ACE AZ Recap

I’m grateful for a really amazing time in Glendale, AZ with the recent ACE Comic Con! To every last book that found a new home, I hope it’s a happy one. Whatever you thought, do send/post your official review. I love the responses I’ve gotten during the convention – like nothing they’ve ever read, in scope as well as otherwise, poetic yet succinct. I’m glad Bones of Starlight is finding people who want something that is exactly this!

I chose the following cosplay characters as clue-ins to pose with the latest book…

And these ‘characters’ (a way of referring to actual people, which the following are!) got their own copies, along with the others:

Thanks to the great crew, the cool venue, the amazing guests, and the wonderful audience. Sunrise on the saguaro & music in the heart of Phoenix! Star-studded weather with a rain dance.

5x Rerun: Fire Within (1) 73-74, 8th Sequence, 75-76

– 73 –

The panoramic door drew upward, revealing row after row of hard gazes landing squarely on the prisoner and his two keepers. The clamoring hiss fell silent. The three traveled up the center aisle toward the hearing platform ahead. From within the green-tinted keeper’s field, Sturlusson received their suppressed snarls. He looked up at the ceiling full of recording lights, the fixated heads around him, and the arbiter’s tiers beyond the rest. Passing the front row of assembly seats was like breaking a runner’s tape.

At the pause before the platform, he was greeted by the three judges, and the King and Queen Ascendant above them. They all went through the requisite gestures. He eyed the empty witness’ stand, and opposite that, to the right of the arbiter’s tiers, the large screen where the Queen’s face watched the proceedings.

As he stepped to the platform and the keepers attached the field to it, he felt nudges at the tip of either shoulder over his burn scars. Sturlusson glanced up again, and behind his field of vision he pinpointed two watching presences. Their communication with him was more or less clear.

“I loathe them, and watch this only under duress.”

“I sort of know what you mean.” He looked to the medallion above the tiers, which read Justice Is Served In Many Ways.

“Over the next few days, we will hear from witnesses who will present accounts of your doings. There are many in this hall who have waited some time for the opportunity, though their statements must remain brief, as must your rebuttals. You’ve opted against the presence of a legal interpreter, so you are responsible for adhering to the guidelines of reply.” He received a veiled stare from King Ascendant Vario in his red arbiter’s garb.

“From the witnesses’ statements and your replies, we will build and subsequently examine the case to determine your sentence. For all that you yourself have taken credit for, you can expect no less than a great period of suffering.” At this, Raev Sturlusson blinked slowly. He heard a hissing chuckle of irony.

73

– 74 –

It was like flipping through a yearbook, or being at a royal roast, or attending his own funeral. A little like all three. It was serious – every one would draw blood if allowed, but Raev remembered them more clearly than suspected. His past decisions were walking up to greet him, and he knew them very well.

The critical ones, everybody knew about. It started a long time ago, and he learned quickly how to use notoriety to his advantage. Some in particular created a lot of requisite damage, that he wished weren’t so even as he made it happen. It was pointless telling them he didn’t have horns – after all, he wore them so well. True, for some time his thirst for retribution could hardly be slaked. But it had taken him all those years to figure out why.

When he acquired that first gargantuan sum of funds off the Oligarchy of Tamakopa, it was enough to shut down companies and end towns. He’d known who would greet the citizens beyond the town borders, and now he learned how life had treated them. Ultimately well, he thought, but he must be held accountable.

There was the one he hated to hear, even though he reminded himself of it all the time. When he didn’t keep her – lost her and everything in one fell swoop, all involved. People had never been more angry with him, and he with himself. Here he paid probably his greatest price.

After that was a lot of boat rocking, and sinkholing. And of course, the disappearance at the prestige. His return still had people fuming, most especially because he had won sympathy, and families divided over it.

Certain attributed tidbits, he did not recognize. He didn’t bother making contest, only took in the news as it came to him. The source of his privately connected counsel noted the new information as well.

“They have added to your reputation.”

“Clearly. Though I don’t mind, as the time for setting things straight is not now. The tall tales are an added layer of distraction, which is fine with me. The truth overshadows them regardless, which is why they slip right in.”

“How will they hang you for your current move?”

