22

A searing, endless brilliance stretches in every direction. The pain of it is unavoidable, like pupils bare to the sun.

Once every eternity, it pulses. Magnesium-magma veins seep in for brief moments, giving way once more to inchoate light.

Section 22

With each pulse, the bonfire rivers crackle and grow. The formations change, a message reaching through the empty channel. An unknown mental signature.

An emotion forms, the feeling of a child toward fire after having felt its burn. The pulsing gains wild velocity, a sense of familiarity growing ever nearer. The heat of a gaze on one’s back; ancient thoughts in living whispers, flickering. Getting warmer.

Then like a skull split, a ribcage opening, the scene unfolds and begins to make sense. Faces like her own, and the damning eyes of others all around.

21

KI: So is it what you needed to move forward?

AS: This will give us at least four new streams of information in our reconnaissance soundings that should tell us where and how to modulate our power workings. It’s priceless, Karma. Good work.

KI: Don’t thank me. I was just the gopher. I’m sure the author would be proud, if he weren’t dead.

Section 21

Karma Ilacqua sat in sunglasses before the Iljen Monument, a stylish cap covering her red bob. The morning rush was dying down. Above her level gaze, they had already replaced the windows on her last room at the Massey-Sonnes Hotel. She read the discussion on the inside of her dark lenses.

AS: If the Foundational fanatics hadn’t set the hit on him, he might be here doing this with us. He would have been. If only.

KI: Well your team, whoever they are. I’m betting they’ve got what it takes.

AS: If we don’t, nobody does.

KI: Then it’s a good thing no one knows who you are, where you are, or what you’re up to. How are you holding up in the middle of secret nowhere?

AS: Getting hardly any sleep, living the dream. Only I ran out of my favorite gin.

KI: Shame on them. Do I need to send you a care package through those company messengers?

AS: You should, and also I want cookies. I gotta go.

Closing her fists, Karma turned off the impulse readings of her glasses’ biosys. Reaching up, she took them off and rubbed her eyes. Idly, she scanned the rotating planet of information that was the Monument. The visual representation of Genesee, close by on her right, was pulsing red over half its surface. Shielded areas in color patterns of specific agencies indicated emergency relief. A paltry few of the planet’s tradelines still showed activity to the dozens of other entities.

She considered pulling up the infopoints on her hand held when a muted clash of cymbals issued out of it. A message from her boss at Plexus. She pursed her lips to one side and put her sunglasses back on, pulling it into view.

-Saris to Ilacqua
-Please report to the Mainstation in 5th Alisandrian orbit. You are to coordinate distraction teams aimed at Fortuity and Seven Suns. Compile dossiers.

Karma threw her head back in seeming exasperation, but she wore a close-lipped smile that lingered as she tucked her shades into a coat pocket. She stood and stretched, looking around as a flytaxi came to rest directly in front of her. Nearby pedestrians looked to see who it was. The door opened, and Ilacqua stepped inside.