Instead of an excerpt from my work in progress, here's an excerpt from my most recently published novel, The Monad Trap, Book Two of Connected Realms. It is available to the right through Amazon and all of the Books2Read retailers.

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Afterwards, I felt her revert to her more accustomed shape as we lay entwined together, enjoying the feeling of simply touching and being touched as we enjoyed each other's company. "Hast thou an entertainment planned for Queen Veronia's salon?" she asked.

"I hadn't planned on one. You had told me you wanted to provide a contribution, and since most couples include but one wizard, I had not thought it necessary."

"Is my lord husband concerned I shall be angry if his entertainment is superior?"

"The thought had crossed my mind, milady, but the real item of concern is I am not of Migurd as yet. My last entertainment drew admiration from the other wizards for technical ability, but little applause from the crowd for pleasing their tastes. I am certain they shall enjoy your contribution more."

"You're still worrying the concern we discussed earlier."

"Aye, and a hundred others as well. If ever an ultsi focuses upon a single task, milady, then you should be concerned."

She laughed, a musical sound I loved to hear. "That is obvious to all who have met you. The only thing I've seen you focus on completely was the diligar invasion."

It was my turn to laugh, "Milady, I solved the nature of Eternals while facing Klikitit, and several other problems besides. It would take more than that to cause me to focus all of my resources. A hostile ultsi or pentsi would be the least of such concerns as could claim my undivided attention, not least because of the damage they could wreak in passing did I not do so."

"And what problem are you worrying now?"

"The largest such cluster not banned from discussion by your edict earlier is the nature of monads."

"And what have you learned?"

"Mostly, how little information I possess. The obvious conclusion is I must devise a means for locating them and studying them directly."

"You intend to capture a monad?" She was horrified.

"I did not say that, milady, merely that I intend to locate and study them. I would never begin an inquiry with an action likely to draw ire."

"I notice you haven't ruled it out, either."

"I haven't ruled out burning down all of creation, O Jewel of My Heart, yet you do not seem concerned over the likelihood I should do so."

"You're obsessed, not insane," she began, then realized the implications, "Oh," and smiled.

Upon returning to our apartment, I called for a family meeting, "I'm going to make a decision about whether to do some counter-intelligence work for Grandfather Scimtar, but I want your input before I do." I already knew Asto would support my decision, even if I changed my mind and turned Scimtar down. But I wanted the kids to have a chance to voice their concerns. Working counter-intelligence would require a different sort of time commitment than the four to eight hours per week I was working for Secundus Yeriala as an investigator.

"Do you have to?" Alden asked.

"No, I don't have to, but it's something that would be a big help, and your father's splinter is here to watch over you."

"You heard Uncle Iaren," Esteban replied, "War is almost here. If mom stops something that keeps a planet's defenses intact, she could save a lot of lives."

"You also heard Uncle Amras," Alden replied, "This could go on for years."

"Uncle Amras also said Mom's not under an oath of service. She can quit anytime it gets to be too much." That was Ilras.

Ilora: "Since when does Mom quit at anything?"

"And we're top of that list she'll never quit on," Esteban replied.

"Dear family," I broke in, "I didn't ask for an argument. Nor will there be a vote. I will make this decision. I was only asking for input, particularly informative input."

Ilras, who loved to play Devil's Advocate, "Isn't persuasive input part of that?"

"Yes, it is, but use information which does the persuading for you."

"How are we going to do that?" Alden wanted to know.

"An exercise for the student," Asto's splinter told him, "You learn by doing. You'll know you succeeded or failed by the decision she makes." They'd absorbed their lessons well, so you couldn't hear the groans you knew the kids were making internally.

Admittedly, there was a pretty heavy thumb on the scales. I wanted to do this. But I thought it wise to ask my smart kids - and my amazing husband who'd been living with our position his whole life - for their input. Asto had given his input through our link - he thought it a good hoop to jump through, provided I was careful enough not to get myself killed. To his credit, he trusted me to do that without supervision from him or his family. But kids were different.

