Before the kiss broke, I was roughly grabbed, shoved up against the car door, and handcuffed. "Mark Jackson, you are under arrest on suspicion of murder! You have the right to remain silent..." I'm sure you've heard it hundreds of times in mass entertainment. My least favorite overzealous homicide detective - Ramirez - was obviously enjoying himself.

What really surprised me was his partner Officer Whitehall was repeating the same thing to Julie.

She was not taking it well.

To give him credit, he'd started considerably lower-key than Officer Ramirez. He hadn't even touched her to begin with; but he did start off with, "Julie Ingmar, you are under arrest on suspicion of murder...", but she understood what was coming considerably better than I would have. She backed away crying hysterically, "No no no no no no no no!" she kept repeating growing in volume.

I tried to get through to her, but being manhandled by Ramirez wasn't exactly conducive to the task. "Julie! Panic isn't, oof, going to help! Ow! Julie, you've got to calm down OW! Or they're really going to get physical! Julie, oof!" and about that time it must have penetrated Ramirez' BB-sized brain that I was trying to talk her down because he just held on and let me talk. "Julie I know you're scared but if you don't calm down they're going to use force and it's going to be much worse. Julie you keep telling clients to cooperate and once it gets to the courthouse the lawyers will sort it out. Julie, remember what you tell your clients!"

Officer Whitehall was at least somewhere in the vicinity of humanity. He could see she was terrified beyond rational thought; he stopped and said, "Ms. Ingmar, I've got to take you in, but if you cooperate I'll be as gentle as I can and let you walk on your own." He could see she was in heels and wasn't running but she was panicked and not going to be talked down easily.

Ramirez muttered an obscenity and headed for Julie, releasing me in the process. I tripped him, he went windmilling and sprawled on the lawn. I managed to keep my feet and simply stood there waiting for him, trying to reach Julie verbally, "Julie, stop. Nobody's attacking you! The police have to handcuff us; it's how their jobs work, but they don't have to attack if you let them do their job." Finally, since nothing else was working, "Julie, think about the baby! If you make them attack, they might hurt the baby! They don't want to attack you, but they'll do it if you don't calm down!"

Something finally got through. She still had the wild look in her eyes, but she managed to get out a desperate, "Promise?!"

That was about when Ramirez, back on his feet, gave me an elbow to the kidney, following it up with a twist of my (cuffed) arm and something else to the back of my knees. I'd known something was coming; men of Ramirez' stripe do not accept being challenged or thwarted in any way. I managed to keep myself to a pained intake of breath, but Detective Whitehall stepped into the breach, "Promise. If you allow me to cuff you, I won't even touch you other than that, although we will have to have a matron frisk you at the station. I'll let you walk to the car and let you get in on your own unless you need me to shield your head."

"What if she's got a weapon?" Ramirez wanted to know.

"If she had a weapon, she would have used it already," Whitehall replied, "She was frightened enough she didn't care what would happen next. If it bothers you, I'll call for backup and you can ride with Mister Jackson in the other car." Addressing me, "What happened to her?"

I didn't need to see Julie's frightened headshake to know not to discuss that. "Not my secret to tell, detective, but I doubt it's relevant tonight. If it's not too much to ask, what's this about? It can't be a renewal of whatever happened to Diane; Julie wasn't there and we didn't even meet until the next day. You wouldn't be arresting her. So what's it about?"

Ramirez, true to form, did something to my back that hurt like hell. It spasmed, and I cried out in pain. But this time, I knew there would be recordings I could access. Officer Ramirez would be hearing about excessive force in the near future. "Quit playing the innocent! It might have worked last time but this time we know you know!"

Whitehall addressed Ramirez, "Mike, stop it!" When Ramirez looked at him, he glanced meaningfully at one of the surveillance cameras. The whole neighborhood was full of them. Prosperous area, near downtown, lots of homeless and less than scrupulously honest individuals. "Ms. Ingmar, I'm going to ask you to turn around and put your hands behind your back now. I'll be gentle, but the handcuffs are required. I'll take your purse, but I won't touch anything but your hands."

He was good as his word. He gently cuffed Julie's hands behind her and took her purse, but didn't touch her otherwise. Whitehall was black; I guess he had some perspective on the evils of excessive force; he was old enough he might have been around for the last set of riots. Nobody was likely to riot over us being abused, but Whitehall understood there was no point to force in this instance.

