It was time for work, but my phone rang again. I didn't recognize the number, but it was long distance, so I gave it a chance on case a family member needed help. It was ScOsh, "Grace, I have two million dollars for you."

A statement like that does get your attention, especially when you're scrabbling for twelve bucks an hour so you can go to school part time. He'd already refused my virtue, such as it was, so I was pretty certain that wasn't his objective. What was? "Um, thanks, I think. Why?"

"I offered you compensation, and you accepted. You may not realize it, but you are running a risk by hosting me. What is your schedule today?"

"Nothing special. Work, then school tonight - Organic chem. There's an exam I haven't studied for"

"Can you call in sick to work today? There's a risk I have to show you how to minimize. You should be fine by tonight."

"For someone paying me 2 million dollars I can. When do I get it? And risk? What risk?" And what did you DO to earn two million dollars overnight? To myself.

"I'll explain when I see you. Stay in until then. I'll be there within an hour. An Earth hour."

So I called in to "Call Me George" Martinez and told him I'd caught a cold from all the rain. My first sick call in two years. He wasn't happy, but I'd finished the EPA report he needed, so he had to let me slide. If ScOsh was as good as his word - and he had been so far - I might never come back. Then I cracked the O-chem book.

I amazed myself. I had struggled with the differences between aldehydes and ketones, but it was a snap now. I not only understood, I was drawing connections the book wasn't making - at least not yet. Better yet, I was remembering them. I satisfied myself, pulled out my calculus book from last semester, and suddenly understood calculus for the first time in my life. Ditto my Tuesday night Molecular Biology class. I went back to O-chem. I remembered it all. I read three chapters ahead. It was dryer than hot desert sand thanks to the writer's pedantic text, but it wasn't hard.

I got the impression more time than an hour had passed, and I was right. It had been an hour and ten minutes. I couldn't have done it in less than four hours before. Then I remembered ScOsh was ten minutes overdue. The way he came and went was creepy, but he seemed to have it pretty well under control. Where was he?

He stepped out of the hall closet just then. God alone knows where he found the room, but he did. He wasn't carrying anything that looked like it could hold a million dollars, but I'd reserve judgment on that. He hadn't been carrying the sword I'd seen, or the other weapon, the one that killed the gangbangers, either. "Sorry I'm late," he said, "But exchanging the money turned out to be more complicated than I thought. I found out about your physical libraries last night after you went to bed, so I walked through first your local college library, then the Library of Congress. Then I went to Atlantic City, and went through all the casinos there. Then Las Vegas"

"You cheated the casinos?" I interrupted, incredulous, "You cheated the mob-owned casinos?"

"I did no such thing," he said, "It's not cheating to use skill. If they don't have rules posted that forbid it, it's not cheating. There were rules posted, but absolutely nothing about using any of the skills I employed. I borrowed a chip from someone for a few minutes, and used it to win. Then I gave the original chip back to the owner with interest. I went from casino to casino. Didn't win too much from any of them. When people started to take an interest in my winning, I lost a little, then changed tables and started winning again. I know how not to be noticed. Speaking of which, that applies right now. You're about to have visitors. I'm not here; don't expect them to find me no matter what they do, so act natural. Don't do anything out of the ordinary. Your planet doesn't have the technology or the wizardry to catch me. I want to keep it to a minimum because there's at least one person around who can." Then he simply disappeared right in front of me, just as there was a knock on my door.

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Price of Power Published

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For everything there is a price.

Grace has married into one of the most important families of the Empire. The Scimtars are wealthy and powerful in every sense of the term. Her five children will be among the Empire's elite when they are ready, and Grace herself is not without influence or importance despite her relative youth. But Imperial politics are deadly, and the more you have, the more your rivals want what you have.

There is no shelter from The Price of Power.

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The Price of Power, follow-up to The Invention of Motherhood, has been published. It is available through Amazon and all the various Books2Read sources (B&N, Kobo, etcetera and various library services such as Overdrive and Biblioteca) as an e-book, as well as through Amazon as a paperback. I hope to soon have all of my books available in paperback through the Books2Read outlets, but for the moment the paperbacks are Amazon only.

Since the most recent Grace novel is now with the beta readers and editor, I'm working on something else while I wait for the feedback. This is a crossover urban fantasy work. It has nothing to do with any of my published works.

