"What do you mean, Asto's ship has been destroyed?" I don't lose my composure much, but the death of my husband, the father of my five underage children, my companion for the last fifty years - and I'd hoped, the rest of my life - was a justifiable reason.

Anara was the one to tell me, in person and verbally. "I mean it was reported destroyed by surviving witnesses."

"And you're okay with your son being dead?"

"No, Grace, I'm not 'okay' with my son being dead - if he is. But reports are clear the ship was crippled and fought on several minutes in that state. Furthermore, there was a survivable environment known to be close enough for even a mid-range Second Order Guardian to teleport, and it reported it was maneuvering to lower the energy differential. Unless Asto was directly caught in a catastrophic failure, he had opportunity to escape. I escaped a less favorable situation when my ship was lost in combat. It is probable Asto is still alive."

"Still alive - but marooned in a hostile environment with no food and being hunted by demons of every caste! I fail to see how this is an improvement!" Better if he'd gone out quick, in an exploding ship.
"Grace, I keep forgetting that even though you've been with us for fifty years, you still don't really understand everything Seventh Order Guardians can do. Assuming he escaped the destruction of the ship, it is probable he'll find his way back to the Empire. Tastimuno Instance is a potentially a single transform away."

"And he knows how to get there?"

"Do you not remember how ScOsh got to your Earth? He was only Fourth Order. Do you think I'd send my son into trans-Instance combat without preparing him all I could? I taught him how to make a portal between Instances before he was twenty, and even if he didn't know before, he had plenty of opportunity to look up the closest Imperial outposts in the ship's navigational database. He might be dead, but if he isn't, he can find his way home, and he'll bring any other survivors he can with him."

"Any idea how long? Before we know?"

"The only way we'll be sure is if he's restored to us. But I would expect him within two or three weeks of his subjective time. I'm sure you can figure out the less optimistic scenarios from there."

Yeah, I could. Hanging on for years, never sure if I was a widow, until I finally gave up. Probably just before he turned up, knowing the universe.

Okay, so maybe I was in pre-emptory denial. But my kids and I deserved the best answer we could get. So I asked Asto's splinter, Have you any idea if your original is still alive?

Since he is outside the Instance, I have no more means of contact than anyone else. If I understand correctly, without periodic re-synchronization, I will eventually begin to drift from my current state. That's all I know. The Great Families who know the most about splinters...

Aren't telling anyone else what they know. But that doesn't mean Scimtar doesn't. Unlike the rest of his family, Scimtar had been able to use splinters without risking his cover for at least a square and a half - thousands of Earth years. Maybe he could answer some questions.

Anara was still right there however. "Mother, thank you for telling me as soon as you knew. Right now, I'm in shock, trying to hold it together for the kids and wondering what's going to happen. I'm going to ask Scimtar if he knows of any way to use a splinter to find the original in another Instance."

"No, there isn't Grace. Splinters can be thought of as puppets following a complex program in the absence of the puppeteer. There is a special connection, but it goes from original to splinter, not vice versa. The only way I'm aware of involves someone with a Mindsword. Father would have made sure we knew if there was."

Wait a minute! "Maybe the splinter doesn't have a special connection to Asto, but I do. Our hard link will re-establish when I enter the same Instance, so all I have to do is Interstitial Vector into the Instance, and I will know where he is."

"It's not as easy as you think, Grace. The place where Asto was lost is complicated. There is a 'normal' three dimensional bubble we use as a staging area, but the place itself is a fractal. It's got peninsulae along seven different dimensional axes and we're finding out that two way telepathy can be problematic, even though its overall dimensionality is only two point fiftyfive. The battle is still ongoing as well, but the place is one the demons must hold; almost all of their brakiri and their industry is there."

Since I'm working on the third novel in this series, might be a good idea to bring people up to speed on the set up

The Price of Power is the second novel in the series. It has been about six years Imperial since the events of The Invention of Motherhood. As the novel opens, Grace is near the end of her fifth pregnancy, having decided to carry all of her previously stored fertilized eggs naturally. Her husband Asto is still in the military. Since preserving the family secret of the Scimtars requires she not live in military housing with him, she has been (with the aid of her niece Tina) working as an Interstellar pilot while raising her family.

This is the opening scene:


Ilras, quit trying to squirt your sister with ketchup. The inverse square law is on her side.

But mom! I'm just trying to teach her defense! Meanwhile, baby Imtara giggled in delight at frustrating her brother's dastardly plan.

Dear, even if she was asleep, she'd have plenty of time to wake up and divert the stream. She's well past that drill. All you're doing is giving the dogs a mess to clean up.

Ilras didn't realize it, but his sister had ally. Esteban, the oldest at six Imperial years of age (4 Earth), scooped together a good-sized dollop with matris, stealthed it with a buffer of matra and brun, and flung it at his younger brother. I usually expected better behavior from Esteban, but under the circumstances, I let it slide.

Splat! It caught Ilras right on his jawline. No fair! Ilras cried indignantly, then had the awareness to look abashed when I gave him the mental equivalent of a cocked eyebrow. Ilras wasn't ready for the drills Esteban was doing yet, and Esteban had just made use of that fact to slip a counter-attack his brother wasn't ready for under his defenses. Given the impetus of an older brother who wasn't above using his advantages, I suspected Ilras would learn quickly.