Julie calmed down enough to ask, "What's this about? If you're arresting us on suspicion of murder, who's the deceased?"

"With all due respect, counselor, that's going to wait until we get you into an interrogation room down at the station. Suffice it to say there's good enough evidence for reasonable suspicion. Judge Bean signed the warrants."

"Cowboy Roy is not exactly the most careful judge on the bench."

"He's got the duty this week; there's nothing irregular about the warrants counselor."

"I have only your word for that. When do I get to examine them?"

"Soon as we get to the station. What's it going to be, Mike? You bringing the other suspect and riding in with us or do I call for other transport?"

"We'll ride with you." I could hear the unvoiced hope we would be stupid enough to try something. Nope. He'd already done everything necessary to put his career into my hands.

Remembering Julie's warnings from the previous case, I carefully did not listen to what the two detectives said on the ride to the station. Instead I kept my voice low and talked to Julie, beginning with, "Are you okay? Is there anything I can do in this situation to help?"

"I think so, now." She was still trembling, but she was no longer being controlled by her fear. Her thinking mind was back in control. "Right now, we have to wait. They'll book us before they question us, separately.

Just like last time, don't say anything without a lawyer present."

"Understood."

Copyright 2021 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved

Blurb for Moving The Pieces

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Calmena was Hell, a primitive planet where the fractal demons tried to breed the descendants of abducted humans into docile slaves with operant abilities, but it hadn't worked.

Joe and his wife Asina have been clandestinely helping the Calmenans throw off the demonic yoke for 150 Earth years, bringing them from barely Iron Age onto the threshold of space, from scattered starveling communities to strong independent cities where humans can live free of the demons.

But now there is no more time - the fractal demons are on the march against the Empire, and Calmena is caught between them like a nut in the jaws of a cracker. The demons have prepared Calmena for use as a way-station for assault on the Empire, and Joe and Asina must help the Calmenans hold off the demonic assault or watch their life's work be wiped out.

Joe and Asina will not allow that to happen.

Copyright 2021 Dan Melson

******

Moving The Pieces will be the fourth and final book in the Preparations For War series. The other books in the series are

Preparing The Ground

Building The People

Setting The Board

Moving The Pieces Cover Reveal

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Not perfect, but communicates a lot about the book

This will be the final entry in the Preparations For War series.

MTP cover.jpg

Preparing the Ground is the first book in Preparations for War series. The fourth (and final) book will be Moving The Pieces, which is with the beta readers right now.

Copyright 2021 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.


It started innocently enough. Joe was the engineer on one of Earth's first explorations beyond the Solar System, using borrowed Imperial technology. Captured on a hostile planet, he has to make a plan for his crew to escape - and then he discovers his real mistake!

He becomes a Missionary of Civilization on a primitive planet caught between massive empires - and the enemy has to think it's all native ingenuity!

******

It didn't take very long before Jayden sang out, "I've got a nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere!" and both he and Will directed their full observational prowess on that globe. Mass .96 Earth, mean radius 6108 kilometers, density 6020 kilograms per cubic meter, distance to star 74 million kilometers, so it actually got a little more energy from Epsilon Indi than Earth got from Sol. Rotational period 25 hours and 38 minutes (Earth) - almost exactly one Imperial day. The local 'year' was 145 Earth days and change (136 Imperial or local). Surface gravity would be a bit higher than Earth, 10.27 meters per second squared, but 1.047 Earth gravity was very reasonable. I'd weigh not quite four extra kilos. Two noteworthy moons, one about 1% Earth mass (roughly 80% the mass of the moon) at about 24 iprime (204,000 kilometers), roughly half the distance from Earth to Moon. The second was about a tenth of that mass three times further out. Water covered seventy-eight percent of the planetary surface. Mean surface temperature was about 20 Celsius, roughly 5 degrees warmer than Earth. Four continent sized land masses, three of them mostly north of the equator, one south, plenty of islands. Sea level pressure 1060 millibars, nitrogen eighty percent, oxygen eighteen, argon, helium, water vapor, and carbon dioxide making up the rest.

We'd found a twin to Earth.

There was no measurement we took from space that said, "Humans can't walk around in their shirtsleeves," but we had no intention of landing. That was for an expedition with more resources. Like, say, a trained Guardian to be the first actual guinea pig to breathe the atmosphere. We were just surveyors. Then we saw our dreams of the big bonus go up in smoke.

Jayden broke the bad news, "I'm sorry guys, but I'm seeing large scale cultivation."