I woke up the worst kind of alone.

The alarm went off, same as usual. My arm was across her as I woke up, my befuddled mind thinking Wow, guess that wasn't just a dream. I managed to reach over and hit snooze in order to cuddle up, just the way we used to before getting up to start our day, just a few minutes with each other, before I realized something was very wrong.

What I'd woken up with wasn't a living, breathing woman.

I bellowed an inarticulate cry of panic and scrambled backwards out of bed, stumbling over the blankets on my way out of bed, but also ripping them off what was in bed with me.

Once I was free of their entangling grasp, I looked at what was there on the bed: a dried, dessicated corpse, long dead, eyes shrunken in, skin sagging, pitted. Intact as far as I could tell, but dead for years. Only the honey-blonde hair was unchanged, still the young, wavy style it had been the previous evening.

I wasn't going to pretend I understood, but it was clear I had to do something, and once I got over my initial panic, I knew who to call.

"Hello, Larry!"

"Mark, what are you calling about at such an early hour? I don't get to the office before eight-thirty! You know that!"

"Yes, Larry, but this is different, and I need your help now. I woke up with a corpse in my bed this morning!"

"Mark, I must not be awake yet. I could have sworn you just told me you woke up with a corpse in your bed, and I know that can't be true!" I started to tell him it was true, and he talked over me, "I know it can't be true because you wouldn't have called a securities lawyer over a criminal matter that didn't happen. Are you understanding me, Mark?"

Home seems like an excellent idea. I've had as much of a break from being Mom as I needed, and now it seems like something I want to do again. Suiting actions to words, I headed for the portal just outside where Goronos' office had been - most viceroys wanted their offices as conveniently accessible as they could. It was a walk of less than two ifourths. You coming? I asked Ghost Uncle.

When we popped out of the portal serving the parking garage, I was well inside my 'public' energy limits, so I teleported straight to where I'd left my Starbird earlier.

Which was where Paulos was waiting for me.

I'd gotten sloppy. I realized in retrospect, I'd let myself be predictable. I'd kept using the same parking garage for my Starbird every time. It really wasn't difficult to track vessels travelling from Sondergard to Sumabad.

But recriminations would have to wait until later. After I survived his blitz.

The first thing I felt was the weird multiple sensation of him holding spak open and duplicating himself. If I hadn't encountered it already in analyzing the two murder scenes, he would have had me before I even realized what he was doing. Instead, I had an instant to harden my shields and start drawing power while grabbing my sword out of its pocket.

Just in time, as two strong mindbolts hit me, one from each of the duplicate Pauloses. Either one alone would have been difficult for me to handle a few years previous and the two together would have put me down immediately, but Fourth Order me had no issues absorbing them and returning fire. I noticed that Paulos number one was the one holding the Temporal Anchor, so he had less spare capacity. I hit him with a mindbolt I couldn't have absorbed as a Second Order Guardian, and it killed him - just like that.
Since the Temporal Anchor was no longer being held open, Paulos number two simply vanished. He became nothing, as the events leading to his creation had never happened, and he was dead earlier in his personal Event Line than his current point in time. It was no longer possible for the second version of Paulos to exist, and so he didn't. Anticlimactic, yes, and it illustrated why duplicating yourself with a Temporal Anchor was leaving yourself vulnerable to an opponent who recognized the gambit.

Shields! The warning from Ghost Uncle gave me just enough time to harden myself again before another mindbolt hit me.

Over the Climactic Scene Hump

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Just finished the climactic scene of WIP. Still have to do the denouement, but this scene was the hard one to do right. Should have the novel finished within a few more days.

Question: I've been using "The Price of Power" as the working title, but lately I've been thinking about changing it to "The Price of Prominence". I know the argument against long words when a short one will do, but Feedback back on how well each title would grab you would be welcome.

Why would someone capable of the standard brun masking be using a mindbomb instead? I asked Ghost Uncle, Do they want to be found - eventually?

Good question, and a reasonable hypothesis, if we are dealing with the same person. But do we know it is the same person?