Meanwhile, Mischief, our English Cream longhair miniature dachshund, gave a plaintive whine that she'd been deprived of her snack, most of which was now plastered across Ilras' face, and looked expectantly at Esteban for a replacement. Her name really was doubly appropriate; we ended up calling her Miss Chief about half the time. How she knew Esteban was responsible for her deprivation, I don't know, but no replacement was forthcoming. Scarecrow, our chocolate and tan shorthair male, gave a muted but pre-emptory bark informing us he wanted ketchup, too. We were at the table; we studiously ignored them.

I felt a muted thunk as Tina, my assistant, slid us into the control plug of my latest contract, followed a few seconds later by a datalink message of control verified, ready for Vector. I'd chosen Tina for the job because she was my niece and already a fully qualified in-system navigator, but despite my hopes after six years nearly constant exposure to the kids, she hadn't gone operant yet, so I still had to do all the Vectoring. I relieved her, re-computed the Vector for confirmation, performed it, verified position, and (because our next pickup was in this same system) transferred the helm back to her for in-system maneuvering to our next job. It had taken all of six seconds, and I'd still had a couple of para to keep the peace at the dinner table.

Mama, how long until we can play with baby Alden? Ilora wanted to know again.

About three more weeks, honey, I told her. Truth be told, despite all the advantages of being a Guardian, I was ready for my last pregnancy to be over. Next time, I would plan on one child, two at the most. But I really had only myself to blame - I could have just used artificial gestation for Esteban, same as everyone else, and then most of the Empire wouldn't have known about the advantages of operant mothers carrying operant children themselves. I'd introduced Alden to his older siblings on several occasions, but most of the time, kept him swaddled away where only I or Asto could interact with him. Since Asto was a First Corporal, assigned as executive officer of a squadron of Planetary Surface troops out in Ninth Galaxy, that didn't happen as often as any of us liked. The rank was an almost exact match to Brigadier General in the old US Army; a squadron was 14,400 combat troops plus their support staff of roughly another 3600.

Alden, for his part, wanted out into the great wide world. It took two of my para full time to keep him occupied and learning, and he still wasn't satisfied. Can I play with Ilras and Esteban, Mom? It was tempting to just blow off the last three weeks of this pregnancy, knowing any physical defects could be fixed later, but neither I nor Asto was ready to experiment with Alden's emotional development. The Empire had tens of thousands of years of evidence children were more able to deal with the world after a full gestation, even in an artificial womb. Neither of us wanted to experiment more than we'd already done with our own children, carrying them naturally as I'd done.

Dinner was just about over, winding down with chocolate ice cream for everyone, when Asto told me, It's official!

Children, some news. Your father is getting a new assignment. He's going to be a Staff Corporal assigned to maintenance and repair in Indra System! We're going to go live in the Residence, where he can be home every day!

Why is he getting demoted? Esteban wanted to know. Staff Corporal was a four grade drop, although two of them were staff grades, out of the line of command.

Because he's transferring to a space unit. You always transfer from Planetary Surface to Strategic Space or Tactical Space at a lower rank. He'd be expected to absorb an entirely new set of protocols; but a maintenance and repair assignment meant he'd henceforth be eligible for direct transfers or promotions within either of the space-borne branches.

It was a necessary move if he wanted to advance. He could wait until the sergeant grades if he wanted to, but above that, slots in Planetary Surface Forces were few and rare. The higher you went the harder it was to transfer and the bigger a demotion you'd probably have to take. All the important commands went to Tactical or Strategic Space Officers, because they all involved spaceborne warfare. Planetary Surface troops were important, but battles and wars were won in space. The Empire really didn't like to destroy habitable planets or even functioning bases, but they'd do it if they had to. Nobody talked about it much, but when even a one-man fighter could blow apart an unshielded planet, there weren't any defenses that could hold off a determined assault. Imperial planets were shielded against accidental or inadvertent destruction, or perhaps against small groups of madmen, not an intentional fleet action. Asto needed to move over to a Space assignment to continue his advancement, so taking the demotion was something that we'd known about for a while. But Asto was sharp; he probably wouldn't lose more than five of the much shorter Imperial years regaining his former rank. And by taking this particular assignment, he enabled us to be together as a real family. At least for a little while, and with the kids being young, that made it even more worth the cost.

So what are you going to do, Mom? Esteban wanted to know. He'd figured out the concept of consequences - when you drop a rock in a pond, the ripples always spread. And Aunt Tina? What's she going to do?

You're going to have to ask your Aunt Tina what she intends to do. I'd love to keep her on, but there are a lot of reasons it's a bad idea for me to keep being a Vector Pilot under these circumstances. She signed on for the benefits to her career as insystem crew the job would give her. Tina loved the kids; maybe she'd stay a while. But she shouldn't have any trouble landing a job as an insystem merchant ship's commander if she wanted - this was the sort of chance insystem crews usually only got in the military. That was the prize she'd had her eye on when she signed on. Well, that and the speculative chance of going operant.

But that was dodging the real question. I'd been the Dog Lady on Earth, but ever since I'd left, I'd been a Vector Pilot, the Imperial equivalent of an intergalactic trucker, broken only by a stint in the military. I really didn't know what I'd do when that option was off the table. Maybe I'll just concentrate on raising the five of you for a few years. Across the millions of light years between us, Asto sent me a mental snort indicating I was lying to myself. The universe knew Asto and I had plenty of money. We never needed to work again if we didn't want to. But that's not the way either one of us was programmed, and we both knew it. I'd think of something; I just had no ideas at the moment.