You don't have to see individual structures from orbit to get the clue it's inhabited. Cultivated fields don't look like uncultivated grasslands, even from orbit. Night side, get a couple hundred torches for a town of ten thousand or so, and you can see a town from orbit. City folks - of which I'm one - mostly have no idea how sensitive human eyes are to light. I looked it up later. In a dark room, humans can see light equivalent to striking a match 200 miles away. Remember, also, that there aren't many natural sources of light on a planet. There's bioluminescence, auroras, lightning, natural fires, and whatever artificial sources there may be. Looking down from space, the whole night side of a planet is the equivalent of that dark room.

Once we focused the cameras on the surface and zoomed in, it didn't take but maybe half an hour to confirm sentient habitation. They were bipedal, anthropoid, and looked human in the best images we could capture from the edge of space. Earth was still coming to terms with the fact we were descended from an Imperial ship that crashed or landed (we weren't certain which) roughly fifty thousand years ago in what is now Eastern Turkey, but there had been at least two periods in the history of the Imperial home instance alone when large numbers of people piled into any ship they could find and took off for the unknown because it was likely to be better than what they left behind. A few millennia ago, there'd been a revolution in the Empire that overthrew it and continued to tear things up so bad that the population plummeted by a factor of 3000 before the survivors of the old Imperial government reasserted themselves. And before the Empire, there'd been another great diaspora brought on by military conquest. The Empire was used to re-integrating lost colonies; it wasn't uncommon for explorers to find them.

But for us, it meant no super-sized bonus from discovering an empty planet suitable for colonization. The Empire's thinking was manifestly clear - even uninhabited parts of an inhabited world belonged to the people of that world. In some circumstances, other planets in the system as well. On Earth, the Empire had bought uninhabited islands from the legal owners in order to house their bases.

"Let's see what they have to trade," said Dulles.

Writing Project Status

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If you've read the previous post, you might have a pretty good idea I've finished the first draft of Moving The Pieces, and you'd be correct. It got sent off to the betas about three days ago.

What I'm doing right now is fixing some issues the betas brought to my attention with the first draft of End of Childhood. I do not believe this will take long, as I've already fixed the biggie. (Grace's son Ilras is a fun character to write about).

I'm looking for cover art for Moving The Pieces (or more properly, a cover artist). I'm also trying to hone the blurb as what I have thus far needs to be 'grabbier'.

Once everything is in place, the two releases will be done as close together as I can manage.

The next project after that is still planned to be the sequel to "The Gates To Faerie", working title "Gifts Of The Mother"

Last night I finished the climactic scene of Moving The Pieces, the fourth and final book of Preparations For War.

I suppose I can tease you with a little detail: Yes, it was hijacked by the characters again. The original plan called for the protagonists to die valiantly in such a way that tactical defeat ensured strategic victory. The more I looked at it, the more contrived it seemed, and then one of the protagonists stood up and told me, "I thought of something better," and he was right. Again.

I've got a little more to do finishing up the end, so it's not 'done' yet - even 'first draft done'. But I anticipate I'll be ready to ship it off to the betas within a week, and polish End of Childhood while they look at this one. The hardest part is done; finishing the rest of the first draft is easy by comparison.

Yesterday was a good day.

It wasn't too long before patrols that had encountered lemuure started showing up. Their attitude was resentful at the new requirement, "We've been told there's some new crap we've got to get checked for. I tell you that damned white thing never got close to any of my men!" the patrol leader complained.

"That's great, but if you're not checked, you could be harboring the ghul virus," I explained.

"Can't give us a virus if it didn't touch nobody!" one of the other members exclaimed.

"Absolutely right you are!" Asina replied, "But this virus causes people to lose control and attack others. You wouldn't want to be killed for something you can't help, would you?"

"What are you going to do? Quarantine us?" It was obvious he intended 'quarantine' as a euphemism. To be fair, nobody in the Advancement Mission had gotten around to antibiotics yet, so plague procedures were often merciless.

"No, my wife and I are agaani," I explained, "We're originally from Windhome Bay, but when these creatures attacked Yarvahs a couple sixty-fours ago, the agaani found a way to cure it. The two cities are so close, her parents learned how, and they taught us. If you've got it, we can cure you."

"Cure us? We thought you were going to shoot anyone who had it!"

We both shook our heads, chuckling. "We need everyone who can help keep the demons out! You can't patrol the city for demons if you're dead."

