The Man From Empire
Dan Melson

Copyright 2013 Dan Melson All Rights Reserved

Prolog

Twenty-three kilometers up, Osh Scimtar felt the explosion through his feet.

More ominously, he immediately realized that he was no longer feeling the full
force of Sharanna’s acceleration. The building was falling.

Quick probes with his mental abilities and datalink told him all he needed to know
about this disaster before it happened. Blue Gold Arcology held fifty-two million
people at the peak of the primary business day, and its’ support columns had
been severed and back up gravity generators destroyed by a series of cutter
bombs at the base.

There was no time for anything but trying to save as many people as possible.
He commanded all portals within the arcology to lock into emergency exodus
mode – they would lock onto the destination chosen by the first person to enter
them, and would refuse to accept any incoming traffic. Matos, his superior, beat
him by less than a millionth of a second to flashing the emergency via all data
channels.

Osh wasn’t concerned for his own safety. Like roughly a seventh of the Imperial
population, he was capable of generating his own portals. The question was how
many he would be able to save with himself.

Next question, what would happen to the mass of Blue Gold as it fell? Either of
the destroyed systems would have had no difficulty keeping the Arcology up
alone, but with broken supports and no gravity generators, the hull charge on the
building wasn’t enough to keep it from falling – down or over. That hull charge
was the real issue, as it was likely to cause irregular resistance as the massive
arcology fell, imparting lateral force to the building as a whole. In short, the hull
charge made it more likely the building would fall sideways, into the lesser
arcologies surrounding it. The choice was to order the hull charge dissipated and
hope it fell straight enough not to hit the smaller but still populous arcologies
around it, or keep it on in order to buy perhaps an extra minute to escape with a
practical certainty it would fall and hit at least one of its lesser brethren, more
likely two or three.

Osh ran a quick mental simulation – the structural systems of arcologies were
tough. It would take something more than bare mass to bring them down, but if
Blue Gold Arcology still had its own hull charge when it hit a neighboring
arcology, there was considerable doubt they’d maintain their integrity. He linked
with Matos, his superior, who concurred in his estimate, and Matos ordered the
hull charge dissipated. It wouldn’t make that much of a difference to those inside
Blue Gold Arcology.

Already in the first four seconds, at least a million would have died as the lower
floors pancaked, falling ever faster with the force of Sharanna’s acceleration.
Ironically, the people at the top would have the longest fall, and therefore the
greatest chance to find a way to save themselves. More than eight sixtieths of
the imperial population were Guardians, and most of them would be able to
rescue some non-operants as well – perhaps two or three each. Perhaps
another five or six sixtieths might make it through a portal on time. Some few
would be close enough to vehicles or spacecraft on the parking levels to get out.
Isolated individuals might figure something out that enabled them to escape or be
rescued, but already the lowest levels were crushed debris, and the levels above
were crashing to ground with ever greater force. Osh estimated than probably
eighteen million would die in the minute it would take for the collapse to complete
itself – at the end, the top floors would be falling at supersonic speeds. Most of
the non-operants were simply too far inside the building to have any hope of
escape.

Osh, Matos, and all three of Osh’s Primus subordinates were among the
Guardians – one of them, Fridalisa, was a known Fourth Order Guardian, and
she had already created a portal for everyone in the government office to escape
the fall, with a terminus in Leading Edge Arcology, too far away to be
endangered by the fall of Blue Gold. Aided by Matos she was expanding it
downwards as fast as she could – an escape column in one corner of a building
several kilometers on a side. It wasn’t much, but it was what could be done.
Matos and the Primuses had the situation in hand; that left Osh free to
investigate.

