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 ten seconds, but I do try to slide a few in where appropriate.

The 'flavor' of science fiction I'm writing is a blend of Golden Age and modern 'human wave'. People are at the center of what I write. Technology may dictate some of the constraints of whatever the protagonists are trying to solve, but humans are in control, not robots or machinery - and people sometimes figure out ways around constraints, whether technical or political.

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 (This should illustrate what I'm talking about if you need explanation). 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. Nor do I ask you to swallow patent absurdities because it somehow enables a 'Cool Idea'. Cool Ideas should fit within the established framework of how people behave and the world I've built.

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.

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Ten seconds later, we grounded with a thump-KLANG. Harder than I liked to put my ships down, but with a full hull charge, I had no reason to believe Ugatu had endangered the ship or anyone in it. Weight returned as the impellers went dormant. I stayed buckled and so did Asto; nobody had told us we were getting off here.

A few seconds later, Ugatu came back into the cargo bay and did just that, "Unstrap yourselves and grab your bags. Follow me out in reverse order to how you came in. Welcome to Sharanna Military Reservation Twentythree, the Empire's newest initial military training facility for Guardians. You'll be here until you pass or they allow you to quit."

The lone man who'd been on the opposite side of the ship followed him out first, followed by the left side from front to back, reversing the order we'd loaded in. We debarked on a much larger landing field, with many ships of varying sizes from Starbird all the way up to convoy craft at least, and it was just that I didn't see anything bigger, not that I was certain it wasn't there. First, we trotted at the same speed away from the ship as we had in approaching. This area of Sharanna was a lot cooler and less humid than Fulda or even Sumabad; maybe the equivalent of five degrees Celsius outside. Cold enough for natural state humans to be uncomfortable, and you could feel a hint of rain in the air. Classic towering cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds occupied a good slice of the horizon, approaching rapidly, and you could see the rain approaching. Overhead, the clear sky was rapidly turning to grey. Once the weather got up steam here, it could really move fast and grow powerful enough to make a joke of any Earthly storm. Imperial construction was tough; people just didn't go out when storms were bad. Sharanna was a completely artificial environment, so unless there was an intentionally created barrier, storms could travel millions of kilometers, alternately waxing and waning the whole way until they did run into something that stopped them for good. Kind of like the Great Plains states, or the oceans of Earth, times a thousand or so. My dog farm was in the prevailing wind-shadow of Band City with its massive ten and twenty mile high arcologies spreading across a swath a million kilometers or more in any direction, and no major sources of storms between the city and the farm. I gathered that this place was not so sheltered.

Another operant was waiting for us, a woman in a uniform like none I had seen before. It was Imperial forces field uniform, but with a large white tabard over each shoulder, like enlarged epaulets, as if she were staff, only more so. On each, an insignia of rank the size of my hand was emblazoned, about four times the normal size. It was a private's circle of rank, split by a horizontal white line. Below the line was purple, as in a Senior Private, above was green, as if for a Team Private. "This is Instructor Jereya," Ugatu told us, "She will take you to your barracks and your training units." Then without further ado, he headed back for the cutter.

"This way," the woman said, moving us quickly behind a safety line. As soon as we were all over the line, the cutter was off in a trailing vortex of wind, no sign of its presence remaining. "We're going to start with military discipline now. You jondats will keep step and interval as you follow me. You're all operant, so there's no excuse for violating a ninety isixths interval or getting out of step." The distance was just shy of one Earth meter, a little over three feet. "Each pace is seventy-five isixths, always step off with your left foot. First Step is four paces per second, Third Step is six." Eighty-two Earth centimeters, roughly thirty-two inches per step. Imperial seconds were 1.7 Earth, so first step was about 140 paces per Earth minute - a brisk walk - while third step would be 210 or so, a moderate trot about equal to what we'd done with Ugatu. "Third Step, march! Left-right-left!" she called the pace for three steps, by which time everyone was with it and she ignored it thereafter.