"We're hoping to find other agaani in the city who know how," Asina added, "If you'll spread the word, maybe someone will hear."

"More important is please tell the other patrols you encounter that the cure isn't shooting people who have it!" I said, "If the people on patrol think that, they won't come in - and then we'll lose the city when they go crazy after about a third of a day."

"But you were correct - nobody in this group is infected," Asina finished, "Thank you for coming in and please tell everyone the truth."

When they were gone, I asked Asina, "Can you handle this here for about an hour? I didn't have a chance to explain to my workers." I had effectively vanished on them - not a good habit for a leader to be in.

"Not right now," she replied, "No matter my reputation, I look like a little old lady. You may look just as old, but you're big enough to still prevent a lot of trouble. You saw how suspicious those people were."
I had to agree. We didn't want to get into violence with people afraid to be checked for the ghul virus. Besides, I had perfect company.

Copyright 2021 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

The die is cast.

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

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

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

******

Our own lessons complete, the boys and I moved to the side in order to watch Asto's splinter take on his grandfather's. Asto was seven years younger than I was, but he'd been learning from his grandfather since he was old enough to hold the lightest practice blade, and his mind was better than mine - faster and more focused. The result was that Asto could give his grandfather a real opponent, somebody he had to work to defeat.

Unlike the practice blades the rest of us had been using, titanium rang when the two rods met. Asto's lessons were more of a limited duel between himself and his grandfather than what the rest of us needed. Unlike the children, Asto had enough practice to rate as a master, even by Imperial standards. His lessons were real world application, and he didn't make the simple mistakes. Neither did Scimtar.

The tempo of the lesson was wildly variable. They'd stand barely outside the other's reach, not moving at all or moving only their blades, 'shadow fencing' looking for a transient advantage, and when they thought they had one, they'd launch an attack. Neither one of them seriously expected to hit the other with their initial assault; they were attacking with the goal of hitting on the counter-riposte or later. The object was to draw or force the other's blade out of line enough to give them a straight shot to their opponent's body, and the two blades would ring off each other in irregular staccato bursts until either a touch was scored or one of the two combatants chose to retreat, starting the whole process all over again.

It was nothing like you see in the movies. This wasn't choreography designed for an ignorant audience. This was practice for when lives were on the line. Neither of them turned their back on the other. Footwork was mostly short steps in and out, advances and retreats such as the Musketeers or Florentines might have recognized, tightly controlled. Binds where the other had control were dangerous. Not to allow your enemy control of your blade was a cardinal caution, and more often than not, the one who wasn't in control of the exchange realized it and stepped out of reach before it was too late. Sometimes the other followed in time, sometimes not. And sometimes allowing the bind was itself a trap. You never knew until afterwards which would succeed in controlling the bout.

Blades moved, more from out of immediate reach than otherwise. The engagement didn't begin until one of them thought they had an advantage. They sidled from side to side, as well - Imperial troops still practiced holding a close quarters line of battle, but I didn't think it had been used since before Scimtar was born. Guardians were still only about one seventh of the Imperial population; the other six sevenths had no innate defenses against energy weapons or projectiles, and the natural state humans I'd served with had my utmost respect. It took far more courage than I'd ever needed to step onto a battlefield against opposing Guardians when you weren't one yourself. In a lot of ways, it was like fighting a battle against a two-armed opponent - when you didn't have any arms yourself.

That didn't apply to Asto or his grandfather, though. Scimtar had clawed his way up by talent, determination, persistence, and a little bit of luck; Asto had been fated to be born among the Seventh Order elite by being Scimtar's grandson. They both possessed the capstone of Guardian abilities I was aware of: the creation of splinters such as strove in front of me as proxies for their own body. Independent energy fields, possessing links to their main body so that the Sixth and Seventh Order Guardians who could create them were as in control and aware of what their splinters did under most circumstances as of their little finger. The 'real' Asto was on fleet exercises and I had no idea where the 'real' Scimtar was, but each of them had splinters here in the melee arms room. Depending upon how they were created, splinters could be 'ghosts' or pass for human - at least to natural state humans. But if something happened to destroy the splinter, it didn't damage the original. Nor were they vulnerable to most material weapons. On the other hand, even the strongest splinter had only a fraction of the creating Guardian's power.

That didn't mean this bout between two splinters was pointless, however. Everything that happened between them would be mirrored in a 'real' bout between Scimtar and his grandson. This was a way to practice without worrying about actually damaging your opponent. But they were both deadly serious about it.

