The Common Ranks

What our military calls 'enlisted' or 'non-commissioned officers' are called common ranks in the Empire. The etymology for the three brackets is analogous to our words for 'private' 'corporal' and 'sergeant', so that is the translation. Each of the three brackets has various grades or ranks within it, graduated by color of the insignia

Privates wear a single disc or 'pip' of rank, 2 isixths (a little under an inch) in diameter. As with all ranks, they are backed in black epaulets for line troops, in white epaulets for staff troops. There are explicit staff grades scattered throughout the rank structure, out of the line of command regardless of seniority. The Empire does things in this manner to require senior personnel to fill staff grades on their way up the ladder, and as one preventative measure to keep staff from taking over the organization - staff that want a promotion have to earn their way through several command grades to reach the next staff level. In general, the hardest promotions to get are the ones from staff grade to command. All line of command ranks are explicitly attached to specific line of command assignments. In Planetary Surface, you're not a team private unless you're in charge of a team of eight - you revert to Senior Private or Trained Private as appropriate. Everybody starts as a Trained Private - there are no officer candidate schools as we use the term. Nobody is put in command of troops without having been one of those troops, at least briefly.

Trained Privates wear a Black pip
Senior Privates wear a purple pip. In Planetary Surface, they are the second and third in command of a team of eight. In Tactical and Strategic Space, there are too many possible assignments to mention.
Team Privates wear a green pip. In Planetary Surface, they are in command of a team of 8, making them roughly equivalent to a US Army Sergeant or Staff Sergeant. All future assignments and grade equivalents are for Planetary Surface Troops, as space forbids description of the possibilities in Tactical or Strategic Space
Squad Privates wear a red pip. Command a squad of four teams, making them roughly equivalent to a 2nd Lieutenant.
Section Privates wear a gold pip, and command a section of three squads, making them roughly equal to a 1st Lieutenant
Staff Privates wear a white pip. The rank is between Section and Platoon Private, but out of the line of command. A Staff Private commands no one. An order given by a Staff Private has no legal authority except what is given to it by troops in the line of command.
Platoon Privates wear a blue pip, and command a platoon of four sections, making them roughly equal to a US Army major (400 combat troops). (Platoons are also the smallest unit with attached staff)

Corporals wear two discs or pips of rank

Troop Corporals wear purple pips, and command a troop of three platoons. Roughly equivalent to a lieutenant colonel (1200 combat troops)
Staff Corporals wear white pips and are staff
Executive Corporals wear green pips, and are generally executive or operations officers for a company (it's the same job)
Company Corporals wear red pips, and command companies of three troops (3600 combat troops). Roughly equivalent to a full colonel or brigadier
First Staff Corporals wear quartered white pips, and are staff
First Corporals wear gold pips, and are executive or operations officers for a squadron
Squadron Corporals wear blue pips, and are commanders of a squadron of four companies (14400 combat troops), making them equivalent to a major general

Sergeants wear three discs or pips of rank.

Sergeant wears three gray pips, and is executive/operations of a battalion
Battalion Sergeant wears three purple pips, and is commander of a battalion of three companies (43,200 combat troops)
Staff Sergeant wears three white pips, and is a staff grade
First Sergeant wears three green pips and is exeutive/operations of a regiment
Regiment Sergeant wears three red pips, and is commander of a regiment of five battalions (216,000 combat troops)
Master Sergeant wears three gold pips, and is executive/operations of a group of four battalions
Group Sergeant wears three blue pips, and is commander of a group, consisting of four battalions (864,000 combat troops)

Above Group Sergeant, the System Officer grades start, about which more in the next article. Guardian Class, the very largest class of military capital ship is commanded by a Group Sergeant, meaning that everything above this point in the Tactical and Strategic Space branches are fleet commanders. It is worth mentioning that the Guardian class of ships are damned few in terms of numbers as compared to all other classes, and pretty much always serve as the flagship for a significantly larger unit of troops.

At this point, the working title is "Facts of Empire", but I'm working on a better one

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 (just over 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 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 bashful 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.

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Of course, Mama heard me crying. She'd be summoned as if by cosmic reflex by any of her children crying. The back light came on, "M'IJA!" she exclaimed joyfully, hugging me in her bathrobe, her golden cocker Candy dancing around her heels. It was all I could do to not allow her to touch Aurora accidentally. "Don't do that to me! They told me you were dead! I kept trying your cell phone, but you didn't have it with you!" Papi's old black lab Riley started doing his wiggle dance for me. I reached over to pet him, briefly, before I got up.

There was never a doubt I would tell Mama and Papi the truth. "Mama, it's a long story, and it's going to be hard to believe. Right now, I need some rest. It's been two days since I really slept, and a lot has happened. When I wake up, I promise I'll tell you everything." Papi was following her out, the happiest man on the planet at this moment. "Of course, m'ija. You can have your old room. Let me take that." He started to take the sweatshirt wrapping Aurora. I hugged him with one arm, as carefully as I had Mama.

I dodged his grab, went into the house, through the family room, and started up the stairs to my old room. Riley followed me. "Uh, Papi, not a good idea. Let me hold onto it; I understand how to handle it safely. It is dangerous if you don't know how. Just make sure to keep visitors and young ones out of the room while I sleep." Never knew when family might drop by.

"M'ija, are you in some kind of trouble? Do you need a lawyer?" As I said, they'll never stop thinking of me as their baby.

"I don't think so Papi. I haven't done anything wrong. I will tell you the whole story when I wake up, but I am too tired and strung out now to deal with the questions you will have. If things are the way I think, it's mostly good things I'll be telling you." Realizing that ScOsh's allies might arrive any time, "If someone comes looking for me or a man named Osh or ScOsh, they need to talk to me. Let them in, please, and come get me. They will help me tell you what's happened." If there were any stons left on Earth, my parents couldn't protect me and trying would only get them hurt. But if ScOsh's allies arrived, I didn't want them leaving without the full story and I still wanted to go if I could.

"You were crying, m'ija. Are you hurt?" Mama and Papi had followed me up the stairs, plainly wanting to hear more. I opened the door to my old room - it was a guest bedroom now, and paused in the doorway.
I was still crying, but they weren't going to mention that. "Really Papi, I'm fine. A very good man died doing something important and I liked him a lot, but physically I'm fine. I will tell you the whole story when I wake up. I really need some time, okay?" I was pleading for special dispensation from the head of the family.

I didn't ask for favors much, so he decided to grant it. "Okay, m'ija. Just let us know if there's anything we can do."

"Just give me some time, for now. I probably need to cry some more, then I need some sleep, and maybe more crying later, but I'll tell you what happened, I promise." And with that, I closed the door. I dropped Aurora on the floor of the closet along with my other stuff, and closed the closet door. I pulled the nightstand over to block the door, just to keep my nieces and nephews from accidentally doing something fatal if they came around before I could wake up, curled up on the bed, and quietly cried myself to sleep.

Just finished The Fountains of Aescalon, my first fantasy. Want to read it over one last time, but will be shipping it off to the beta readers in a day or two.

Wrote the climactic battle scene last night. Have one more follow-on scene and then a denouement. Should be done within another week or so, and off to the beta readers!

"That was quite a scene," she said.
I stopped dead. She was both petite and pretty, but she wasn't anyone who'd been at the King's Ball. Dressed too richly to be one of the servants, yet none of the notables who'd been invited. Most importantly, though, my sense of perception stopped dead some distance from her and her mind didn't leak like an unfinished roof. She would have been as out of place in that gathering as I'd been.
I'd intended to re-enter the ball within a minute or two. One of the minor abilities of auros is a kind of mental camouflage that makes you blend into the background so that only another adept - which described nobody in that room - will take note of you. Slowly relax it, and it's like you were there all along.
But this took priority. She was obviously beyond the abilities of any of the wizards who'd taken King Edvard up on his invitation. Beyond Kiltig's abilities, as well. She might well be one of that class of potential threats my brother had been referring to when he sent me here.
"I am called Alexan," I introduced myself.
"Petra," she replied, briefly.
"Pleased to make your acquaintance, Petra," I said, bowing. Meanwhile, I boosted the power on my perception in her direction to see if I could get any more information. She was alive with the energy of Aescalon, but her control would never have passed muster with my teachers. She was built on a human frame, augmented by the power that was evidently renewed by a fresh Scourging every seven days.
"That was sneaky!" she exclaimed, half admiring, half outraged. I wasn't a tall man, even by local standards, but she came up no higher than my mouth. Her skin was a pale shade of brown, but her hair was so dark the highlights appeared bluish. She might have been a little heavier than most local women, but that simply said she was getting plenty to eat. By the standards of where I came from, she was perhaps thinner than average.
"Did you expect an ultsi to not take an easy opportunity for more information?" I asked. Her surface thoughts were accessible, but I decided not to try any deeper probe. One brash, impertinent gesture seemed a prudent limit in dealing with a demi-god. It nonetheless seemed clear she hadn't trained in auros, at least not to the same degree expected in the Empire.
"Not really. You're not the first of your people to find their way here."
Obviously. There were humans all over the place in Migurd, and I presumed elsewhere among the Connected Realms. "We humans seem to infest a lot of places."
"I'm not talking about humans in general."
Ah. So she could sense the similarity between myself and my 'brother'. "And did my brother leave you with any message for those following him?"
"Your brother looks nothing like you then," she replied, "He was nearly double my height. And thinner."
Interesting. There were two common body types we chose. The one I and my brother chose was perhaps a little shorter than average, but well-padded for energy to fuel muscles in a duel. The other type was a full head or more taller, but with less in the way of fuel reserves, designed for speed rather than endurance. It was possible my brother had altered his body pattern, or at least his seeming to be a 'speed' body while he was here, but he'd never been known to do so before. That implied a third visitor, one whom I knew nothing about. "And what impression did this visitor leave you with?"
"Control. I despised him then, being so cool and calculating and careful. Almost impossibly rational, never a hint of anything human about him until he assayed surviving the Scourging. That was enough to reveal the true being beneath, but he didn't linger once he'd assimilated his experience. It's been almost ten thousand years, and I haven't seen him returning."
Interesting. I had no idea of the time differential. Ten thousand years here might be any period in terms of time back in the Empire. And evidently it was possible to survive a Scourging of Aescalon. "How do I compare?"
"Brash and impatient, barely contained. Young, or youthful. But disciplined far beyond your years in terms of skill."
That was a fair description. My soul was young, but I'd inherited my original's skills and abilities, and he'd been over ten thousand. "Have there been any others of my people who found their way to Aescalon or the Connected Realms?"
"My, you ask questions. Why should I answer you?"
"It is in our nature and our conditioning to seek information. If you do not wish to answer, that is your privilege."
"I didn't say that. The answer is none that I know of but I'm merely an Immortal. It is possible many others have come and gone without my knowledge."
"An Immortal?" There had been a bit about that in Kiltig's journal, but it never hurt to have a second source.
She smiled. "The least of the independent powers. We draw from what is and it sustains us. And that is quite enough for now. I'll not give you all of my secrets for the asking!" And with that, she was gone, although the image of her smile seemed to remain for the blink of an eye.

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A winding residential street. They may not have been mansions on the block, but they were close. If any of them was less than three times the size of my parents' house, I didn't see it.

"That one, Grace." ScOsh crossed the street and headed straight up the driveway of the one across the street. I don't know anything about architecture, but it looked vaguely like some sort of Greek temple, Iron gates across the walk and drive, a little off the street in the case of the drive, hedges or ivy blocking most of the view from the street. I presumed he had a plan to get us past them. I saw no reason why he couldn't just do a short hop through those rather prosaic defenses.

Instead he stopped. "Interesting," he said, "I see alarm mechanisms, but they've been turned off. I love it when the ignorant try to be subtle."

"What are you going to do?"

"You being along makes it a little more challenging. Follow me."

We walked quickly around the perimeter. The neighbor to the left had a huge expanse of lawn, but no fences. There was less obscuring greenery, too. We moved about halfway back on the property line, then ScOsh pulled out a gun of a different sort, changed a setting and cut a hole in the fence, pushing the ironmongery in. "They're going to spring a teleport trap," he said, "Which means they're going to try and overwhelm me with firepower. I don't know where they're going to do it, so I'm building myself a second escape hole just in case." He went back around to the front, cut himself another hole, then opened the driveway gate, propping it open with a piece of the ironwork from his second hole. He moved towards the front door by a circuitous route, never choosing the easy or obvious path. Instead of opening the front door, however, he broke the window next to it, carefully breaking out the remaining glass before entering. Here's Johnny! I remember thinking, like in The Shining. He gestured me up to the porch. I tried to use the same sort of movement patterns he had. "So far, everything is like they're expecting some untrained idiot to just take the easy entrance for granted. However, I want to be ready in case there's someone who knows what they're doing." He deftly pulled the hinges out of the front door on the inside as I gingerly stepped over the windowsill.

He moved to the staircase, which was at least double wide with a large open area at its head, like something you see people making a grand entrance to the ball with. "You can't run an ambush like this without an observer," he said, "I'm blanketing the house with interference. Unless they have someone on the inside here, they can't see what we're doing."

He was on the third step from the top when they hit us. Six manesi suddenly appeared, two at the top, four at the bottom, roaring and screaming like they were having a jet race. ScOsh got the two at the top before I could react; we both turned towards the others. I pointed the gun he'd given me at the lead manes rushing up the stairs, took a breath and pushed the button. A hole appeared on its right side, and it staggered slightly, but kept coming. Grimly, I pushed the button again, and another hole appeared in what would have been the gut on a human. It stopped momentarily, then gathered itself as if for a final rush. I was dimly aware that ScOsh had killed the rest already. Almost in a panic, I touched the button one more time, and another hole appeared dead center in its chest, and it gently collapsed in place, sliding down a couple stairs in the trail of multicolored blood it left behind.

"Good shooting," ScOsh said, "Especially since you haven't had any training and it was your first time under fire." The whole scene was a nightmare of collapsed manesi and their pooling multicolored ichor. It was dripping from the balcony too, and running down the stairs by us.

"You got five to my one, and had plenty of time," I replied, "You could have gotten mine, too. It was getting close."

"You're right, but now we know you can defend yourself if you have to. A surprising number of people can't, without training. They freeze, they run, any of several other things, but for whatever reason, they don't fight when they have to. Now we know for a fact that's not you. I was ready to finish it if I had to." Carefully, picking his way between rivers of surreal blood, ScOsh climbed the rest of the stairs, and I followed. There was a hallway running the depth of the house, front to back, on the right of the stairs. Except for a bannister, it was open to the ground floor once it passed the head of the staircase, with doors to two rooms clearly visible. At the back of the open area was a third door, and as I saw when I moved to look down its length, two sets of paired doors opposite each other, about another twenty feet back and an open door at the end of the hall, probably leading into the master bedroom. The hall itself was at least eight feet wide. "Stay a couple steps behind me, but stay with me. Let me lead." Since I had no intention of doing anything else, that was wasted breath. I was firmly of the opinion that ScOsh was my best chance at living through this, but I wasn't going to be the one springing the booby traps if I could help it.

He moved swiftly, not interested in any of the lesser doors. "Nothing interesting in there," he said when I asked, "I'm looking for two things: ston terrorists and things that can tell me where to find ston terrorists. This house is organized like a fa├žade - people don't really live or work here. I think it's just a convenient place to meet with their tools." We got to the back door into the master bedroom. "Nothing," he said, disgusted, and turned back around.

That's when wave two hit. Smaller but nastier. Four more monsters like nothing ever seen on earth. Three of them were a god-awful fluorescent yellowish green, radially symmetric. Barrel shaped torso with four salmon pink arms at shoulder height, one every ninety degrees and four legs that were so articulated they could turn up to ninety degrees each direction, with the effect that although you'd think something like that could only waddle, it turns out they could really haul. The arms had a three fingered hand each, but also a long serrated bone blade, triangular in cross section, that the hand could either nestle against on its back side, or not. Their heads were the size of a large watermelon, mostly off-white bony, also radially symmetric, with four parrot-like beak mouths, and above that, a conical top that had housed thousands of eyes, faceted like a fly's. They were blocking our way out.

The fourth demon was something else again. It appeared behind us in the master bedroom. Eight feet high and almost human in shape, it might have almost come out of central casting for demons. It reminded me of the big devil in Fantasia, the segment were they have the demons dancing on All Hallows, except it wasn't the G rated version. Naked yes, neuter no - definitely a he. No wings, but the basic shape wasn't too far off. It even had the traditional hairy legs and cloven hooves like a goat. Two more or less human arms, heavily muscled. Except for a hooked spike on each elbow the arms looked like they might have come off human weightlifters. Each arm ended in a hand with seven recognizable fingers, the ones on each end capable of opposing movement like our thumbs. Unlike human hands, though, they had retractable tiger-like claws, steely black and at least four inches long. The horns on the head were turned to spike forward, not inward like most mythological demons. It wouldn't have been able to stand up in my parent's house, with its standard eight and a half foot ceiling.

It was purple, a light, lavender-ish purple, not central casting red. I remember ScOsh warning me about purple demons - "if it's purple, it's a probably a noble and has protections like the stons and I do"

I heard a voice in my head, let the big one take a couple of steps, then front roll and trip him. I'll be there. So I did that. I confess I might have hesitated if I hadn't seen Esteban do it to much bigger boys on the football field. Mi hermano played center on the high school team, despite being only five foot eight. We went to all his games when I was little. Not often, but every once in a while some huge ogre of a lineman would start manhandling him, and instead of meeting it head on, he'd roll and trip the ogre. He never did it more than once, but he didn't need it more than once. After that, the ogre was usually more careful, by which I mean restrained.

The big purple guy started moving, I threw myself at his feet, rolling into a ball but throwing my arms out to make sure I caught him. Damned thing was massive, but down he went. I wasn't sure the hardwood floor was going to survive, but it did, albeit with a couple of holes. I pointed my weapon at it and shot. It actually hit - I saw it hit - but it didn't do much more than nick his side. The demon screamed, mostly in outrage as I could tell it wasn't really hurt. I shot again, aiming for the feet, but I missed. I moved back to the center of the chest, and shot a couple more times. I could swear that I should have hit the damned thing dead center of the chest both times, but the beam was somehow deflected and attenuated. A couple more minor holes opened, one on the side near the first, the other on the opposite leg.

That was all it took. I didn't see what ScOsh had done to the round green demons, but two were down and bleeding, most likely dead, the third was still up but obviously hurt. I had really pissed off the big noble, but he was still trying to get off the floor when ScOsh's sword cut off one of its arms at the elbow, and it roared again, this time in real pain and hurt, and changed its target.

So did I. I figured since I couldn't really hurt the purple one so I'd finish off the other green one. I changed my target and dead centered that disgusting watermelon head, which obligingly exploded. Unfortunately, it turned out to be really caustic. Flying bits of demon head went everywhere. I'd managed to cover my face, but quite a few pieces hit my jeans and my sweatshirt, which started to smoke. I shook and brushed them off, but the acid kept eating at the clothes for a few seconds. I checked my hair, which had also caught a few pieces, brushed it out with my arms, grabbed a couple decorative doilies off a dresser, and used those to help wipe. No time to worry about my hair right then, just about getting the stuff out of my clothes before it burned down to me - whatever the damage, as long as it was just hair, it would grow back. I'd need new sneakers, too.

ScOsh, of course, hadn't been touched by the exploding acid whatever-it-was from the demon's head, damn him. The fourth demon was down, head split diagonally in two with the loose piece still rocking back and forth gently a few feet away, suspended between what was left of a horn and the curve of the rest of the scalp. Down the stairs we went, carefully avoiding the slippery rivers and pools of demon blood. I thought he'd want to leave, but, "I'm looking for a basement," is what he said, "They're trying to soften me up on the easy stuff, wear me out" he said, "Be ready for round three."

"You call that easy?"

"Three brakiri and a terostes? The only challenge was keeping you from getting hurt."

"A little bit of warning about exploding caustic acid heads might have been useful!"

"Sorry, I thought you'd shoot the body and that isn't caustic, as you can see. By the time I knew different, it was too late, and to answer the obvious question, I've got static defenses that handle that kind of minor annoyance. See the heavy arc on the floor? That's where I was at the time. We'll get you some new clothes soon as we leave here."

"The, terostes, you said? I was sure my shots should have been hitting it, dead center. But it was like they were getting deflected and weakened."

"Terostes are minor nobles. Think equivalent to landed knights or maybe minor baron. They do have some of the same protections I do. Not as good as mine, but kind of like a special armor that evolved because it helps them survive. Conditions in the fractal dimensions mostly aren't what we would consider congenial."

He had found the passage leading down to the basement; what initially looked like a broom closet between kitchen and bathroom. I didn't think California houses had basements, but here was one, or at least stairs down. They were steep and narrow descending about 12 vertical feet before the square landing in the corner, then became more normal the rest of the way down, along what appeared to be the long side of the room, which was shrouded but at least fifteen by twenty. "They would have known I would find this if I looked," ScOsh said, "And they should have known I'd look."

He got most of the way to the landing when he turned and vaulted the rail, dropping maybe ten feet to the floor. I didn't see anything, but he was concentrating too hard to be just standing there. He strode purposefully towards the back corner, hidden from my view under the stairs. Sounds of metal on metal rang through the enclosed space. For some reason, instantly I started getting shooting pains of headache. I descended as far as the landing, then craned around for a better look.

He was engaged in combat with a woman. Unlike anything I'd ever seen in the movies, there was no trash talking and no braggadocio that I could observe. No posturing, no snappy one-liners. Just two people trying to kill each other. Even if I could write the story, Hollywood would never be interested - it was too real. I didn't know enough to judge the contest as to who was winning. ScOsh was encased in a ghostly blue, his opponent in a wan orange-pink. The style and distance between them looked more Three Musketeers than Seven Samurai. At a glance, it looked like the swords part of the fight was close enough to a draw. From what ScOsh had told me earlier, I presumed there was some wizardly or mindlord jabbing and parrying back and forth, but I had no way of observing that, and no way of knowing who had the upper hand. Judging by his body language, I would say ScOsh was confident enough, but so was the woman. One of them was wrong, but which?

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Grace I would like to ask you about extending.
The telepathic message was not unexpected. I had twelve days - three Imperial weeks - to go in my twenty year commitment to the Imperial military. In our capacity as Merlon's Eyes, Asto and I had been all over the Empire in that time, from the thinly human Thirtyfifth Galaxy where the aliens were barely more advanced than the Earth where I'd been born, to the Second and Fourth Galaxies, where humans had a more substantial presence for much longer, and the alien species inhabiting them were therefore technologically competitive with the Empire.
I was, and had been, for several years, a Staff Private. The Eyes recruited closely bonded husband and wife operant teams (or the equivalent), valuing the rapport that made such teams work more like two fingers of the same hand. But Merlon's Eyes still had to work within their roles in the Imperial military. An Eye who was a Section Private was a Section Leader with additional duties, as I had been for three years prior to making Staff Private. I would have made Platoon Private by now, except that I was getting close to timing out of the military. Officers selecting for promotion wanted someone with more time left on their contract than I did.
My husband Asto had just made Staff Corporal, three grades above me, but his commitment was not expiring. Asto had agreed to a sixty year commitment when he signed up. I'd initially agreed to ten, extending ten more to justify our selection as Eyes, but that was it. I wasn't making a big deal about my - our - plans, but I'd done my share of pulling the wagon for a while. I wanted to start our family, so I was letting my contract expire.
Which was what First Corporal Whelsed wanted to talk to me about. But that didn't mean I wanted to talk to her about it. I have other plans. In fact, I've already made promises. I'm here for another twelve days, then I'm going home for a visit. Twenty Imperial years was the same duration as fourteen Earth years, but time on Earth ran about four times faster than the Imperial Home Instance. It had been nearly sixty years on Earth since my last visit.
Earth wasn't really home any longer, but it was where I was from. I might not even recognize it any more. Fifty years before I was born, Riverside had been mostly citrus groves. The advent of the Empire was certainly no less of a change than the urbanization of California after World War II.
So go home for a visit, but give me a contract to extend first. We'll write leave of whatever duration you want into the new contract.
That's not the only plan I have, sir. Technical ang was unisex, but English "sir" captured the connotations better than other alternatives. Whelsed was in my direct chain of command - operations deputy for the squadron I was attached to. Roughly the equivalent of a one-star general in the disbanded US Army.
So what are your plans?
With respect, sir, none of your business and you know it. I agreed to twenty years. In twelve days, I will have met that commitment and what I do then is my own business.
Someone wants to select you for Platoon Private but with twelve days left, it's pointless.
People have been declining to select me for Platoon Private for about three years, sir. I've been aware of it the whole time. If I wanted to be a Platoon Private bad enough to extend, I'd have already done it.
The Eyes are stretched too thin. They don't want to lose one of their better pairs.
I've already extended once for the Eyes, because my husband wanted us to be Eyes. Now it's time for what I want, which is out. For at least sixty years.
By which time your husband will be too senior for the Eyes. Asto was something pretty special, even among Guardians. He would be well into the sergeant grades before I considered rejoining the military. Commanders of forty-odd thousand troops or more really couldn't take off for Eyes work. The Empire's command structure was too steep to allow it. In the Planetary Surface troops, any rank other than staff grades went with a specific command assignment. Asto might transfer to Tactical Space or Strategic Space command, but the situation there was no different. You might technically be an Eye forever, but above Company Corporal, only staff grades got actual Eye assignments.
As I said, sir, the Eyes got their pound of flesh.
Sorry, local Earth idiom. I honored my contract, even though I wanted something else. Now are you going to waste my last twelve days trying to persuade me to do something I'm not going to do, do you have an assignment for us, or do I go back to scheduling personnel shuttles?
We have an assignment. It might take more than twelve days.
Then you'd better get them to assign someone else. Because you know as well as I do what happens if you try to hold me over involuntarily. The Imperial military knew full well people took time out between military tours, sometimes hundreds or even thousands of Imperial years. They didn't want to give people an incentive not to come back by holding them past their contract expiration. Officers at grades where they commanded multiple systems could be involuntarily extended, but that pointedly didn't include me, Asto, or even Whelsed. The lowest grade subject to that was thirty-odd promotions away.
They're having trouble finding someone else.
If you assign us the mission, I'll do my best for twelve days. Not thirteen. And that assumes you have transport standing by. I'm even willing to pilot my own way back, if I can leave the ship there. We'd formally enlisted at Fulda Base on Indra. The rule was the military was responsible for returning us there for separation by the time the contract expired.
Grace, work with me here!
I am working with you. I've been working with you these last twenty years. I've honored every last bit of my contract, but you're assuming you're entitled to more of my life than I've contracted to give you. You're not. I might point out that I'm entitled to nearly two prime days of leave I haven't taken. That was 120 days - half an Imperial year - that I hadn't taken because Asto and I had been so much in demand as Eyes. The Empire didn't really do terminal leave like Earth's bureaucracies, where people used untaken leave to take their last several months off. I'd be paid for it on separation, but they had a contractual right to my services up until the moment my contract expired. It's just that most people did get at least a few days because there wasn't an assignment to fit the time remaining. You are entitled to my best efforts until the end of the Imperial day on one-fortyfour. Not one moment longer, and the fact that I have one-fiftyeight (118 in base 10) days of leave accrued and untaken is evidence I've been more than willing to do my part under the contract. Total leave for twenty years was 240 days; I still had almost half of it.
I can't change your mind?
No, you can't, Corporal Whelsed. Tell whomever tasked you with trying that I've been looking forward to this day since the moment I agreed to be an Eye. I've done what I agreed, or at least in twelve days I will have done it. I need to be doing something else after.
Well, I can't force you, so how long do you think you'll need with the shuttle schedule?
I'll be done with it tomorrow, sir. Truth be told I'm mostly fiddling at the edges, anyway. Division will need to make more changes in reaction to events than I will to be happy with it in the theoretical state.
Alright, Grace, we'll be damned sorry to lose you, but you're right. You have shuttle runs on the current schedule through one-thirtynine; I'll cut orders sending you to Indra on one-forty. The commander's staff at Fulda base might have something for me to do the last four days, or they might let me go early. Make that probably would; their shuttle schedule would be as settled as ours was, and it was unlikely they'd find other work for only four days.
Thank you sir!
Thank you, Grace. Whelsed wasn't really a friend, but I was pretty certain she liked me. And good luck.

The event that holds the greatest significance in the recent history of the Empire is the Ston Rebellion and subsequent Interregnum. It may have ended up over 3600 imperial years previously, but there is still significant living memory of them.

During the Rebellion and Interregnum, everyone suffered. The population of humans dropped by a factor of roughly 3000, due to war, dropping below minimal technological maintenance levels, and intentional persecution by stop warlords, exacerbated as the ston warlords fought each other for domination and rule of what was left. All of the major habitats were destroyed, each of them having somewhere over one quintillion inhabitants. Over half of all Imperial planets were sterilized or destroyed completely, and had to be re-terraformed when the Empire was re-established. Starvation took a toll, as well. No Imperial planet managed to maintain as much as half of its pre-rebellion population, and most were left with one sixtieth or less.

During the Interregnum, one thing the newly dominant stons were intent upon was hunting down the remaining cot leaders. By the time it was over, eleven of the Fifteen Houses had been completely exterminated, but seven members of the Great Council survived to re-establish the Empire.

(The Fifteen Houses weren't blameless for the situation - they'd winnowed each other ruthlessly, in excess of 95% being killed within a few years of attaining final adulthood. But it also meant that those who survived were tough. It generally took a dozen or more stons to successfully kill one)

The seven survivors are:

BarAntro (Antro Baryan stu Merlak): Believed to be the strongest operant of all time, at least triple the known strength of any other survivor. Also known as the Blue Prince, he occupies the offices of Merlon and Supervisor. Roughly 20,000 Imperial years of age (14,000 Earth)

BarYerd (Yerd Baryan stu Merlak): Older (half) sister of Antro. Mysterious, keeps out of the public eye as much as she can. She quietly handles the Guardian's Ears, aimed at keeping future rebellions from getting to the point of violence. Sometimes known by a term babaiana that translates roughly as 'Mama Spider'. Roughly 60,000 Imperial years of age.

YokNos (Nos Yokel stu Merlak): Oldest of the seven, last of Merphon's grandchildren. Approximately 105,000 Imperial years of age. Sometimes known by the term dagdadirans, which translates as 'winning the game of isevenths'. He is the most responsible for sponsoring the conditions that lead to economic development.

JeSarba (Sarba JeNor stu Merlak): The youngest of the seven, and most tragic. She is the widow of Imans Baryan, and theirs was the first marriage between two members of the Fifteen Houses (by current usage, two Seventh Order Guardians). The series of events that began the Rebellion were set up by her own father, and resulted in the destruction of the rest of House Jehob. She modified her family name to honor the uncle that tried to support her. That she is Imans' widow means she is Antro's ex-daughter-in-law, and her daughter is Antro's grand-daughter. She was named Guardian after the Restoration. She is approximately 11,000 Imperial years of age.

M'Drashin (Drashin M'Dorna Stu Merlak) Probably the best social actuary in the Empire, known for leading the dissent to the establishment of the ston program, correctly predicting it would destroy the Empire. Approximately 15,000 Imperial years of age.

CorNost (Nost Cor stu Merlak) Unlike the above list, CorNost does not come from one of the families descended from Merphon's first group of sons. His ancestor was the middle son of Merphon's second family of five. Allied with the Yokel because the Cor were traditional allies of the Yokel before the Interregnum, Nost is known for brutal directness. Approximately 15,000 Imperial years of age.

Scimtar (Scimtar di Baryan) Unlike the others of the Seven, Scimtar is not a direct descendant of Merphon. His ancestor was another member of the initial group of operants, Zaius, and his line of descent includes his biological father being essentially a rapist of his mother. Raised by his mother and her husband, nonetheless, he was a long time Baryan retainer, actually being Antro's first tutor in the military arts. Nobody except Scimtar knows what caused his power to blossom, and he isn't telling. Now an independent, he still has ties of traditional friendship to Antro, Yerd, and Drashin. Slightly younger than YokNos, but approximately 105,000 Imperial years of age.


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