Tonight the family meal was something I'd never had before. Had no idea what it was called, but it tasted like I imagined a too-spicy rat stir-fry would. One of Helene's rare misses. From the way Scimtar ate, though, I'd guess it was a childhood favorite. I had a few bites to be polite to Helene, then got a double cheeseburger and fries out of the converter.

I won't say the mood was grim at dinner that evening, but it was restrained. It was a common mood these days. The major offensives against the fractal demons were over - successfully. Every demonic holding we'd known about when the war started, and many we'd discovered since then, had been eradicated. But it was a big cosmos, and the demons could reproduce faster than we did. We had to keep the pressure on - or everything we'd won would be in vain - but major battles were getting fewer and further between. Meanwhile, they were still dangling out the prizes of false operancy to induce turncoats, and they'd adapted their strategy to raids that were intended to kill people and destroy industrial capacity, rather than conquer and hold territory. A nephraim would lead a few prime of manesi on a raid of an Imperial planet or habitat, kill a couple square humans do a couple fourths of damage, and be gone (usually with captive humans for later consumption) before organized resistance could respond. It took the Empire at least thirty years to produce a new citizen, and a lot of opportunity cost. The demons could toss off an adult manes much faster and for almost no opportunity cost.

When we could find a demonic holding, superior Imperial technology would enable clearing it at casualty and expense ratios that would be conclusive in the setting of a war with another human polity. But the fractal demons didn't work like that. Bottom line was they were born with everything they needed to wreak havoc. Humans weren't. We were winning the war, but it wasn't as one-sided as you'd think, and the Empire was under a noticeable strain. This showed in the social atmosphere, here more obviously than most - many of the family were directly involved, and everyone knew the issues.

Corella and Anara were talking about the issues with building a detection array, enabling the Empire to locate demonic holdings directly.

"It seems you want to build something like the fixed tachyonic network that connects First Galaxy and a lot of our more thickly settled holdings," Imtara asked, "Could you please explain why you can't make them mobile?"

"It's not that we can't make them mobile," Corella explained to her, "It's that it adds a lot of expense to a given unit. The array range is dependent upon physical size." Given that she was talking about something that searched eleven dimensions, a halving of the range meant you'd need over thirty prime times the number of units for the same capacity.

"Wouldn't it drastically cut the number of units required?" Imtara asked, "It's not like a new demonic holding is going to be dangerous in an hour or even a day, and if they're mobile, each array can cover many such locations. Do we really need continuous monitoring at all station posts?"

"We haven't got anything big enough to move the sensor arrays intact."

"Do they need to be intact to move? Even if the answer is 'yes', Mom told us about how she was working mass haulers for a while." That had been all of three days, ending with a duel that had damned near killed me and Esteban as well.

"I need some time on this," Anara broke in, "Mounting the arrays on a ship would help us ameliorate a production bottleneck. But I need some time to program simulators." Anara was the multispacial specialist between them; she and her husband Gilras had participated in the patent that made Interstitial Vector commercially viable. Corella was more of a talented production engineer. For all I knew, Anara already had one of her other splinters working on the idea, but so far as I knew, Corella couldn't make splinters any more than I could. She might have a couple of para working the problem internally, but no external splinters.
Right there in the middle of dinner, a priority message came into my queue. Thinking it was from one of the support types I worked with over on the military side of the Residence and could simply deal with it via one of my para, I accessed it. But it was a much bigger bomb than that, from Adulthood Services back on Earth.

It seemed my bastard son had lost his adulthood and named me as a potential parent.

Copyright 2023 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

(I may have to extend this series into a fifth book, rather than the originally planned four. We'll see when this one is done)

The forges of N'yeschlass began their beat at dawn, every day without fail. Things had changed since we began.

