The leader of the picket was twice the size of the others - one of the new breed of manesi bigger than an African Elephant. The resources that went into them would probably have been better spent elsewhere, but the demons thought that if big massive centauroids had worked for so long, then bigger faster more massive centauroids would work now. Come to think of it, Earth's military had been subject to the same sort of thinking.

One of the ordinary manesi tried grabbing Asina, but the 'super' manes wasn't having it. It slapped the hippo-sized smaller demon down. The smaller manes was thrown completely off its feet and dropped Asina as it fell. She rolled away, pretending the fall had somehow damaged her.

I had just enough time to think that maybe we might be okay when the super manes grabbed me instead. I guess I was the bigger piece of meat. It just reached out a massive paw and grabbed me by the right shoulder, lifting me off my feet towards its open maw, lined with triangular, shark-like teeth.

Well, there was no hope of escaping a conflict now, but the hold the big demon had me in made things more difficult. I had to twist to get my left hand into my kored pocket where I'd stashed my Calmenan pistol.

I was a crappy shot with my left hand, but BLAM!, Asina put a shot directly into the demon's paw, and it obligingly dropped me. I engaged full undertime, calmly switched hands and BLAM! BLAM! put two .55 caliber hollow-points right into its braincase on the way to the ground. The big super-manes obligingly dropped right where it stood. Before I'd even touched the ground, BLAM! I shot another of the picket's members.

Meanwhile, Asina had shifted into full undertime as well. Soon as she knew her first shot cause the biggest demon to drop me, BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! five more shots accounted for five more manesi before the slide locked back on the empty weapon and she dropped the first magazine out. BLAM! I shot the patrol's final member before Asina could reload.

Now what? I asked her. Both of us were reloading, automatic reflex action.

The western corner of the kiwana grove. Leave your metal bar, put your pistol back in the kored pocket, just make sure your auros broadcast is in place and act normal! Soon as we arrive, find a place to hide for a few moments quick as you can. We'll be approaching from a different direction, so even if any of the demons saw, we won't have anything to do with those humans who killed the pickets.

Blink!

The western corner of the kiwana grove was about what you'd expect. The trunks of the trees weren't big enough to conceal a human, so I dived into a drainage ditch, mud and all. Asina did the same. When no immediate outcry was raised, we stuck our heads up to look around.

Copyright 2021 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

The stons were dead, but that left Grace alone to try to learn to control her new abilities. When a solution presents itself, she begins learning just how far there is to go on the new journey she started. A new family, a new home, and learning to adapt to a completely different environment.

But for greater challenges, she also discovers there are greater rewards - and the universe always has a greater challenge in store.

******

I was just coming out of the bedroom when there was a chime. It seemed like a doorbell so I went to the front door, and I was right. There was a man standing there, maybe a couple inches taller than I was. He looked gray and faded somehow, with the unworldly air of a college professor. On Earth, I would have said he was between twenty-five and thirty, but his frizzy hair was gray, his clothes were a different gray and even his shoes were a nondescript brown pair that looked for all the world like an ordinary pair of loafers. He was carrying two small objects. "Graciela Juarez di Scimtar?" When I answered yes, "I'm Ferugio Torgonos, the training master. I understand you're newly operant? I have here your datalink and interim infertility implant. Would you like to have them implanted out here or in the bedroom?"

What the...? "I don't know about that. If you're messing with my brain, shouldn't you have some sort of sterile field and an operating room? And I'm not sure I want or need an infertility implant. My plans don't include any of that kind of activity for the foreseeable future."

"Come, now, you can hardly expect a Nonus-in-fact to neglect his basic responsibilities, can you? My instructions are that you are to have both immediately." Ferugio had a prissy, didactic way of speaking. He reminded me of a professor that lives in their own ivory tower.

I remembered my conversations with ScOsh: "Childhood pregnancy is rare because our children are routinely given birth control when they reach sexual maturity" and "We don't permit children to have or raise children." I was legally a child for now; not yet competent to manage my own affairs as far as the Empire was concerned. Clearly, my new foster family realized that unplanned pregnancies happen because unplanned sex happens, and they could lock me away in a monk's cell or they could do this. The monk's cell wouldn't work; this would, at least until I knew enough to reprogram my own body, and I for one had zero intention of reprogramming for children until I was well established with a husband of my own. At least this seemed an indication they weren't planning to enforce abstinence upon me. This was the way the Empire did things, I could leave the Empire or I could adjust. "I didn't see a bed in the bedroom, perhaps the couch would work."