“They can’t yet. However this centershow works out, they still need me to get them out of the corner. The King Ascendant and Queen haven’t released a reverse agent. We got it from them after all, though we improved on it. I suspect what final option they’re narrowing down to as far as handling this. I don’t think I’m prepared to play lab rat to satisfy the cameras. They have days before a toll begins to mount, as far as they know.” This final indictment was difficult, as its inconclusive nature brought everyone to edge.

Raev Sturlusson heard it all again in the Queen Ascendant’s voice as she announced the collected statements.

74

– 8TH SEQUENCE –

Eighth Sequence

– 75 –

The sphere image was frozen steady, drawn lines within reading as chaos. At one side of the table, the two Alpha Captains and General Ionos leaned forward. The General lifted a hand to the display. “Explain how the surrounding technicians are supposed to align and co-triangulate.”

“My Loramer co-fellow can answer that,” said Dr. Hydraia, turning to look at her colleague to the left.

“This is an unusual problem,” said Arys Steinman, laying out a few notes. “We can create a system that will co-map a series of points, call them mirrors. For the interruption sequence we want to enact, each point needs to be an intersection of the signal figures we reviewed.”

Steinman laid out the factor maps, pointing things out. “A technology pattern found in our Zerite-based inventions. The energy signature of an Iljen Engine at pre-critical burst. Here’s the map of microhole readings, and shadow radius sectors.

“Each mirror spins at a live rate responding to the weather of the vortex, tethering to each technician ship along designated connection paths. Setting a mirror takes more energy input from the initiating technician until it can tether down multiple paths. You’re tethering the mirrors, not the other way around.

“At a designated level of synergy, the energy to maintain the mirrornet will drop greatly. At this point, co-triangulation can run automatically, and we can move on to the next phase, precise insertion of chain reactives.”

General Ionos sat back, looking partially satisfied. “You’ve said we do this rarely in application. What makes you confident that this maneuver will work at this scale, with live pilots instead of robotics?”

“We’re keeping in mind that pre-critical burst phase of an Iljen Engine is only inwardly unstable. So while ships must remain in place to enact the interruption, they remain outside the boundary of collapse. In recorded failures, backlash occurred in the programming, preventing recurrence of the process without damaging equipment. The program you’ll be using is contained separately from ship operations.”

“How many times did you run this in simulation, and on how many levels? And did you do your utmost to minimize the number of technicians required?”

Arcta took in a slow breath. “We forwarded the ultimate simulations to you and your captains. If you want the complete logs, I can request them from Loramer Ultra sim rooms, but they were combed deeply and to do so again would be a great waste of time.”

The General leaned on the table. “If we determine this course of action, when will we need to mobilize?”

“In about twelve days, we’ll get our next likely shot in the vortex activity cycles.”

75

– 76 –

The King Ascendant with his two armed guards filled the room when they entered. “Now that the verdict is being processed, we can attend to other pressing matters. The HA235 patients on Alisandre are nearing critical status, and thousands of people on three other planets are close behind them. Tell us everything now, because if they die, you will die with them.”

“Wasn’t I supposed to in the first place, with my family and home? Your stance and bluster don’t convince me. You’ve held out far longer than I have with the truth of the matter, and not even the impending death of thousands will change your tune. If you want to keep all these people from dying, that’s within your power. These deaths will dig your grave if you allow them.”

“How are you carrying the disease and not suffering symptoms?” At his gesture, the guards flanked the prisoner.

“Have your doctors not figured that out, with the samples they took?”

Looking him in the eye, the King Ascendant stepped close. “They have not. But I believe the answer is in you, somewhere.”

“It would have to be.” Raev bowed his head for a moment before looking up at the three surrounding him. “You might be surprised how simple it is. Since the verdict is being processed, and I’m facing my fate, perhaps you deserve a farewell letter after all. Bring the doctor.” He turned his right side to Vario and lifted his sleeve, revealing designs on his skin. “It’s here. Beneath the winged horse in the lightning.”

“Take off his arm.” A guard drew a hot sword and it was gone. Raev Sturlusson sank to one knee. The King Ascendant picked up the limb, lifting the tattoo to his eyes. “Make sure he doesn’t die.” He exited, leaving the door open, blood decorating the hallway floor.

76

5X Rerun: Fire Within (1) 68-72

– 68 –

Bright Wave sat curled at the base of the tree growing from the platform over the valley below. With half-closed eyes, she moved a line of color across the sunset. Slowly, and with care – previous ambitious attempts at expression had made her faint.

