49

The hall was full now; Wendel had watched most everyone take their seats. She continued sipping on Leiv’s cup. She sat back, thinking of old times with these friends.

Back then, she was driving citizen transport on the intergalactic routes. Gretz became a familiar face at the airship lots. He never seemed to run the same cargo twice. His ship was an old model, but from its sound she knew it ran in top condition. He’d sit with her for a cup and talk piloting, talk news.

The first time she saw Leiv, he was one of her passengers. Wearing fine business attire, so she thought him an executive. But she saw him again, on a different route, one in a pack of rough travelers. It wasn’t until the hostage crisis at the Iparia spacehub that they’d meet. Wendel’s full transport of a hundred was stuck waiting in orbit, and Leiv captained the ship that came to take her passengers planetside. After the shortest of conversations, Wendel gave the transport over to her copilot, and went with Leiv to fly another ship with his team.

Later, he explained to her about the existence of an autonomous network that observed events and trends, and were present to aid in times of trouble. With their combined skills, they saved asses and threw away receipts.

She’d basically already quit her job, anyway.

The mug in her hand was empty. Wasn’t the boy just going to get coffee? She picked his kerchief off the chair and laid it on the table. Also didn’t Leiv say he was coming right back?

Suddenly there was a hotel security guard standing at Toller’s stool. “Are you Wendel Harper, ma’am?”

She turned to face him. “Yes, why do you ask?”

“Your young friend was caught lifting merchandise from a sundries store. He asked us to come find you.”

“You mean Toller?” she asked, knitting her eyebrows.

“Yes, him. Come with me, please.” Blinking, she rose and followed him through the exit Leiv had taken. The guard led her quickly through crowded hallways to the nearest security passage, opening the door with a palm scanner. She followed him around a sharp corner, where she ran up against the guard, who stood there with his arms crossed. She looked up at a sound above her, and everything went dark.

49

48

Soleil laid back on a divan in the media salon. In the center of the room ran a hologram of her brother Cristobal’s recent classroom broadcast.

“Primatris: the old ways live on today.
Jennian: labor of the living earth.
Libran: the grand structures of community.
Pioneer: the spirit of adventure.
Aquari Home: cradle of the rainsingers.”

48

The motto of each federet was accompanied by scenes and pictures reflecting its character. A porch swing next to a green field. The great halls of justice. A rugged mountain trail. With each scene, things she’d just learned came forth in every word that was and wasn’t spoken.

“Expansion 6: building on a bedrock foundation.
Archipelago: vast connections across distance.
Freshwater: creation, the fruit of the land.
Vertris: beauty, culture and prosperity.
Ferris: the comfort and peace of the country.”

Cristobal’s projected face was dutiful, innocent and mildly enthusiastic. Soleil knew the expression well. Earlier she had studied herself in the mirror to see if she could still make it. She thought she looked more or less the same; however, her silence remained unbroken. Not currently an issue for media, but those who knew her were watching and waiting.

47

Wendel and Toller stood with laden plates looking around the banquet hall-now-cafeteria. The wide banquet tables had been reassigned to infirmary use, so the furniture here was a mishmash of refugee belongings. The two migrated over to bar stools at a round table facing most of the room.

From there they could see the kitchen, crewed with staff and volunteers. They were filling pans with breakfast for the growing stream of arrivals. Toller took a moment to appreciate his full plate before diving into the chicken and rice.

47

Wendel was more leisurely about her ink gravy and biscuits. “Tell me about where you’re from.”

A couple more spoonfuls entered his maw before he stopped speak. “I’m not really from anywhere anymore. What I remember of home is just my mother’s house. When she died, I left.” He shrugged with a rueful smirk.

“What was your mother’s house like?” The hum of conversation grew as more people sat to their meal. Wendel kept her gaze up, while the boy remained focused on his food.

“It was small, with hardstone walls.” He chewed, his mouth half full. “She had plants, and posters from around the neighborhood. We had enough. It seemed like there were a million other apartments around us, lotta walking stairs and riding elevators. It was warm in Meriada. I mostly remember playing with blocks, and her reading books with me. Then it ended, and I’ve been going ever since. Guess I’m going farther than I thought.”

She looked him in the eye and smiled. “Many of us do.”

“Hey, can I set this down here?” The blond man’s voice boomed from where he appeared at Wendel’s shoulder. Without waiting for her answer he put down his mug, turning to lean against the edge of the table.

“Leiv. How was your supply run?”

“It went fine. Genesee’s running low on its own produce, though. After another week or two these ships will be depending on delivery from Freshwater. Might be some reshuffling of people then.” The scent wafted from the steaming cup of joe. He kissed his hand and touched Wendel’s shoulder. “I’ll be back.” They watched him exit the hall from the side door behind them.

The boy next to her polished off his portion with a quickness, and gesturing to the cup said, “I’ll get some of that for myself. Any for you?”

“No, thanks. I’ll be here.” He brought his plate to the kitchen, leaving his kerchief on the chair. Wendel reached over to Leiv’s cup and sipped on it.