But I did have to break the news to Tina. She deserved to know as soon as I could tell her in person. After dinner, I gathered the kids and headed up to the piloting station. The dogs followed as a matter of course. They went where their people went. "Tina, I have some news that affects you, too. Asto got the berth in maintenance and repair, so we're going to be living in the Residence to be with him. I'll gladly keep you on at your current pay level and get you an apartment in the Residence, but I know it's not what you had in mind when you took the job."

Miss Chief demanded to be picked up by scratching Tina's pants; she knew there was no reason Tina couldn't pet her while piloting. Tina ignored her for the moment. She was a tallish willowy brunette, just dark-skinned enough that people in our California childhood knew she was Mexican and not white, not that it made any difference in the sort of schools we'd both gone to. She kept her long, dark wavy hair pinned up while she was piloting.

"I haven't made up my mind yet, Tia. When do you have to know?" She gave in to Mischief's importuning, bending to help the little golden dog up into her lap. Mischief and Scarecrow loved the kids, but the kids were kids and sometimes startled them. Tina and I and sometimes Asto were their real people for now. Esteban was learning; Scarecrow could see that he was the best chance for attention now, and made his own overtures for attention there.

"I'll be selling the pilot module, but you can just move into the Residence until you make up your mind what you want to do. Take your time." It wasn't like Tina couldn't have decided to move on at any time. After five years working with me, she'd had the career boost she'd wanted for some time.

Since I'm working on the third novel in this series, might be a good idea to bring people up to speed on the set up

Grace and Asto have been married about twenty-five Imperial years (17 Earth) at the beginning of this series. They enlisted in the military together, and now Grace is coming to the end of her enlistment, while Asto still has another forty Imperial years in his term of service, but Grace nonetheless wants to start their family now. The overarching theme of the series is that Grace will be raising that family while becoming more aware of the situation she has thrust herself into by marrying into House Scimtar.


Later, Asto and I were in our quarters. He's a tall, thin Guardian; the body type sometimes known as 'hound' on Earth. Six feet six, broad shoulders, long legs, and thin as a whip, except for tiny little bulges here and there, intended to give him a reserve of energy if he needed it. He'd changed his skin color, darkened it slightly and added a touch more bronze than when we married, so it looked rather more like what my Earth family would think of as pure indio rather than mestizo, but his face was still on the aristocratic Northern European mold, hawk-faced and sharp, with eyes that were always alive with light whenever I saw them.

That was amusing, love, he told me, watching Whelsed try and talk you out of something you've had your mind set on for most of twenty years.

It was a tribute to my resolve, of sorts. Ending my commitment at twenty years had been part of our agreement with each other to work as Eyes. They might move him to solo work as a Finger, but he wasn't so much as going to hint at me changing my mind. We kept our promises to each other, always.

You do seem amused, I observed.

We've been in rapport for twentyfive years now, love. I know better than to try to wiggle out of an agreement, but I do confess I was less than fully convinced you wouldn't agree to what someone else pretended to need from you. You do sometimes let yourself be led astray by others' expectations.

Guilty as charged, I said. Of course, if I hadn't been, my life would have been completely different, and much poorer. I would never have met my wonderful husband, for instance. I take it I passed the test?

Can't ask a better score than perfect, he replied. The mental subtext was playful, and I gathered he'd changed his mind about starting early. If you still want to, how about adding one to the head of the line? he asked.

He hadn't wanted to before. He'd been concerned I might change my mind when they tried to persuade me to extend, and then I'd be pregnant with more time to serve. I could always transfer the baby to artificial gestation or halt development - I was a Guardian and just as capable as any other healer - but both had their drawbacks. We had four fertilized eggs in storage, just in case. In the Empire, it was standard to use artificial gestation, but being a barbarian from Earth I didn't think I could look my sisters in the eye and call myself a mother if I hadn't done it the same way they had at least once. Besides, I'd like to surprise Anara and Gilras (and Helene and Scimtar) with an extra child to the four we had planned and in frozen storage.

What else could I do? I attacked him before he could change his mind.

Afterwards, we lay there in happy communion making certain the newly fertilized boy would be healthy, adding the last little touches to what he would become. When we were satisfied, we made love again, slow and passionate, each possessive of the other in a way that said both 'mine' and 'yours' simultaneously. We belonged to each other in ways that no Earth human would have understood before Imperial contact. We might live separate for years at a time - given that he was remaining in the military and I wasn't, we'd have no choice on some occasions - but for me, 'home' was where Asto was. And vice versa. We weren't necessarily all demonstrative about it out in public, but we didn't need to be. Our rapport, a constant mental connection to each other, left no doubts. Not that we shied away from demonstrations, either.

The ideas for this character and another associated one have been in the back of my mind for a while. I thought I was going to do a viewpoint shift in my Work-in-Progress, but I've decided to do something different. Nonetheless, I'm probably going to do something with this character eventually


"We have an Empire-wide alert. The fractal demons have begun massive assaults on Imperial systems throughout the Empire. The Empire is now in a state of war. There are no protected areas in this war, and Earth is one of the most exposed planets. The demons have a major marshalling point only seventeen years distant. Be prepared, be alert. We will do our best, but our resources are limited and demonic nobles can appear anywhere and bring troops with them. Your best defense is yourself."