Most of their mutual passages at arms resulted in no touch. The titanium rods they were using in place of swords clanged off each other in furious ringing succession, parries coming faster than a rock drumbeat, each parrying all of the other's attacks, and one or the other would step out of reach before it came to a conclusion. This didn't always signal an imminent defeat; at least twice one of them stepped away despite what I thought was an advantaged position. However, my husband was among the Empire's masters of the blade and his grandfather was among the Empire's best, so perhaps they had a better appreciation than I did. My link with Asto gave me just enough information to tantalize; his mind worked faster than mine.

Every few passes would end with a touch somewhere that wasn't critical. A touch on the hand or arm could be healed, even had they been present in their 'real' bodies. The weapon could be transferred to the other hand long enough to heal the primary. Sometimes even that wasn't necessary. A hit to the torso represented the possible drain of more of their body's resources; in a real duel those needed to be healed faster. Hits to the legs were more serious - if it impacted your opponent's mobility he couldn't retreat from a losing pass - but you still could. However, it was a temporary advantage that would vanish once your opponent healed themselves. The only duel-winning hit was a hit to the head that disrupted brain function.
That was the object of the bout - a hit that would have meant defeat. The two splinters were playing by a complex set of rules that seemed to simulate the conditions of a real duel. After a hit, the 'wounded' party would pretend an injury for about the length of time required to heal that injury.

And then it was over. Scimtar scored a hit to Asto's right knee, then after two more phrases, on his third subsequent attack scored a hit to Asto's hand and then immediately riposted to Asto's head before Asto could transfer the weapon. Duel over. The entire sequence had taken less than a quarter second.

Asto's splinter saluted his grandfather, then told the boys it was time to go home and get cleaned up. I followed suit. The Empire - at least its overculture - was casual about mixed sex nudity. It had taken a little getting used to at first, but twenty years in Planetary Surface Forces had gotten me past any remaining prudery regarding bathing with men. Yeah, some of them used the opportunity to gaze appreciatively. So did some women - even me, a time or two. But nobody touched, and in my current career I'd investigated a very few incidents pursuant to criminal complaints. Enough to know that the fine points of etiquette would be explained mercilessly to any violators, with penalties more than enough to persuade potential violators to pursue appropriate venues and consent instead - such incidents were single digit occurrences in a district more than twice the population of the United States of my youth. Esteban and Ilras were my children; I'd raised them right. Neither would think of molesting Mama in the shower. Or anyone else.

Copyright 2021 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved

While things have not been going as fast as I would like, the first draft of Moving The Pieces (Book Four of Preparations for War) is now over 55,000 words and moving towards the climax/conclusion of the series. I think another fifteen or twenty thousand words will see it finished.

End Of Childhood (Book Three of Politics of Empire) has been back from the betas for some time. It will need a small amount of work, but I have the cover and it's otherwise ready to go. I will polish it soon as the first draft of Moving The Pieces is complete, while it's with the betas.

Since these two books share some events - mostly in background - the plan is to release them separated by no more than two weeks.

Once those are done, it is my current intention to write Gifts Of The Mother, the first follow on to The Gates of Faerie. Yes, we're going to hear a lot more from Ol' Zeb and RaDonna, as well as new folks.

I also have a third Connected Realms book (Fountains of Aescalon) in the plotting stages, although I must warn you it does not involve Alexan as a main character. Working title: The Crazy Lady

I'm also considering a book with Urona Scimtar (Grace's cousin by marriage) as the viewpoint character. She's been born into a situation which cannot help but make demands upon her that she is unhappy with, and how she comes to a realization and a solution. Sort of inspired by Brave in the same way The Forever War was inspired by Starship Troopers - but unlike Heinlein, Disney didn't have the guts to tell the story it should have.

If you have questions, comments, suggestions, etcetera, you can email me: danmelson (at) this domain name, or at my social media pages:

https://www.facebook.com/Dan.Melson.Author

https://mewe.com/i/danmelson

https://parler.com/#/user/DanMelson


Comments here are welcome but for some reason haven't been working like they should.

Working the Trenches is the fourth and final book of Rediscovery, a sequel to the original 'tight' trilogy.

Graciela 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

******

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.

Copyright 2014 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

Working The Trenches and the other novels of Rediscovery are available at Amazon and the other Books2Read retailers worldwide.

 



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