51

As she came to, Wendel calmly opened her eyes. She was sitting on the floor, her hands secured to a fixture behind her. Looking to either side, she saw a darkened bunk. Across the room, someone was chained to a wall pipe. “Toller,” she whispered.

Conscious, Toller nodded to her and jutted his chin to the door. Then he jerked his head to one side, indicating something behind him. He wiggled his shoulders and gave her a slow nod.

Wendel smirked and curled her fingers up to examine her bonds. Locking strongfiber loops. He had something that would open these? She watched him shift and work, both of them listening through the quiet.

Bootsteps approached, followed by discussion, then the sound of a key. In came two men wearing grey coveralls off the loading bay. They shut the door behind them and turned on the light.

One walked to Wendel and tilted her face up. Meeting his eyes, she felt a rush of recognition. She had been right about the undercover shipping network. Poke a web at enough points, and the spider comes out to investigate. She only regretted the boy’s involvement.

“This is she. Wendel Harper.” He sucked his teeth. His rough black countenance showed him to be some years older than his associate, and his posture was military. “We’re going to have words about your presence in our doings. Possibly you made an honest mistake or two at the beginning. But now you’re meddling. And we won’t have it, not from you or your group.” Her group.

Wendel’s voice stayed light. “Leanders Aynsdotr. It was your patterns that tipped me off. Pirates and thieves.”

“Call us what you want, we’re not petty.”

“You’re building an interesting stock of materials. What is it you want here at Genesee disaster? You didn’t come all this way for little old me.”

“You know much less than you think you do. Don’t worry, we’ll teach you more about us before the day is over.” He turned to the other man. “Well done. Let’s get them all on board, and we can go.”

She watched Toller in her peripheral vision. Aynsdotr’s lackey stooped to reach the restraints. With unexpected grace, the boy slithered from where he sat, trapping the man’s feet. Toller grabbed his shirt collar, using his arm as leverage to bring him down. The boy kicked him in the head hard enough to knock him out.

Wendel saw Aynsdotr draw his weapon as Toller grabbed the electric baton from the downed man’s belt. The boy flung it across the room into Aynsdotr’s face. In the time it took for him to scream and drop his aim, Toller closed the distance, wielding his broken cuffs like a sap. Rooting his feet, he swung it straight across Aynsdotr’s temple, dropping him to the ground.

51

Wendel watched Toller pause for the next couple breaths. He blinked and began to search pockets. He withdrew a rectangle key. “Here, this is it.” As he leaned toward her, she caught his gaze with a piercing look. He let her search his eyes, appearing slightly embarassed. Satisfied, she relaxed, leaning away so he could unlock the cuffs.

She stood, rubbing her wrists. “We have to find Leiv, and the others. We have to get off this ship.” Looking at Toller’s puzzled face, she realized she was grinning. She raised her eyebrows and started to laugh.

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sketch fairy 1

Say hello to Mamma Gkika!  You can order a drink at her bar, but you’d better be ready for it.

Phil Foglio Mamma Gkika

By Phil Foglio of Girl Genius, where outside of Mamma’s bar you’ll find mountains of mad science and high adventure.  I’ve climbed those mountains, and let me just say the view from the peaks is spectacular.  If you haven’t already, check em out!

50

Bright Wave could feel the distress in the air with her tendrils. They suggested that she numb her senses in order to approach the burning Grove. She spent time in a dampening chamber designed to minimize echoic sensitivity. Many warned her how terrible it was going anywhere near, nevertheless she had to. With her particular abilities, perhaps she could effect something. Her Grove was on fire.

She jumped from the hovercraft to the head of the trail, wearing an engineered suit that could withstand the heat. This trail was eons old, and required mature senses to follow – the very senses Aquarii had learned long ago in these places. And so they were self protected by a living echoic labyrinth. The elders brought in the young.

In those groves, Bright Wave had learned the land, and her histories. One Symbias that she remembered had a poetic personality, and was her closest teacher. Meditating with this one, Bright Wave had been able to open new meanings in their language, bringing her to the forefront of Aquari culture and technology. This Grove, in her home river valley, housed her first teachers. Later, she herself had helped cultivate it, furthering the work of over nine thousand years.

Fire technology wasn’t native to Aquarii. They were an agile carapid-molluscid people of watery climate, whose voices could connect across stars. Their methods of adaptation didn’t include external fuel combustion. They understood it now, but rarely applied it to much extent other than participating in the Pan-Galactic civilization. No one imagined bringing fire to a Symbias Grove, as only Aquarii could enter those guarded places, and ordinary fire would have inflicted little harm.

Now major Groves across Aquari Home planets were burning in entirety. Neither Aquari nor Imperial forces were able to douse them, and no one had been able to overcome the pain enough to understand the cause.

Meanwhile the wails and tumult of a burning Grove drove those nearby out of their homes, or their minds. The audible pain of a burning Symbias was said to be unbearable, the knowledge living inside them releasing in torrential explosions. They were being consumed at an achingly slow rate, drawing out the loss of their living history. Bright Wave had met with survivors to better understand what she was going into.

She felt practically deaf as she approached, following the path by the inner magnetic sense, humming in requisite time signatures. Near the edge of the valley, a wave of heat brought her to one knee. The suit protected her well, but she knew that without it the temperatures would be fearsome. She picked herself up and continued.

Here the trail began to fray. The singer must maintain the connection in order to stay on the trail, and it was constantly slipping out of grasp. Not just slipping, but twisting in ways not its wont. She felt along, touch and go.

After some progress, she started feeling it. Pain like a shock across her tentacles and tendrils. At different places on the trail it came through more and more, as she captured each frayed end, trying to follow the rope of it. She sped along faster, worried she might lose the thread and be locked out altogether. No one had been able to enter a Grove for hours already, while they burned with no knowledge of why, or how to stop it.

Bright Wave ran up against a wall of heat that knocked her flat. She lost her senses for a moment, facedown on the ground, tentacles covering the back of her head. The suit was holding up. Her skin could stand it. She raised her head to look up.

She could see and interpret the patterns in the searing wall of danger projected by the dying Symbias. It was formed with their escaping commingled forces, eons of lives and ancestral story shredding in waves of chaos. The remaining life in them contained the disaster, forbidding entry.

She steeled herself, reaching out to touch the barrier. She let the heat pass through her, knowing it was a projection. It took all her effort to hold herself in place. She chanted a melody, drawing like fragments to her from the disembodied pieces in howling maelstrom. As an adolescent, kneeling by her Symbias companion, she had made words for it.

Into the ground, all the way to the upper air,
weave your garden in. Your thorns, your spreading leaves.
Bring them forth to touch our living skins.
All the forms that you remember, carried down
and raised in the flowering of our voices.
Here every secret goes and lives it secret life.
We laugh as though it’s ours, all ours,
and always return it back. Build the braid,
pour the waters, and sing to remember.

50

Pieces of that memory joined with her song. Some were gone, and she patched them through the wracking pain that came with their contact. She was sweating, and trembling. She rose on one knee, then onto both jointed legs, and brought her other tentacle against the wall. Firework explosions of color emanated around her as she braced, leaning as though to push open a door.

The chant amplified in the pool of coherent tranquility gathering in front of her. Though clear, it was just a tiny voice under a great storm. Bright Wave could hear herself; it was enough to carry the tune. The pain coursing through her lessened. The coalescing pool grew wide enough to give, and she stumbled through.