-Announcement made by Brigade Ensign HoshTeremas, commander of Sol system defenses


It caused an almost planetary panic.

Despite the Empire's brutally frank acknowledgements that war was coming, and that it was likely the Earth would be the target of an invasion force the limited numbers of troops in the system would be unable to contain for a century prior to the war, the actual start of hostilities caught almost everyone unprepared.
The hollowed-out brigade assigned to Earth was more than we should have had, by a strict accounting. Even a group - one fourth the troops - would have been generous. But that didn't mean people were ready for what happened.

I was better prepared than most. I'd spent thirty years in the Imperial military. When separated, I'd used part of my savings to purchase my combat suit from the Empire. I'd been strict about keeping it up to maintenance standards in the time since, too, and kept a full load of expendables on hand. When I'd settled near San Onofre, in the old Camp Pendleton Enterprise Zone, I'd even found a group of like-minded veterans and we'd practiced together in the simulators a few times per Imperial year. It was what we had time for.

I had good reason to keep myself in shape, too. I'd become a prostitute.

Pick your damned jaw up off the floor. For that matter, courtesan was probably more accurate. I was born on Earth, and I liked Earth, but I'd learned some of our attitudes were... provincial. By the time I'd been discharged, I had no qualms whatsoever about ignoring them. I wasn't going to be so careless I got pregnant, and a session with a healer could kill any disease known to the Empire - and Momma was a Guardian even if I wasn't, as well as my mentor in 'the business'. If anything had come up, she'd have been happy to heal me - not that it ever did. When first I returned to Earth, I'd had to keep physical side of my operations to the Pendleton Zone and the Channel Islands Military Reservation or south of the border in what used to be Mexico, but when the old United States finally voted to disband, I no longer had even those minimal concerns.

I was valued, too. My base rate was forty luc per Imperial hour, and it was a rare customer I probably wasn't going to see again that didn't volunteer more. I even enjoyed the 'work.' Since Earth was still dirt poor by the standards of the rest of the Empire, my clientele consisted mostly of off-worlders, I lived well on a couple hours 'work' per week - I had a ten prime ififths squared condo on the third-highest level of one of the San Onofre highrises, a four-seat Starbird of my own even though I was only an in-system pilot, and other investments totaling over forty fifths - perhaps nothing special in most of the Empire, but here on Earth I was the equivalent of a billionaire. Most of my customers were here because they were assigned or passing through for some reason either business or charitable. The native churches didn't care for us much, but Imperial Viceroys didn't answer to voters or elections, so those who would have made trouble had seen their power evaporate as thoroughly as all the other old splinter special interest groups who'd thrived off the threat of making fifty-one percent into forty-nine. Served them right. Momma named me Uhura, after a character on an old entertainment before contact. She told me it meant 'freedom,' and I was damned if I was going to fall short of that name. Great-Grandmama might have been an enslaved 'comfort woman' but I chose to do what I did. It suited me for now. Maybe someday it wouldn't - but I had plenty of other skills, and the Planetary Surface forces would be right glad of an experienced Squad Private anytime I wanted - especially now.

So despite over three prime of warnings from the Empire that war was probably going to hit Earth, most of the planet was still dreaming that nothing would ever happen. They said a good definition of humanity was 'an otherwise sentient species known for its unwillingness to plan ahead,' and the reaction proved them right. Near as I can tell, roughly three fifths - two billion plus by the old numbers - tried demanding free passage offworld on Earth's one commercial run that might have held a cube or even two - if they'd jammed 'em in with a shoehorn. Never mind that the destination systems would have been just as liable to get hit. Both the transport company and all the Viceroys laughed at them, of course.

Most of the rest of Earth's fourteen fifths - eleven billion - tried the old adage, 'when in danger or in doubt, run in circles scream and shout.' It was not a pleasant experience for those few of us more inclined to solving our own problems. But I suppose that's why they weren't all rich, and why Earth still absorbed way more charity than planets with four times the people. Close on two Earth centuries since Imperial contact, and the planet was still working through all the crap I remembered from my youth. Damn but we were crazy back then! Almost made the rotten bastards that had enslaved Great-Grandmama in Korea look sane! Least they were willing to work at what they wanted, instead of having it handed to them! Maybe it would've been better if the Empire had just let the old folks die off, instead of healing them all and giving them another life. But since that saved Momma and got her training as a Guardian, I'm just as glad they didn't

"Nothing in the Game of Houses is certain and nothing is forever. The only guarantee is we all die someday."

I still remember the first time I heard that - Scimtar himself said it to me while training me as a Guardian. Eventually we all make the fatal mistake. That said, the fact it was Scimtar saying it changed the subtext - he'd been playing the game for over thirty square. Just because you were going to die someday didn't mean it had to be today or any time soon. Maybe the metaphorical dice would come up snake eyes for you today. Maybe you had enemies who'd do their best to make it happen. But you got to influence those dice, too. The leaders of the Empire were all masters at loading the dice in their favor, or better yet, controlling the outcome so the dice were never rolled.

But you're not the only one the dice can turn fickle on...

-Graciela Juarez di Scimtar

It never begins dramatically.