46

The military office was typically austere. The General had been able to give it some personal touches, like the blond hardwood from his home province, and his mother’s photography of the Capital city. Besides that, it embodied the position, not the person holding it. On the visitor’s side of the large desk sat the Princess’ cousin Margeaux Rienne.

“We want to thank you for managing the security and scheduling of my cousin’s recovery. No other could have been so expedient. Princessa Mireille also extends an invitation to the noon meal with herself and her brothers. They’re dining at the Globe.”

“An honor. I accept.”

“Glad you could make time for this visit, General.”

“You’re welcome by my office, Miss Rienne. Give your brother my regards – he did well at the engineering exposition.” She nodded and left.

Draig opened the refrigerated drawer of his desk and pulled out a cold juice. He popped the top and chugged it. From other drawers he compiled files and devices into a light case. He checked his reflection in the door of the armoire and exited without delay.

Hopping a couple routed transports, he crossed the Imperial neighborhood toward quarters where Bright Wave and her band were temporarily housed. He tried to forget the things filling his day before and after.

46

Draig felt giddy at the thought of a session with the renowned Bright Wave. She had extended an invitation on a day they stood by Soleil’s bedside, expressing concern and compassion. He felt warm on his way there.

Rasakarya is an expressed portrait made with one’s own thoughts and perspectives about their life. The offer of something this personal from a Pan-Galactically known artist made him feel swell. So he cast from his mind the rest of life’s moments when he worked like a slave and worried like an old man.

Eventually he reached the curved hall of the Aquari quarters. The quiet here gave him a sinking feeling, which was confirmed by a look from the guard as he approached. “General Claymore, Bright Wave offers her apologies – she and two of her group were called away to an emergency on the Home planets. The other two are currently in the city, if you wish to contact them.”

“Alright. That won’t be necessary. Thank you for relaying the message.” They saluted each other, and Draig headed back to the transports. He allowed himself a pout where no one could see him.

As he stepped into a private transport and set the flight path, he mentally thanked the Aquarii for the insight they’d given while the Princess had been comatose. He knew that somehow they’d put themselves at risk, remembering their harried look after leaving the hospice room.

He hadn’t been able to really speak to Soleil since she woke. Whether or not she was well, he couldn’t say for himself. He let the roles they played define their distance, for now. If that was the best he could do.

Claymore entered the main military tower at the base of the obelisk’s peak. Rounding a corner, he stopped short in front of the Dragon Councillor and Generals Lucay and Iparia.

“General Alisandre.” In this building and off the planet of his station, Claymore was called by his greater title. The dragon spoke it with respect, yet as always caused Draig to feel like a boy of three rather than thirty. Though as the youngest General in command, he was regardless accustomed to feeling the junior. “We are meeting with General Ionia and fleet admirals on the Alpha base in the Photuris sector of the Libran Federet. The vortex anomaly there is undergoing disturbing developments.”

“This, we need to see.” General Lucay twitched his gray mustache. “Ionos sounded out of his hull trying to explain over the com.”

General Iparia took Claymore’s briefcase from his hand. “I checked your schedule. You’ve got nothing more pressing, so,” he clapped his hand on the young man’s back, “I’m glad you made it to our appointment early.”

45

This wing of the Great Library of Alisandre was quiet, empty but for the two seated in a softly lit alcove. Dragon and human, they sat on the ground at a low table. Their faces were placid, eyes half-closed in the peach colored glow of the table top.

A conscious-subsconscious logic reordering program played between them midair. Its derivatives shifted and progressed according to the pattern Soleil had arranged herself, not long ago in the company of this teacher. Draconid recall techniques had ways of re-orienting parts of a being scattered far and wide across the planes. The human uses supported broader memory, meditation and acuity, methods available to some few since the dragons first offered to share them.

45

The images continued through their phases, points and shapes flashing in rhythmic connection. Eventually, it ran to an end, the table going dim as the light in the alcove brightened. The dragon looked at the Princess. She sent her unfocused stare out to the library, mouth shut tight. She would look at him, but never for long. It was better since they started the sequence three days ago.

“Would you like me to leave you in peace?” said golden-white Councillor Arkuda. Princess Soleil, hands on her knees, looked at him, then past him. Slowly she inclined her head and let it drop, her breathing light and still. It was strange to see her like this. People acted this way in grave peril. She was relaxed, focused on survival in tumult, though he couldn’t divine why. She was aware and able to maintain composure; still, she had not yet spoken.

The Princess folded her hands into a mudra on her knees, the one for keeping still and letting all else pass. Arkuda hadn’t determined whether she’d been doing these intentionally or not. Humans were capable of performing nuanced mudras without being aware of it. Regardless, he took the cue and rose from his seat.

“Until tomorrow, Princess. May the stars light your way.” Arkuda left, exiting into a side hall of the Library.

Hearing him leave, her pulse slowed. It wasn’t Arkuda she had met in her vision, but his essential similarity was unnerving. Was it a warning against him, or a sign that he was an ally? She watched to test her guesses, but none were proven nor discounted. She couldn’t let down her guard.