cindy. Tell me now, and tell me the truth. This is the only chance you'll get. If the information goes to the police, you know what will happen - don't you? You're about as innocent as the guards herding the prisoners into the gas chambers at Auschwitz, and all I need to do is tell the police what I know you know - or make certain they find out, and I've already done that. Your only hope is if I get what I want, in which case the police won't find out from me." I had her backed against the stairwell door by now. "What's it going to be, Cindy? I'm going to count to five, then walk away and let the police deal with you. One."

Cindy was not the stuff of heroes. She crumpled. "Steldan. Jennifer Steldan. Sometimes she goes by 'Isis'. She's the person I send the new prospects to."

"And where can I find this Jennifer Steldan?" She gave me a phone number and an address.
"Are you sure, Cindy? Anything else you haven't told me? Anyone else I need to know about? This is your one and only chance with me. If anything happens, it will be the police you deal with next."

"Be careful, Mark. Jennifer and Osiris, they can do things. Things I can't explain."

"Osiris?"

"Our priest. He performs our rituals."

What the elves had called the leader, and they thought he was a sorcerer. So yeah, I expect he could do 'things'. But since I had no experience with 'magic' I had no idea what they might be. "This Osiris - do you know his name or how to find him? What does he look like?"

"That's the thing, Mark. I've never seen him looking the same twice. He's been white, black, Asian, maybe American Indian, maybe Hispanic. Tall, skinny, athletic, fat. Always a big guy, but he looks different almost every ritual - and I only see him at the rituals."

"How long have you been with these people?"

"Forty-six years. I'm almost eighty. Are you sure you wouldn't want to be a part of that? You'll be young and healthy forever!"

"I doubt that. It seems obvious to me that your leaders have ways of dealing with those they aren't happy with. And the look in Diane's eyes when she told me what she could - I'd rather be dipped in honey and staked out on an anthill, thank you very much." And true to my word, I turned and walked away, leaving her there to wonder if what she'd told me would get back to the cult leaders.

The Connected Worlds setting

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Connected Worlds is an intentional riff on Zelazny's Amber, Michael Moorcock's Tanelorn, Brian Daley's Cinnabar, and others. The first book is The Fountains of Aescalon (Amazon link here and Books2Read link here)

Aescalon is a small place at the very center of it all. It consists of a cavern on the order of 25 miles in diameter, with what *appears* to be a neutron star at the center of it. Near the surface of the cavern are 165 first order Connected Realms (165 is the number of combinations you get when you take 11 dimensions chosen 3 at a time). These are full on universes; the majority of the first story is spend in Migurd one of the first order Connected Realms which has a pseudo-nordic air crossed with something resembling arthurian legend, but it's an entire world all by itself and we barely scratch the surface of Migurd in the first book.

There are roughly 20 million Second Order Connected Realms, and even larger numbers of Third and Fourth Order Connected Realms. They are progressively smaller, however.

There is a massive and unparalleled power source centered on Aescalon. Deities and other extraordinary entities are drawn to it - as are those who wish to *become* deities.

The second Connected Realms book is in the planning stages, and is tentatively titled "The Bubbles of Creation"

The Margrave didn't spend much time on the courtesy visit from the dwarves. As soon as they were dismissed, he addressed Ra' in English, "Mrs. Adedeji, what have you brought us?"

Ra' performed a deep curtsy at being addressed. "Visitors from the lands beyond the gates, Your Most Honored Lordship. It is possible they represent a solution to our dilemma with The Damned." You could hear the capital D. "May I present Mr. Jackson and Mrs. Ingmar?" To us, she said, "Bow, sir, and curtsy, lady. You are in the presence of our lord." We complied.

"Let me explain our problem. The ritual used by The Damned is a foul perversion of the Goddess' blessings, and they are a means of propagating threats to us. For your own people, they do not see the harm they do to themselves and others. We sprang from human stock, and humans may still be our most important future. We would prefer you not destroy your own souls."

"Your Most Honored Lordship, I do not understand."

"Their ritual of extended life steals the life of the future in order to continue the life of the present. That is not the purpose for which the Goddess granted us the power."

Easy for an immortal elf to say, I thought, but didn't say it. Instead, "Your Lordship, you use the ritual yourself?"