It started on an ordinary day, when I'd been doing the perfectly ordinary thing of gathering evidence for a hearing. The case I was investigating had to do with the tort of infringement. In this case the plaintiff was alleging the defendant was generating excessive noise and interfering with the plaintiff's enjoyment of their property. Evidently, the defendant had refused negotiation on the subject and so the case was going before the relevant Primus the next day.

Both were out on the fringes of Sumabad, out in the hills, out where the towering arcologies holding tens of millions each petered out, and the residents generally had reasons to need or want ground space. One was an academy for self-defense, with classrooms for hand to hand disciplines and ranges for things like disruptors, lasers, flechette guns, and even the occasional firearm. The other was the Grubaro Club, a nightclub catering largely to the Tumar culture which had a large presence in Sumabad and environs. Tumars liked explosions while they were eating and dancing. Tumars thought loud noises were exciting and envigorating. Unfortunately for their neighbors, these explosions and other noises often reached ear-splitting levels, and it was not only disrupting to the peaceful conduct of the instruction at Hills Academy for Preparation and Discipline next door, many of the patrons and instructors were combat veterans. It wasn't my place to judge, but I was pretty sure the Primus was going to mostly rule against the Grubaro Club - they had a responsibility to see that any noise they generated did not disturb their neighbors, and my spak recording was getting readings consistently louder than an original Learjet on high-power takeoff.

Scimtar himself contacted me. Grace, I have a job if you're interested, or rather a series of jobs. Mixed family and imperial. It involves demonic traces, mostly spraxos and nephraim.

I was no longer the barely trained woman who'd been nervous about facing a terostes by herself, but neither was I a Sixth or Seventh Order Guardian. I was mid-range Fourth Order - albeit trained by House Scimtar. Furthermore, if I were observed taking on spraxos, that could be the end of me pretending to still be Second Order. What's it entail?

We're seeing a surge in the number of demonic traces, not only here in Indra System but everywhere in the Empire. The conclusion is obvious.

The fractal demons were trolling for treason. It's what they did. The vast majority of their troops would be easy pickings for Imperials when the inevitable confrontation came. Unless they could get us to turn on each other, the eventual war would be notable mostly for a lopsided casualty count. They'd seduced the old stons without anyone realizing it until the old Empire was already gone, resulting in a civil war that ended up destroying the Empire - and afterwards, almost the entire human species. This time the leaders of the Empire were alert for their tactics.

The assignment?

Match demonic traces to human contacts by Event Line congruency. Investigate the human contacts by behavior. If you happen to destroy demons, we'll pay a bounty - nephraim are worth three fourths, spraxos thirty. Ancilliaries too, although manesi and lemuure aren't worth much. What we're looking for is evidence to convict or exonerate treason, and we'll double your normal rate for results.

The money was nice even if Asto and I could live very comfortably off investments if we wanted, but demonic nobles were dangerous - and they had a habit of bringing in help when threatened. But I didn't think Scimtar would be offering me the job if he didn't think I was able to handle myself doing it - I'd given the family five children thus far, all of them above average tracking metrics for Seventh Order Guardians their age thanks to yours truly carrying them naturally instead of using artificial gestation. I'd done it for my babies, not for House Scimtar, but I knew Scimtar valued my efforts.

Grandfather is offering you a way into the Guardian's Ears if you're willing, my husband Asto put in his two cents.

I thought the Guardian's Ears didn't accept candidates born outside the Empire?

Maybe not, but it's worth pursuing if you want to win appointment as a Primus yourself someday.

That was a carrot that had my eye. Most Secundus-in-fact had more applicants for Primus-in-fact than they knew what to do with. Even a 'might be' defect like being born on Earth before the Empire arrived could be enough to make them pass you by. Also, I was a di Scimtar, which had advantages but also carried baggage. I wasn't really qualified yet - but I needed something to counter-balance the possible defect I couldn't cure, and it was never too soon to pick up that extra little something that would put me over the top when I was. I already had work in the Merlon's Eyes to my credit. Add something equivalent to the Guardian's Ears and that might be enough.

Why me? I asked Scimtar.

You've had ten years' experience as an investigator now, and we both know you're Fourth Order. Most of our investigators are Second Order, and weaker than average Second Order at that. They might be able to handle a nephraim, but a spraxos would squash them, and if they stumbled across a jopas it would be hopeless.

If there's a basileus?

You've survived two confrontations with them. There isn't another active investigator who can say that anywhere in the Empire.

I'd rather not risk it a third time.

So be careful and don't confront anything you're not certain of. Scimtar never had any sympathy for getting caught by your own mistakes. If there's the possibility of jopas, basileus, or something even stronger, bring it to my attention and I will use an appropriate agent.

When do you need a decision? I asked Scimtar. Who are you trying to fool, love? Asto asked me. I want to talk to the kids about it, I told him.

Tomorrow, I could tell Scimtar wasn't fooled either, fifteen hours from right now. He knew this was an opportunity as well as a risk. You can bet he thought he was doing both of us a favor. He broke contact without further complication.

What do you think? I asked Asto.

I think this is a good opportunity for you. The kids are taking care of themselves, and we've got my splinters to provide any parental supervision they actually need.

You know being a parent isn't just about supervision.

They can talk to you as easily as I can, anytime. It's not like they have music recitals or hadul games you have to attend.