He stretched his perception to the now crushed sublevels where the explosion
had been. There was a fading Instance Portal not five steps from one of the
blast centers. Where it led, he couldn’t tell, but it wasn’t the home Instance.
There wasn’t much doubt; the ston terrorist who planted the bombs had fled
through that portal. The time for action was now; in the next minute tracking
down the exit Instance, let alone a precise destination, would be something that
would take a specialist days at least to track down. Osh didn’t want to emerge
right on top of his quarry, so he applied a small lateral – thirty ififths. He was
confident he would be able to sort out the proper Personal Event Line from that
distance. He reached his hand into his personal pocket for his main weapon,
and projected himself through the portal.

Chapter One

Riverside

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.

I pulled into the parking lot, and spent a few minutes having a quiet attack of the
shakes. The steering wheel was a nice solid reassurance of the familiar world of
everyday life. Things like that just did not happen. Bad enough to come that
close to being raped or maybe worse. I lived in the real world, and things like
that happened even though you don’t want them to. But you do not get six and a
half feet of impossibly fast man walking down out of the sky to kill your enemies
every day, or any day. Maybe in fairy tales or fiction, not in Riverside.

It was close to nine-thirty by the time I pulled myself together enough to get out of
the car. I locked the door of the old blue Hyundai and walked through the gate,
up to my door, went in and locked the door, then collapsed into my old vinyl chair
– just in time to see him step into my field of vision. Where the hell did he come
from, how the fuck did he do that? I’m sorry, my Mama raised a lady, words like
that did not come out of my mouth, but they definitely went through my mind that
time. I started out of the chair, then caught his gaze and froze. As in could not
move, gazing into those eyes. I don’t know how long – but it felt like an eternity.

In the light, I could see he was dressed in a deep sapphire blue with golden trim,
a few pieces of decoration I didn’t understand here and there – not any military
uniforms I’d seen, or police, but of that nature. He himself looked like nothing I’d
ever seen. His skin color was a deep bronze – If I had to guess based on that, I
would have said "Cuban" because most of them have some black ancestry, and
his hair was that dark brown shade of almost black of many hispanics, but his
facial structure was pure north European aristocrat – aquiline nose, hawk sharp
face. The rest of his body was even thinner, if that made sense, and just as tall
as I’d thought at first. At five-four, I barely came up to chest high on him.
Obviously greyhound fit, though. I’d expect to see someone like him at the
Olympics on TV, pole-vaulting or maybe running hurdles, not killing gang
members on the side of a nondescript office building in Riverside, the armpit of
Southern California. His eyes? They were steel grey, unlike anything else I had
ever seen, and just as hard as that implies. Not unwelcoming to me, personally,
at that moment, but I got the impression he would have no difficulty staring down
the entire world if he thought it necessary. Age? Outside the eyes, he looked
younger than me – I’d guess 25, or maybe younger. He was a young vibrant
powerful man, not a boy. The eyes were older – way older.

"I’m sorry," he said in a completely normal California anglo accent, not a trace of
anything else. It broke the spell holding me in place, and I started to scream at
him in my parents’ native Spanish. I got about half a word out before he made a
gesture of peace, in an unhurried way but just as fast as I’d seen back in the
parking lot, "As you have probably figured out, I’m from a long way away. I’d
hoped to get my business taken care of and leave, but I managed to miss the
people I came to see." And then I noticed – or should I say realized that I had
noticed that his lips weren’t moving and I wasn’t actually hearing him with my
ears, only in my head.

"Think of me as a wizard," the voiceless words went on, "A long time ago, my
ancestors bred themselves in a certain way. There was a danger, and they
instituted a breeding program such as even livestock had never been subjected
to. They paid a terrible price, but the breeding program succeeded. I am one
result of that program. "

He continued, now starting to actually speak, a strong baritone, but I somehow
knew tenor or bass would be just as easy for him. "I didn’t mean to frighten you,
and I apologize again. I simply had no place better to go, and when I missed my
business meeting, I decided there was no point in going to someone else who
hadn’t seen what happened. I thought I might as well keep the witnesses to the
ones that already had seen something. I need to track down someone, and I
need to keep myself out of his sight while I do. The fewer people who know
anything of my errand, the higher the odds of success. I’ll stay out of your way,
and I’ll see that you are well compensated for your trouble. If you don’t want me
around, I’ll leave."

"Compensated how?" I asked, thinking money. If this guy really was a wizard –
and so far the evidence was strongly in favor – maybe this was my opportunity to
tell "Call me George" Martinez to go to hell

"Money is certainly possible, but it’s going to take me a little while. I don’t have
anything I can sell quickly, but I can start with this," and suddenly I felt better,
sharper than I had ever felt in my life. Completely awake, refreshed, not hungry
despite having not eaten since lunchtime. My feet didn’t hurt, my backache went
away, my eyes weren’t tired at all. My vision looked weird, I popped my contacts
out, and saw crystal clear. For the first time in my life, perfect vision. No coke
bottle glasses like I’d grown up with, no special contact lenses that even Wal-
Mart charged an arm and a leg for. I had to break down and cry for joy. It was a
moment. While I was marveling at that miracle, I could feel other, deeper
changes. I felt queasy while it was going on, but it wasn’t painful. Any particular
area was altered almost before I could get the idea he had moved into it. I got
the impression he had had a lot of practice, but when it was done, I felt better
than I ever had before. Perfect vision was only the most obvious change.

"Stay as long as you like," I managed to choke out.

"I should tell you that this will not last forever," he said, "I can fix you so that
you’re as healthy as possible, but it’s human nature that your body falls apart as
you get older. I can’t fix that with one treatment, or ever. Even with recurring
treatment, critical organs may fail catastrophically. Even our own people don’t
live forever. All I can do is move you back to where you should be."

"Forever?" I asked, "How long do you live?"

"Guardians like me, we’re not sure. It’s been about thirty square years since we
really mastered the skills we needed to improve ourselves, and we keep
improving still. Those of us who haven’t been killed are still around, my father
among them. He’s approaching thirty square. Ordinary people, like you,
between fifteen and thirty prime. But all one treatment can do is make you as
healthy and as young as you could possibly be. You’ll still age normally"

"Fifteen prime?"

"Fifteen times sixty," Nine hundred years. As a lower limit. Maybe twice that.

"Thirty Square?"

"Thirty times sixty squared," he said, and continued when he sensed I needed it
converted, "You use base ten, so one hundred eight thousand."

Damn. I later found out their years were shorter than ours – just under seven
tenths. But still, damn.

"How old are you?" I asked, a little bit hysterical.

"Five, fifty eight, thirty seven. In decimal form, 21,517." This guy wanted me to
believe he’d been born thousands of years before my ancestors came to
America. Literally Paleolithic Era. Humans were barely sapien at that point. It
was too much.

He sensed my incredulity, "I told you, I’m from a long way away. Time runs in
strange ways, and usually unevenly between places. Especially separated as
ours are. My sister could tell you more than I can. She’s a specialist. I’m just
about able to follow the markers laid down by others."

"In fact," he said, "I’m not even certain I can get back once I’m done here. I
assumed the Instance Portal went somewhere we’d know about, and have
markers laid down. That’s a lot of territory, and most of us don’t have any reason
to go outside of it. But this guy did."

I got the picture- he wasn’t exactly lost but he didn’t currently know the way back.
I figured he’d augmented my brain when he fixed my vision. "What are you?
You wouldn’t have done that for a business deal. Why are you here?"

"Good question. Right now, I represent our government. I am in pursuit of a
criminal, an agent of a hostile government. One who killed millions of our
citizens in one act."

"So you’re a cop?"

"Not as you understand the term. There’s more to it than that. But yes, I enforce
the law."

"What’s your name?"

"Osh Scimtar di Baryan. Call me Sosh," he said, with a long O. I later found out
"ScOsh" would be more nearly correct, but the c equivalent was soft in his family
name and hadn’t been audible. I was speaking to him not writing, so it’s not
important, but I think he deserves to have his name recorded correctly. You can
imagine me calling him "Sosh" if you like.

"Why do you think this criminal is here?"

"I followed him through an Instance Portal, but he’d already Ported himself again
before I got there. Instance Portals are major manifestations, trivial for anyone of
us to follow them while they last, and for a few seconds after, specialists for
years, given a chance to investigate. You’re bridging between two different
instances of creation – it takes something strong to do that. Kind of like a
monumental building. Even once it falls down, you can tell it was there, and
where the bridge led, although that gets fuzzier faster than anything else. They
fade over time, but I sent an amplifying signal when I arrived. It’ll take them
some time to dig through the remains of what he destroyed, but they’ll be able to
follow me here eventually."

"Personal portals within an instance are different. You’re not punching a hole so
much as stepping between two places. Unless you have them somehow tagged
right when your target moves, there is no way even the Blue Prince can trace it.
Maybe there are powers somewhere that can. But none we are acquainted with"

"Instances of creation… you mean different universes?"

"Not really. There is only one universe, but there are different instances of
creation within it. Like rooms in a house, if you can find the doors between them.
They may occupy the same space, separated in ways that cannot be seen
without the appropriate senses. But they all connect if you know how. The
connection to get between this place and where I am from is likely long and
tenuous under most circumstances, but I think it likely that it has been used
before. Your genome scans as human as mine, with only minor variations. I’d
estimate the divergence at not more than about two thousand generations on
your side. We have been places where that estimate is much larger, but they’re
still people. By the way, have you anything to eat? I may be a wizard, but I still
expend energy."

He looked like he expended a lot of energy. Even my Mexican cousins down in
the interior weren’t as thin as he was. But he was definitely a hardbody, all lean
muscle. I’d known a racing greyhound – one of our neighbors growing up
adopted one from Greyhound Rescue. He had that look – crossed with the grace
of a leopard. He moved like a dancer. I got the impression nothing short of a
cannonball could knock him off balance, and I’d seen he was fast enough that a
cannonball was likely to miss. No leftovers worth the name in the fridge. So I
grabbed a couple frozen dinners and threw them in the microwave.

"You mean we’re the same species?" I asked as they cooked, a certain spring in
my voice. You show me a young healthy woman who’s not attracted to a man
like that. Certainly she wasn’t the woman who looked me in the mirror every day.
Especially not with her engine tuned up like he’d done to mine.

"Yes," he responded, "There are some minor differences, but nothing to create a
species barrier. I doubt you’d even need one intervention if humans from here
wanted to breed with humans from back home."

I was starting to regret not cooking something real. Mama taught me how to
cook, I just didn’t do it much outside of the weekends. I sure wasn’t going to
hesitate to throw over my occasional boyfriend if I could land this one.

He interrupted "I apologize again, but I almost can’t avoid reading your surface
thoughts. It’s not polite to pry, but Guardians are telepathic, and you’re
practically shouting at me. Had you grown up where I did, you’d have learned to
guard your thoughts so as not to be doing that, but since you haven’t, I can’t help
but be aware of your thoughts." My face had gone red as a beet, but his voice
became very gentle and he became very sad, as in remembrance of something,
"I wasn’t hinting, I was talking biology. I am older even than most Guardians. I
have had experiences you will never have unless life is exceedingly cruel. I’m
not saying this to hurt you or insult you, Graciela. You are remarkable within the
environment you’ve grown in, but I can no more be interested in you as you are
now than you could be interested in a ten year old, and even if I could, it would
be criminally irresponsible of me. My vision of self would consider me a spoiled
child, with inadequate control over myself, and I doubt that I can convey the level
of revulsion I would feel for such a person without more intimate mental contact
than you would willingly permit."

The microwave dinged. I was being pulled in too many ways too fast. I didn’t
trust myself to speak, so I simply opened the door and handed him one of them.
Beef and cheese enchilada with rice and beans. I had machaca burrito with the
same sides.

Soon as I started eating, I realized I was ravenously hungry. It hadn’t just been
ten hours since I ate, I realized that ScOsh had used my own energy to fix all the
little things wrong with me. Among those had been the blood sugar drop that
signals hunger most of the time, but once food started going in, it was hard to
stop. Soon as I finished the dinner, I grabbed bread and sandwich stuffings from
the fridge, and started putting them together. PB&J, turkey, ham and cheese,
another PB&J. I kept building them and handing him every other one until I’d had
four. He’d had the same, and we’d finished the bread. I was torn between
thinking I’d gain ten pounds and that I would be doomed to keep eating forever
hungry and getting thinner like the guy in some myth I’d heard once.

"Just a one-time thing, Graciela"

"You can call me Grace," I said, "Everybody does. Well, at least everyone who’s
not close family"

"Just a one-time thing, Grace," he repeated, "Your body will replace the energy I
used, then go back to normal, although it will want more for a while. You were
about forty, I’ve moved you back to a thirty year old body"

As I said, I’m 28. You tell a woman she was an old hag and you’ve helped her by
moving he back to two years older than she is and see what happens.

ScOsh sensed my anger, and said, "We consider thirty to be the first flush of
physical maturity. It’s also the age at which we expect our children to have
become adults for most purposes. Maybe our years are shorter than yours." As
I said earlier, he told me the next day that the years he talked about were 255
Earth days, almost exactly. The decimal conversion he told me was 0.698. So
normal people where he came from "only" lived about 630 to 1250 Earth years,
and he was "only" a little over fifteen thousand Earth years old. Give or take. It
didn’t make much difference to resentment and anger I felt, but at least I was an
insanely healthy 21 year old now, not the forty year old hag I’d been imagining
(who was really the same 28 I was)

"Is there somewhere I can learn more about Earth?" he asked, "I need to find out
as much about it as fast as I can."

I pointed to the computer, "I have an internet connection right there," I said, "But
why should I help some bourgeois pig who lives hundreds of lives, who thinks I’m
a little girl despite being an old hag. I’m about half a second from throwing you
out."

"I can’t help how I was born, or how you were born, Grace. It isn’t a product of
innate superiority or the opposite. It just is. As productive to whine about how
some creatures only live a few days and why they can’t have some of your
lifespan as well as mine. If it strikes you as bad, the thing to do is what you can
to remedy the situation. It wouldn’t help to chop off my life, or that of every one
of my people. Your people would still die just as young and ignorant as ever. All
it would do is kill something beautiful to feed the resentment of someone too
young and inexperienced to know better. Instead, work to improve your people
and the world they live in. I think you’ll find that easier now – the thing I improved
the most was your mind. You think we’re good at improving bodies, just wait until
you understand how much your mind has improved. It’s a gift, one that I would
give to every human on earth if I could, but I have given it to you. And Grace," he
finished, "You’ll find you are able to help yourself and every other human on
Earth more than you expect."

Crap. He had me. My anger and resentment dissipated, or at least diminished
to the point I could think past them. I could tell, just from our conversation, that
my IQ was higher. I didn’t know any more, but I was making connections I
wouldn’t have, just a couple hours earlier. Figuring things out faster. I’d never
been a fan of Star Trek or any of that garbage, but you pick up on things that are
so common everyone hears about them. Even the class geniuses I occasionally
encountered suddenly weren’t looking so brain smart right now. I booted up the
computer, and showed him how to get online, "When you get tired, there’s the
couch," I said, "I’m going to bed. Goodnight."

"Goodnight," he responded, immersed in what he was doing.

I brought out a spare blanket before I really went to bed. Hospitality was
something Mama took seriously. Then I shut the door, got undressed, and slid
between the sheets. But I couldn’t get to sleep for a while. He really had tuned
me up good.

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