What are the essential characteristics of the government in the Empire of Humanity?

1. The people running it are very smart.

2. The people running it have a long term outlook - they expect to be around indefinitely. Not like the rulers of most nations on Earth who expect to be dead in a couple of decades.

3. The people running it are Driven. If they weren't, they'd never have gotten so important and if they'd somehow been picked out of a hat, they wouldn't survive the inter-family rivalries.

4. They are aware of what happens to the rulers of any nation when it is conquered or changes rulers from within. They've even intentionally reinforced this rule for the top ruler as a means of protecting the rest of them.

5. They have bent their intelligence towards solving the problems of both keeping the Empire from being conquered and keeping themselves in control. The solution, in broad, looks libertarian from an Earthly point of view, but the root reasons for this have nothing to do with the non-aggression principle, and everything to do with self-preservation on the part of the Empire and its rulers. There are no rights that the government cannot violate if the reason is strong enough - but there are countervailing reasons why they shouldn't do it. As a result, the government and society have a lot in common with a libertarian society, but it is supported not only by the interests of the people, but by the interests of the rulers as well.

EDIT: To make it clear, these are supporting characters, mostly for color/background. The main viewpoint character is their mother.

1. Go ahead and introduce yourself.

ESTEBAN: From oldest to youngest, I'm Esteban and I'm sixteen Imperial years of age. My younger sister Ilora is fourteen, brother Ilras is thirteen, sister Imtara is twelve, and Alden is eleven. We are the result of our mother deciding to carry children to term instead of using artificial gestation. We have the power of Seventh Order Guardians.

2.Tell us where and when were you born.

ESTEBAN: I was born in the Residence Arcology on Indra while our mother was recovering from a duel. The next three were all born on her pilot module, as she used being one more Vector pilot among several times sixty to the fifth pilots to hide us from our rivals. Alden was also born in the Residence Arcology, right after Dad got his change of service, and a post where he was allowed to live off-base.

3. How would you describe yourself?

ESTEBAN: I'm about an ififth fiftysix, brown skin, black hair, brown eyes. In Earth measure, that's 127 centimeters. For my clueless American cousins, that four feet two inches.

ILORA: I'm the same height as Esteban, but I've been keeping my skin darker, a dark bronze with reddish tinge, like Dad and grandfather Scimtar. My hair is also black.

IlRAS: I'm about about five isixths shorter. It's not like I can't make myself grow, but Mom and Dad say to let it happen naturally for a while. I like being a lighter brown, like Mom, and my hair is the same as hers, a dark brown that's not quite black.

IMTARA: I'm just a little shorter than Ilras, and like Esteban, I see no reason to change what I was born with. Brown skin, black hair, brown eyes.

ESTEBAN: Who told you what I was born like?

IMTARA: Everyone knows. Why are you pretending they don't? But let's let Alden talk.

ALDEN: I'm an ififth thirtyeight.

IMTARA: He's also skinny as a rail!

ALDEN: and lighter skinned, with green eyes, like grandmother.

ESTEBAN: He means Grandmother Anara, not Grandmother Helene, who's really our great grandmother. But he has light brown hair, not red like grandmother!

4. Tell us about where you grew up.

ESTEBAN: Until just before Alden was born, we lived onboard Mom's pilot module. Dad would come visit when he could, but it was fully wired for everything we needed. We'd get out and see the sights and meet people when Mom judged it safe enough, and we had Aunt Tina, too.

ILRAS: And Mischief and Scarecrow!

IMTARA: Dogs don't count, silly!

ILORA: (raising eyebrow)

IMTARA: So maybe they do! But they're still not people!

ALDEN: Since I was born, and especially since the Cor War, we've been living in the family Residence, near the top of Residence Arcology, overlooking the Sumabad Straits on Indra. Sometimes we get to go out and meet people, but security is important. Sometimes, we get to take a break at the Alternate Residence, but we can't have visitors there except a very few.