I don't want to miss Mom stuff. When I'd had each child, I'd committed myself to thirty years of being Mom before anything else. As much as I needed to get away a few hours a week, I enjoyed it. Unlike the situation on Earth before contact, I could expect plenty of lifespan after - Guardians lived until something killed them. According to personal duration, I was 98 Imperial years old - 69 Earth. I kept myself healthier and looking younger than I had the night ScOsh stepped through the portal back on Earth. Even among the natural state humans, that was the way things were in the Empire. I hadn't seen anyone who looked middle-aged or old since my last trip back to Earth. At somewhere over 80,000 Earth years of age, Scimtar himself looked no older physically than the college students of my youth.

You won't miss it. Things will just be a little different for a while.

I had to admit he was right. Thanks to our situation, even ten year old Alden was beyond what I could teach him about most subjects. At sixteen Imperial, Esteban was starting to show glimpses of the amazing man he would become - even if his voice had just started to crack. Ilora, Ilras, and Imtara, between them in age, were all starting to show specific interests and dispositions. I appreciated Ferugio - Scimtar's teaching master - more now than I had when under his tutelage. The kids' physical training was also more advanced than Asto had been at their age, as Scimtar himself had dedicated a splinter full time to teaching the family self-defense and dueling. Even Amras and Iaren - the oldest of his surviving children, each well over a square in age and formidable opponents in their own right - took lessons from their father occasionally. But the upshot was that my kids - and my husband and even I - were better prepared to defend ourselves than otherwise. His splinter might literally be a shadow of Scimtar himself, but it knew everything he'd learned in his long and adventurous life.

Will you be home tonight?

I did tell you that our schedule was for thirty hours of fleet exercises?

Yes, but I could hope for a change. His splinter would still be there, but his splinter wasn't Asto.

I love that you're always ready to hope the universe will be kind.

I love that you humor me. I'll talk with the kids tonight.

"Hello Mark?"

It had been seven years since she abruptly served me with divorce papers and promptly disappeared. "What do you want, Diane?" I replied, not bothering to conceal the hostility I felt. It had been a decent enough day until now.

"I'm sorry, Mark. I know I hurt you, but it was the best thing I could have done. You don't owe me, and I don't have any right to ask, but I'm desperate and there's nobody else to ask. I need a place to stay for a few days. Is there any chance I can borrow your couch? I'll sleep on the floor if I have to. You're not with anyone are you?"

"I pay you plenty to afford a place to stay, Diane. What's this really about?" Being an ex-husband in California wasn't quite like being a field hand in Alabama before the Civil War, but it wasn't far off, either.

"Mark, if I go home, they'll kill me. If I use a credit card, they'll find me."

"And this is bad because...?" I asked, callously. I mean, no more alimony.

"I suppose I deserved that," she admitted, "Goodbye, Mark. I wish I could have explained, but I didn't want to drag you in. For what it's worth, I'm sorry."

"Wait, Diane," I told her. It was close to ten already. "You can stay here tonight. Tomorrow, you need to find something else." She had to have another friend somewhere. I'd put her on a bus if I had to. I started to give her my address, then stopped. I'd changed my cell number when she left. "How did you get this number?"

"Mark, I'll be there in half an hour. I can't explain much without dragging you in, but what I can, I will. I know where you live. Thank you!" She hung up.

Well, shit. She'd suckered me again. Seven years since she just vanished (well, except for the lawyer that worked the divorce for her). I hadn't been able to make a go of any relationship since, and I knew exactly why, and she'd still suckered me.


Gates artwork small.jpg


Available through Amazon and the Books2Read retailers

#fantasy #urbanfantasy

The idea was simple: Demons have found a species (humanity) that has more potential to resist their conquest than any they have previously encountered due to operant abilities. But they've also found a planet which has lost contact with the main part of the Empire, and has also lost understanding of the gifts and of the technology - but that doesn't mean there are no genetic carriers of the gifts.

So as they did with the likaans so long ago, they kidnap a number of humans, taking them to a nearby world (Calmena, aka Epsilon Indi A II), to breed them for operant gifts and for obedience.

Unfortunately for the demons, humans are more resilient than the likaans were. A few do indeed become part of bloodlines prized for their obedience and usefullness in controlling other humans. More are simply ignored, except as slaves or food. And one managed to lead the first successful revolt, establishing an independent human stronghold on Calmena.

It's been twenty thousand Earth years or so since then. The operant agaani, leaders of the independent humans, have become nearly as oppressive as the demons they won independence from. The fact that their independence is holding on by its fingernails is only an excuse for their abuse of the non-operant humans they lead.

That's the situation when the Empire of Humanity finds Calmena. Since Calmena has long established gates leading to the demonic homelands, it's the starting place for a fast route into the heart of the demons power. If the Empire can map those gates and where they lead, they will have the opportunity to strike a critical, perhaps decisive blow against the demons when hostilities resume. But while the Empire cannot have the demons learning that the Empire knows about Calmena, they are not without compassion for the humans forced to live in such a place. To that end, they form a charity with the goal of helping the Calmenans free themselves. Those working on Calmena must be careful to make the advances appear to be native ingenuity.