She yelled over her shoulder as she moved. "I am Instructor Jereya! Instructors are specialists, utilized at need to help instruct you pathetic losers in hopes of achieving a marginal competence. We are technically civilians, but unlike Staff, Instructors and Leaders are in your chain of command until you are promoted to Trained Private! All recruits are to treat Instructors as superior to Senior Privates, subordinate to Team Privates! Similarly, Leaders are superior to Team Privates, subordinate to Squad Privates! You will have one Leader to a squad, learn your current Section Leader and otherwise let the Leaders sort out who's a Section Leader! There is one active duty Section Private assigned to command each platoon; they will have final say in all matters having to do with your training. You must have your squad Leader's permission before initiating contact above that squad Leader."

Jereya took absolutely no notice of the impending storm. I didn't believe for a moment she hadn't noticed, but she didn't show that she had. We trotted past several boomerang-shaped assault cruisers and empty, recessed berths in the white pavement intended to hold others as large raindrops started splattering on the pavement and on us. Within minutes, it had become solid rain with occasional sheets, and we were all soaked. She trotted on, apparently oblivious, as the wind began driving the rain into our right side. After perhaps fifteen minutes, we came to a portal, which she programmed and led us through.

We emerged into the middle of a multistory building, kind of an atrium without glass. The light was artificial. Around us, snowflake-like, six wings of barracks in six levels. "This is Operant Training Barracks Two, your new home! Each bay holds one section in three squad rooms! The squads I am now assigning you to will be your place here until you are otherwise notified! The assignments have been made at company level and are not subject to appeal! Your squad leader has been apprised of your joining their squad and has your records! Your first assignment will be to stow your gear, change your wet disgusting clothes and report to your squad Leader! Move"

My datalink informed me I was being assigned to Third Squad, Third Section, Fourth Platoon, First Troop. What that meant was I was in Bay Six on what Americans like myself would describe as the fifth floor. When I informed Asto of that, he said he was in Second Squad, First Section of the same Platoon, in Bay Four of the same floor. Well, it could have been worse. We'd known they wouldn't put us in the same squad, no matter what. At least he was only two bays over, when he might not have been in the same building or even at the same base. I saw a couple other recruits teleport up to their new assignments, and nobody called them on it, so I followed suit. I walked into Bay Six, found Third Squad's room, noted that one bunk of the sixteen bunk beds was empty, along with the corresponding footlocker. No sleep fields here. I used perception to check my bunkmate's use of her locker, peeled my wet field uniform off along with the underclothes, dressed in another outfit, identical to the first. My civilian clothes went under the stack of neatly folded clean uniforms on the right of my locker, then I went into the squad bathroom to wring out my soaked used set before depositing it on the left side of my locker. Perhaps eight people would be comfortable in that bathroom. Too bad it had to serve thirty-three. The squad room as a whole looked like it had all the privacy one could reasonably expect in building full of operants. Unless the double doors into the section bay were open, nobody could see in. Of course, being operants, everyone else around me had a sense of perception, too, and even if that had not been the case, there was absolutely no privacy from other members of your squad. I'd had a few years to get used to the fact that the Empire didn't segregate by sexes, or I might have been really taken aback. The only ripple from Asto at the notion was mild amusement at the fact I still wasn't completely acculturated on that point. It also looked like eating was permitted in barracks - there was a large, neatly stacked pile of Life bars, next to a similar, even larger pile of water cubes.

That accomplished, my datalink told me my squad was doing something called obstacle course three. Well, I'd seen army movies back home, so I thought I might have some idea of what that entailed, and silently damned Instructor Jereya for telling me to change out of one soaked uniform in order to promptly soak another. I escalatored myself down to the main floor by jumping over the railing and slowing my fall with matris. It seemed the fastest way down. The portal refused my request, so I took off out the front door of the barracks at a run, headed for where my datalink told me my squad and its Leader were. I teleported twice when I could see far enough to make it worth my while. Even so, it took a good five minutes - about eight and a half Earth - to get to where I was going, by which time I was soaked again.

I announced myself to Helene and she invited me into her studio. She was working on a voice project for someone else that day; she put it aside and sat with me. "The first question I have to ask, Grace, is how territorial you are about the dog business?"