Her reverie was interrupted by the big grey pietrobird, scattering rocks as it landed. She rose from her seat, and went to look the bird eye to eye where it stood. It hopped backward, pealing loudly, and dropped below the ledge before its eyes popped over again. Someone may be down in the mountain. She sent the bird a flash of color, which it spread its wings to absorb.

Bright Wave moved down the rock face. Halfway down, outside the cave, hovered a vehicle. With a tentacle she parted the vine curtain to see a mantled Fleeting Shade.

They stepped toward each other, tendrils lifting. They met partway, super and subsonic vibrations popping in the air. The leaves on the vines shook lightly.

Lead Composer Fleeting Shade gestured, and a stage floor shimmered in to surround them. Figures in red and white danced around the edges. The star image above reflected the sky in two weeks’ time.

Bright Wave cast her tentacles aside and whipped one around in a circle, marring the picture with scratches. She would have dispelled it entirely, but it remained. Her supersonics morphed to echo the burning Symbias, which made him flinch. She reached out to him again, and the dead silence of the groves fell around them. She sagged, her head hanging.

Fleeting Shade held her up, and the edges of the stage surrounded the silence. The figures in red and white appeared, drawing themselves into the dead space around them. They had eyes, and ears.

She straightened and looked up. Before her she created a candlepoint of light, which grew to the size of her head, then faded. She tried again to make it brighter, but couldn’t, tendrils shaking in frustration. He drew her in to hold her. The stage and people remained.

68

– 69 –

From her perspective in darkness, the occasional sound reached her ears. Chrysanthe was thinking of her pillow and blanket forts – the way everything became dark and hot, smelling of her own breath, and she listened to her father in the house. She couldn’t hear much more, so she stayed in that cozy place.

Her dad hadn’t said anything since she’d last slept, but he was nearby. When she reached for him, he played with her hand a little. The occasional squeeze was enough to reassure her, since she didn’t know if he couldn’t speak, or she just couldn’t hear him.

People approached, talking. Just the rise and fall of their voices, through many layers. She jiggled his hand and he wiggled back.

“We’ve sent so many nurses to other planets. Thank you for volunteering.”

“This seemed an appropriate time to step back in. Yet, I’ve never done triage. What am I looking for?”

“This is our first sweep. We’re reaction testing. This device measures muscular nerve response and blood flow to extremities. There’s a threshold.” She showed the readout to the volunteer. “During high rush, patients below that will have lowest priority as instructed. I’ll show you.” She gestured to the man holding his daughter’s hand. “He’s awake, we’ll start with him.” She cradled his other hand in hers and he flexed it. He did the same for Chrysanthe on the other side. The voices were louder going wah wahh wahhh.

The nurse put the holding device in his hand and wrapped his fingers around it, squeezing them. She released and cradled it for a moment until the device light turned color. She checked it, and glanced at the other patients around the room before showing it to the volunteer aide. “This is a significant reading, below threshold by a margin. Input the command here, and his bracelet will carry the tag. And that’s it.”

The aide nodded. “I’ll watch while you check the next patient over here.”

69

– 70 –

“Due to energy pattern expansion rates, we need to widen flight paths beyond the C sphere, here.” With her laser pen she colored the zone orange.

“Except for you people,” Arcta indicated the technical instrument pilots, “because you’re carrying the Dyson probes and photon sounders. You’re in two teams, each covering a hemisphere. There is a set rotation plan, in case communication equipment is affected. We already have some signal bandwidth workarounds.”

The door opened, and General Iparia stepped in. Dr. Hydraia straightened.

“Now for those of you shadow marking – priority observations are signal strength, signal length, placement, and finally type.”

“Don’t you think the subject of what we see might be more important than the quantified signatures?”

Arcta looked down and let half a smile emerge. “Those of you who’ve examined the list of signal types have found, I’m sure, that the list keeps growing longer and is already too long to memorize. Type recognition is last priority because attempting it would keep attention from every other reading. The data is being pored over at Loramer. If they find a useful pattern in it, then we might shift our focus there. Until then, let’s concern ourselves with the possible effects and direction of the energy output, and how to handle and defend ourselves from it.”