Preparations for War has three books currently, and I'm working on the fourth, which will be the last. They are available in e-book or paperback, from Amazon and the Books2Read retailers (Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, etcetera. Includes at least two library services, so you can request them from your public library, too)

Book One: Preparing The Ground Amazon Books2Read retailers

Book Two: Building The People Amazon Books2Read

Book Three: Setting The Board Amazon Books2Read

Book Four: Moving The Pieces will be the last. I'm currently writing it in conjunction with The End of Childhood, with which it has some events in common.

Since my last feature was from The Monad Trap, I thought this one should be from the novel preceding it, as well as the First Book in Connected Realms.

My brother been right; the antigravity stopped working as soon as I was through. The pallet collapsed heavily onto the two axles I'd just installed.

The surface I was on was hard rock. Despite the fact that all I could see or perceive of this place was flat or at most gently sloping, all of the rock appeared to be igneous. Granite, basalt, pumice, etcetera, and all the variants, but absurdly rich in uncommon elements. Crystalline minerals glittered upon the surface in profusion up to the size of my hand or so, and my perception informed me that this was the case below the surface as well. Many of those crystals were precious or semi-precious stones. Pools and puddles of water ranging in size from nothing on up to perhaps a couple ifourths across speckled the landscape, the markings of small streams flowing out of them. This place broke all the rules of planetary geology. At least the rules we thought we knew, and the Empire had seen trillions of planets and planetoids. Smaller rocks and loose soil were practically non-existent. Nor did there seem to be any sort of indigenous life. No plants at all. I wondered where the oxygen-rich air was coming from.

True to the warning, the dimensionality here was roughly three point twelve. Due to higher dimensionality, material borders were somewhat more difficult to traverse - the fractal surfaces generated more friction with the cart's tires than a strictly three dimensional surface would have.

It seemed that the most recent rain couldn't have been too long ago. I didn't see signs of significant evaporation from the natural limits of the depressions sheltering the water. But what my perception 'saw' was completely unexpected - the water was charged with an energy that reminded me of quantum foam, but tangible in the macroscopic universe, the richest source for matra I'd ever seen, or been told of for that matter. The water literally shone in some of the larger pools, merely glittering in the smaller ones. Perhaps the difference in intensity was a clue to how long it had been?

A trail had been worn onto the rock nearby, and people were following it. How had a trail become worn in a place seemingly devoid of plant life, which by all the rules I knew would have also precluded animal life?
Around me were several different sorts and even different species of what were obviously sentients, although even on the trails, there was plenty of room between individuals or groups. Humans I obviously recognized. There were also human variants, like a group of tall pale white stick-thin people with bright blue or violet eyes and hair that ranged from white to pale blue to pale yellow. It wasn't the thin of starvation or inactivity as they had excellent muscle definition, instead it seemed to be what was natural for them. I did a quick scan; genetically they were as human as I was, which is to say human with a few additions. As I walked, I discovered that there were also an amazing variety of nonhumans, from anthropoid to saurian to insectoid and just about everything else imaginable. As I said, this place appeared to break all the rules I thought I knew.

The trails seemed to follow mostly higher points in the terrain. At irregular intervals, there would be a junction or a branching. Some of them were barely footpaths, others were worn so smooth and wide they might as well have been a paved highway. Gently sloping swaths of bare rock surrounded us, none of them more than a few times human height. Despite the presence of the various sentients within my sight range, there were no permanent structures visible anywhere.

Visibility was low; there was a ubiquitous mist. Vision was restricted to no more than a few minutes' walk at most. At times, it was as low as perhaps sixty long paces or so. Nonetheless, it seemed we were on the inside of what could be most easily described as the hollowed out center of a large rock, the cavern no bigger than I could travel completely around at an easy pace in a few hours. What was holding us to the surface of the enclosing rock wasn't easy to describe. It wasn't gravity, and it wasn't centripetal force like an annular habitat. It seemed to be a byproduct of dimensionality that seemed to increase the closer you got to the center of the cavern. It seemed I weighed no more than half what I had on Nexus, but dimensionality varied from barely more than three to three point eighteen just over the narrow range of elevations I'd already encountered. Up at the very center, it seemed most likely dimensionality would be the full eleven. You could hear water falling constantly; sometimes the trail would parallel a small stream for a distance. Above us, somewhere in the mist, were some kind of multicolored light sources. I wasn't certain how many there were at present but I was certain there was more than one. The thick mist precluded shadows, but there were diffraction patterns in the mist that were beautiful, gold and blue and red and white sparkles. Further establishing the particulars seemed like something that could wait until I was established.

On second thought, maybe what I heard wasn't necessarily water. It was liquid, and the only liquid I'd seen was water, but I couldn't be certain that all of the liquid I was hearing was water. And since my brain had kicked in, I decided that before I wandered off too far I'd better mark my point of arrival and see if I couldn't figure out the translation that had brought me here. An inter-bubble gate was a major working; I should be able to back trace it for some time but it would never be easier than now. No, I wasn't planning to renege on my deal to leave the Empire and stay out, but knowing where I was in relation to the Empire would be useful someday. Besides, if survival necessitated me sneaking back to the Empire at some point in the future, better I was in a position to make that decision based upon practicality rather than have ignorance eclipse one of my options. With that in mind, I began a return to my starting point.