"If it would get me the people I need to help Earth, I'd sell the dog farm tomorrow. I can make more running cargo around the Empire than I can in the dog business, and be home every night."

"Well, perhaps you ought to do precisely that. My husband has a pair of older size two capital ships that really aren't economical any longer. They've been sitting in a holding yard for years. You should be able to put Interstitials in, maybe even pay an on-board cargo handler. Agree to rent space in the hold to anyone who wants. Class two capital ships have external racks for nine small cruiser auxiliaries, as well as internal space for smaller craft. Inoperants can make sublight runs within the system on impellers. If you simply hold your fees to something the consortium can pay, that would solve most of the problems."

"That seems like it might have merit, but the real point is to get strong Guardians who can fight demons. My satellite has found a jopas, two spraxos, and several nephraim, none of which I'm confident of facing alone."

"Not all operants are Vector pilots, let alone Interstitial pilots."

"I know, Helene, but how many will be interested in Earth?"

"All you can do is ask."

True. Without the Empire behind it, this whole thing was purely voluntary. On the other hand, I didn't have to choose by the method of taking the first eight people - or eighty - who ask. I could explicitly reserve slots for operants willing to fight major demons. Class two capital ships might have been small by the standards of current commerce, but they were over three hundred fifty meters in radius - nearly one hundred million cubic meters of which was cargo capacity. By comparison, the largest cargo ships on Earth are around seven to eight hundred thousand cubic meters. I wasn't certain every stray dog and cat on Earth would fill a hundred million cubic meters. On the other hand, with an internal system for moving stasis boxes, it would make it easy for dog people to bring back a stasis box at a time, and each participant could have boxes and hold volumes marked for their individual use. "Is anyone likely to volunteer just for a demon hunt?"

"I'd say it's likely. There's a lot of bad feeling towards demons over their part in the Interregnum. If I wasn't raising two small children, I might volunteer myself."

That was a shock. Helene was the embodiment of a dignified lady artist. Then I remembered Anara telling me how she used to have two other children, and I realized I didn't know how many other close friends and family she might have lost. Figure every Imperial citizen old enough to have lived through the Interregnum was a good candidate to volunteer, and that included a large proportion of the strongest as well as all of the most experienced Guardians. For the first time, I really understood that learning about history second-hand was a poor substitute for the experience of those who lived through it. "What if I were to simply upload my satellite log?"

"You might have to promote it a bit, and add a location. Perhaps you might have to promise transportation. But the response that would surprise me the least is veterans of the era start recruiting on their own. Everyone lost people they cared about. I was extraordinarily lucky in that I, my husband, and four of my six children survived. By comparison the Baryan lost twenty out of twentytwo adult members and all of their children and spouses, the M'Dorna lost fourteen out of fifteen adults and all their children and spouses, and depending upon your interpretation, ten or eleven of the Great Houses were completely exterminated. The Council actually had a survival rate greater than the Imperial population at large. More than half of all Imperial planets were completely destroyed or sterilized, none kept even half their old population alive. Nobody got through the Interregnum unscathed, and the demons were the enabling factor. Most survivors of the Interregnum don't think we've done anything like even the scales yet. Many will drop anything they can to give them a chance at demons."

"So a two prong strategy, one to recruit volunteers for an assault, one to recruit fellow dog sellers. What is the advantage of the other dog sellers?"

"One person, isolated as you are on Earth, is a lot easier to kill than an ongoing presence. Even if you're the only pilot for the consortium, the other members will have someone who checks on them if they don't return."

So if there were a dozen of us on Earth, killing one of us didn't help them. With Asto behind me, it wouldn't help them even if I was alone, but they'd know it wouldn't help them if I wasn't alone. "Thank you Helene. Am I going to be able to thank Scimtar in person this evening?" She communicated no, so I continued, "Please also tell him thank you for me?" and started to take my leave, but she interrupted me.

"One more thing, Grace. My husband said it's time you had a refresher. I've made reservation for you with the family arms people tomorrow from nineteen zero to twentysix."