"No bed? I'm sure this apartment had one when DelMartos was here. Well, a chair should be enough for either. The datalink requires the right side of your head near the base of the skull; the implant can go anywhere. Most people use their upper arm or shoulder."

It really was almost that simple. Yes, the datalink wired itself into the brain, but it turned out Ferugio was one of those born operants with no ambition to become a Guardian or advance in the government or military. Still, he was competent enough as a healer, I never felt a thing with either the datalink or the implant. The datalink started some sort of initialization cycle about two seconds after Ferugio let go of it. It was a small addition to the right side of my neck for now, smaller than a flash drive; perhaps operants had a way to cause it to internalize. "The datalink will take a couple minutes to initialize, when it tells you 'ready' you can start giving it commands. The first you should know is 'help' - it should give you a list of available commands and accesses in a given area; the list is quite extensive. You can delimit that with additional terms - for instance, 'help sleep' or 'sleep help' should direct you to your sleep field unless someone has removed it. Follow me, please," and without waiting for an invitation he strode into the bedroom. "You have a sleep field right there," he said, pointing at the low platform I'd noticed earlier, "Your datalink is set to control everything in this apartment, so if you want temperature changed, or air circulation, do it. And now, I understand that you'd probably like some rest as ScAnara informs me that you've been awake for over fourteen hours. If you want to set a timer, think 'help timer'. The family dinner is at fortyone thirty; it's thirtyfive fortytwo now, I would suggest setting the timer no later than fortyone zero zero. We'll start setting your course of study tomorrow morning at fortyeight thirty." With that, he walked out, closing the door as he went.


Copyright 2014 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

I left them to it. I didn't have time to waste with hand-holding. There were supply chain problems I had to deal with. Taman was a good enough accountant, but he was an accountant, not a production manager. We needed fuel and sheet metal and rivets and screws and nuts and bolts and washers (Oh my!) and everything else under the sun, and we had to keep getting deliveries even while the demons marched on the city. It was nearly as exciting as watching paint dry and completely without drama unless you're the sort that gets a thrill from baroque mathematical word problems, so I won't go into details. The big problem was that the pipeline and rail lines were likely to be cut before the demons reached the city, so I had to arrange for ships from Tabbraz and other ports to carry what we needed - and even assuming the city hadn't fallen before they got here, those ships weren't likely to get much of a return cargo, except maybe people desperate to escape the city, and we wanted at least the adult men to stay and fight. The supply chain problems ate most of the day.

About an hour before sunset, I got a call from the front gate. Seems there was a mob of people building who wanted passage out of Yalskarr. I couldn't really blame them, but there was only one ship in the Lesser Harbor at the moment - Yonshall's. Which was full, mostly of children. I didn't expect there'd be a whole lot of ships left in the Great Harbor, either. "Get me a microphone and a loudspeaker," I told them, "I'm on my way."

Security was in a line of uniforms when I got there; all of them armed with the Calmenan AK-47 knockoff. We didn't often have the need for violence in our yards, but when we did, there was no sense being half-assed about it. Since a goodly number of the crowd would be armed as well, I didn't want to start anything. It would turn into a bloodbath on both sides, and the only ones 'winning' would be the demons. I turned the microphone on and tapped it to test; it was working fine. This wasn't a wireless set up like back on Earth; I had to be careful with the cord. I stepped in front of the security line and spoke, "I'm here because you seem to want something from us that we don't have ourselves. If you'll appoint a spokesperson or line up with your concerns, I'll be happy to answer all of them."

Some of them began yelling even more angrily and pushing against the gate harder, so, "Lock and load!" Our security folks chambered a round from their magazines, "If you want to talk about the situation, it's possible I can help you. If you decide to get violent I guarantee everyone leading the charge will die. We might be overrun in the end, but it won't be by anyone in the front ranks. If you want something I can give you, the first thing you need to do is calm down and start talking. You can always decide to die later."

"We want out!" a young man in the front row yelled, "The demons are coming and we want out of the city!"

"They'll let you out any of the roads," I replied, "I haven't heard of any orders issued to prevent leaving the city. Even if I'm wrong, there are no roads out of our Yards and the only ship is already full of children and a few women, and they've cast off awaiting sunset anyway. Even if they were still at the dock, we'd have to throw at least one person off for every person we let board. Are you telling me you're such a coward you want us to throw off two or three kids in order to let you escape?" And I stared him down, contempt in my eyes, "Nobody here inside the gate is getting out on a ship. Not me, not these guards, not the workers I still have building bombers and repairing Guard vessels in the hopes of doing enough damage to the demons to keep the city alive. All you can do is force us to kill each other. If you want to live, there are better ways."