There was no mental signature, so we had no evidence either way. Just one contact specialist's opinion that the signatures were 'similar.' We didn't even know that the signature he remembered was from the still open case. This case was teaching me about controlling frustration - it seemed like every clue we'd gotten thus far raised more questions than it answered. No we don't have any real information other than 'coincidence' and 'similarities' I replied, I know not to discount coincidence and similarity, but the idea of expecting a Primus to rule someone guilty of a murder based upon the evidence we have should fall under the category of 'wishful thinking'.

Exactly. I'd remove a subordinate who thought our evidence thus far was sufficient, and the commentary I'd make in their file should make it impossible for them to work in government for squares.. And the Investigator who expected them to be satisfied with it as well. After half my life in the Empire, I was still adjusting to the notion that government service was more difficult and exacting than most private jobs. 'Why?' was a lengthy explanation, but it was true.

Isn't the traditional masking only a Category Green effect?

Yes, but you've got to be highly proficient with it to expect it to be effective. It's a direct contest of skill, and the Investigator gets as many tries as she needs, while the perpetrator only has one chance to get it perfect. Once again, being good enough to expect to stymie an Investigator would be a skill I would expect to find in a member or agent of a rival House. Which meant another pointer to the Game of Houses. This game of ghosts and ifs and maybes was frustrating. I was almost to the point where I'd rather deal with a straightforward assassination attempt on me instead.

The second message was from an Investigator named VarDossian di Gustos, "Varian di Gustos was my father. I would appreciate being made aware of any developments. Please contact me if you have any questions I can assist with."

So I messaged him via contact specialist, and when we were directly connected, explained the situation, and gave him the signature to compare with. "It is close," he admitted, "But not identical, and I don't think it's close enough to what I remember. Perhaps they were trained by the same person or went through some similar experiences, but compare to the signature we have," and he demonstrated by showing me the signature he remembered before mentally superimposing the signatures, "It's only been nine years. I wouldn't expect the drift between the two signatures to change that much, and I wouldn't expect the evolution to go in that direction. As you can see, prior focus was superior. Most operants' focus improves over time."

I thanked him for his information, and terminated contact. But it didn't appear to help. Thus far every attempt to narrow the focus of this needle in a haystack problem had been frustrated. Actually, it was worse than finding a needle in a haystack - the haystack was sixty times the size of any city on Earth, and this needle was skilled at hiding and evasion.

You are assuming VarDossian was being forthright and helpful, Ghost Uncle reminded me, and that his memory hasn't changed in critical ways since the events. Memory changes every time you access it unless you're a trained adept who is actively resisting those changes. Since it was wrapped up in the death of his father, I would expect he has revisited them often. And he may be a Guardian, but is he using the auros techniques for preserving memory faithfully? Notice he only showed you one copy of the signature, which is evidence he is not.

Leave it to Ghost Uncle to make unhelpful answers even less definite, but he had a point. If VarDossian was using anti-drift techniques, he should have had and demonstrated at least three different memories of the mental signature. Do you have any actual helpful hints about this needle in a haystack problem? I resisted the urge to add 'or are you just being difficult?' His most recent observation had given me a clearer picture of what I actually understood and didn't. The fact that it made that knowledge less definite and more subject to question might have been frustrating, but it had pointed out a set of facts I might have glossed over.

Interesting metaphor, Grace. What are the classic solutions to such problems?

Well, there was sitting my stupid backside in the haystack until the needle jabbed it, but I didn't care for the consequences of that method - this needle was deadly. But the other solution was a metaphorical magnet - the stronger the better. The difficult thing about this needle was finding it. Once I had it, it would be trivial to verify it was the correct needle.

So I needed a magnet to draw this needle out. What were the properties of this needle that would enable me to draw it out?

The most obvious potential magnetic leverage was our murderer had a limited amount of time and he had to know it. Every passing minute made it harder to shield his Event Line during the critical moments, and once I had those, I had him. Time was on our side. Eventually I - or my replacement if he managed to kill me - would hunt him down. Which led me to the obvious question: Why hadn't he realized this before killing Goronos?

Humanity: an otherwise sentient species known for its unwillingness to plan. Ghost Uncle was brutal. One of the hardest things we have to do in training our children and agents is to break them of that unwillingness and make planning habitual.

I got the strong impression he intentionally wasn't telling me the whole story. Which meant I either had to figure it out myself or wait for it to reveal itself in the fullness of time. I'd rather figure it out myself, but one problem at a time. Focus on this problem. Once solved, it was likely the rest of the puzzle to what Ghost Uncle wasn't telling me would become clear.