Well, dang. I had had plans for tomorrow - it was the only day I'd get in the Empire before I had to head back to Earth. A day and a half here was roughly six days there. Neither she nor grandfather can force you, love, Asto sent, but it really would be a good idea. The skills decay without use. So I agreed, and then took my leave.

Copyright 2014 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

I woke up suddenly in the dark. There was somebody in the room with me. I heard Riley bark once, then go silent. The shape of a woman resolved itself in the closet door. It was dark, but she wasn't much bigger than I was. I grabbed for the little blaster in my bag, but she interrupted, "Don't bother with the blaster; it won't work on me anyway. How did you get it and what happened to my brother?"

"Your brother?" I replied. I hoped she had something to do with ScOsh, but wasn't certain.

"His name was Osh Scimtar. He probably called himself ScOsh. There is a Mindsword in this box that shows his pattern, but he wasn't known to have a Mindsword or be capable of forging one. It's inactive, which means he's dead, and you're operant with at least some training. Did you somehow manage to kill him?"
"First explain what you did to the dog and my parents!"

"They're asleep. Nobody is going to interrupt us. Now start explaining!"

"Oh, I am sorry!" It took a while for my brain to get going sometimes. "I knew there'd be people looking for him, but he told me there were so many people in the empire I never thought it would be family first. He gave me a log for the whomever it was. Have you found his log yet?" She gave a little noise towards the end of the sentence, which meant she had as soon as I mentioned it. I watched her face fall. She must have accessed something that told her ScOsh was dead. It was like a hammer hit her, but she maintained her presence of mind.

After that pause, "Are you Grace?"

"That's me," I replied. Since I hadn't yet given her a name, that meant she read it off the log or out of my mind.

"I'm sorry," she said, "But Osh was close to all of us. A surrogate father whenever Father was gone. I'm Anara Scimtar di Baryan. Call me ScAnara." Unlike ScOsh, she emphasized the connection enough that I caught the soft cee and figured out that the beginning was an informal patronymic of sorts. "To expect him to be here so I can harass him about an error he made, only he's gone, dead, it's just going to take a few moments. He thought a lot of you, evidently. Enough to leave instructions concerning you in his log. Would you like to come to the empire with us?"

"Yes, I would." I had already made up my mind on that score. "How long do I have?"

"We need to verify that he did kill all of the stons that were here. And we're going to run an astral survey, compute a temporal ephemeris, drop a beacon. As long as we're here, let's do what we need to in order to keep track of a planet with seven billion humans. That will also insure you can find your way back, incidentally. Eight hours at least. ScOsh's log says our hours are about one point seven of yours so thirteen and a half hours." I looked at my watch, just to be sure. It was 5 AM. I had until 6:30 tonight to say goodbye.

"Do I need to bring anything?"

"A couple days' worth of clothing might be prudent, but not necessary. Artificial environment shipboard." I turned on the light, and discovered that ScAnara looked nothing like ScOsh had. Her skin actually had a slight orange cast to it, and if she didn't have the brightest head of red hair I'd ever seen, it was close. She also had the build of the smaller, heavily built mindlords rather than ScOsh's tall and skinny. She was about five foot six, looked like she weighed maybe one-seventy, not fat, but rather the sort of muscles that come from hours at the gym. If you'd forced me to guess her ethnicity, I would have said Irish but her accent was pure California.

"Do you have time to wake my parents? I'm an adult, but talking with you might calm their fears."

"I have a few minutes, unless there's an alert."

I went down the hall and knocked on their door. "Papi? Mama, there's someone here you want to talk to."

It took them a minute to wake up, then, "What is it m'ija?" There was definitely sleep in Papi's voice. They were both in pajamas, sitting up in bed.

"This is ScOsh's sister, ScAnara. I'm going to be leaving with her tonight. I'm not certain when I'll be able to come back. Probably at least a couple years their time, maybe more of ours."

Papi: "Huh? Why? We just got you back!"

"Your daughter is operant sir," ScAnara replied, "She needs to learn how to use her abilities. Here, she will never learn it all on her own, there is too much to discover. But we've had billions like her and like me for a hundred thousand years. We've learned how to do a lot that she will never learn on her own, and how to pass it on. When she comes back, assuming she decides she wants to, she will be the start of a new era on your world. We don't die from old age or disease; she'll be able to bring that same knowledge to your world, along with many other things. Have you noticed a difference in your daughter?"