"The powers which reshaped us broke our ability to create children. Outside of the Goddess' Ritual, our children are rare and often malformed. In nearly four thousand years, my lady wife and I have had two children conceived in the normal way of men and women, and one was so twisted she did not live. The Goddess has given us this magic that we may continue, and increase. At the turning points of the year, we perform her ritual and our husbands and wives and lovers attempt to create children and hope the Goddess smiles upon us. We still are not blessed with so many children as your people, but it is enough that our people may continue and even increase, and the children born as a result of the Goddess' blessing are rarely touched by the curse of our people."

"The Damned have perverted the ritual, using the blessing of the Goddess to create life, then stealing that life to prolong their own."

"And the Goddess is angry, Your Lordship?"

"The Goddess tells us it is rapine to her, a personal violation. Her ritual is one of fertility. To use that ritual and steal the life it provides is a befoulment of the Mother's blessing. It erodes both her power and her willingness to continue all of her blessings to our land and our people. Even with more acreage under cultivation thanks to your machines, our crops this year were less than ten years ago."

"Are you certain it's not the machines and their byproducts and exhaust, Your Most High Lordship?" I'd noticed before that Julie's sarcasm could cut steel; she didn't tone it down despite the fact we were at the Margrave's mercy.

"We have those among us who have studied at the feet of your greatest scholars of this wisdom, lady. They tell us our usage is much less than a thousandth of what takes place on your side, and we have always been careful with the blessings of our Lady The Goddess. We may be poor, but the land is what we have and we endeavor to be worthy stewards for our children. Your own scholars are discovering evidence that fears on this score are not baseless, but that they are exaggerated. We never permitted any of the sins of improper disposal, and the land and its spirits tell us of its pain where there have been violations. The land is not reporting increased pain or more areas of pain, but it is telling us the blessings of the Goddess are having a lesser effect. And we are also aware that our number of children is decreasing."

An albino-looking elf, fish-belly white with bluish-white hair and startling violet eyes volunteered, in heavily accented English, "The air spirits are not pleased by the machines, but they say they are well within the bounds of what they are able to regenerate and renew, and they see the blessings our peoples have received from those machines. You've seen how sparingly we use the machines; the air spirits have given their reluctant blessing."

"I am told by representatives of the Sea Elves that the water spirits have also reluctantly blessed our usage of the machines, and the Bright Elves have endeavored to learn ways to aid the fire spirits in returning the land, the air, and the sea to their original state," The Margrave continued, "But this is all old tidings, carefully monitored for several of your decades now. There were decades in which we used older machines, with more leakage and worse exhaust. They did not cause the blessings of The Goddess to decrease."

"That changed fifteen years ago, when the Goddess complained to us of the ritual of The Damned. They have been growing in numbers since. We simply have been unable to do anything about it because she requires our obeisance at the time when something may be done. But that is a limitation you do not share, and we are given to understand you have cause for grievance against them as well."
"Are you speaking of the cult my ex-wife joined, your lordship?"

"The very same. They perform their rituals at Midsummer and Midwinter, two of our festivals where we must honor the Goddess or lose her blessing forever."

"And what would you have me do, Your Lordship?"

"Put a stop to the perversion of Her Blessings, Mr. Jackson. If simple persuasion will accomplish it, we would be pleased enough. But I misdoubt simple persuasion will serve; they believe the continuation of that perversion is necessary for their personal survival."

"Are they correct in that belief, Your Lordship?" Julie demanded.

"I am not certain, but The Goddess requires renewal of our devotions. So it could well be so, lady."

"Must be a bitch if you're trying to fight off an invasion at the time, Your Lordship."

"There is no need for vulgarity," The Margrave brought the full force of his personality into the reprimand. He didn't raise his voice, but there was no mistaking the censure and for a miracle it was enough that Julie submitted meekly. "The Goddess makes allowances for circumstances, but we must do all that we can. We are not her children; she has no obligation to us save that which she chooses."

"Can she not simply choose to withdraw her blessing from these ... Damned ... due to their perversion of their ritual, your lordship?" I asked.

"The very question I asked of our priests," The Margrave replied, "The answer I received is that she is bound by her covenants, and they do perform Her ritual as required. But Her covenant is not a legal document with provisos and limitations. It does not state they cannot do other magic as well. What dark ritual The Damned perform in addition is unknown to me, but the evidence is it is dark and evil magic indeed. It causes all the Goddess' blessings, not just to them and to my realm but worldwide to fray and wither."