The town had never been officially named. The name had grown from the unofficial motto of what my wife and I and the original group of refugees cowering in the jungle had begun not quite twenty Imperial years ago. The demonic tongue of Calmena had no word for freedom. N'yeschlass translated literally as "no slaves." It was a promise to all - come to us and be free. It didn't appeal to everyone, as it included freedom to fail and freedom to starve, but those were simply the terms of life everywhere on Calmena. In the portions run by the fractal demons, slaves were eaten when they began to show signs of aging. Where the pseudo-feudal human agaani held sway, grinding poverty and recurrent famines were almost as brutal. Only in N'yeschlass and its confederated territory was there a significant chance of a human being alive on what an Earther like me would consider their fiftieth birthday.

I still worked my smithy a couple hours per day. It had seen upgrades since the day we'd built it - it was probably the equal of a mid-19th century forge on Earth now. But these days, the metal was mined out of the Collision Range and I didn't have to pretend to cart it in while pulling most of it out of a converter. We still had the secret room with all the technological conveniences underneath our forge, but these days I bought all of the metal I used. I might create the gold and silver I used to buy it out of the converter, but the metal I actually worked was honestly mined by miners who were part of our new nation. N'yeschlass the nation held better than a third of Wimarglr, the North America sized continent we'd called Continent One when we discovered Calmena, including most of the Collision Range.

Copyright 2017 Dan Melson. All Rights reserved.

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Beware goddesses giving gifts. Especially ones you didn't intend to ask for.

Mark and Julie managed to stop the regular profaning of the goddess' ritual. But that doesn't mean everything is coming up roses. What pleased The Mother angered The Mad God. He is angry with Mark and Julie, and his acolytes are using deadly magic against them, but sorcery leaves no fingerprints, no facial recognition, and no evidence of who is responsible. Mark and Julie will do anything for a lead back to their enemies.

But anonymity is a fragile shield.

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In advance of the upcoming (January 23) release of Gifts Of The Mother, The Gates to Faerie is be on sale for 99 cents as an e-book!

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Here's the proposed cover for Gifts Of The Mother, sequel to The Gates To Faerie. Coming soon!

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As the capture buffer built up, I double-checked the mission briefing. The briefing file said that Ross 154 was a young star, less than a billion years old, but it hadn't been subjected to the same scrutiny as Barnard's Star because it wasn't the second closest star to Sol. Roughly nine and a half light-years from Earth, it was slightly bigger and more luminous (M3.5 as opposed to M4), but even dimmer as seen from Earth because of the additional distance. It was thought the habitable zone would be from roughly 9.75 million to 18.9 million kilometers, but I expected Will would search a good bit outside that, as he had at Barnard's. The potential deal killer was that it was a flare star, periodically sending out pulses of energy that could double or more its energy output. One recorded flare had been over a hundred thousand times the star's mean energy output. Any planets there were had likely been sterilized on at least one face more than once. On the plus side, if there was a usable planet in the right place, it would likely be completely empty and the Empire could deal with stellar flares.

It wasn't very long before Major Kyle slowed us down and took the time-jammer offline. "I'm sorry, but I'm fried. My mind is starting to wander off task, and you can't take your attention away for half a second without risking disaster." We were about two light-years out from Barnard's Star, roughly forty percent of the way.

"I can take over, Major," I volunteered.

Cabron had to stick his patronizing nose in. "I don't want to insult you, Joe, but this is kind of unique, and no Earth human has done this before. Major Kyle is at least trained for this level of concentration."

"Corporate said to trust him with any piloting he was willing to do," Major Kyle replied.

"No offense, but Joe is what, twenty-two? No degrees, no training, I'm not even certain why he's here." Like I keep telling you, Dulles was a dumbass. He didn't even bother reading his crew dossiers.

I'd had enough of this nonsense. "Joe is here," I said, "Because unlike everyone else, Joe has actual Imperial qualifications at everything but Vector piloting. That and Joe can use the standard Imperial interface, which means Joe can respond quicker - I don't need the Earth units translation overlay."
Will knew, and Major Kyle. Jayden was beaming, "Right on!" and Dulles looked at me blankly, jaw wide open.

