Sometimes, she called the race. Other times, he did. She knew the Imperial hallways better, from the four years since she learned how to walk in them. When the Princess called an unexpected snap, Draig knew it would be a good one.

Straightaways were fair, and fun, since their races weren’t necessarily clean. Almost as a rule, they included shoving, windmilling, and weird stepping. Maximum impediment without sending each other to the floor. Sometimes, his six-year advantage was no advantage at all, her light feet seeming not to touch the ground, gaining over his awkwardly growing stride. A straight hallway meant they could see when there was no traffic ahead. They were like puppies crossing a kitchen floor, puppies that got faster and faster.


First, she had to learn how to listen. Humans could do it, they insisted, and Soleil didn’t hide the fact that she found the notion daunting enough to show serious doubt. The Vedani communication networks were complex, built to be instinctual, and seemed to require long division. They brought her to a viewport, an empty frame with oddly attached peripherals. When she grasped the cords they offered, the cacophony she heard approached static saturation. The image she could now see was a terrible mess. Her first reaction was a helpless, blank look – not one she was used to wearing.

It was solid hours of listening before she learned how to color their voices, then how to judge their distance and the ring of relevance with only perhaps a symbolic coordinate. Soleil wondered how much space was really represented by this interface.

They showed her a terrain uniquely theirs. Soleil had figured after first meeting them that she must meet them fully, and now was glad she’d committed to the notion.


In this new place, these folk extended a cordial welcome, as Soleil had noted in her particular introduction to them in dream state. It was possible to doubt something no one else had seen, until she found herself undeniably surrounded. Despite this besieged captivity, it was a sudden relief to be out from under a different weight of watchfulness. These people were strangers or enemies, which was easier to understand than the mixed motives of those she trusted.

They who called themselves Vedani taught her some rudimentary basics. How to read a map and transport herself around this dwelling vessel, the shape of it, and where to get food. They had food she could eat, similar enough to be from home, and called by similar names. They ate it too, though not very much, almost recreationally. She wondered how many humans they had dined with already besides the one she was sure that they knew, who was now missing an arm, awaiting the verdict they would deliver to a long-hated enemy of state. It seemed no one was interested in taking care of her, nor were they trying to hurt her, though everyone knew who she was.

A few knew her language. She imparted hers and gained some of theirs, unusual though it was to speak. She could learn no more if she didn’t start with this much. By the way they smirked she knew she was missing some common critical element, but they responded to her efforts with comprehension, even adjusting her human approximations. The skill came more easily under urgency. Soleil was pleased to be allowed a child’s grasp of their means.


When the scion Princess experienced entity contact by induced dreaming sleep, they had clamored, hissed, accused. She understood that they were different from the peoples she knew, which was less prominent in the exchange than the fact that they were people. A layer of mystery protected them from presupposition. They delivered key knowledge. It wasn’t a declaration (we’re going to do these things), or an ultimatum (we’ll do these things unless), but like a tsunami warning. These things are now to occur. It’s war, unlike any the Pan-Galactic Imperium has seen.

She knew nothing else would come to her directly in this conflict. Her likely appointed role would have been understanding, relating, and managing the moods of the Pan-Galactic peoples. Like any citizen, she would hear about it, and respond with thinking or feeling. It was a figurehead position that could be done by someone considerate, and gracefully dressed. Margeaux was good enough at it, and Mireille was better. Princess Soleil wasn’t a military tech pilot like her mother had been by a year past her age. She wouldn’t be leading any rash or symbolic salvos with her loyal team of ships. Soleil had pursued diplomacy. The people she met on her official travels sometimes said she made a better connection with them than any royal visitors in folk memory. So, she was good at meeting strangers.

No one else could step into the opportunity offered by the contact, like a ticket to a different future. She accepted their gambit; it was the last, best chance to learn and know them before being caught in the divide. Soleil calculated quickly that it was worth her life to do, that this was no scripted role of imparted procedure.

She’d figured it out – first, she had to do that. Using her knowledge mechanic, she uncovered theirs with the signs she’d been given. Now I see you, now you see me. You have a vehicle. I have your address. Would they have brought her through if she hadn’t shown them that she could understand? If she could put that much together, maybe she could accomplish more. Or maybe she’d be another fallen scion.

Ready, always ready. She held herself ready, to act, to perceive, to realize. Years of learning readiness meant that she didn’t overlook or turn away from the obvious door when it opened. Her path went straight through it, and she knew how to proceed along her path.