I knew I was nobody's idea of a great orator, but a little touch of auros can help with crowds - especially if none of them have any Imperial training. "If you want to get out by the Tabbraz Road, I'd suggest starting soon. The fuel stocks along it have been gathered up and are returning to the city. You might get a couple eight legions of paces before you run out of fuel, and it's about a three eight-day walk with the demons coming hard behind you. If the city falls - or even if it doesn't - my guess is you won't make it two days before they catch you. Personally, I think we've got a better chance here in the city, trying to keep the demons out."

"Aren't you building any more ships?" someone asked from back in the crowd.

"The question asked is whether we're building any more ships," I repeated to make sure everyone heard, "The answer is 'not at the moment.' They're all at least an eight-day from seaworthiness; our workers' efforts will be better spent repairing damaged Guard vessels. Those can bombard the legions from the sea or the Great Harbor. Every demon they kill at range is one we don't have to kill while it's trying to eat someone on the walls. Next question," I pointed to a woman with her hand up.

"I'd rather ask my question privately," she hinted,

The time to take that bull by the horns was now. "Whether you're offering money or sex, the answer is 'no." I'm not throwing anyone off the ship we have loaded, and I don't have any more places to give anyone, no matter what they offer." Privately, I hoped she had the sense to clear out fast before her neighbors could realize what she'd done. But if I said anything, she'd never escape their wrath in time, so I changed the subject.

"I'm assuming everyone here would like to survive?" I was greeted by an outburst of emotion shouting things that all amounted to 'yes!'

"Then go back to the walls and prepare them for the defense, or find some other contribution you can make, like making ammunition, or preparing food for the Guardsmen and anyone else aiding them on the walls. Get a weapon and carry it everywhere in case you meet a noble that's Gating them in without taking the walls. If they take us down here, there will be nowhere that is safe. You will be running for the rest of your lives, which will not be long. They're using all of Calmena as a conduit to pass their armies through to elsewhere. But they carry few supplies with them. If we hold them off for a very few days, they'll start eating each other. Their nobles will have no choice but to take them where they might find easier meals. Your best hope of survival is to do everything you can to keep Yalskarr from falling, and persuade every adult that can to make their own contribution. Now go do something to help us all live and let me return to doing what I can to keep Yalskarr from falling and keep us all out of the demon's bellies!"

"Is there really a hope of holding them off?"

"If there wasn't, I'd already be on gone, not here in the city, and definitely not standing here telling people who should know better that you can't outrun the demons - you have to outfight them and out-think them. My wife is out there with the Guard; she says nearly three-quarters of the Guardsmen defending First Wall were saved and are falling back to the City, and we have three fresh legions here defending the City. The demons can't do what they did to First Wall here - there is no outflanking these walls! They go all around the city! Now go build up those walls, or I understand most of the ammunition makers are begging for helpers, or find something else constructive to contribute. The longer I have to stand here talking, the less time I have to do things that might keep us all alive!"

A final push with auros, and the crowd started breaking up. Some of them were muttering, but they were leaving, heading back into the city. Not a minute too soon, either, because the two Nhadragh prototypes were returning from their first mission, and I didn't want to explain that they didn't have the range to make any of the other cities with a hope of beating back the demonic advance. I hijacked a forklift and headed off to the military area to hear from the pilots.

Copyright 2021 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved

There was one thing I hadn't been able to do without forcing Asto to choose between his family and me: Take our kids home to Earth to meet all their cousins. My niece Tina had helped me with them and my pilot module, and they'd met her older brother Peter Junior who ran the Imperial end of Earth Dogs, and once their brother Joe and his wife Asina. That was it as far as meeting my relatives. My siblings alone had about three prime descendants now in the time since I'd left. Start including my uncles' and aunts' descendants, and it was probably three or four times that. I'd been back exactly once in the last twentyeight Imperial years - about eighty of their longer years on Earth with the time differential - and that was when I was only a couple days pregnant with Esteban. Since putting Asto in a 'no win' situation wasn't concern at the moment, I was going take advantage of the opportunity. A plan was already forming in my mind. Perhaps not a very smart plan, but it could take advantage of some excellent distractions.