"You think they'd hire an engineer that didn't know anything? Didn't you read the dossier? Dude, they bought you the best available on Earth. The Dog Lady is my aunt, and she hired me as a cargo handler and made me learn everything I could. I've been studying this since a year before anyone else knew the Empire existed. I've got crew experience. I've only piloted time-jammer in simulation, but I've done everything else for real with those half-mile wide ships of hers." Indra and Earth were a little over 393 meters in radius - but the media called them 'half-mile'. They were the biggest ships making regular trips to Earth, though I'd seen much bigger ships on excursion to the Empire. The class two capital ships were spheres a 'mere' 2580 feet tall when grounded out there on Santa Cruz Island, the most important to the Channel Islands Imperial base. I'd also piloted cutters like Golden Hind and Starbirds a few times.

"And until today, simulation was all the time-jammer training I had," Kyle said, "Goddard told me Joe could probably do this mission all by himself, but the board wanted a full crew. Give it a year or so, and there will probably be others like him or even better, but for now, his family is the best Earth has. So get out of the way and let him work. Or wait until I've had another break."

Will chimed in, "Either way is okay with me. I want to get back to Xandra, but they're paying me good."

"Same with me," Kyle said, "I get paid based on mission duration. You getting profitability bonuses, Mr. Dulles?"

That decided him, but the look in his eye told everyone he'd be trying to get even. "Proceed, Mr. Bernard." I kept my mouth shut, and thought about the bonus for not taking over.


Copyright 2016 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved

It's about 13 years Imperial since the events of The Price of Power. Grace has publicly admitted to being middle grade Fourth Order, while in reality she's near the threshold of Sixth. Her children are nearing official adulthood. The Empire is still at war, and showing some strain.

Copyright 2022 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved

******

Official Imperial Time had nothing to do with planetary cycles. Right now, family dinnertime was in the predawn hours for Sumabad, and the wide band of Indra Habitat One stretched across the sky, barely two seconds distant, shining with a light that exceeded thirty full moons on Earth. Indra's planetary day was slightly shorter than the Standard Imperial Day, so every official day was a little more advanced in terms of planetary day than the one before it. People who needed to synchronize with planetary day were few; I'd be getting ready for work about the time the sun came up, but that was just coincidence. The angle of the window was wrong to see the almost equally bright arch of Indra Habitat Two - we'd had a crossing just four days previous and the best view was on the other side of Residence Arcology. But ten ithirds below, the lights of private water-going ships dotted the Strait of Sumabad, once the busiest commercial artery on Indra, now simply a place for people who liked watercraft to sail. Goods traveled by portal or by starship now. The massive spherical bulk of a size six capital hull reflected lights off its dark gray hull descending in the greenbelt between arcologies off to my right as I took my place next to Asto's splinter at the table. Fortyfive ifourths in radius - call it three and a half Earth kilometers diameter - it was nonetheless dwarfed by the arcologies that towered over the greenbelt. From my previous profession as a pilot, I knew more than most about the intricate dance that kept goods flowing into and out of imperial planets.

But for the past twentyfour imperial years, I'd been an Imperial Investigator. These days, my warrant came from Scimtar himself as I was strong enough to hunt most noble-caste enemy on my own. I still didn't want to face any basileus, and I stepped carefully around jopas as well, but the two top castes together were only a tiny fraction of contacts. Even spraxos were less than four iprime of the total and these days I didn't hesitate to take on two of those at once. The fractal demons were hard pressed, most of their agents had always been nephraim, and they'd begun using even terostes.

Tonight the family meal was something I'd never had before. Had no idea what it was called, but it tasted like I imagined a too-spicy rat stir-fry would. One of Helene's rare misses. From the way Scimtar ate, though, I'd guess it was a childhood favorite. I had a few bites to be polite to Helene, then got a double cheeseburger and fries out of the converter.