Julie asked, "Why precisely do you need children, anyway, Your Lordship, if you are immortal?"

"The Huntress comes for us all, lady. We are spared perhaps the cruelest of your fates, of age and withering until no strength remains and you pass from this world a pale shadow. But she still comes for us. We are not spared from disease, nor the spears of our enemies, nor accident and fate. I have lived near four thousand turnings of the seasons, as has my lady wife. But few of the comrades of our youth remain. One by one, the Huntress has come for them, as she will come for us as well in her own time. They say The Fire Duke was a leader in our struggle to break free and he remembers the Trail of Sorrows, but even if that is so, he knows he will one day fall as well. For my people as for yours, our children are our only real immortality."

"So you're telling us you're facing extinction if this is not stopped, your lordship?"

"Honor requires that I disclaim that which I do not yet know to be true," he replied, "But if the trends continue as they have been, yes. And even if the damage is halted today, we do not know that we will recover our former level of blessings, or how long it might take. And given our enemies, it could well make a difference. Already we are notably weaker than we could have been. Will you aid us?"
"Your lordship," I began, "You certainly have my sympathies. But a wise man thinks long and carefully before meddling in a situation he does not fully understand. I'm certain you've told us the truth as best known to yourself. But we must think and take counsel with each other in this; there could be aspects of the situation you do not understand yourself that mean no action is necessary, or no action will help. If we act incorrectly or irresponsibly, the fault is our own. I think both of us are aware how many tragedies could have been averted had those concerned paused to reflect before acting."

"I had hoped for a stronger answer," The Margrave replied, "Yet if I must be patient, then patient I will be. Mrs. Adedeji, kindly return our guests whence they came. If they ask you for additional information, you are to answer as truly and completely as your knowledge permits. If you require assistance in answering forthrightly, you must request it posthaste."

"It shall be done, your lordship." Again, Ra' curtseyed, so Julie and I followed her lead, curtseying and owing respectively while backing out of the chamber.

"He certainly is intense," I said to Ra' as soon as I felt we were out of any conceivable earshot.

"The situation is dire," she replied, "I told you, Mark, that although diluted, some of the gift of longevity remains in my generation?" At my nod, she continued, "So does the curse of the Elemental Lords. Thus far, I am barren, although my husband and I dearly desire children. I've had two miscarriages, poor pathetic little babies that they were. Help me, Mark. Help me if you can."

The premise of the series is that the Empire has discovered a planet orbiting Epsilon Indi held by the fractal demons, where they have been breeding enslaved humans for several thousand years, hoping to create human serfs who can compete with Imperial operants. It hasn't been working out well for them - not only is the best they've done so far about equal to a mid-range Second Order Guardian, they don't have all of the factors that enabled Imperials to really learn to use their talents. Humans being human, there are a fair number of enclaves of free humans, and they treat each other not much better than the demons do.

It is into this setup that we step, as the Empire has discovered a direct link from this world to the fractal demons' home environments, so whomever controls Calmena has a strategic base from which to strike the other. But the Empire is preparing thoroughly for war before it begins - and one of the things they are doing is bringing civilization to the free humans, enabling them to be an even bigger thorn in the side of the fractal demons.

Published thus far are Preparing the Ground and Building the People. It's my plan to make Setting the Board my next primary work in process, but I'm not certain if I can fit all of the planned events into one book, so it may be split into two. Whether one book or two, Setting the Board is planned to be the culmination of this series, and anything else I do with these characters will have a sufficiently different setting to require beginning a new series.

The two main characters are Asina, a native of Calmena, and the viewpoint character Joe Bernard, a mixed race American from Earth.

Preparing the Ground Amazon link and Books2Read link

Building the People Amazon link and Books2Read link

My Amazon author page and Books2Read author page

Working the Trenches is a true sequel to the Rediscovery trilogy. Where the events of the trilogy are very tightly packed (although each story has a beginning, a theme, and a conclusion), Rediscovery is several years later when Grace has decided she feels enough loyalty to the Empire to serve in their armed forces, Working the Trenches of civilization

Graciella Juarez di Scimtar has saved Earth from itself. What will she do for an encore?

Become a real hero, as well as demonstrating that the Empire has earned her loyalty.

