– 37 –
Soleil glazes over. Her emotions are beyond their extremes, deadening under the force of this litany of wrongs. Then, at last, a face she dreaded to see this way.
Her grandmother Celeste might know her better than any other, and Soleil holds her opinion highest. The Princess learned the world in hand with her grandmother since the dawn of time, and her wisdom helped Soleil build a shining future.
Now the girl sees that this future is built on bones, and worse. That her grandmother knew, even as she was building it, what it meant for her descendant. A castle of blood debt requiring death to enter, sin after sin against spirit.
Seeing this, Soleil feels that somehow, she’d known.
– 38 –
“What he meant, Mr. Dremel, is that Lurin has a masked planetwide network or three, and he wants you to connect to one of them. They connect and control all sorts of Can You Even Imagine. Either you’re more skilled than I gave you credit for, or he really is that desperate.”
“Probably both, Ms. Ilacqua.” He typed as he spoke, the displays above him changing views. Karma Ilacqua’s face was on none of them – voice calls seemed to be a habit of hers. Considered rude, but she’d let you know it wasn’t personal.
“I’m disappointed to hear his contact was awol, though not surprised. Derringer, I figured, could improvise. How he got himself lost is what I want to know.” Her smirk was audible. “He said he knew what he was getting into.”
“Well, you’ve heard the stories, haven’t you?”
A sigh came over the channel. “Mr. Dremel, I’ve heard them. I even have a couple of my own.” The two men raised their eyebrows at each other. “I was simply hoping for the best.”
“Do you need someone on the ground? Do you want me to go? Because I’ll go.”
DeWalt lunged over from his seat on the couch. “We’ll both go. Dremel and DeWalt, I bet you’ll need us both there.”
“I don’t need either of you there.” DeWalt sat, disgruntled. “Just do what Derringer asked of you.”
“We started when he asked me an hour ago. I detect the presence of a network like you mentioned. You say it exists, right? Then that’s about where we’re at.”
She chuckled. “That’s actually pretty good, champ. Keep going.” The line beeped as she disconnected.
Dremel sat back and crossed his arms. He took off his shades and pressed the back of his hand to his eyes. “Keep going, huh.”
“Yeah.” DeWalt lifted his hands and looked at the office – empty when they’d arrived, now well littered with food boxes, snack wrappers, and bottles. “Keep going.”
– 39 –
And then, respite; an eminence of quietude overtakes.
Her energy collects itself, piece by piece, certain that she isn’t put together the same.
The fire surrounds, remaining. She breathes for an indefinite while. Soon she feels a current of expectation underlying the calm, and reaches out halfway to meet it.
She feels herself transforming. Gently, so as not to alarm. The transformation is a means of understanding.
She opens into the fire. Combustion becomes a means of existence, the world exploding in consumptive and radiant energy signatures connecting corners of the universe. As she grasps the torrential motions that form this structure, she feels herself approached by the people who live here. Their contact to her is like flame rushing up against a glass window. An invisible pane mutes the force into a warm touch, fingertips against fingertips.
The contact is cordially scrutinizing; unimpressed. She is in their house because they brought her here. This is their self communication. She is reminded of the Huntress’ Aria, again feels herself hearing it for the first time. She nods, acknowledging the initial contact. An emissary furls forward from the fire, and she looks it in the eyes. A wave of recognition putting her to mind of her dragon teacher, though she’d never seen dragons like this before. The tendrils of fire fold back on themselves, the emissary receding, and she returns to the familiar shape of humanity.
Another change commences, now unspooling into connected strands of idea. This form feels closer to her own. The strands of idea like connected pieces of knowledge about herself, a braid of lightning awareness.
The connection sucks her through into a room of sorts, completely herself and surrounded by people. They turn to her, strongly curious. She is stunned; they’re human. She skims her mental file of human peoples of the Imperium, and these are not any of those. Their likenesses flow via portals fueled by constant babble. An unheard language in laughs and whispers, from irrelevance to secret truths. All faces are unclear, and there are more voices than could possibly come from those around her. They are convivial, and critical.
One steps forward and lifts a staff, the top of it a shifting, spinning polyhedron. Looking into it, she is pulled again through those thought channels into the between.
– 40 –
“You’re from Aristyd – have you heard of the Pliskin Program?” The lean, pale man in hat and shades turned around to face his partner. He sat cross-legged in the office armchair.
“No.” His counterpart spoke from where he lay on the couch, studying an issue of Hover Life in his hands. It featured a Sibley Griffin on the cover.
“It’s a charity fund that builds and improves medical facilities on outer worlds, along with other small projects. Ilacqua, our boss, is employed by them as a Sites and Technology Researcher in the Project Development wing.”
DeWalt smirked without lifting his eyes from the magazine. “Which means she can go anywhere and get nosy.”
“I’m thinking she’s got bosses. There are a few above her in the funding scheme, though they’re not all in her department. It’s just one of Plexus Corp’s charity arms. Ravl Pliskin’s company.”
“He set patents on the newer travelgate tech for the major inter-g routes. Made them as safe as they’ve ever been. Only one major accident since the Plexus modules were installed.” Dremel waited for acknowledgment of the achievement, but received none. “That was thirty-six years ago. Now, they’re the main equipment and tech supplier for all our transportation networks.”
DeWalt paused and looked up, furrowing his brow. “Wait, who did you say we were working for, Plixin?”
DeWalt cleared his throat. “What, PLEXUS?” He set the magazine aside. “You mean the name on every single drive archway, you see it flashing in and out like an optical illusion when it spins up into transmode?”
“Yeah, Fred. That’s who we’re working for.”
Fred DeWalt put his feet on the ground and leaned over his knees. He issued a chuckle. “Oh, no. No, we’re in deep shit now.”
Dremel put his hands in the air. “Now you understand?”
DeWalt kept laughing. “I don’t understand a damn thing, Dremel, and you know it.”
“I know, Fred. Dammit, I know.”
– 41 –
It dawns on Soleil that the mass of all she doesn’t know eclipses the little she does, even on a personal level.
She feels relief, and proximity to danger. Maintaining this-ness becomes a priority, a good portion of her energy going to that task. The quiet core exists like the eye of a storm as she undergoes further transformations.
People tribal and proud, barbaric and warlike, elegant and organized with unique senses of sophistication.
A chaotic court of creatures made mostly of spirit. Constantly changing shape, essence, and intention, while possessed of a complex integrity.
After these, a human with a particular signature – at once dark and ethereal, naturally powerful. A remarkable grin. Soleil is again reminded of the Huntresses’ Aria, the shaman’s dirge.
She meets them all part way, the world and themselves appearing to her as it does to them. She returns to the pupil in the eye. A dark, hot space where she sinks into her own breath.
The field of vision opens, revealing an array of objects, symbols. They are monadic, bearing layers of personal connection and universal meaning that unfold at a glance.
She approaches them intuitively, selecting one at a time. Below is a box for them. The chosen objects go in one at a time, synergizing into a loaded construct. When the seventh and final object goes in, a brief superstructural flash sears itself against the surrounding space. She closes the box and collapses it between her hands as she brings them together.
The undersides of her hands glow gold. Bringing her fingertips to her temples, she feels the glow diffuse around her head like the soothing touch of sunlight. Finally, she is able to close her eyes.