I won't say the mood was grim at dinner that evening, but it was restrained. It was a common mood these days. The major offensives against the fractal demons were over - successfully. Every demonic holding we'd known about when the war started, and many we'd discovered since then, had been eradicated. But it was a big cosmos, and the demons could reproduce faster than we did. We had to keep the pressure on - or everything we'd won would be in vain - but major battles were getting fewer and further between. Meanwhile, they were still dangling out the prizes of false operancy to induce turncoats, and they'd adapted their strategy to raids that were intended to kill people and destroy industrial capacity, rather than conquer and hold territory. A nephraim would lead a few prime of manesi on a raid of an Imperial planet or habitat, kill a couple square humans do a couple fourths of damage, and be gone (usually with captive humans for later consumption) before organized resistance could respond. It took the Empire at least thirty years to produce a new citizen, and a lot of opportunity cost. The demons could toss off an adult manes much faster and for almost no opportunity cost.

When we could find a demonic holding, superior Imperial tech would enable clearing it at casualty and expense ratios that would be conclusive in the setting of a direct war with another human polity. But the fractal demons didn't work like that. Bottom line was they were born with everything they needed to wreak havoc. Humans weren't. We were winning the war, but it wasn't as one-sided as you'd think, and the Empire was under a noticeable strain. This showed in the social atmosphere, here more obviously than most - many of the family were directly involved, and everyone knew the issues.

Corella and Anara were talking about the issues with building a detection array, enabling the Empire to locate demonic holdings directly.

"It seems you want to build something like the fixed tachyonic network that connects First Galaxy and a lot of our more thickly settled holdings," Imtara asked, "Could you please explain why you can't make them mobile?"

"It's not that we can't make them mobile," Corella explained to her, "It's that it adds a lot of expense to a given unit. The array range is dependent upon physical size."

"Wouldn't it drastically cut the number of units required?" Imtara asked, "It's not like a new demonic holding is going to be dangerous in an hour or even a day, and if they're mobile, each array can cover many such locations. Do we really need continuous monitoring at all station posts?"

"We haven't got anything big enough to move the sensor arrays intact."

"Do they need to be intact to move? Even if the answer is 'yes', Mom told us about how she was working mass haulers for a while." That had been all of three days, ending with a duel that had damned near killed me and Esteban as well.

"I need some time on this," Anara broke in, "Mounting the arrays on a ship would help us ameliorate a production bottleneck. But I need some time to program simulators." Anara was the multispacial specialist between them; she and her husband Gilras had participated in the patent that made Interstitial Vector commercially viable. Corella was more of a talented production engineer. For all I knew, Anara already had one of her other splinters working on the idea, but so far as I knew, Corella couldn't make splinters any more than I could. She might have a couple of para working the problem internally, but no external splinters.

Right there in the middle of dinner, a priority message came into my queue. Thinking it was from one of the support types I worked with over on the military side of the Residence and could simply deal with it via one of my para, I accessed it. But it was a much bigger bomb than that, from Adulthood Services back on Earth.

It seemed my bastard child had lost his adulthood and named me as a potential parent.

Had a nasty cold since last Tuesday. Fits and snatches of sleep here and there. Day job went completely by the wayside. Tried to sit and write a couple times, but was too doped up on cold meds. Just now starting to get over it.

Excerpt from Working The Trenches, Book 4 of Rediscovery. Copyright 2014 Dan Melson All Rights Reserved

Eventually, they sent an inoperant trained private in to take us to a meal. He formed us up into a file, and walked us about half a kilometer to a place where they served three different kinds of tasteless glop; protein glop, carb glop, roughage glop. The glop was nutritious, but about as appetizing as cold baby food. It was likely mass extruded out of a converter that could just as easily have produced something appealing. Once again, the military had their reasons for everything. They wanted you to think of yourself as one more cog, no more important than the one next to you. Once that pattern of thought was engrained, trained soldiers got better food. Oh well, I suppose they could have just thrown us a chunk of Life and a cube of water, so it could have been worse. Come to think of it, as unappealing as the glop was, I'd rather have gnawed a chunk of Life.