Along with her husband, she joins the Imperial Military. But she and her husband have unique talents - the military will not let them go to waste

Amazon link Books2Read link (covers most other retailers)

******

You don't have to do this.

It was our last night together for a while. We were in the sleep field in our apartment in the family residence, twenty kilometers above the surface of Sumabad, on Indra Prime. The family dinner was behind us; our dogs Lady and More were in their beds. We had already made love and were just basking in the glow of each other's touch. We watched the wakes from the pleasure craft in the strait in the soft glow from the new habitat overhead. The glow was about equal to 'a couple minutes after sunset'-level twilight on Earth; the wide ribbon of habitat overhead went all the way around the system's star and reflected a lot more light. One of the major planned cities was visible, a bit ahead of our orbit. Hard to believe there were already hundreds of times more people on the habitat that had been finished only a few years before than on this planet that had seen a hundred thousand years of civilization.

The plan was we were both going to start military training the next day, and Asto was telling me that he would understand if I didn't want to.

How many of the spouses in the family haven't spent time in the military? It was a rhetorical question. We both knew the answer was zero.

How many of them were born outside the Empire? Other than me, that answer was also zero. He was saying that if I didn't feel the loyalty yet, it was understandable.

The Empire saved us. Without the Empire, Earth would be on the way to a new Stone Age. That's if there were any humans left on Earth. The war between China and Russia that went nuclear and killed nearly a billion people had been only the leading edge of the troubles we'd been heading for. The United States had been in the process of fiscal collapse, the European Union had disintegrated into constituent nations, and world trade had been falling apart when the Empire stepped in. Even if no other nukes had been detonated - which no one rational believed - the damage done would have snowballed badly if the Empire hadn't stepped in and cleaned it up. That was nearly three Imperial years ago; longer on Earth due to the time differential. The radioactivity had been cleaned up, and Earth's standard of living was improving every month. The Primuses and Secunduses assigned to Earth had been doing their job well.

Asto replied, Earth is doing fine, now. It was the government, not the people, who were screwed up. And that was kind of the point. I didn't know that I wanted to get into the Imperial government ever, but I might. Asto definitely would; the Great Families might as well have been holding a blaster to each other's heads on that point. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more likely it seemed. To help Asto and the rest of his family if nothing else. I was part of the Scimtar family now and they would be my children's family as well, the friends and allies they could count on without reservation. But no matter who you were related to, nobody got rank in the Empire without earning it themselves. Not military rank and especially not civilian government. Even the Guardian's daughter started at the bottom. There was no formal requirement for military service in order to be appointed a Primus-in-fact, but in reality, the people running the Empire wanted to see evidence you were willing and able to serve; take orders and take your chances and put the interests of the Empire above your own. It was more likely they'd let an office go vacant rather than appoint a non-veteran. Coming from a United States where service had been increasingly rare for fifty years, I understood why.

The result was that if I ever wanted to get into the government, I had to have military service. And looking ahead, I didn't see a better time to do it. For one thing, Asto was joining for his first period of service. Waiting for any other time would double the time apart for initial training. Well, not apart exactly, as our rapport went on constantly, but while we could communicate on levels no inoperant knew existed, there was still no substitute for kissing your husband. If we have to be separated once, I don't want to be separated twice. And you know I do feel grateful and indebted for what the Empire did. I've also seen how the Empire treats its citizens. The Empire earned my loyalty. It continues to earn my loyalty.

Every day, I saw how the way the Empire worked treated its people better than the United States ever had. People respected the government; they didn't live in fear of it. Back home, EPA and IRS and FBI were words to conjure fear, along with "Child Protective Services" and DEA and dozens of others. Here, most of them didn't even have analogs, and anyone abusing official authority was dealt with quickly and very thoroughly. As a result, people lived far more comfortably and with far fewer problems. You didn't have to worry about used raw tea leaves in your garbage causing a massive armed invasion by government agents because someone thought it might be marijuana. There might have been a dozen police on duty in Sumabad; they were only dispatched if a situation was violent or had the clear potential to become so. In a population of several hundred million - the arcologies were huge - they rarely did. People expected the Empire to sort it out correctly, they expected the consequences - and that's if they were lucky enough to survive that long. Less than half of attempted criminals survived the attempt. Rough odds, if you were that criminal. Pretty nice, if you were anyone else. People stupid enough to commit crimes didn't last long, so there weren't very many of them, and people who might have been willing to try a life of crime if the odds were better instead steered clear. You could count the actual criminal statutes in the Empire on your fingers with some left over. If you did something non-criminal your neighbors didn't like, the recourse they had was a lawsuit and their own actions were scrutinized as heavily as yours. You got a polite visit from an Imperial investigator, and a chance to tell your side and present your evidence in front of your Primus or a mutually agreed private arbitrator. Getting justice didn't require spending more money than most people made in ten years.