Potential magnetic leverage number two: I hadn't been able to find any commonality between Goronos and Adubra except that they were both Imperial viceroys in Sumabad. Adubra had been one of Goronos' subordinate Primuses, but I didn't see any of her recent cases motivating someone to murder. Neither was a strong Guardian or particularly well trained. In theory, you didn't need to be operant at all in order to be an Imperial viceroy, but the vast majority were Guardians. The operant ability of auros made the work and acquiring the skills for it so much easier, and while necris enabled natural state humans to live longer, it allowed operants to live indefinitely. The result? While operants were still outnumbered by natural state humans six to one, Guardians outnumbered natural state humans by at least forty to one among Primuses, and the ratio got more lopsided at each higher level of the government.

Suppose my brand new appointment as an Investigator hadn't been a factor. What would have happened when Imperial viceroys started turning up dead in the city that had been Scimtar's seat since the Restoration, and his home for much longer? Somebody from the family would have gotten involved - the murdered viceroys were all at some level their subordinates. Scimtar was the Nonus with jurisdiction, Anara was the Octus with jurisdiction and his direct subordinate, and the crimes were happening right under their metaphorical noses. Anana as family operations officer couldn't have her employees' and agents lives disrupted by their civil government losing continuity. The family as a whole could ill afford gaps in the government as damage was still being repaired in the aftermath of the House war. The viceroys were needed to adjudicate damages and disputes and formulate actions to restore the damaged areas to their formerly prosperous state.

The metaphorical elephant in the room was that I couldn't see the Scimtars not exercising close control over who was appointed to viceroy status everywhere in Indra System, but especially in Sumabad. They needn't be close allies of the family, but they couldn't allow agents of other Houses. Goronos had been an ally through two subordinate allied families - call them vassals if you want although the relationships were of mutual interest and friendship rather than explicit fealty. House Deltos and House Enolan and many others followed Scimtar's lead because their interests aligned with his and he had more resources to commit and they were friends or employees or contractors of long standing - and also because he stood by them or helped them when they had difficulty. The fealty or vassalage was implied rather than explicit or legal, but it was real. These allied or vassal families in turn had allies or vassals of their own. Unlike Goronos, Adubra was technically a neutral, but had loose ties to another allied family. She'd also been trained as a Guardian by Paladin, a long-time associate and ally of Scimtar. I'd met Paladin socially a couple of times - the man had no sense of humor but he had a sense of duty and honor and obligation that would have done credit to any legendary Knight of the Round Table. I sent him a request for any additional background he might have. I endorsed her nomination to Goronos. I would be pleased to offer any assistance that I can was the response I got, which meant I needed a follow-up question: Did you have any ties to Goronos I should be aware of?

Mutual interests in developing newly operant Guardians is the only thing I'm aware of.

Are there any of your students who closely match this mental signature? Or who might have had some issue with Goronos or Adubra?

No, I'm not familiar with that signature. The murderer? At my admission we suspected it was, I shall remember it then, should our paths cross. I would not have wanted to metaphorically cross swords with Paladin. He may have been officially Fourth Order, which I was in reality, but he made his living teaching people what I was still learning. As to people who would have interacted with both of them, just the obvious candidates I'm sure you have already interviewed. I never taught Goronos; our association was simple commonality of interest.

Which left me where I started.

Assuming his statements are true. You are an Investigator; you need to learn to verify what you can as a matter of habit. Your own culture has a saying on this point.

"If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out." I quoted at him. My mother was long dead, but it was still a worthy sentiment. Do you have any reason to suspect he was less than truthful?

Paladin wouldn't lie about an ininth to save his life. At the very most, he would remain silent, and not for his own interests. But it's a habit you need to get into.

Working the Trenches new cover illo 2.jpg

It took four months, but all of my existing books now have new covers created by people with actual artistic talent!

Now that they're all updated with the new covers, I have been able to move the paperbacks from createspace to Kindle Direct Publishing, where the e-books have been all along (in addition to the Direct2Digital that lets me offer them through other electronic publishing outlets here)


My Amazon Page shows them as all live and available, but if you see any issues, please let me know!

"Don't sell yourself cheap, Grace," Scimtar said out loud, short-circuiting my attempt to keep the kids out of the conversation.

"Why? My only importance is because I'm married to a Scimtar."

All the older adults reacted in disbelief. Scimtar actually laughed, "Young lady, put your accomplishments in perspective. You've shown yourself to be a formidable foe, and you are married to my grandson. Because of that, our rivals might well think it's worth removing you from the game while you're still young and inexperienced."

Helene continued, "Let's start with saving that primitive planet you were born on from itself. What would have happened to it if you hadn't been there?"

The obvious thing was that the nuclear war between China and Russia would have been much worse. I and the other dog traders had destroyed most of the missiles in flight, and none of the dog traders would have been there without me. And then the fallout would have killed at least twice as many people as it spread, instead of us washing most of it out of the atmosphere. "A lot more people would have died."

Anara snorted. She'd been Earth's first planetary viceroy - and was still in charge of it through her subordinates. "The biggest continent would have become a radioactive waste, and all of the others would have suffered. Nor would the Empire have known to intervene. By the time we stepped in to save them from their ruling classes, another forty years would have passed - four times as long there due to the time differential. Instead of nine fifths, the planet might have been home to one or two fifths - if they were lucky."

Gilras took it up, "Many people would have thought marrying into the Scimtars was achievement enough for a prime or two. Instead, you devoted yourself to running that dog business, not only making it profitable, but saving large numbers of them, while enabling a lot of Imperials to enjoy the benefits." He gestured to where Dancer, a chow I'd given to Etonas, was curled around Scimtar's feet, his new master stroking his fur gently via matris. Mischief and Scarecrow were on patrol under the kids. Amazing how much food nine otherwise extraordinarily coordinated children managed to drop, even after we explained it wasn't good for the dogs. Not to mention some of the alleged adults. If it wasn't for Asto and I adjusting their metabolisms, the two dachshunds would have been hopelessly obese. Mischief, in particular, would have been a waddling blonde carpet instead of her active, svelte self.

Scimtar continued, "Then when you got tired with that, you spent twenty years in the Imperial military and the Merlon's Eyes. How many team privates earn a Thinker's Medal, even third class? And then you do something far more difficult, deciding to not only become a mother, but to actually carry the first one naturally. And I'll concede that you didn't know the benefits it would have for Esteban, but once you did, you kept at it with Ilora, Ilras, Imtara, and Alden immediately, rather than raising one at a time."

"I grew up with brothers and sisters. I wanted them to have the same thing."

"But you've still given the family five new children in barely six years. By comparison, Anana and Parnit took ten years for four, Anara and Gilras about the same, and Helene and I spaced our first four out over fifteen years. Not to mention all three of the women used artificial gestation - another thing you've managed to change. Sixth and Seventh Order children will be carried naturally now that we know it gives them a head start and a boost in abilities, and we know it because you did it the hard way."

"I'm only a team private. You're all senior officers."

Gilras: "Daughter, I'm the youngest of this generation of the family, and I'm one square fourteen, not to mention we hope we never see the circumstances that led to our rapid promotions again. You are how old? And how many of those years have been in the Empire?"

I still thought of my own age in terms of Earth years - fiftyeight. Personal duration, not calendar. I converted it to Imperial years "Prime twentythree. Fortytwo of them in the Empire."

"Daughter," Scimtar laughed, "Give yourself some time. Fortytwo years after becoming adult, I was still coming to terms with the fact I'd gone operant. Even by the standards of the time, I was weak and untrained. I might have been the equivalent of a first corporal now, but I hadn't done anything else, and the standards of the competition were much lower then."

"But you've given me so much help, and you had to do it all..."

Helene interrupted, "Daughter, you're welcome. You've more than paid us back with the children alone. Would have even if you'd done it with artificial gestation."

"Thanks for that, by the way," Anana interjected sarcastically, "I know there's nobody making me, but I can't not do it your way in the future. Not with the advantages your children gained."

"What she said goes for me, too," Anara continued, "Which demonstrates how much you've changed the Empire, and you're still practically an infant. Our rivals see the effects you've had already, and they wonder how much more you'll do, given a chance. If they're smart - and they are very smart - they're asking what they can do about it."

"So they're going to kill me?" I asked

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