I knew the reasons why the Scimtars kept their children mostly sequestered. I even agreed with those reasons. But my kids also needed to get out and see how the rest of the Empire lived - not just the completely tamed major system that was Indra. My children ranged from ten to almost seventeen Imperial years of age - seven to eleven and a half Earth years - and they'd never visited their Earth cousins. It was past time to change that. The war had begun; I was on a sabbatical to allow me to look for Asto - time to take advantage of that while everyone else was distracted, too.

As soon as we emerged into the Imperial Home Instance, I sent Asto's splinter a message Please meet me in the park with the children in an hour. Bring Mischief and Scarecrow as well. I knew Asto had constrained the splinter to do whatever I said regarding the children. The little dogs would be perfect camouflage for what I intended. It would be a dirty trick to take the kids away from them, but it couldn't be helped..

When we were on landing queue, I used a graycode to buy a cutter. Cutters were small, cheap, little craft reminiscent of NASA's old space shuttles, delta wings to either side of a central tube for passengers and cargo. They were capable of seating four in the cockpit and up to about twelve in the cargo bay, depending upon configuration. This was a standard model right out of the catalog, already sitting in a parking garage across the Straits from Sumabad. Soon as we touched down and I finalized the rent for the Explorer Cruiser with TorGethaz, thanked the crew, and teleported directly to the nearest portal. A quick jump to a shopping area in a nearby arcology, and took less than ten minutes to purchase a few extra things, just in case. They were a little more expensive than usual due to the recent invasion, but not a significant difference for me. Then I dropped my package off and took possession of my newly purchased cutter, linked my datalink to it and began a security and readiness check while taking care of the physical inspection. I had up to four days to move it out of their garage; that would be plenty.

The whole idea was not to draw any suspicion from the other Scimtars, especially Anara. Asto's mother was at home in the apartment right next to ours the majority of the time, and strong as she was, her perception radius was big enough to cover our entire apartment. Soon as I walked through the door, she'd want to know how the search had gone, and then she'd want me to go back to work finding covert traitors. But if her son's splinter took the kids to the park while I was still out, that was simple daily routine. Particularly if the dogs were involved. Mischief was Queen of the Park by virtue of attitude, and Scarecrow was a crazed ball dog whose favorite locale for the game was the park where he could play with other ball dogs.

The first rule for plans is to keep them simple. Complex plans that depend upon multiple factors all going in metronomic precision are going to fail. They seemed awesome in mass media when I lived on Earth, but despite my in-laws' predilection for planning, one thing I'd noticed was all of their plans were simple, with no more than a few steps to the goal. If that goal was reached, there would be a second plan to reach a second goal. Maybe the individual goals were small steps, but add them up, and they became overwhelming. I needed a ship they didn't control, and I needed a few minutes away from direct observation by their grandmother to get the kids away. Simple, easy goals, put together in sequence. This most especially applied to my military experience. The good commanders were the ones who had simple goals that built on advantages to the point where they were overwhelming.

When I arrived at the park, I simply collected the children, told them we were going on an outing, and asked Asto's splinter to cover for me. "Stay here with the dogs another fortyfive minutes before returning home. Don't try and obstruct anything, just don't help. We'll be back in a few days." I wasn't kidding myself it would take the Scimtars long to figure out where we'd gone - I'd bet Earth would be the very top of their list - but it's easier to get forgiveness than permission. They knew I wouldn't keep the kids out more than a few days, and Earth's roughly four to one time differential meant maybe only a day or so was likely to pass in the main part of the Empire.

This was the key part of the whole thing. "We're going on an excursion," I told the kids, "But we've got to keep it secret. No telling anyone except Daddy's splinter. Not Grandmother Anara, not Grandfather Gilras, and definitely not Grandfather or Grandmother," meaning Scimtar or Helene.

We walked out of the nearest exit to avoid the park's portal having an obvious record, then portaled to the garage on the far side of the Straits. Into the cutter by teleportation - the days of the kids being more hindrance than help in teleportation were behind us. I told Alden and Imtara to strap into the third and fourth seats in the control cabin, where I could keep an eye on them, and tell the three oldest to find seats in the back and keep their hands off anything. "The trip should be over in a five minutes, unless you do something to make it take longer!"

For their part, the kids were excited. They never got to leave the Residence except for trips to the alternate Residence, over on Major Habitat Two. Who they interacted with in either place was controlled. All of their play friends were children of important House Scimtar employees, who also lived in the Residence. The older ones remembered our occasional excursions back when I'd had the pilot module, when they might meet anyone. "I'm taking you to meet your Earth cousins," I told them, and they actually cheered! The Great Houses were all built on the idea of 'family', but the paranoid isolation of the children cut off more than half of theirs.

Then it was time to maneuver out of the parking garage, get clearance for lift with immediate Vector, which was approved.

Blink

We emerged in interstellar space, halfway across First Galaxy, nobody nearby on sensors. We were away clean. I set an Interstitial Vector for Earth's Instance below the plane of the ecliptic about as far out as Saturn, double checked that my interrogatory was functional and programmed correctly, then fed the energy in for the jump.

Blink

Copyright 2021 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

A duel in the shadows as echoes of an ancient war wash up onto a new planet!

Life in the Empire has finally settled down. The last of the ston rebels have taken amnesty, and re-joined civilization - or have they?

A massive terrorist attack kills millions and the trail leads the investigator straight to a remote world with no known Imperial contact - a world known to its inhabitants as Earth

******

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.

COPYRIGHT 2013 Dan Melson All Rights Reserved.

The Man From Empire is available from Amazon or the Books2Read retailers in either paperback or e-book (from any of them)

We knew it was going to be a disaster before it happened.

If it had just been the frontal assault, I think the second layer of First Wall's defenses would have held. Starshells were already up and burning; the defenders now had an extra two sixty-fours of paces to kill the charging demons. .43 Caliber machine guns reached out from the second curtain wall even before the first wall blew up, and individual riflemen could pick targets. Mortars kept lofting explosives and caltrops on preset targeting. Entire waves of manesi vanished into the meatgrinder that was First Wall's defenses, legions at a time. Asina was near the middle of the wall; the defenders kept the direct wave from reaching second curtain at her location until the evacuation.

But the direct assault wave wasn't the only attack.

Captain Teroas was a good soldier. He had flamethrower jeeps out to the north as skirmishers, while the mortars at the northern end of the line laid caltrops and pressure sensitive submunitions. The jeeps were as vulnerable to them as the manesi; they had to exit to the east outside the impromptu minefield. Their usefulness as well as their ability to escape would be compromised between the curtain walls anyway. Instead, his men were on the second and third curtain walls as well as in hollow rectangular formations between and behind them. The men knew they were likely to die; Captain-Major Alomar had correctly decided to sacrifice a small portion of his forces in the hopes of preserving the majority, and they'd drawn the short straw by reason of being in the best position to make it count. This was the reason desertion in the face of the enemy was a capital offense in every military in history; any individuals attempting it would be shot down immediately by their fellows. As a result, they all stood and fought.

I had Asina's eyes and ears to make sense of the defense, as well as the orbital sensors. The first reports came in from the airborne Molitors as they bombed demonic formations before they ever came into contact with the defenders on the ground. The accuracy wasn't so good at night; our technology just wasn't up to starlight scopes and the like yet, and demons didn't show up on infrared anyway. But the Air Guard tried their best. One plane would drop a small portion of their napalm load for illumination and confirmation of a target, and then the entire squadron would unload on the targets revealed, then head back to Yonskarr to be refueled and reloaded. There was no way for the Calmenans to know how effective it all was at first, but the Imperial sensors in orbit showed a decent casualty rate among the legions they bombed.

By the second run for the Molitors, the flamethrower jeeps had made contact on the ground and could be used as spotters. It still wasn't perfect, but it was a lot better being able to use the fires ignited by the jeeps together with radio to know where to hit. Local measure was a drum, about thirty-five liters Earth measure, and the jeeps had eight to ten drums worth of napalm; the planes had thirty to forty times as much. But the jeeps had it under pressure where it could be used to spray maybe eighty meters or a little more from the jeep; it made marking edges of targeting areas easy. Just before dawn, one of the jeeps apparently scored a hit on one of the brakiri wonder weapons that had downed our plane a few days before; it lit up the jungle in a premature sunrise. I was told it rained demon parts for better than two eights of breaths, and there was a crater the size of the city of Yalskarr in the jungle where it happened. The Molitors who reported the explosion said there must have been four legions destroyed at the cost of a maniple of jeeps.

By the time the demons hit from the north, it was starting to get light. Had the demon commander been worried about its troops, it likely would have held in the jungle until sundown. But for whatever reason, both the frontal assault and the flanking attack from the north continued into the light of day.

Copyright 2021 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved

This is from the first draft rough. Copyright 2021 Dan Melson All Rights Reserved.


The first warning we had was the general alarm.

I hadn't expected a marching band. The Imperial military is built on lightning strikes, and fast responses to catch those strikes before they achieve their goals. Vector Drive meant that space warfare was about concentrating firepower and directing it usefully - position meant nothing. Even planetary surface troops got used to the idea that when an opponent could rig a portal or hijack an existing one, they could be anywhere.

But it's disconcerting to get the 'all recipients' message on your datalink: "Warning!: Demonic elements have been reported in your area, and most other areas of the system! Be prepared to respond appropriately." Impersonal as hell, and no information as to how close they were, or exactly what sort of 'elements'. Were we talking about manesi, which were easy meat for anyone with modern weaponry, or were we talking about an elite corps of spraxos or basileus?

In the absence of specific information, I had to assume it was the same sort of mix generally encountered. I'd been working more than a full day already, tagging fortyseven potential traitors who'd recently interacted with demons on Sharanna. Asto's splinter had been taking care of the children, as much as they needed taking care of. I'd managed to check in for quick hugs in the breakfast hour, and then right back to tracking demonic contacts.

What was most important was clear - continuing my checks for demonic contacts. However, my uncle's old adage about trying to drain the swamp when you're up to your backside in alligators also applied. Trying to make a spak recording in the middle of a firefight would be problematic. Not to mention that I didn't care if my husband's splinter was more capable than I was, or for that matter the children themselves - I was going to guard my children myself. It wasn't that I didn't trust him, House security, or the children themselves for that matter. It was simply that I was their mom. A quick portal home was all it took.

Esteban took my arrival as a matter of course, I found a cooperative website tracking all the engagements.

Absolutely not. The five of you are protected by the fact you are legal children. It would be acceptable to defend yourselves, especially here in the residence, but if you go looking for demons you're declaring yourselves adult.

Esteban meant we could use it to track how close the demons are, Asto's splinter intervened.

Good. We have five children here who are not ready to assume adult risks.

Go on, Mom! We'll be fine! This was Ilras. You don't want to miss all the excitement, do you?

Even if 'the excitement' held any special allure for me, I would not be willing to leave the five of you unsupervised during this crisis. Especially not you, mister energy cannon, planar explosives, and automatic needler!

The others has stashes, too!

The others aren't treating this like some sort of simulator game!

Patience, Esteban counseled, I'm sure we'll all get our fill of action once we're adults.

Absolutely right! I certainly have!

Grandfather says you find enough trouble for any three people
, Alden interjected.

Just what I needed - the older generation making it difficult to manage my family. Whether he meant Scimtar or Gilras wasn't important. I certainly don't go looking for it! Yet somewhere in the back of my mind a little voice asked 'if the truth makes it difficult, does it make more sense to look at others or yourself for the solution?'

Yet if you keep finding it, doesn't praxeology tell us you must be doing things to attract it? That was Ilora, the sensitive one who didn't even like playing Natural State Survivor against 'live' opposition. I had to admit she had a point - but more importantly, if she was sniping, it was a sure bet that Ilras would do something outrageous as soon as I wasn't watching him full time.

Whatever you might think, young lady, we're going to shelter here and hope that this invasion passes us by without endangering five children who might happen to be Seventh Order Guardians someday, but for now are half-trained and not capable of understanding the risks they want to take.

You all heard your mother's decision, Asto's splinter lowered the boom. They might argue with Mom, who after all was only a Fourth Order Guardian from a little barbarian planet in the back end of beyond. When their father agreed with that kind of finality, it meant debate was over. We all have our personal weapons. We're going to monitor the situation, and try to stay out of trouble.

Their ancestors were human once - humans who lost a war and were enslaved by the Elemental Lords, their genetic structure twisted into knots to the point where they have trouble breeding, even with each other. They are largely dependent upon the blessings of The Mother, an Earth goddess who has given them a fertility ritual they utilize at the eight turning points of the year (Solstices, Equinoxes, and halfway between each). Even with it, they aren't very fertile, but they are long-lived, and they do have native elemental powers - at least the full-blooded ones.

There are seven varieties:

Phantom Elves or Mist Elves have largely reverted to feral state. They live in small communities of primitive hunter/gatherers, largely pushed to the edges of habitable zones. They are rare in the analog of the western half of the United States, and almost non-existent on our side of the veil. They are almost entirely mixed-breeds that have lost any native power, but there is a strain of primitive magery among them. They have a wilderness skill that makes them hard to spot or find.

Wood Elves are also mixed breed, tending to live apart from Elvenmentals and often treated as an inferior race. They have lost their native powers, but there are a fair number of sorcerors and a small number of true mages among them. Skin color is usually light brown or earthy green, but can favor any of their ancestral breeds.

Dark Elves are mixed breed, but are still considered Elvenmentals, having decided service to the darker powers is worth the power they grant. Some can pass for the purebloods of their ancestry, but they are reviled by all the other breeds except perhaps Mist Elves, who keep to themselves. Communities of the Dark Elves have been driven deep underground, and it is rare that they interact with any other elven communities, the West Elves being by far the most commonly subject to issues with them. Skin color can be anything from pasty white that looks albino to any of the colors of the other Elvenmentals.

Sea Elves have water powers. They prefer to live in sea-going vessels, and spend a large amount of time in the water, but they do have shore-bound communities, including a moderate sized city on the alternate Catalina and a smaller enclave near the alternate Santa Monica. Skin and hair tend to be green or blue.

West Elves have earth powers. They prefer to live close to the Earth, either in farm burrows or single-story dwellings where more band together. Their name comes from the fact there was a significant concentration of them in the westerly areas of alternate Eurasia and Africa before they colonized the alternate New World during what was the latter part of the Roman Empire on Earth. Skin tones tend to the darker browns; hair is almost always black or close to it. Their mages tend to be burrowers as well.

Bright Elves have fire powers, and tend to live in hot arid areas and near volcanic activity. The alternate Mediterreanean was their classic area of concentration; now they inhabit most of the Pacific Rim of Fire on the alternate world as well. Skin tones tend to brighter pinks or even fiery orange, hair is usually orange or actual red. They are comparatively rare, but mages are common among them and sorcerers very common.

Star Elves are the rarest of all. On the other hand, they have the strongest and most common strains of magery among the Elves, possibly excepting the Dark Elves. They have Air powers, and tend to live on high mountains. Skin tones are pale, usually with pastel tint, hair and eyes tend to be light blue or light violet or pale pink.

Gates to Faerie can be be purchased either e-book or paperback, from either Amazon or the Books2Read retailers. The sequel, Gifts of the Mother, will be my next project

1. Go ahead and introduce yourself.

I'm Joe. Husband of Asina, father of three adult children we don't get to see as much as we'd like

2.Tell us where and when were you born

I was born in Virginia Beach while my father was stationed there, but don't remember it at all.

3. How would you describe yourself?

About two ififths forty five, two square seven. Roughly five foot eleven and 220 pounds by the Earth measure I grew up with; I'm a Second Order Guardian so I'm heavier than I look.

4. Tell us about where you grew up.

The place I lived in the longest was Temecula, a suburban city of about 100,000 at the time in Southern California, before Imperial Contact with Earth. We moved there after my dad retired from the navy and went to work at NWS Fallbrook as a contractor.

5. How old are you?

I am 174 Earth years old. That's 249 Imperial years, or 438 of the short years of Calmena, where my wife and I live.

6. Did you have a happy childhood? Why/why not?

Very happy, even by the standards of the United States I grew up in. Married parents who loved me, four siblings and we all got along, huge extended family with plenty of money.

7. Past/ present relationships? How did they affect you?

A few girlfriends, nothing serious. Bed buddies, most of them. My aunt was the first person to have real contact with the Empire; I went to work for her about a year before official contact. Since what I did had to be secret, no real opportunity for a relationship for that year. Then VSC hired me as engineer and legal commander for the first voyage of Golden Hind. We stubbed our toes on Calmena, and I met Asina. With one thing and another, here we are, 150 Earth years later.

8. What do you value above all else in life?

My wife Asina and our children.

9. What are you obsessed with?

Obsession is a mental defect. But my wife and I have been working to rid Calmena of the fractal demons most of the last 150 Earth years.

10.How do your beliefs make life better for yourself and the people you care about?

I was raised Catholic, but am mostly lapsed. Haven't been to church or confession since I left home, but it's still a large part of my moral framework.

11. Biggest fear?

That the Empire loses the upcoming war.

12. What line will you never cross?

I will never ever do anything that betrays Asina.

13. What is the best thing that ever happened to you? The worst?

The best thing has been Asina. The worst is harder. Getting caught with marijuana on my Aunt's dog farm was embarrassing, but she handled it. Getting caught violating an Imperial Interdict was stupid, but it worked out into my current career and Asina finding me again. The various demonic counter-assaults have been ugly, but we got through them.

14. Most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you?

The day my mother happened to find out that Asina had been shagra-my and understood what it meant - basically a breeding slave. Mom is straitlaced, and didn't understand it wasn't Asina's choice. I was embarrassed about my mother in front of my wife, and had to threaten to cut her off from our kids to get her to calm down.

15. Biggest secret?

The Calmenans cannot know that the Empire exists, or that there are people here helping them learn to free themselves from the demons.

16. What is the one word you would use to define yourself?

Making the transition as a grown man from pre-contact Earth to an Imperial citizen, the word that enforces itself is 'responsible.' It was rare to so much as hear the word on pre-contact Earth; the Empire runs on responsibility.

17. What is your current goal?

Help the people of Yalskarr and the rest of Calmena survive the coming war

Copyright 2021 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved


"Are they gone?" A young girl peeked her head out of a back room at the far end of the hall, then came into the hall when she saw the three of us.

I saw Makis tense, and understood why. There had been fur on the back of her hands and partway up her arms. The 'little girl' was a shapeshifting likahn. Once she came inside my usual perception range, there wasn't any doubt. 'She' wasn't even a three dimensional being.

Ghent, however, was clueless. "Hello, what's your name?"

Why they let that idiot fly a fighter is beyond me, Asina remarked, can't think his way out of a paper bag and doesn't notice what's right in front of his face.

Maybe that's why, I told her, He qualified as a pilot, but here and now, fighters are the easiest and least important planes, and the first chance they got, they fobbed him off on us.

"Talana," the 'girl' told Ghent. It wasn't a common name, and it meant 'hidden treasure' in demonic.

Makis couldn't contain himself. "Ghent, get away from that thing! She's a likahn, not a human! She's got fur on the back of her hands, her hair can't make up its mind whether it's blonde hair or brown bristles, and the damned thing has hocks on its legs!"

"Nonsense! She's a normal little girl, just a bit frightened is all!"

"Makis is right, Ghent," I joined in. "She's a shapeshifting demon! Don't give it a chance at you."

"They're scaring me! Guardsman, don't let them hurt me!"

"See, you're frightening her! Stop it this instant! Poor kid's been through enough!"

"Girl, what were your parent's names?" Makis asked.

"Mommy and Daddy, of course!"

I thought the 'of course' should have been a giveaway for even the densest of jocks, but it didn't register on Ghent. "See, she's just a little girl!"

"Ghent, this is not the city," I told him, "People who live out here have to be alert to the differences and nuances. She's given herself away eight times over, and if we weren't here, you'd be dead already. The only thing keeping you alive right now is this 'little girl' knows if she attacked you, the two of us would kill her immediately."

"Preposterous!"

"Ghent, you don't have any children, do you? A real little girl would have just said 'mommy and daddy' if she didn't know their names. Which at her current age, she would. She's heard other adults call her parents by their names their whole life."

"What would it take to convince you this is a little girl?"

"A blood sample that looks human," I said.

"Barbaric! She's already been through an invasion of demons and you want to hurt her?"

"Just a couple drops from the end of a finger should be enough. If she's human, it will be red and stay red. But she's not human, are you 'Talana'?"

Her jaw set, and distended just enough to spoil the illusion. Ghent gasped, Makis drew and fired in one smooth motion, splattering blood everywhere. She fell, tried to rise, but opening her mouth showed a mouthful of sharp needle-like teeth. She lost control of the shape-change at that point, as her body began returning to its default state, but it didn't get very far before Makis fired a second time, this time a head shot that served for an immediate kill. The body twitched and resumed its natural form, a low-slung vaguely wolf-like creature, but the likahn was dead.

"It seems I owe the two of you my life," Ghent acknowledged. Give him that much. Most people would still be in denial and blaming us for killing a supposedly innocent girl who was in reality a demonic scout.

"I'm glad you understand that now, but it's not getting us out to the main road where Asina will find us."

"You still haven't explained how your wife even knows we've been shot down," Ghent accused.

I'd known we'd have to face the music on that one since the beginning. "We're both agaani. We've been together a long time. Our minds connect, even when we're apart. I think someday we're going to find out agaani can do a lot more than we know about yet."

If that's not the most comprehensive understatement I've heard in a while... Asina observed drily.

Not helping, my love.

"It can't hurt to see if the farm truck starts," Makis opined, "But it's time to get moving before any more scouts find us."

 



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