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do this. It was one way of doing something concrete to pull my weight as an adult. I was enjoying the ride. As an adult citizen, I should spend some of my time helping to pull the sled. It wasn't a requirement, but it was something most Imperial citizens did because it was something adults did. Also, the military could be a wedge into a way to learn some skills that were valuable in commercial concerns, it was a way for citizens from newly acquired planets to earn hard currency, and it was essentially required if you eventually wanted to become a Primus (or higher)-in-fact. Finally, it would be another point of bonding with Asto and his family. There was a very strong tradition of service, from Scimtar himself on down. Everyone in the family spent time in the military and went back periodically for more. It wasn't unique to the Scimtars, either - all of the other Great Families had the same tradition in varying forms. The more important a family was, the more likely periodic stints of military service were expected.
Promise me you'll be as careful as you can? There was an undercurrent of fear to the question. My husband didn't want to lose me.

I promise. Will you? I sure as hell didn't want to lose him. Four fertilized eggs in storage and the help of his family was no substitute for my Asto. Combat actions were rare as far as individual troops were concerned, and most saw light casualties if any. But the exceptions were pure nightmare - Imperial units were designed and expected to keep functioning in the face of losses that would break any military unit back on Earth. Casualties among trained Guardians like us were also generally lower than natural state humans. But we were rolling the dice.

I promise, Grace. I want to come back to you. I also want you to be there to come back to.

Even if I'm not, come back for our children. Growing up without either of us would be bad.
I will. But having you to come back to is all the motivation anyone could want. In Concept, the operant language of pure thought, a thought followed that could be abbreviated as "I love you," but it was so much more. It was desire and need and completion - a statement that without me, a piece of him would be forever missing. There aren't words in English, Traditional, Technical, or any language of humanity to express it. I returned the thought, with interest, and we each grabbed for the other. This time our lovemaking had an undercurrent of desperation, and making it last. When it was over and we were spent, we made love a third time, gently and tenderly, then subsided back into a satisfied mutual embrace and put ourselves into a sleep, setting ourselves to waken at thirtythree thirty.

(I will warn you that this bit suffers from being out of context as well as first draft. The situation being talked about isn't the main focal point of this novel. Never too early to start setting up sequels. *cue evil laughter*)

Julie had noticed we appeared to be heading for the Grapevine. "I thought you said they were on the other side of some sort of gate! We appear to be heading up the perfectly normal highway through the Grapevine!"

"Skepticism is fine for now, Honey. The transport network on this side is a lot faster. There aren't exactly interstates and gas stations on the other side! Trust me, you'll see!"

"So those stories you told me about your great-grandmother? She really was a shaman?"

"She really is a shaman, Mark. She's still alive, she makes crops grow better than anyone else, and doesn't look any older than I do. How old do you think I am?"

"I've always thought of you as being younger than I am."

"Mark, I was born over sixty years ago! My mother is well over a hundred, my grandmother is older than the United States. The gift diminishes with each generation removed, but some still remains."

"And your great-grandmother?"

"We think she's under a thousand."

"So these elves - right? - lose a war and find themselves enslaved. But it doesn't sound like they're slaves any longer?"

"They rebelled. And they got assistance, somehow. There was a journey - a long journey. It's all oral history from songs and tales around the fire. They ended up on an Earth that's like a changed Earth, and it's somehow touching our Earth. And there things stayed for a very long time. There were even colonies on the Earth side."

"And then one day, some regular humans appeared on Earth. We don't know how they got here - they didn't remember how their ancestors got here. But they sure displaced everything that competed with them. That's about all of the story I know, except that the Elves are concerned that humans have started crossing over into their world."

Empire and Earth is the concluding book of a 'tight' trilogy where each book takes up very quickly after the conclusion of the others, yet each book has it's own story, conflict, and resolution.

Excerpt:

In Empire and Earth, the background events warned of in the first two books come to a head, reaching a tipping point and escalating rapidly from there.I woke up to the thought that I can't keep doing this.
I couldn't keep fighting demons like that solo.

It wasn't that I was getting old. It was simply that I wouldn't stand a prayer against a basileus or one of the uniques that could dominate even them. I could maybe handle terostes, even nephraim, but against any of the great nobles I was toast. I had no evidence that there were any more demons on Earth, but I didn't have any evidence that there weren't, either. You think there weren't any more demons on Earth after my most recent victory up north? Great - now prove it. I couldn't prove it either. Even if there weren't any now, that didn't mean there couldn't be more arriving in the future. The stons might have been stupid and unfocused, but they were at least a credible threat to keep any demons that might be on Earth under some type of control. Removing them had removed that threat and that control.

Asking which came first, stons or demons, was not a productive line of questioning. Whichever had brought the other, clearly the demons now had some sort of access to Earth. I wasn't certain I understood Instance Portals; they were beyond what I could do thus far. I'd have Asto or one of the others explain more when I got back. Maybe I could handle an Instance Portal; it was just nobody had explained how yet. When billions to trillions of operant mindlords are building up the science of the mind over tens of thousands of years, don't expect to master it all in a few months, no matter how fast your mind works now. All those other Guardians have minds that work just as fast.

Speaking of which, progress on my real goal - insulating people from the coming government failure - was thus far going nowhere. Yeah, I was making a lot of money selling dogs in the Empire - even if the land for my dog farm suddenly became worthless, I was still in the black. But I couldn't reach the real goal by myself. I needed other people from the Empire helping me for that. One person may be enough for an underground resistance, but it's not enough to make it a viable replacement for the multi-trillion dollar economy the government was going to kill. I needed lots more people and lots more traffic for that.

Before I went back to the Empire, though, I had to catch up with the backlog of pickups. It had been four days while we were preparing to fight the demons, a fourth night to actually do it, and it was now after noon of the fifth day since the last time I had picked up any dogs from my suppliers. If you've got a farm, you've got to work it - doesn't matter whether that farm is crops in the soil or a supply chain. I had just had a gap in pickup of three weeks; I couldn't leave pickups another five to seven days until I was caught up and had prepared my suppliers. That catching up took me three days, by which I was time I was two days past my planned stay, and had to get back before Asto came looking for me. I let Ray and my suppliers know that I was planning to be back in six days, and shaped course back for the Empire with almost exactly six thousand dogs.

I dropped back into the Home Instance, and the first thing I got was Asto's sense of relief. It was almost funny in a way, and I suppose from his point of view it was a little scary: I find out my new husband's family secret - that they were really Seventh Order, not Fifth - and promptly go over-schedule. Think about the obvious conclusion to be drawn from that. Sorry about being late. There were some demons, and after I spent four days on preparing and fighting them, I had to catch up the business before I could leave. I was worried you'd come looking for me and we'd cross paths.

Anana told me I had to wait a full day, he replied, but then she and Parnit would come with me in case it was stons or another basileus. Imperial Home Instance Time ran about one quarter the speed of Earth. Neither one of us mentioned Iaren's splinter.

Sorry to cause you worry. I got feedback to the effect it couldn't be helped.

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A Guardian From Earth is the second book of Rediscovery, the middle book of a 'tight' trilogy where the events in subsequent novels take up very close upon the heels of the previous book. Nonetheless, each story has it's own beginning, middle, and climax.

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"M'ija, what have you gotten into?"

"I'm about to explain that, Mama. Do you have an empty tin can in your recycling?"
"I think so m'ija. I used a can of tomato sauce a couple nights ago. You want it for something?"
"A demonstration. I want to start out by showing you and Papi evidence of what I'm going to tell you. I want you to understand early that this is not something like anything you're familiar with. If I can get past that hump early, this will go a lot easier."
"I'll get it."
Meanwhile Papi was coming in the front door, Riley doing his happy wiggle, but tonight Papi had eyes only for me. "M'ija! I was starting to worry it might be the hallucinations of an old man, but you're still here!" I hugged him, hard, "Yes, I'm still here Papi. What I'm going to have to show you and tell you will be a lot easier if I can start with a demonstration, and have you examine a couple things with your own eyes. First, I asked Mama to get me a used tin can, and here she is." I took the sauce can from her, went out only the spaced tile walkway behind the house, set it down, then thought better of it, picked it back up and handed it him. "Take a good look at it. Decide for yourself whether it's a completely normal can with no abnormalities, or if you think it's in some way unusual, say so. And I can wait a couple minutes for you to say hi to Riley, too. Probably a good idea if he and Candy are in the house when we do this."
"Looks normal to me, hija. I'll go put the dogs in the house." It was a couple minutes later when he came out again, carefully closing the back door so the dogs wouldn't get out. "Set the can down on one of the tiles, Papi. Take a good look at where you set it down before you do." They were all identical, square masonry tiles he'd set down roughly eighteen inches apart in a line back to the patio near the back fence just after we'd bought the place. They were weathered, but solid. "Ok, but I don't understand."

"You will in a moment Papi." I took the hand blaster out of my bag, made sure it was on and aimed it at the can. Actually, I didn't know what the hand blaster would do to a can, but I was pretty certain it would do something. You don't blow a hole clean through someone's head with less power than it takes to shoot tin cans.
Actually, my first shot missed the can completely. Fw-crack! It blew a hole in the tile the can was on and cracked it from front to back, into two pieces. He and mama both jumped in alarm. "M'ija, what did you do that for?" Papi demanded, "I knew I should have taught you to handle a gun. This isn't the place!"

"Papi, look carefully. This isn't a gun. It doesn't shoot bullets. Stand back." Then I carefully squeezed off another shot. Fw-clink-crack! I hadn't dead centered it, but there was now a hole in the can, and it had moved just a little. The poor tile it sat on was now hopelessly shattered. I held the studs in back, watching the indicator go black. "The blaster is now safe. Examine the can if you will."
Papi knelt down. The first thing he did surprised me. He looked at the tile underneath the can, then the dirt underneath the tile. He felt around in the dirt, which had formed narrow divots. "Your shots appear to have pierced both the can and the tile. The tile is warm and so are a couple of places beneath it where I believe the shots hit, but I cannot find a bullet. The edges of the holes in the can are consistent with there being no physical bullet as well, as there is no bending back or tearing of the edges. It appears to be a clean hole like a laser might make, but I don't know of any lasers that powerful."

"I don't know that it's a laser Papi. In fact, I don't know anything about it except what ScOsh told me in order to shoot it. I can dial the power level up or down, I can turn it on or off, I can mostly read the power indicator, and I can tell you that this this weapon was completely drained this morning and recharged itself while I slept. And before you ask, yes, I was in a gun battle, kind of. I'm not hurt, but I'm the only survivor. Are there any other tests you would like to make to determine whether this is a thing that can be made anywhere on Earth?"

"Let me shoot it once, hija."

"Alright, watch me. I showed him how to shoot it, turn it on, squeezed off another shot of my own at the helpless can, which he'd set down on the lawn. I missed, again, sending up a tiny protrusion of displaced dirt and grass. I turned it off and handed it to him. He turned it back on, and shot, but Papi hit the can with his first shot. The indicator went from blue to gold briefly and then red. ScOsh wasn't kidding about high power drain while the weapon was powering up. I didn't know how much we'd burned, but that last shot had to be significant to change colors twice. Papi shot again. Hit the can again. The indicator stayed red, so the power up must have been complete. Mama was obviously upset almost to the point of rebellion, but then he turned the weapon off and handed it back to me. "I'm convinced, no real recoil, smooth mechanism with no difference between slack and pull range, and I am pretty certain nothing made on earth can do that kind of damage without weighing at least a hundred times what that thing does. Not to mention that the power indicator is completely different than anything I've seen from Earth engineers. But it looks like it was designed for a human hand?"
"Yes it was, Papi. The man who gave it to me was as human as we are. He just wasn't from Earth. Let me show you one more thing, even more unusual. But this we can do inside. We're done with gun discharges, I hope." With that, I put the gun away and pulled out the "pocket" while walking into the house, "I'm sorry I upset you Mama, and I'll replace the tile Papi, but I hope you can see why I needed to show you. You had to feel it for yourself."

"Yes, I did. What else do you have to show me?"
"ScOsh called it a pocket." I laid it out, cloth side up, on the kitchen table. "Feel." Mama and Papi both reached out and touched it. The material was like a cross between velvet and silk; light, but with a sturdy plush feel, pleasant to run your fingers over. I turned it over, and now they could see into it. Mama's mouth made the O of exclamation and she clapped her hands and said, "Ooh, I want one!" Papi's eyes got real big, but he reached his hand in, and pulled out ScOsh's original sword.

"Careful, Papi. I don't know how to use any of what's in there. I don't even know what anything else is, and I'm pretty sure some of it is dangerous. But is the container anything we can make here on Earth?"

"You know the answer to that, m'ija. If it were, would you women ruin your backs carrying around huge purses?" as he gestured at my large travelling bag. "I want to try something, though." He took a pen out of his pants pocket, put it inside the pocket, released it. It floated there. Evidently, gravity didn't exist inside. He put his hand into one of the side pockets that wasn't holding anything. "Sticky, like a Post-It, but stronger." Rubbing his fingers together, "It doesn't feel like the adhesive transfers, either. I can't feel a thing on them."

"Okay, m'ija, you've got me convinced. Tell me the story."

It was time for work, but my phone rang again. I didn't recognize the number, but it was long distance, so I gave it a chance on case a family member needed help. It was ScOsh, "Grace, I have two million dollars for you."

A statement like that does get your attention, especially when you're scrabbling for twelve bucks an hour so you can go to school part time. He'd already refused my virtue, such as it was, so I was pretty certain that wasn't his objective. What was? "Um, thanks, I think. Why?"

"I offered you compensation, and you accepted. You may not realize it, but you are running a risk by hosting me. What is your schedule today?"

"Nothing special. Work, then school tonight - Organic chem. There's an exam I haven't studied for"

"Can you call in sick to work today? There's a risk I have to show you how to minimize. You should be fine by tonight."

"For someone paying me 2 million dollars I can. When do I get it? And risk? What risk?" And what did you DO to earn two million dollars overnight? To myself.

"I'll explain when I see you. Stay in until then. I'll be there within an hour. An Earth hour."

So I called in to "Call Me George" Martinez and told him I'd caught a cold from all the rain. My first sick call in two years. He wasn't happy, but I'd finished the EPA report he needed, so he had to let me slide. If ScOsh was as good as his word - and he had been so far - I might never come back. Then I cracked the O-chem book.

I amazed myself. I had struggled with the differences between aldehydes and ketones, but it was a snap now. I not only understood, I was drawing connections the book wasn't making - at least not yet. Better yet, I was remembering them. I satisfied myself, pulled out my calculus book from last semester, and suddenly understood calculus for the first time in my life. Ditto my Tuesday night Molecular Biology class. I went back to O-chem. I remembered it all. I read three chapters ahead. It was dryer than hot desert sand thanks to the writer's pedantic text, but it wasn't hard.

I got the impression more time than an hour had passed, and I was right. It had been an hour and ten minutes. I couldn't have done it in less than four hours before. Then I remembered ScOsh was ten minutes overdue. The way he came and went was creepy, but he seemed to have it pretty well under control. Where was he?

He stepped out of the hall closet just then. God alone knows where he found the room, but he did. He wasn't carrying anything that looked like it could hold a million dollars, but I'd reserve judgment on that. He hadn't been carrying the sword I'd seen, or the other weapon, the one that killed the gangbangers, either. "Sorry I'm late," he said, "But exchanging the money turned out to be more complicated than I thought. I found out about your physical libraries last night after you went to bed, so I walked through first your local college library, then the Library of Congress. Then I went to Atlantic City, and went through all the casinos there. Then Las Vegas"

"You cheated the casinos?" I interrupted, incredulous, "You cheated the mob-owned casinos?"

"I did no such thing," he said, "It's not cheating to use skill. If they don't have rules posted that forbid it, it's not cheating. There were rules posted, but absolutely nothing about using any of the skills I employed. I borrowed a chip from someone for a few minutes, and used it to win. Then I gave the original chip back to the owner with interest. I went from casino to casino. Didn't win too much from any of them. When people started to take an interest in my winning, I lost a little, then changed tables and started winning again. I know how not to be noticed. Speaking of which, that applies right now. You're about to have visitors. I'm not here; don't expect them to find me no matter what they do, so act natural. Don't do anything out of the ordinary. Your planet doesn't have the technology or the wizardry to catch me. I want to keep it to a minimum because there's at least one person around who can." Then he simply disappeared right in front of me, just as there was a knock on my door.

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