5. How old are you?

ESTEBAN: We range in age from my sixteen to Alden's eleven. I'll be seventeen soon, and probably decide to start puberty about then.

IMTARA: Remember these people are from Earth!

ESTEBAN: They're on Imperial years same as us. They know an Imperial year is 255 Earth days. They can do the math if they need to.

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

ESTEBAN: Happy is what you make of it. We're immensely rich, even with just Mom and Dad's personal money. When you get into the family money, the Earth slogan about 'born with silver spoons in our mouths' doesn't begin to cover it.

ILORA: We can have anything except safety.

ILRAS: We'll be fine! We've got until we're thirty to learn what we need to! And it's not like the Empire is stuck back in the days of the Fifteen Families! There are over Forty Great Houses now!

ILORA: If we get until we're thirty. The fractal demons think they're ready for war.

ILRAS: Nonsense! Grandfather and the other Great Ones are way ahead of the demonic leaders!

ALDEN: Mom and Dad aren't so sure. We need to work hard to be ready in case the demons win.

IMTARA: We know the demons don't respect the Code, but there's nothing we can do but be ready if we need to. If we try to help, we void our protection from the other families!


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

ESTEBAN: We're all legal children, none of us even in puberty yet. Our relationships are with our family and family friends.

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

ALL FIVE: Family!

9. What are you obsessed with?

ESTEBAN: Improving ourselves!

ILORA: Learning!

ILRAS: They're the same thing!

ALDEN: Not quite...

IMTARA: ...But close enough for most things!

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

ESTEBAN: Because we're all working to be ready to take care of ourselves and help the family when we take our adulthood tests, our parents and family aren't too worried about us.

IMTARA: Unlike Cousin Urona! Poor Aunt Anana and Uncle Parnit are at their wits' end over her!

ILORA: But there's no getting out of being a member of a Great House! Even if Grandfather threw her out, the others would only see it as a cheap opportunity!

11. Biggest fear?

ESTEBAN: As Ilora said, we can have anything except safety. Not from the other Great Houses, the fractal demons, or the universe in general

12. What line will you never cross?

All Five: The Good of the Human species!

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

ILORA: One and the same: Being born to a Great House. I envy the average people of the Empire, who get to live whatever lives they want.

ILRAS: Now that's pessimism, sister! Being a Seventh Order Guardian is great!

ALDEN: But we will be targets when we become legal adults. And there is no resigning the bargain.

ESTEBAN: So work hard at learning to handle your abilities and you'll be fine! Ji da to pront!

ILORA: Yes. But I would like to have been asked whether I wanted to pay that price, brother.

14. What is your current goal?

ESTEBAN: For all of us to be ready to survive and contribute when we've passed our adulthood tests.

IMTARA: Yes, both the family and Mom's family have lost too many people already.

"Have you made a decision about the offer?" Scimtar asked conversationally. He was present in person tonight. Despite being about thirty square years old, he looked like he was at most 25 Earth years of age. Seven feet tall if he was an inch, and thin, with dark brown skin. Had we been on Earth, I'd have guessed his ancestry was somewhere in the Indian subcontinent, but his sharp hawk-nosed face was pure European aristocracy. I think he was keeping his physical appearance close to what nature had given him, but the only person who knew for sure was Scimtar.

"I haven't had a chance to discuss it with the kids and Asto without distractions. I'm planning to bring it up after dinner. You did say I had fifteen hours." I'd decided I wanted to accept it, but I'd figured out that you don't presuppose a result when you're asking for your family's feelings on the matter. Alden was ten - seven Earth. Even Esteban hadn't chosen to start puberty yet. Their father was able to provide a splinter to supervise them at all times - but that didn't mean I didn't want to be involved. I'd promised myself I wouldn't be an absentee parent. Unlike my own mother, I had every prospect of being just as youthful and healthy when they were all adults as I'd been when I'd first gotten pregnant. Unlike my mother's experience, me being a parent wasn't a sacrifice in any meaningful sense - it was only a delay of other things I might do someday.

