7 \ 95

She could bundle; she could trunk; but, could she connect? Somehow Soleil could tell she was communicating with youth.

Soleil was carefully given, by request as if she were stupid, instructions on how to complete a hand-to-hand connection. The Vedani started as simple as it gets. “Make your hand into a fist, back facing up, knuckles pointing forward. When I say go, move it forward slowly and evenly. As though it’s going to hit something. Don’t be too surprised.” But she was utterly surprised when it did. She instantly looked down at her hand. “Did you feel me? You did it, look.”

The trunk she’d been working on was now made of double the cords, as though they had all formed together. Hers were yellow, theirs were blue, things were starting to look green. “Yeah, I felt that.” Afterward, Soleil practiced with them in earnest.

“Angle your chop hand at minus thirty-five and slash it backward like you’re cleaning your sword.”

“Make your fist explode when it connects, keeping your fingers straight forward as you draw your hand back toward you.”

“Bunch the fingertips of one hand together into a little point. See the bird head? Okay, peck. But pointier, and harder.”

“Knock on the door three times with your rapping knuckles.”

“Point your index finger in front of you, and slowly poke.”

Soleil learned names for the motions, getting faster via shorthand. The first time she correctly hit a series of eleven in a row, she felt great about the results. “Did someone order more fries?”

“Yes we did, and you delivered.”

“Piping hot.”

“Krinkle Kut.”

6 \ 94

The Royal Court of Alisandre was as old as it gets, and as new as they could make it, byzantine to its own youth.  According to Draig’s memory, the Princess had never been lost, though he often kept her company by encouragement, a sense of duty, and sheer curiosity.  No one ever stopped them, and he understood without being told that no one was to stop her.  Besides, why would he?  The kind of trouble she got into was no bigger than him.

This time, they’d found a seam, where well-kept ancient building met gleaming expansion.  Soleil peered through a waist-high portico on the old side.  “There are stairs!”  She boosted herself to hang through it.  “Small, not grand.”  The Princess wiggled over the lip and stood again to face him from the other side, now taller.  “They go up,” she said, pointing, and disappeared as she beckoned him up behind her.

They climbed together around a bend in the stair, losing the new wall behind them.  Above and ahead was a similarly sized opening, blocked with a piece of fitted and barred wood.  Fists at her waist, she inspected it.  “You can reach that, can’t you?”

Draig raised his arms to grip the wooden bar.  “I can get a good hold.”

Looking from him to the barricade, her smile grew.  “Will you help me open it?”  Catching the smile, he nodded.  It was blocked, neither sealed nor locked; he didn’t think there’d be a skeleton or a beast behind it.  She held up the barricade while he removed the bar, and together they cajoled the piece of wood from its dusty seat.

They squinted their eyes against the sudden breeze that blew across their faces.  The Princess peeked out.  “It’s a walkway.”  She boosted herself over and through like last time.  Draig felt his heart pound.  Soleil’s head poked above the sill – she was sitting.  “It’s high down this side,” she said tersely.  Her dark hair picked up in the wind.  He went to follow her out, but she said, “You’d better not.”  All he could see from his view was part of her and a section of stone beyond.

“I’m just going to…”  With a hand inside the opening, she stood.  The breeze couldn’t be that strong, could it?  She was standing differently, eyes blinking, face serious.  Then, she just climbed back in.  They left things the way they found them.

5 \ 93

Soleil could now bundle cords, the process of tying separate streams together along their lengths to create a new trunk.  A bound set of cords proceeded differently.  The conversations illuminated each other.  Once she could tell them apart, she learned how to put them together.  To do this, she used a viewport or a streamviewer.  Though it meant she was parked in one spot more often, this was her greatest degree of self- agency aboard their ship.

Soleil understood this to be a living network, which continually amazed her.  People felt this as they breathed and walked, like a part of their biology.  The streams were always responding.  The ways they were created, combined, and recombined blew her mind.

They were so much like humans.  How long have they been Vedani?  Where did they come from?