"Si," Papi replied, "She changed a lot since the last time. No glasses, and I haven't seen her fool with contacts either. It's like she suddenly spent two years working out in the space of three days. And maybe I'm getting old, but she seemed smarter and faster as well as younger." Mama also nodded.

"ScOsh did all of that for me in a few seconds Mama. I have to go learn so I can do it for others. And the things they can do - you saw, both of you. They can travel between galaxies and alternate dimensions in the twinkling of an eye. I have to go learn!"

"M'ija, are you sure this is alright?"

Remembering something he'd often said to Esteban when we were younger, "You mean 'tear my arm off and beat me to death with it', Papi? No, I'm not. But it's not because of anything like a cookbook called "To Serve Man" like that old TV show you showed us. It might not be right for me, but it's something I have to try. I'll never know the difference I could have made if I don't."

"It's going to be hard, m'ija, losing you again. Mama and I, we don't know how much longer we have. We don't know if we'll see you again."

Copyright 2024 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

No matter what the song says, it does rain in southern California. All the damn time in March of El Nino years.

The most recent storm had finished blowing through earlier that evening. I didn't like working after dark, but the compliance reports just couldn't wait any longer. My boss, "Call me George" Martinez, had informed me that the EPA was crawling all over him and that if the hazardous usage and disposal reports weren't completed by the time he got to work in the morning, I would be joining the ranks of the unemployed. In blue state basket case California, in the middle of the worst economy of the last eighty years. Jerk.

Overall, Riverside's not a bad town. I've got a small apartment not too far from the UC campus. The complex is full of students with a smattering of old fogeys too poor and too stubborn to leave, and working class stiffs, not to mention hybrids like me. The ones I've talked to were alright.

But this wasn't there. The warehouse sits in a commercial district near where the 91 dies and turns into the 215 at the 60 merge. There are some rough people nearby, in the old twenties and thirties housing they threw up back before tract housing. Tiny lots, old decaying houses, ancient plumbing and wiring, never updated. Paint cracked, chipped, and peeling. Calling them Craftsmen would be implying a level of charm that simply didn't exist. Streets jammed with old junker cars. Chain link fences, neglected lawns, junk left wherever someone dropped it because it was too much effort to clean up. An occasional abuela put in a few flowers that just made the rest of the neighborhood look even more pitiful. Rough people, mostly poor hispanics with the occasional white trash or black, human refuse that just didn't have what it took to get ahead in the world as it had become. Some were disabled, most simply never applied themselves much. Get a second or third generation in there, and you got some real gangbanging. Easy path to see, damned near impossible to make it work into a real life worth living. Enough to make me appreciate my parents, who escaped that world and made sure I knew enough not to fall back.

The gangs had been cooped up inside most of the previous ten days. El Nino storms came through one after another. Maybe they wouldn't drown or freeze you, but they were cold, wet, and miserable - at least by the standards of California weather. Nobody came out when it was raining without a good reason why they had to be out there and then, but once it stopped a light jacket would keep you warm, and the hoodies would be out looking to burn off some energy. It's not like they had anything better to do.

And here I was, a 28 year old woman leaving the building all by myself in the dark just after eight-thirty with no one around. Just bad luck the four guys in jackets walking up the other side of the street at the exact wrong time. No key to get back in - damn "Call me George" to hell. I picked up my pace. If I could get to my car - beater that it is - and lock the doors there was a chance I'd be able to drive away.

Mistake. The hoodies started to run. Now there was some effort in it for them, things were looking worse for me. Cell phone, you say? I could grab the phone and push the number to dial 911, but it wouldn't do me a bit of good. Typical response time was thirty minutes. By the time the cops showed up, it would be long over. I was about to do it anyway when it happened.

I swear on my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that this happened. He looked like an Angel of the Lord, minus the wings. Hanging up there in the air. Well, not hanging - he was falling, though not like he was getting pulled - more like he was riding an escalator that wasn't there. At least six five, thin as a rail, with a softly glowing sword of all the improbable things. Wearing what looked like some kind of uniform, dark with lighter trim, cut like nothing I'd ever seen.

I don't know what he did to call attention to himself, but all of a sudden the 'bangers noticed him. Not just the 'bangers, but everything's attention was wrenched towards him as if someone grabbed our heads, sunk hooks into our eyeballs and made us look. Right down to the rats in the dumpsters.

That was enough for the 'bangers. They hauled out their guns and started banging away. The visitor looked puzzled for an instant, then the sword vanished, and I saw a flash from him. Something in his hand - didn't did get a good look at what it was. The gang members fell over so fast it was over before I could twitch. Damn! The guy was fast. I'd never seen anything like that even in the movies.

One look showed four lifeless bodies with blood starting to pool. The visitor lit with catlike grace, apparently as unconcerned as if nothing had just happened. I had a decision to make, and I did. I jumped in my car and got the hell out of Dodge. I didn't want to be anywhere in the neighborhood when the cops finally got there. I didn't stop to say thanks, I definitely didn't talk to him, I just jumped in and went. I didn't slow down until I was home. I might have run a red light or two; I really couldn't tell you with any certainty.

I pulled into the parking lot, and spent a few minutes having a quiet attack of the shakes. The steering wheel was a nice solid reassurance of the familiar world of everyday life. Things like that just did not happen. Bad enough to come that close to being raped or maybe worse. I lived in the real world, and things like that happened even though you don't want them to. But you do not get six and a half feet of impossibly fast man walking down out of the sky to kill your enemies every day, or any day. Maybe in fairy tales or fiction, not in Riverside.

Copyright 2013 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

This will be the third Connected Worlds story, after Fountains of Aescalon (Amazon link Books2Read link) and The Monad Trap (Amazon link Books2Read link), and is my main project at the moment. Progress has been slower than I would like; Alexan is difficult to write.

******


The ground shivered beneath our feet.

"Husband, did's't thee feel that?" Petra asked.

"I would have had to be dead not to."

"Thee seems unnaturally calm!"

"I've never observed panic to improve a situation, milady. I note it occurred at the moment I expected the Scourging to begin. Treemount shivered with an impact to Ygg. I should investigate our customs posts."

"What could have caused it?"

"Any number of things. The coincidence in timing may indicate something to do with Aescalon or the exit from Aescalon, but it's profitless to speculate at this point. Observation first, then hypothesis, then tests. Would you like to gather some data?"

"It seems your homunculi are likely more suited to the task."

"As you wish, milady. I shall endeavor to keep you informed of my whereabouts and the progress of the investigation."

"Thee dost not have my permission to vanish for days, milord!"

"I shall endeavor to return before evening, my love. I doubt any examination a half day delayed shall become impossible immediately thereafter, but remember my divine curse does reinforce my own ultsi bent of curiosity."

"Thy divine curse may find itself banished from my bedchamber should it tarry overlong."

That was an empty threat if ever there was one, but better to turn it aside. "Milady is perfectly capable of finding me anywhere on Ygg."

"Milady has two children to care for, husband, and does not wish their father to be gone overlong." That was her divine curse, devotion to motherhood, or rather, family, as she was as devoted to me as she was to them. She wanted to be mothering her children constantly; only the demands of ultsi children kept her from demanding we produce more immediately. Catharin was twelve by Migurd reckoning, Ansharos nine. Anyone else would have been driven insane with their demands; milady wife gloried in filling them. It was what she had remade herself for.

"Milady's husband does not wish to be gone any longer than she wishes him to be gone, but duty may require more."

"See to it that he doth not linger overlong, lest he find himself replaced."

That was more jest than anything else; we'd bound ourselves together for better or worse, and neither one of us was capable of breaking that bond. Nor did either one of us want to. "The sooner I am gone, the sooner I shall return!"

"Then get ye gone!" She actually smiled. "Neither I nor anyone else keepeth thee imprisoned!"

"Only my heart, lady." With that, I took myself to the gate at the top of Ygg in a single moment.

What I found was a landscape of devastation.

Copyright 2024 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

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The tank was an open area separated into cells by bars and not much else. Each had four bunks attached to the 'walls' two sets each of above and below. There were already three occupied bunks so I simply climbed into the fourth, the upper bunk on the right, the side 'behind' the cell door. It had neither pillow nor blankets; I presumed one of my 'roommates' had appropriated them. Mr. Stuart had instructed me not to arouse the other inmates, so I simply made myself as comfortable as I could under the circumstances.
I wasn't asleep yet when the lights suddenly blew out.

I had just time enough to think, this is not good when my cell mates jerkily got out of their bed in unison, like human marionettes on invisible strings, illuminated by the low, eerie light of computer monitors from the room next door.

The only way to make it obvious I wasn't the aggressor in whatever was about to happen was to stay right here in my bunk and scream, "Guards! GUARDS! GUARDS!" There was no immediate response. I kept yelling it anyway. It made the theater of what was going on undeniable. In the dim light, I noticed the inmates in the other cells also moving jerkily, like someone was controlling them.

"The guards can't help you now," a low growling voice issued from every other throat in the room. In the darkness, it sounded sibilant, like a snake. "You have angered the God, and you shall be made to pay."

I'm not going to kid you, I nearly lost control of my bladder I was so scared. But suddenly it was like all the strings were cut; the marionettes broke free. I supposed there had to be limits; they couldn't all have been minions of the Mad God. They hadn't accepted his bargain - he couldn't make them do much.

The lights were still out in the room. A few of my fellow detainees fell over, but most managed to preserve their balance, shaking their heads and asking questions that were variations on "What just happened?"

I was not going to attract attention to myself. I just lay there pretending nothing had happened. The mental state of my fellow detainees being what it was, none of them realized I was 'odd man out' before others had returned to their beds. Now that it was over, I had to admit I was glad the Mad God had tipped his hand - now I knew he was gunning for me, and was at least forewarned of other attempts.

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Copyright 2023 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

I was fourteen the first time I saw someone vanish.

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

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

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

You could tell there was something special about her just looking at the way she moved, like the sunlight that hit her was somehow made special by her presence. Yet she had an air of complete nonchalance. She knew she was beautiful and desirable, but to her it was nothing special, it was just the way she was. She knew we were watching her, enjoying watching her, but it didn't harm her and so she enjoyed our enjoyment.

As she approached a large stand of manzanita, she turned and I caught a glimpse of her ear as her already dry hair moved, trailing her head through the turn. The ear I saw was small, and pointed, like some of the aliens on Star Trek. Our collective jaws dropped. She looked right at me, and laughed. Canines more pointed than anything I'd seen on a human flashed momentarily.

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

Not "out of sight" gone, "vanished" gone.

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

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

What a group of children we were.

Copyright 2019 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

With the release of Measure Of Adulthood tomorrow morning, Politics Of Empire will be complete as a series.

Measure jpg lettered - 300x450.jpg

It was written loosely in parallel with the Preparations For War series, in that they both take place in the same setting and at about the same time. The differences are that while Joe and his wife Asina in the Preparations For War series are working at a grunt level on a primitive planet in enemy territory, Grace in Politics Of Empire has married into one of the most powerful families in the Empire, and she spends her time increasingly defending citizens of the Empire from incursions. She's also a mom, and her kids will be among the next generation of those most powerful defenders of the Empire.

In Invention Of Motherhood, Grace is mustering out of Planetary Surface Forces as the novel begins. Her agenda is to start a family, but she doesn't want to do it with artificial gestation - she was born on pre-contact Earth, and she can't look her sisters in the eye and call herself a 'mom' without doing it the hard way at least once. The difficulty is that not only are her husband's family are powerful operants, but they have powerful enemies as well.

Price Of Power begins about five years later, Grace's husband has just obtained one of the few jobs in the Space Forces that allows 'off base' privileges when off-duty, and she's looking for something she can manage while bringing up her children. The head of her husband's family gets her a position as an investigator working for one of his subordinates, and that's when a rival family decides to start a war with them.

End Of Childhood opens several years later. The Empire has caught their enemies marshaling troops for assault - the actual war is beginning - a war both sides have spent decades preparing for. Grace is now an experienced investigator, and the head of her husband's family offers her a job working directly for him, defending the people under his protection from infiltrating enemies and human traitors. Meanwhile, her husband goes missing on a mission assaulting a critical enemy industrial node.

As Measure Of Adulthood opens, Grace's oldest legitimate child has achieved legal adulthood - but she also discovers that her bastard son from a wild childhood has run afoul of the law. Meanwhile, the war grinds on - now thirteen years later, and the Empire is feeling the strain, while the enemy is getting increasingly desperate - and desperate enemies do unpredictable things.

(The links above are to Amazon e-books, but the paperback versions are also there. The links to the Books2Read sellers and library services are here (Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Overture, etcetera. Also available e-book or paperback at any of them):

The Invention Of Motherhood

The Price Of Power

End Of Childhood

Measure Of Adulthood

Preparing The Ground (and the rest of Preparations For War series)

PS: This is the last day to get the first three novels in the series for 99 cents each, at either Amazon or the Books2Read retailers

"Somehow, I thought there would be more for a god to do."

"Why husband, you always seem busy enough," Petra replied.

"Those are my own projects, and I know I spend more time than you would prefer on them. But I presumed the position of being a god came with its own duties and requirements. Thus far, I have found none."

"Husband, we are both Eternals - minor gods as such things go. We know there are at least two tiers above us. I spent ten thousand years and more as an Immortal. Outside of the chains of my creation, I was never tasked with anything. Art thou disappointed?" She'd taken to wearing what I called her Ultimate Lady from The Next Farm Over appearance most of the time we were together. She appeared as a dusky, light brown-skinned young lady with shoulder length medium brown hair, just barely into the first flush of maturity and shapely to the point where she drew eyes from all the men, even now at the end of her pregnancy with our first child. Petra's skin glowed with health, her hair shone with golden highlights in the soft brown. Nothing exaggerated or fancy - her breasts and buttocks were if anything slightly smaller than average, her parts just all fit together perfectly. Her hairstyle was dead simple - straight with just a hint of wave. She never wore complex fashions or glaringly sexual clothes or anything that clung too tightly, just simple and loose, hinting at the lush curves beneath. Nor was she particularly thin. Maybe by some perverse standards she might even be a little overweight. She almost never used cosmetics of any sort. But most women of King Edvard Haraldsson's court hated her for the way she drew male eyes despite everything they did to keep attention centered on themselves. They'd never understand what Petra had spent ten thousand years learning - men liked simple and elegant. These days, Petra was happy and content, and that amplified attraction even more.

"Nay, O Lady of My Heart, I am not disappointed, but happily surprised. The fact it is a happy surprise does not alter the fact it is a surprise. Why does the universe allow us to exist, when it does not require our assistance? Why are we thus privileged? There must be some purpose to allowing us this power."

"Why question thy good fortune, husband?"

"I am ultsi, milady, by habit if not by fact. We are seekers after knowledge, which requires us to be askers of questions, and I'm not explaining myself clearly, so let's approach it from another direction. Have you ever seen a living thing simply exist?"

"Trees. Grass."

"Trees and grass do not simply exist. They're in competition for soil and sunlight and water. All the other trees and blades of grass want these same things, and there's only so much to go around. Where are our competitors?"

"Other gods."

"The niche seems suspiciously empty. One of the rules is populations expand to make full use of resources. Doesn't it seem that with so much energy available, there would be more and more beings clamoring to take it for their own survival? Yet it seems that there's plenty there for all, and there's a disturbing next question."

Copyright 2020 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

 



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The Man From Empire
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A Guardian From Earth
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Empire and Earth
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Working The Trenches
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Rediscovery 4 novel set
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Preparing The Ground
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Building the People
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Setting The Board

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Moving The Pieces

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The Invention of Motherhood
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The Price of Power
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The End Of Childhood
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Measure Of Adulthood
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The Fountains of Aescalon
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The Monad Trap
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The Gates To Faerie
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Gifts Of The Mother
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