Meal concluded, the same private escorted us back to more hours of waiting. One more operant inductee joined us, and then the same Trained Private came in with an operant Staff Private. Addressing us, he said, "This is Staff Private Ugatu," gesturing at the Staff Private, "He will be escorting you to your training facility and turning you over to your unit Instructor. Follow his instructions." Why was a lowly Trained Private instructing us to obey a Staff Private, several grades higher? Because staff ranks were not part of the chain of command. Yes, a Staff Private was senior to us, but wasn't normally entitled to give orders, to us or to anyone else. Technically speaking, if we obeyed an order from a Staff Private without such an instruction, we'd be responsible for the consequences. "There are reasons for everything the Imperial military does," Parnit had explained over and over. "You might not understand or even agree with those reasons. You might think they are pointless, even counterproductive. The reasons are never explained, for reasons that won't be explained to you, either, at least not until you achieve your first staff rank. But every single one of them has been field tested and cross-checked over thirty square (75,000+ Earth years) of successful operations covering an incredible volume of space and situations too varied for you or even me to imagine."

The Imperial solutions were definitely different than the ones the US military had employed. My older sister married a Navy Senior Chief, so I thought I understood what sorts of things to expect. I was wrong.

"Grab your clothing bags," he said, "Form a single file line starting here. Follow me. When we get to the ship, move aft to the cargo section. First one in, move to the left side of the ship and all the way back, one to a seat, fill that side then fill the right in the same manner. Place your bag under your seat and strap in." Asto and I were third and fourth in line; if it was a standard cutter we'd be sitting together in the two front left cargo seats. If we were headed for a different type of hull, we'd have been given different instructions. Destroyer hull seating was in front-facing rows, like an airliner on Earth. I didn't know of any Starbirds able to seat eight or more, and their cargo section wasn't separate from the flight deck.

We didn't walk; it was more like a trot. It wasn't a difficult pace to keep; about eight kilometers per hour. No, they weren't trying to march us or wear us out, yet. Maybe fifteen minutes later (twenty-five Earth), we came to the edge of a landing field that looked like it could land an assault cruiser or fifty, as the white pavement stretched at least a kilometer in each direction. There were actually three assault cruisers I saw, as well as sundry other craft, but our destination was a cutter, landed in 'belly down' mode near our edge. Think of something shaped like the old NASA shuttles, roughly thirty meters long by twenty-six in wingspan, with no rockets on the rear.

The first woman in started to move left in the cargo bay, Ugatu barked out, "Ship's left!" and she corrected her mistake, moving to our right. I didn't see what difference it would make, but my opinion didn't count. Ugatu hadn't said anything abusive, from his tone of voice I gathered he didn't think we were worth it. It wasn't quite a standard cutter, as there were two rows of six seats each facing each other across the cargo bay, as opposed to the more usual four per side, at least on the models I'd been in. There was still plenty of room, and it meant Asto and I were actually close enough to hold hands. The last man in line was left all by himself on the right side of the ship, all the way in the back. I threw my bag under my seat and pulled out the star-shaped five point harness that would be recognizable to most Earth pilots, if different in the details. I strapped myself in and put on my passive waiting face.

"Esteban Scimtar Juarez, you have passed the threshold of adulthood. There is no return to childhood in this life."

The ceremony was pure show. My eldest had wielded most of the trappings of adulthood for years. The few deficiencies had already been rectified within a second of his passing the final formal test, Implied Responsibility. But Scimtar was a believer in the power of such ceremonies, and he was head of the family. So we were all standing around the family dinner table.

My part was simple. "You have unlimited access to your money." Most of what Esteban owned, he'd earned himself. Legal children weren't prohibited from working; it merely required parental concurrence because the child could not be responsible.

"You have unlimited access to public data and public spaces." That was Asto's splinter, standing in for Asto himself.

"You have an adult's access to family resources." That was Scimtar again.

"You have an adult's tools and weapons." Amras, the family heir and current commercial head, buckled on belt with holster and sheath, Asto's splinter presented Esteban with a blaster for the holster and I handed him a bondsteel sword for the sheath. Esteban had better - these were family heirlooms from Scimtar's youth, and would be returned before the end of the evening. These days, most hand weapons were lasers or antimatter needlers, charged bondsteel for swords. Esteban carried all three to my certain knowledge, in kored 'pockets' hidden from casual sight.