But when I turned back around, pulling my wheeled pallet behind me, I encountered a small troop of what appeared to be somewhat crustacean-like creatures. They thought of themselves as the diligar. They had hard exoskeletons, which obviously molted at regular intervals while growing. Six three-segmented, insect-like armored legs supported each one, perhaps knee height off the ground or a little more, rising slightly towards the front of the segment. They had a broad, fleshy, flat tail, also armored, behind their torso. A front segment of their torso rose at an angle roughly two-thirds of the way from horizontal towards vertical, to a final elevation about my own height, and sprouted four more armored, three segmented legs, each with four fleshy manipulative appendages in a rectangular pattern at the end. Probably not as flexible as human hands, but plenty good enough for grasping, and twice as many of them. Two faceted, insectile eyes on short, independently moving eyestalks rose from the top of the front segment. Color seemed to be very dark brown, fading around the edges of the segments to a dirty white. Age seemed to make the colors more vivid rather than darker. Perception said that only the underbelly of the horizontal torso was less than fully armored, likely where they escaped their shell when it was time to molt. The three individuals out of fourteen who seemed to be highest status had a metal plate across this vulnerable part of their belly, held in place by fibrous straps. Several others had a similar covering that might have been a piece of a previously molted shell. It seemed likely the species had aquatic ancestry, and still spent some part of their life cycle in water. They carried bladed, serrated iron spears slightly more than human height in length.

I was pulling my cart along the trail at the fold of land between two gentle hills, walking back the short distance back to where I'd appeared when they confronted me with angry sounds and gestures telling me to get off the trail, I was an obstacle to them. Fair enough; there were fourteen of them and only one of me although it would have been just as easy for all fourteen of them to walk around my cart. Auros made it easy enough to understand what they were thinking despite the language barrier. Yes, they were being more aggressive than there was reason to be, but I wasn't looking for trouble, and it was better not to get involved in any confrontations before I understood the set-up around here. So I began pulling my cart off the 'trail' to allow them to pass.

Their young leader, decorated with a red star in four points, hauled off and tried to hit me with his blade, thinking to punish me for not having been faster. For having the temerity to think that perhaps I had the same right to the trail as him. And that I was not going to tolerate. My charged bondsteel sword was in my hand, and I parried, forcing his spear down into the ground with the flat of the dark gray blade. He would have had to have been blind not to see the difference in quality of the metals. I was yielding the trail because I didn't want trouble, not because I was incapable of contesting it. And I stood there calmly, gaze on the closest thing he had to a face (the area between his eyes), while I used auros to send to all of them, I yield the trail because I prefer not to fight. If that's your desire, go in peace. But if you're determined to have a fight, there's no point in me evading one.

Several of them were mentally startled at the message. An older member of the troop, with more discretion and perhaps a veteran's eye for how easily I'd responded, tried to defuse the situation, gently tugging his leader in a direction that would have taken them both around me and the cart.

The leader wasn't having it. Obviously a young male, he barked a short command, and tried to wrench his spear away from my blade in attack. The other soldiers began moving their spears in my direction.
I simply stepped inside as the leader's spear wrenched away, and calmly cut him in two just above the angle in his carapace. The bondsteel blade was sharp, three to four atoms across on the edges, and hull-charged. I could have cut a solid steel block almost as easily as I cut through the young aristocrat. On the back stroke, I caught the three spears closest to me, gathering them on the strong part of the blade in a classic circular parry before I used the base of the main edge to cut the heads off those spears.

I took one step back, viewing the tableau in front of me, sending We are taught that those who attack us should not do so with impunity. Your leader attacked me twice, but he has paid with his life. This doesn't need to go any further.

The Fountains of Aescalon is available in e-book and paperback from both Amazon and all of the Books2Read retailers



#fantasy #manyworlds

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.


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.


Buy My Science Fiction Novels!
Dan Melson Amazon Author Page
Dan Melson Author Page Books2Read

The Man From Empire
Man From Empire Cover
Man From Empire Books2Read link

A Guardian From Earth
Guardian From Earth Cover
Guardian From Earth Books2Read link

Empire and Earth
Empire and Earth Cover
Empire and Earth Books2Read link

Working The Trenches
Working The Trenches Cover
Working the Trenches Books2Read link

Rediscovery 4 novel set
Rediscovery set cover
Rediscovery 4 novel set Books2Read link

Preparing The Ground
Preparing The Ground Cover
Preparing the Ground Books2Read link

Building the People
Building the People Cover
Building the People Books2Read link

Setting The Board

Setting The Board Cover
Setting The Board Books2Read link

The Invention of Motherhood
Invention of Motherhood Cover
Invention of Motherhood Books2Read link

The Price of Power
Price of Power Cover
Price of Power Books2Read link

The Fountains of Aescalon
Fountains of Aescalon Cover
The Fountains of Aescalon Books2Read link

The Monad Trap
Monad Trap Cover
The Monad Trap Books2Read link

The Gates To Faerie
Gates To Faerie cover
The Gates To Faerie Books2Read link

The Book on Mortgages Everyone Should Have!
What Consumers Need To Know About Mortgages
What Consumers Need To Know About Mortgages Cover
What Consumers Need to Know About Mortgages Books2Read

The Book on Buying Real Estate Everyone Should Have
What Consumers Need To Know About Buying Real Estate
What Consumers Need To Know About Buying Real Estate Cover
What Consumers Need to Know About Buying Real Estate Books2Read

Dan Melson's San Diego Real Estate and Mortgage Website

↑ Grab this Headline Animator

Monthly Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.21-en

Copyright 2005-2020 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved