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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2022 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

Finished the climactic scene for Gifts Of The Mother last night.

There is still a more important than usual denouement chapter to finish, but should be done with the first draft in the next few days and then off to the beta readers while I look for cover art.

Next project will be the fourth book of Politics of Empire, which I still don't have a working title I'm happy with. Grace is the viewpoint character, as with the rest of the series. The current plan is to begin it with Esteban attaining official adulthood, which allows me one more novel of Grace trying to keep Ilras within allowable limits for Seventh Order children. It'll also add a worthy dimension of interplay between Ilras and a new character I'll be introducing.


"Is Julie at the Courthouse?" It was John on the phone. "There's a riot!"

"She's not supposed to be there, but I'm going to call her and find out!"

I cut him off before he started to reply, and hit autodial for Julie. It was barely after noon, but that was no guarantee she wouldn't be there early. No answer. I pulled up a local TV station on the computer, and saw a scene of complete mayhem as seen from above. Fires burning, smoke rising, people running amok in clusters; some dressed in prisoner orange, others in suits, a few in law enforcement uniforms, but all taking part. It took a moment for it to register that this was a recording - their helicopter had evidently crashed or been shot down, and everyone trying to record from ground level was missing.

"Lost 'er!" A voice from behind alerted me to the presence of Zeb, holding the rabbit's foot he'd given us to contact him the previous week. "Got th' signal, but was 'n th' middle o' somethin'. Took me a cupple minnits, 'n' when I got there, all I found was this. Sorry."

"Without you, there wouldn't have been any way to find her or even know where she was for sure. What's going on, and what can we do to find her?"

"'s The Mad God, a mind 'fect. 'm not much good with mind magic. Barely got m'self pertected 'fore it got me.'

'"How can we find her?"

"Sym-pa-the-tic magic," When he had to, Zeb enunciated carefully. "Easiest if'n she's still got 'er ring. Can use yers to find its mate. Harder person to person, but th' two o' yas 'r' a match, so I think I could help yas. Gotta pertect ya from The Mad God's spell, though."

"We're not protected by our obscuring spell?"

"Not if'n it's an area effect. Don' need ta find ya, jes blanket 'n area. Ever'one inside gits hit."

"Oh. Can you do that?"

"Yeah. Not much differ'nt than pertectin' m'self. Only good fer so much, but the thin' 'bout area spells 's 'ey're spread out so's nobody gets too much o' em. Spe-cif-ic pertection 'gainst area spells works better'n 'gainst ones cast on one pers'n. Good thing, 'cause I caint fight The Mad God on pow'r."

"So you're going to use two spells to enable me to find her in that chaos?

"Three. Also gotta gitcha a 'not 'mportant' spell. This 's a man-i-fes-ta-tion o' th' Wild Hunt. 'Ey'll kill ya's if'n they notice ya, so ya's don' wanna draw notice. Only oth'r chance 's ta join 'em. Give the rabbit's foot a rub when ya got 'er."

"You're not coming?"

"Nope. Ah'd like to have a cupla 'prentices and a cupla so'cerers helpin' me, but not enough to risk the Wild Hunt. Best if'n ya's kin git out yerselfs, but if'n ya's need 't, rub the foot 'n' I'll pull ya's out."

That convinced me more than any lecture or statistics would have that what I was about to attempt was insanely dangerous, but I couldn't not do it. This was Julie. So, "What else do I need to know?"

"She's either hidin' better'n anybody I ever heerd o', or she's joint 'em. Ye'll have ta git 'er 'lone somehow, then slap 'er outta 't."

"Slap her? Zeb this is the twenty-first century! I know it was acceptable sometimes when you were young, but here and now men aren't supposed to hit women - ever! Especially not pregnant women!"

"It's that 'r take 'er chances 'til the riot burns out. Not a choice I'd like to be facin', but this time ya gotta!"

"What about a protective circle?"

"Good 'gainst conjured critters. Don't do a thin' 'gainst spells that already gots ya."

"Isn't there a spell to clear her head?"

"Yabbut ya ain't ready ta larn 't!"

"Try me!"

"''lright. Watch m' fingers," and they went through a dance I couldn't hope to follow.

"Can you slow that down?"

"Nope. Th' speed's a part of 't. Then there's the chant."

"Okay, Zeb, point made. I'm not ready. Any other ideas?"

"Ya kin try throwin' water on 'er, if'n ya got any."

All I had in the office was little narrow-mouthed half-liter bottles, stacked next to the mini-fridge for drinking. I picked on up. "This enough?"

"Ya kin try. But ya prob'ly need more'n 'at. Two might do it, specially if'n ya got somethin' t' make it all hit at once."

Well I could put a couple of the bottles in my pants pockets. Better than hitting my wife, no matter the justification. Extra bullets wouldn't hurt, either - one of the three classic things that never helps is 'ammunition you don't have'. I had no intention of shooting anyone I didn't have to, but I couldn't go buy more ammunition in the middle of what I was about to try, either.

"'lri, one more thin'. Do ya want me ta tie 't all up in one spell?"

I considered. The holster re-appearing would be a useful mark of the spell disappearing. But the holster being visible would also be a red flag to any cop who happened to see me, and would probably get extra attention if there were any video cameras left. "No, leave the holster out of it. I know there's plenty of power there to keep the holster hidden, but if something leaches it all, it's automatic trouble. You can tie the rest together if you think it's a good idea."

"'llri, ah'll tie 't ta the 'cain't find ya' spell. All o' it of'n th' same pool o' pow'r. Pro'lly wanna let it leach out after this, les'n ya wan' yer people to fergit 'bout yas. But this way, ya kin add pow'r if'n ya need ta."

I nodded. "But make the spell to find Julie one that finds her directly, if you can. Maybe something got her ring. But if they have, I can replace it later. I want to find Julie, whether or not she's still got the ring. Even if it's just her body. The ring isn't what I'm looking for. Julie is."

He nodded. "Ya's gots a soul link ta each oth'r. But it gets kinda fuzzy, 'n 'count o' bein' sen-si-tive to where she's plannin' ta go. If'n she's close, might be a big blur all 'round ya's."

"I understand."

"Then hol' still a minnit." Zeb didn't have to chant or make the passes for his magic to work - one of the major differences between sorcerors and true mages. His magic was something his brain could work directly. But he still did it for spells he found difficult, to aid in concentration. I didn't understand a thing he said, but he made some passes with his hands, a circular motion about himself and a meeting of two index fingers were the only thing I really caught. But about ten seconds later, I got a sense of which direction she was in. Then he started something else, moving a lot faster, but I didn't feel anything directly with that one. Finally, he simple stood still for about ten seconds, and I got a feeling like seeing the world in a smoky room, or like maybe when you know there's a fog because you can see it out in the distance, but it's not enough to obscure things close by that you're actually paying attention to. "'kay, yer ready ta go 's yer gonna be."

"Thank you, Zeb. I'll try and get all your apprentices and helpers out safe."

Copyright 2022 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

Excerpt from Empire and Earth

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I had just passed abeam the last Imperial beacon on my way back to Earth when I got a hard contact in the instance I was using for a Vector run. I was getting my breakfast and Lady's at the time, piloting by remote, mostly holding station, not really paying attention. I brought the shields up to full as I ran into the control center, Lady following behind. I brought the main weapon online as the shields recorded a hit. The energy drain was nothing to be concerned about; barely perceptible in fact. Even if I lost shields entirely, it'd take the aggressor days to break through my hull charge with that much energy.

I hit the gas - immediate quick Vector to where I planned my next Interstitial. About four hundred years' distance, ran a quick confirmation of position, and applied the Interstitial. Wrench. It worked, but the ship wasn't happy about it, and the stress on the hull shot up to about twelve iprime torsion around one of my Interstitial field anchors. It was out of alignment - without hull charge the ship might have torn a hole in itself. I started re-aligning the anchor to align with the rest of the field, while trying to figure out what had gone wrong. My Interstitial velocity was about two thirds what it should have been, but it built back to nearly full as the torsion on the hull dropped and the system was restored to alignment. Lady whined; she could pick up there was something wrong, if not what.

It wasn't life threatening, or even trip threatening, but as soon as I stopped manual precession, the anchor started drifting out of alignment again. I was hungry, and I knew Lady was, too, but breakfast was just going to have to wait. I tried taking the anchor offline, out of the system completely, and Interstitial velocity dropped to about sixty-eight Imperial years per hour - it should have been about seventy-four - while the hull stress picked up slightly from zero, but the temporary configuration was stable now, and no threat to the ship in any way. It would add to the maintenance load of the rest of the system, and I'd want to have the entire system checked out when I got back to the Empire, but first I was continuing on to Earth. However, I wasn't leaving the control center until I was grounded, or at least inside the solar system. Lady could tell my stress level had dropped, and she perked her ears and made false starts in the direction of the living quarters, as if to ask about breakfast, but I explained to her we were going to have to wait, be patient, be a good girl, breakfast will come but not now. Telepathy really did help with dogs; she understood and settled right down in her bed next to the command console.

I'd have to look at the system when I grounded, to see if it was something I could fix. There was an Interstitial node right where the weapon had hit. My best guess was that the enemy weapon had done something weird to it. This was confirmed by careful review of the data from the attack. But there were other systems' components in that area of the hull, too. Net result: I was not leaving my command console until I could shut the ship down. Vector equalizers were fine, as were inertial integrators or there would have been a major irregularity in internal gravity, but what about the impellers themselves? There was an impeller not five feet from the failed Interstitial anchor. It was on minimal power right now as Interstitials were moving the ship, but what about when it was time for the impellers to take over? I was kind of regretting not giving that damnable pirate an in-kind response, but I knew I had made the right choice in ducking out. Technologically inferior or not, the other ship had been designed for battle, and probably had the crew to repair damage while the fighting was going on. My ship was designed for cargo, and I could hardly fight the ship effectively while unbolting hull plates to fix damage. I was a merchant, not a military vessel. For me, victory meant survival, and I had survived un-captured.

It turned out the impeller I was concerned about was fine. I grounded at the sanctuary outside Mentone without further incident, but then Adela met me and asked, "Tia Grace, aren't you going to turn on the camouflage?"

Oh, no. I had turned on the holographic camouflage before I entered atmosphere. The holographic system said it was working just fine. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case when you actually looked. The cruiser was a whale roughly twenty meters tall from belly to back and over eighty meters from front to back; it didn't shine like most Earth people expected metal to shine, but its dark grey towered over the citrus trees surrounding it, and anyone looking down the mountainside would see it plain as day. I could hear the dogs we kept for Earthside adoptions setting up a ruckus near the front of the property; stretching my perceptions I "saw" that a San Bernardino County Sheriff had turned up the drive, lights flashing. "Delay him thirty seconds if you can," I told her, "I'm getting out of Dodge. I'll call you later on the tachyonic communicator."

Copyright 2014 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

I woke up suddenly in the dark. There was somebody in the room with me. I heard Riley bark once, then go silent. The shape of a woman resolved itself in the closet door. It was dark, but she wasn't much bigger than I was. I grabbed for the little blaster in my bag, but she interrupted, "Don't bother with the blaster; it won't work on me anyway. How did you get it and what happened to my brother?"

"Your brother?" I replied. I hoped she had something to do with ScOsh, but wasn't certain.

"His name was Osh Scimtar. He probably called himself ScOsh. There is a Mindsword in this box that shows his pattern, but he wasn't known to have a Mindsword or be capable of forging one. It's inactive, which means he's dead, and you're operant with at least some training. Did you somehow manage to kill him?"

"First explain what you did to the dog and my parents!"

"They're asleep. Nobody is going to interrupt us. Now start explaining!"

"Oh, I am sorry!" It took a while for my brain to get going sometimes. "I knew there'd be people looking for him, but he told me there were so many people in the empire I never thought it would be family first. He gave me a log for the whomever it was. Have you found his log yet?" She gave a little noise towards the end of the sentence, which meant she had as soon as I mentioned it. I watched her face fall. She must have accessed something that told her ScOsh was dead. It was like a hammer hit her, but she maintained her presence of mind.

After that pause, "Are you Grace?"

"That's me," I replied. Since I hadn't yet given her a name, that meant she read it off the log or out of my mind.

"I'm sorry," she said, "But Osh was close to all of us. A surrogate father whenever Father was gone. I'm Anara Scimtar di Baryan. Call me ScAnara." Unlike ScOsh, she emphasized the connection enough that I caught the soft cee and figured out that the beginning was an informal patronymic of sorts. "To expect him to be here so I can harass him about an error he made, only he's gone, dead, it's just going to take a few moments. He thought a lot of you, evidently. Enough to leave instructions concerning you in his log. Would you like to come to the empire with us?"

"Yes, I would." I had already made up my mind on that score. "How long do I have?"

"We need to verify that he did kill all of the stons that were here. And we're going to run an astral survey, compute a temporal ephemeris, drop a beacon. As long as we're here, let's do what we need to in order to keep track of a planet with seven billion humans. That will also insure you can find your way back, incidentally. Eight hours at least. ScOsh's log says our hours are about one point seven of yours so thirteen and a half hours." I looked at my watch, just to be sure. It was 5 AM. I had until 6:30 tonight to say goodbye.

"Do I need to bring anything?"

"A couple days' worth of clothing might be prudent, but not necessary. Artificial environment shipboard." I turned on the light, and discovered that ScAnara looked nothing like ScOsh had. Her skin actually had a slight orange cast to it, and if she didn't have the brightest head of red hair I'd ever seen, it was close. She also had the build of the smaller, heavily built mindlords rather than ScOsh's tall and skinny. She was about five foot six, looked like she weighed maybe one-seventy, not fat, but rather the sort of muscles that come from hours at the gym. If you'd forced me to guess her ethnicity, I would have said Irish but her accent was pure California.

"Do you have time to wake my parents? I'm an adult, but talking with you might calm their fears."

"I have a few minutes, unless there's an alert."

I went down the hall and knocked on their door. "Papi? Mama, there's someone here you want to talk to."
It took them a minute to wake up, then, "What is it m'ija?" There was definitely sleep in Papi's voice. They were both in pajamas, sitting up in bed.

"This is ScOsh's sister, ScAnara. I'm going to be leaving with her tonight. I'm not certain when I'll be able to come back. Probably at least a couple years their time, maybe more of ours."

Papi: "Huh? Why? We just got you back!"

"Your daughter is operant sir," ScAnara replied, "She needs to learn how to use her abilities. Here, she will never learn it all on her own, there is too much to discover. But we've had billions like her and like me for a hundred thousand years. We've learned how to do a lot that she will never learn on her own, and how to pass it on. When she comes back, assuming she decides she wants to, she will be the start of a new era on your world. We don't die from old age or disease; she'll be able to bring that same knowledge to your world, along with many other things. Have you noticed a difference in your daughter?"

"Si," Papi replied, "She changed a lot since the last time. No glasses, and I haven't seen her fool with contacts either. It's like she suddenly spent two years working out in the space of three days. And maybe I'm getting old, but she seemed smarter and faster as well as younger." Mama also nodded.

"ScOsh did all of that for me in a few seconds Mama. I have to go learn so I can do it for others. And the things they can do - you saw, both of you. They can travel between galaxies and alternate dimensions in the twinkling of an eye. I have to go learn!"

"M'ija, are you sure this is alright?"

Remembering something he'd often said to Esteban when we were younger, "You mean 'tear my arm off and beat me to death with it', Papi? No, I'm not. But it's not because of anything like a cookbook called "To Serve Man" like that old TV show you showed us. It might not be right for me, but it's something I have to try. I'll never know the difference I could have made if I don't."

"It's going to be hard, m'ija, losing you again. Mama and I, we don't know how much longer we have. We don't know if we'll see you again."

"If I may," ScAnara interrupted, "ScOsh laid the responsibility he felt on the rest of our family. I will be happy to help you and any members of your family that come to see her off tonight. I can't promise you won't die in an accident, but I can make your body years younger, and clean out any lurking health issues your world can't help you with yet. If something does happen to you in an accident, you will have been healthy until then."

"Don't want to be young again," Papi said, "Young men are crazy. But twenty years younger, that would be good." "Si," Mama followed up, "Maybe that would be good for me, too. Can't be a grandma and look twenty, but feeling fifty instead of seventy, that would be good."

"How about I keep your appearance not much younger than now, but make you as healthy as younger people?"

"If you can do that, si," Papi replied, and Mama too, "Just not too much of the young man's hormones, please. I remember how it made me stupid."

A minute later, they were both standing in joy, with a great smile upon their faces. It was like the weight of the world had dropped from their shoulders. Neither looked that much different in terms that a camera would spot, but they held themselves like much younger people. "Oh, that feels good!" Papi exclaimed, and Mama nodded.

"I've moved you back to being about sixty years old on the inside, but mostly left your surface alone. There was some cancer in each of you, but now you should live to see your great grandchildren grow up." I let go of the sudden fear that clutched at me, but ScAnara said she'd taken care of it. "She means about forty-two, Papi. Their years are shorter than ours. ScOsh talked about making me thirty, and I got mad until we figured it out."

"Thank you, senora, from the bottom of our hearts. More precious than our health, we thank you for the time to maybe see our baby girl come home again."

"I will do the same for anyone who's here tonight," she said, "I won't make the children younger, but I will check them for anything deadly."

I think they both would have kissed her shoes at that, if she'd acted in any way like it was expected. Heck, I would have cleaned dog poo off her shoe with my tongue, if that had been the price. Happily.

Copyright 2014 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

No matter what the song says, it does rain in southern California. All the damn time in March of El Nino years.

The most recent storm had finished blowing through earlier that evening. I didn't like working after dark, but the compliance reports just couldn't wait any longer. My boss, "Call me George" Martinez, had informed me that the EPA was crawling all over him and that if the hazardous usage and disposal reports weren't completed by the time he got to work in the morning, I would be joining the ranks of the unemployed. In blue state basket case California, in the middle of the worst economy of the last eighty years. Jerk.

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.

Once she was gone, I took advantage of being able to manipulate my own schedule and decided to head for the range. But twelve spare rounds beyond what was in the magazines wasn't going to get me much practice. Also, I wanted an instructor to critique me if there was one available, so I grabbed a bag for the ammunition I could pretend I'd stashed the pistol in. I chose Marv's, a store out in The Valley that had a range. Traffic was headed the other way, so it wasn't a problem to get there.

I didn't know the man at the counter when I arrived. I think it had been about five years since the last time I'd been here, so that wasn't unusual. "Hi, got any forty-five ACP?"

"Lucky dog! We just got a shipment - not even on the shelf yet!"

"What's it run?"

"Box of 50 or 250?"

I considered. I'd put out at least fifty rounds in practice if I had them, probably closer to a hundred. "Two hundred fifty."

He told me. I didn't bother trying not to wince. I could afford it, but it seemed the price jumps got worse every time, and this was worse than ever before. But I nodded.

"Need your driver's license."

"Here." He made his entries, rang up the sale. "Need to wait a few for the check to come back." The entry took long enough I knew there had to be a generous allowance for the clerk's time in the price. While waiting, he went back to what he'd been doing before. Finally, the computer beeped, he checked the screen and passed me my purchase. I was glad I already had an entry in the state system - otherwise it might have taken days.

"Range open yet?" It still lacked ten minutes to nine.

"Not officially. But Glinda's there, so she'll probably take you. Go over and knock."

So I did. A tiny woman of about forty answered. A true Californian, she was that shade of brown that could have come from any racial stock or all of them. Darker brown hair, jeans and a long-sleeved flannel shirt. The air leaking out from the range inside was noticeably colder than ambient.

"You must be Glinda. The man at the counter said to knock."

"Yeah, Mom's a Wizard of Oz fan. Come on in."

"I like your mom without ever meeting her," I said, showing the wedding ring to indicate it wasn't intended as flirtacious.

"That's Glinda The Good. I'm Glinda The Great."

"Nice. I'm Mark. Don't suppose you have an instructor here this early?"

"Long as no one else is here, I'll keep an eye on you. What's your issue?"

"Been a couple years since I shot. Want to check at least basic skills. Had a threat, so just in case. Need to rent ear protection."

She rang me up, handed me a pair of muffs. "Basic home defense?"

"Yeah."

"Okay, lane four, basic targets should be in the table. But how about you dry fire a few first?"

"Sure." If she wanted to save me money for ammunition, that was fine with me. I clipped the target, ran it out. "OK to draw?"

"Go ahead." I got the gun out of the holster.

"Nice rig. Didn't even notice it."

"Had it made special." She nodded.

I kept the weapon pointed downrange while I pulled the slide back to check the chamber, made certain it didn't feed while the slide went back forward. "We good?"

"Not bad for being a couple years out of practice. Go ahead."

I got into stance, pointed at the target, took it off safe, and pulled the trigger. The 'click' of the hammer falling echoed. I cocked the gun again, repeated the dry fire.

"You're jerking the trigger. Standard problem for someone coming back to it. Take up the slack and squeeze."

"Right." I repeated a couple more, taking up the slack then squeezing slow and steady.

"Better. Now if you want some advice, turn just a tad to your dominant side." She nodded at some pictures on the wall. She was prominently featured in several.

"Okay, will do."

"Don't want to overdo it. You need to be able to shoot anywhere you can see. But it helps with sighting and repetition."

"Ma'am, I know I don't remember everything I should."

"That puts you two steps up on most. Give me a couple more dry fires, tell me how it feels."

I complied. "Better. Seems it's easier to see where the gun is aimed."

"Good. Now we're ready for real ammunition. Go ahead." And she put her own hearing protection in. I put the muffs on my head. Not as good as what she had, but I wasn't going to be doing this all day, every day. The muffs changed the way you heard - I could hear my own breathing, and the pulse through my ears if I tried. I cycled a round into the chamber, took the same stance as I had a moment ago, watched for her nod before switching back to aiming the gun, took a breath, let it out partway, and pulled the trigger.

State of the Author

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Sorry but there's not much to report this time. Trying to finish "Gifts Of The Mother", but the damned day job is eating my lunch. It's always 70 hour weeks plus, but recently it's been worse. I get home and there is no energy for anything, and precious little time.

I know where I want the book to go, the characters even seem to be cooperating, but I've just been too worn to write. I will see what I can do about this.

Gates to Faerie is an urban fantasy setting. On one side is us, the Earth we know. On the other is an unknown parallel Earth inhabited by others, beings which are not quite human.

In between, are Gates consecrated by various beings which have some aspect of divinity in their nature. Think of them as being roughly equivalent to the Greco-Roman or Norse or Hindu deities. Most of these are known by their godhead: The Mother, Skyfather, The Huntress, The Lord of The Dead, The Smith, The Healer, among many others Each of them consecrates a Gate in a different way, and using different materials (The Mother uses arches of vegetation, the Smith, of metal, while Skyfather prefers actual doors and and The Lord Of the dead uses stone). Among these beings is The Mad God, whose cult furnishes the antagonists for the first novel, The Gates To Faerie.

Of the beings on the other side, thus far we have met the Elves the most. They are descendants of humans, who lost a war a long time ago, and were enslaved by some beings of elemental power who changed them in order to be able to survive in the same environments. The results were first, that they have developed certain powers of their own, and second, that their fertility is limited to the point where they have difficulty even keeping their numbers constant. There are seven breeds of Elf, the most noteworthy being the Elemental purebloods: Star (air), Bright (fire), West (earth) and Sea (water).

There are also known to be the Smith's People, who live in two different sorts of communities, depending upon temperament. Forest daimo live in forest hamlets or villages of no more than a couple hundred. They farm and create mostly from wood and other living things. Mountain daimo live in underground communities ranging up to thousands or possibly tens of thousands - it's hard for outsiders to get an accurate estimate. They mine, farm, and create mostly from metal or rock. They are physically identical, intermingle freely, and it is not uncommon for them to intermarry or for children of one daimo to decide they would rather live in the other - or alone, for that matter. They have talents in much the same way the Elves have powers.

Both Elves and Smith's People can (under some circumstances) produce offspring with base stock humans, and these offspring can be interfertile as well. Unfortunately, these offspring tend to face discrimination from both Elven and Smith People societies, as do Elves who are a mixture of two or more types.

 



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