"Use them responsibly," the entire family chorused, ending the ceremony.

Really, the major change for Esteban was that henceforth, his family's consent would not be required for what he'd already been doing, and he would be solely responsible for his deeds. When he returned from a planned visit to his cousins on Earth, he would begin his first adult job, as an assistant to Amras, expediting and troubleshooting issues facing House Scimtar's commercial interests. It was far and away the most important of the family's activities - only the commercial operations head and assistants focused solely upon a single sector of House Scimtar's activities. Everyone else timeshared with commercial, even Scimtar himself. Assistant to Operations was the traditional first job for the family's new adults. These days, it was a minimum of two of the youngest generation. Esteban's majority would likely release Urona immediately, and perhaps Anosha as well once Esteban was up to speed on the job. Urona wasn't quite useless on the scale of the rest of the family, but she lacked dedication to anything except her own immediate gratification. I was sincerely grateful that none of my five had her issues.

Brief ceremony over, the rest of the family moved to sit at the table. Nightly family dinners were a tradition among the members of House Scimtar, going back to the end of the Interregnum at least. The table sat close to forty; it said we were a prosperous and growing family. It was important to Helene that we were a family; daily attendance was mandatory for all blood members, either in person or by splinter. Spouses, not being able to generate splinters, could be absent if they had a conflict, but I tried to attend every night. I hadn't yet discussed when I transitioned to Sixth Order - but at four point fiftytwo in reality, I'd accepted it was probably a matter of time rather than a question of 'if'. Like my transition to Fourth Order, we'd likely pretend I hadn't transitioned as long as possible.

Official Imperial Time had nothing to do with planetary cycles. Right now, family dinnertime was in the predawn hours for Sumabad, and the wide band of Indra Habitat One stretched across the sky, barely two seconds distant, shining with a light that exceeded thirty full moons on Earth. Indra's planetary day was slightly shorter than the Standard Imperial Day, so every official day was a little more advanced in terms of planetary day than the one before it. People who needed to synchronize with planetary day were few; I'd be getting ready for work about the time the sun came up, but that was just coincidence. The angle of the window was wrong to see the almost equally bright arch of Indra Habitat Two - we'd had a crossing just four days previous and the best view was on the other side of Residence Arcology. But ten ithirds below, the lights of private water-going ships dotted the Strait of Sumabad, once the busiest commercial artery on Indra, now simply a place for people who liked watercraft to sail. Goods traveled by portal or by starship now. The massive spherical bulk of a size six capital hull reflected lights off its dark gray hull descending in the greenbelt between arcologies off to my right as I took my place next to Asto's splinter at the table. Fortyfive ifourths in radius - call it three and a half Earth kilometers diameter - it was nonetheless dwarfed by the arcologies that towered over the greenbelt. From my previous profession as a pilot, I knew more than most about the intricate dance that kept goods flowing into and out of imperial planets.

But for the past twentyfour imperial years, I'd been an Imperial Investigator. These days, my warrant came from Scimtar himself as I was strong enough to hunt most noble-caste enemy on my own. I still didn't want to face any basileus, and I stepped carefully around jopas as well, but the two top castes together were only a tiny fraction of contacts. Even spraxos were less than four iprime of the total and these days I didn't hesitate to take on two of those at once. The fractal demons were hard pressed, most of their agents had always been nephraim, and they'd begun using even terostes.

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Finished the first draft of Gifts Of The Mother Friday. Just over 75,000 words. Managed to get the clean-up edit done late Saturday night, and it's off to the betas now. Even got a few paragraphs of my next project (Politics of Empire 4) done. Here's the last excerpt from Gifts of The Mother's first draft:

I made sure the door was locked, headed to the elevators, down to the lobby, and out to the parking lot. It was three or four miles to the courthouse. If I walked the whole distance, it would be at least an hour until I was even ready to begin looking. Instead, I got into the Porsche and started the engine. I'd probably have to leave it parked somewhere that wasn't legal, but so be it. I could pay a parking ticket, a towing fee, or even replace the damned thing a lot easier than I could replace Julie.

For the record, even the streets on the way were a mess. You'd think everyone would be trying to get away from an area of riots, but you'd be wrong. There were at least as many headed in as were headed out. Maybe some of them were like me, trying to rescue someone inside. Maybe others lived nearby and were trying to get in to protect their property or grab whatever was portable before they left. Doubtless, there were a lot of idiot spectators also, and maybe even a few looking to take advantage of the riot for some five-finger discounts, but it was pointless for me to worry about which were which. Chaos was everywhere, people honking, ignoring traffic signals, and just taking advantage or any opening they could find in the traffic. The advantages of the Porsche were speed and maneuverability, but I had to be willing to risk collisions in order to take advantage of them. I found myself wishing for something like an Abrams tank instead. Tanks just crushed whatever got in their way, and if there were little bumps in the road, so be it. Nobody was going to pull in front of an Abrams, an advantage the Porsche did not have. I managed to stop in time to avoid several, but hit a compact Nissan across the left rear - the driver cut me off and kept going after the collision. Whether they didn't care or simply had something that important to do, the result was the same. It wasn't like cops were going to be responding to little fender benders or even hit and runs in the middle of a riot.

I'd expected to run into a cordon of some sort, keeping people away from the riot, but I didn't. Instead, I could see the smoke getting closer as I approached the 110. First and Second split off from each other; I followed First but saw what looked like a grass field on the left. I pulled into a full parking lot to dodge trees along the street side, and left the Porsche parked on the edge of what looked like a soccer field. Not like anyone was using it at the moment, and I was willing to take whatever my chances were with parking enforcement. It had been less than twenty minutes since I left Zeb - actually pretty good time for the streets of Los Angeles. If I'd tried to walk, I'd most likely have been run down - especially with Zeb's 'not important' spell working.

I'd expected that the freeways would be a natural barrier for the riot, but it was starting to leak through here, and not just the usual members of the underclasses. As I'd seen on the news, these rioters cut across all levels of society. Suits and the remnants of ties were at least as prevalent as homeless grime and tatters. I thought I saw the remnants of judicial robes on one woman. Even here on the fringes, there were several bodies lying scattered about, beaten unconscious or dead by the mob. I had to force myself to ignore them. Much as I wanted to help, if I stopped to look at every body strewn about, I'd never find Julie.

I skulked along the edge of the sidewalks, next to the buildings, taking advantage of every bit of cover that interrupted line of sight that I could. Downtown L.A.'s parking situation made things a little easier - cars were parked everywhere that wasn't blatantly illegal, and a few places that were. Just a normal day in LA before this riot had started. I concentrated on Julie, and got an area still in front of me, which made sense. I think the official address was on Hill Street, but First went right by what most people thought of as the front of the building.

Passing under California 110, I noticed the lack of the homeless people that normally took advantage of the shelter of the freeway. Their stuff was still strewn about, filling rusty shopping cards and blocking the sidewalk, but the people themselves were somewhere else. No doubt either fled, participating in the riots, or as one of the bumps lying around, beaten senseless or worse. The sound of gunfire erupted at some distance in front of me, abruptly cutting off. It was a warning that the .45 I carried was an absolute last resort, and it probably wouldn't save us if I used it. My hope was in stealth and in not being noticed.

The fire station on the north side of First just the other side was on fire itself, the trucks burning fiercely in their bays, already mostly consumed. The building itself was engulfed in flames; I hoped there was nobody left inside but there was nothing I could do for them if there were. Even if there was an organized firefighting unit on the scene, the best they could have done was keep it from spreading. But no firefighters were in evidence, organized or not. Judging by what I'd already seen, they'd been caught up in the rioting themselves.

Copyright 2022 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

 



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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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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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The Book on Mortgages Everyone Should Have!
What Consumers Need To Know About Mortgages
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The Book on Buying Real Estate Everyone Should Have
What Consumers Need To Know About Buying Real Estate
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