"Permit me to provide more incentive?" Iaren's splinter asked. The firstborn of Scimtar and Helene's children, he filled a position I still didn't understand on the Supervisor's staff. A few inches shorter than his father, he looked otherwise similar. I didn't need additional incentive, but it might be a good idea for the kids to hear it, so I gave an affirmative nod.

"This is not classified, although wide distribution is not in our interest," he began, "War is imminent. The fractal demons have committed to a series of movements and changes which they cannot maintain for more than a year. Our current half probability estimate is twelve weeks before they attack. Logistics and massive movements always take them longer than they plan for, but not infinitely so."

Twelve weeks in the Empire was 48 days. Hearing that was a shock. To hear it stated in so many words. The Empire had been planning on war with the fractal demons since before Earth had been recontacted - more than twenty years since Asto and I figured it out on our own, and the planning had been going for sixties of years before that. After so long coming, it was something difficult to hear that the moment of reckoning was almost upon us.

I'm not going to lie - the news caused a certain body part to pucker. Yes, the Imperial Great Old Ones - one of whom had just asked me a question - were capable planners with squares of experience each. But so were the demonic leaders. In fact, they'd sucker-punched us once already. Each side had different strengths. It was impossible to guarantee the outcome of this war. No matter who tried, they were limited by the fog of war and their own preconceptions. "I'd say that puts a certain urgency on the job, as well as a limited time frame."

"Don't delude yourself, Grace," Amras' splinter told me, "Just because open war begins doesn't mean the shadow war won't go on. It will likely become more desperate as well. But you aren't under an oath of service." He might as well have been Iaren's twin except his skin was more chocolate than dark cinnamon.

So the Empire couldn't legally force me into service. But that didn't mean they wouldn't exert pressure - especially not in a Great Family. The Scimtars breathed ji da to pront. It meant 'part of the price' - as in part of the price for all the trappings of wealth and power. That alone should tell you the differences between the Empire and every Earth nation I'd been aware of at the time of contact. Every single member of the family spent time in the military - and we'd all begun as bottom rank privates - that was a feature of the imperial military. I'd made it as far as Staff Private - a rank outside of the chain of command used for non-combatant functions, but theoretically senior to Section Private, which went with command of prime forty combat troops, and yes, I had been a section leader. Call it about equal to a first lieutenant in the old US Army. Asto had spent almost double the time in I had, and was a First Corporal, roughly the equivalent of a Brigadier General, except he was now was in Tactical Space - a branch concentrating on smaller warships such as Starbird fighters. Various of his siblings and cousins were scattered up the ranks into the bottom Sergeant grades, then there was a big jump - about forty ranks - into the much older and more experienced older generation who'd fought through the Reunification. All of their spouses were relatively senior as well.

"Grandfather, I'm scared." That was Ilora, the most sensitive of my five. I knew Alden would have done the same if she hadn't spoken up first. The tone of voice was reserved for Great-grandfather Scimtar, rather than Gilras, Asto's father.

"Nothing wrong or shameful about being scared, young one, but never let it control you. You'd have to be a fool not to be scared, but there's no avoiding this particular fight and pretending we could would likely get most of us killed. Let your fear motivate you to be prepared and to be careful."

"I carry my weapons everywhere."

"I know that you do. Practice with them so you're ready when it happens. That will make it easier to control your fear instead of letting it control you."

Yes, it was different advice than I'd gotten growing up. A child of her age in the United States I'd grown up in would have been looking for reassurance. But to be born into a Great House of the Empire meant facing reality from infancy. Ji da to pront - part of the price for who we were.

This will be the third book in the Politics of Empire Series when it's done; the working title is The End of Childhood


Cascaya worked as a programmer for the system patrol, which explained what the demons wanted with her. If she could bollix up the interrogatory responses, or make it seem like invaders had passed interrogatory even for a few seconds, that could be a critical advantage. I messaged the patrol, indicating I had evidence she might have been approached for treasonous purposes, and to evaluate her work for compliance with interrogatory standards and security.

Since I needed to wait for an answer, I moved on to the other prospective traitor. She lived in the Weiburz arcology, out on the fringes of Sumabad, up in the hills. Like Cascaya, Hessonsi's job was something that might be able to hide enemy attacks - surveillance and sensory processing. Theoretically, she was a weather technician, but since those were also the people who would be expected to be the first to report mass incursions by the fractal demons, this was a vulnerability. The weather on the Rosette Worlds was watched but rarely influenced. It was the weather on the two annular habitats that they kept under control, lest storms and other phenomena with anywhere from two seconds on up build to unmanageable levels. I knew the Golden Ocean on Sharanna Prime was eight or ten seconds in length - four or five million Earth kilometers. A major demonic incursion not promptly identified could build to unholy levels - at least sixths, maybe eighths or ninths. It would be damned difficult to defeat an demonic concentration with those numbers. Like Cascaya, Hessonsi was a natural state offspring of a Guardian. Like Cascaya, I matched her event line to the event line which had interacted with the nephraim. I sent her employers an alert that she was suspected of colluding with the demons, and to crosscheck her work and notify me of what they discovered.

Since I did not yet have solid evidence of cooperation with the fractal demons, I needed to wait until I did. Their employers were alerted; any additional treachery would be quarantined before it could do any damage. If I'd had solid reason to suspect something imminent that would kill lots of people before it could be repaired, yes, I could have arrested them. In the absence of that, bringing the weight of the government down on individuals on the mere suspicion of intent would do more damage than waiting. M'Don's Equations were merciless in their illumination of the damage abuse did. Politicians of my original home had lived in denial of those facts, expecting to be long dead before the damage came to a head. The Imperial hierarchy expected to live long enough for the metaphorical chickens to come home to roost; had they been the sort to willfully ignore damage, they would have had their reign and their lives shortened by revolution long since. JeSarba had been Guardian for nearly three thousand Imperial because she tolerated no needless abuse in her Viceroys.

But before I could decide whether to return home or undertake a different errand, I received a response from the system patrol. Cascaya's work attempted to insert a false code for allied craft into the system.

How many of you are prepared to give testimony to this?

Four, Investigator. We can document the code it was done under. If it wasn't Cascaya, it was someone to whom she divulged her access in violation of her contract.

Please send your documentation to me at my official address. I will be in touch about official testimony. I'm sure you're already aware that where one person has succeeded another might also have
.

Yes, Investigator. We've already begun a thorough audit of the entire list. I'm sure if I'd been physically present he would have patted me on the head like a little girl, but that was expected. If I hadn't mentioned it, I'd have been negligent. Some people, all they see is the work they personally have to do. Now my report could reflect that detail - and someone from the military or with a rover's commission could be assigned to follow up. The man had - through no fault of his own - suffered a security breach. It was understandable he would be prickly and defensive about securing that breach.

Which left the job of taking Cascaya into custody. I checked the workload for the Enforcers, and they were down two bodies at the moment. When there were about twenty Enforcers scheduled for an entire Secundus district, that might be a big deal. Given the situation, I supposed it would be best to do it myself. I walked to a nearby portal, and used it - I didn't want to drain myself to travel three ithirds up against gravity. When entering a potential confrontation, never drain yourself.

I was a couple ifourths away from her apartment on the same level. I began walking when there was a report of laser fire in the corridor right outside my destination. It didn't take much imagination to figure out what had gone on. System patrol had revoked her access and notified her of contract termination, and unless she was completely oblivious, she had to be aware of what came next.

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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!

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

"Why question thy good fortune, husband?"

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

"Trees. Grass."

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

"Other gods."

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

"I would rather not be disturbed at present, husband, but it does seem that the number of gods is increasing."

I let the next question lie for now. "And our rivals?"

"Kiltig and Klikitit would fit that description."

She had a valid point. Perhaps I came from a place so energy-starved that we'd been forced to learn to make more efficient use - and now suddenly I'd been given access to a place where all the energy you could want was there for the taking, and my competitors simply had less ability to take advantage of that energy? But resource rich environments served as a beacon for organisms from less fecund locales. Aescalon was so energy rich its divinities never learned skills that even the weakest martsi and natsi - ordinary humans with the weakest level of mind power - learned as a matter of course. "Not the same thing, milady. Those are personal animosities. Given the energy rich environment of Aescalon and its fountain of plentiful energy, there should be so many gods clamoring to partake that there is none to spare. I can think of two possible reasons why this is not the case, but I'm unable at the present to test either hypothesis."

Here's a short excerpt from Setting The Board, book 3 of Preparations for War:


Jammont's attack was crude; a feint towards my head that turned into an oblique cut towards my right-side ribcage when I moved to parry his initial assault. I parried it yieldingly in what an Earther would call seconde, deflecting the heavier blade down so its momentum would carry it downwards to my right, stepping to my left as I did so. I drew the back side of the tip along Jammont's forearm and wrist in passing, cutting through his clothing to leave a long trail along his forearm, rapidly running with red arterial blood.

That wasn't my real riposte, though. The continuation of the same stroke that pinked his arm turned to present the front edge of my blade towards his leg. Before Jammont could begin to recover his blade to protect himself, I'd hit him hard near his right hip, cutting through the stiffened leather to draw more bright arterial blood from his upper thigh, cutting the tendon of the abductor muscle in his outer leg. Then I stepped back and to the left, bringing my weapon back into a terce guard position as his leg gushed blood.

I needn't have bothered. He didn't collapse in place, but it was all he could do to remain standing. The cut had already saturated his armor and clothing, running down his leg and beginning to pool on the floor.
It would have been easier to kill him, but everyone could see that the duel was essentially over. The arm wound would have made it difficult to retain his grip on his weapon through slippery blood, the leg wound not only crippled him, he would bleed to death in a minute or so if I forced him to fight on it. A Guardian might have healed it while fighting; the locals didn't practice necris nearly so diligently.

"A lucky strike," I said, "Yield?" That would allow him to pretend it was luck, but I could see in his eyes he knew better. Before this, he might have told himself we were only half agaani by some sort of courtesy exempted from combat training; now he knew that we were the real thing. If there was a next time, my opponent would be more prepared, and I probably wouldn't have the option of being so merciful.

"I yield the issue," he responded, "Attend me!" to his servants, allowing himself to collapse to the floor.

The first thing to greet me upon returning home was a golden furry missile, ankle high and forearm long. Mischief launched herself off the sofa, demanding attention. I picked her up and petted her for a moment, then tucked her under my arm before taking a seat on one of the couches. The English Cream longhair dachshund fancied herself queen of the household, and she wasn't far wrong when she was in "Miss Chief" mode. Her chocolate and tan shorthair partner in crime, Scarecrow, wasn't far behind, with his song of greeting, telling me of the neglect and starvation he'd endured in the two hours since I left.

Studious Alden, my youngest, interrupted his cosmology lesson to come get a hug. It was still a disconcerting the way he'd teleport next to me just to save a few steps and seconds, grab a hug, then teleport back to what he'd been doing. At ten Imperial - seven Earth - he'd decided he liked his skin lighter than most, with light brown hair as well, so that was the way he was keeping it for now. But he was a holy terror with a blade or in a hadul arena as well, to the point where Asto and I tried to get him to eat more to bulk up his slight frame, in order to have a reserve if he needed it.

Imtara, eleven with the same dark brown shade of skin and black hair her father and great-grandfather favored, smiled over at me from where she was working with the specialty converter, building a circuit for some project of hers. Hi mom! Did you get all the bad guys today?

I did get more than my share of criminal cases, because however weak I was compared to my husband's family, I was a stronger than average Guardian. No criminals today. Just four civil cases any Investigator could have handled. What are you building?

A sensor discrimination module. Trying to find a more sensitive configuration for remote identification that doesn't fry with interference. Ilras and Esteban are with Dad's splinter and grandfather's getting lessons.

 



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