Iparia leaned against the wall, arms crossed.

“And we’ll detach one team – that’s you – to array themselves between here and Photuris. You’ll have a more sensitive set of instruments. We want you to sit there, and read. I’m sorry we can’t just deploy satellites for this – we want people there live reading, and able to respond.”

“That’s all you need to hear from me. Your officers will give you the nitty gritty.” She watched the pilots exit, saluting the General as they passed. Hydraia cleared her data display.

The General took a step forward. “We’re going to assign two shadow markers to type cataloguing.”

“That would leave holes in our coverage. We’ve already thinned out in order to create a buffer zone.”

“I think the greater hole in our knowledge would be to ignore this information. We can spare that much, so that’s what we’ll do.”

“Do you realize that the energy dynamic in that sphere is over twenty times that of any known anomaly? And we still have no reason, or insight other than confusion. Diverting resources from safety on something practically pointless is reckless. I hope you understand that.”

“That’s what we’ll do until or unless we can bring out another Alpha base.”

At this point Hydraia nodded, turning around to put things in her bag. “I’m heading to Alpha 1, and back in three days.” On her way out she stopped to salute. “General.”

She crossed the corridors of the Alpha base to where the Drift 9 was docked. Arcta entered straight to the cockpit where Wendel Harper lounged in the captain’s chair. She chucked her stuff into a bin and flopped down next to her, heaving a sigh. “Fools. They really have no idea.”

Wendel straightened and began powering the ship. “That kind of day today?”

70

img_5200

– 71 –

“I’m being transferred to Ionos. They’ll put me on show shortly. There’s nothing you wouldn’t already know.”

“Your sham trial is not a concern. We can feel them meddling with the relay amplifier. Are you ensuring they are properly misdirected?”

“Someone’s making sure they’re properly misdirecting themselves. They wouldn’t recognize the technology for some time anyhow, given their own devices. The Imperium may have picked up some Vedani trash, but the cutting edge, combined with your additions, is outside their scope. The best researchers on the subject are currently occupied with other things. Is the power accrual going smoothly?”

“Certainly. Nothing is interfering with the core, which will soon be drained.”

“Which is… devastating. I hear the survival rate has been very good.”

“We’ve given them plenty of time where we could. But forces operate as they must.”

“That’s good to know.”

71

– 72 –

Mireille loaded her bowl with greens as Margeaux took her seat.

“Glad you could join us, dear,” Charlotte intoned, leaning forward to fill Margeaux’s glass.

“My pleasure. Where is Queen Celeste?” she asked, looking around.

“The Queen pardoned herself for other matters,” replied Vario. Mireille rotated the greens to Margeaux’s place and dipped into the capers and onions.

Charlotte smiled, and asked “Have you spoken with Soleil in the last couple days?”

“Yeah!” Margeaux flashed a grin and laughed. “What a relief it is. I expected her to sound croaky, but it’s her very same voice, only a little quiet.” Charlotte nodded.

Mireille sampled her melange. “She hasn’t been eating with us,” she shrugged, “so.”

“Oh, I know. It makes sense she’s withdrawn, considering. It’s strange as to when Soleil started speaking again, isn’t it.” Margeaux sipped on her drink. “At least that’s all there was to it, and he’s off to get what he deserves.”

Charlotte pressed her lips shut and looked at her husband. “It was a surprise, yes,” said Vario. “One that I was glad to see. I was only expecting she would learn from the encounter as necessary, but her speech at that moment was revelatory.”

“Can’t argue with that,” said Mireille. She tipped a ramekin of honeygrub dressing over her bowl and cracked pepper over it. Everyone continued to help themselves.

“It had been a while since we two caught a sunset together.” Margeaux smiled as she nibbled.

“Here’s to many more,” toasted Charlotte, raising her glass. Vario returned the gesture, and the girls followed suit.

72

Ace Comic Con Arizona

It’s ACE Comic Con weekend in Glendale/Phoenix, Arizona! The Gila River Arena is a unique sort of place to transform into a convention, and I’m feeling the power of pop star performances like The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Madonna & Justin Timberlake. Yes… we certainly have something in common.

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Here I am again! But in a new place.

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5x Rerun: Fire Within (1) 64-67, 7th Sequence

– 64 –

“We have to wait. They’re running emergency traffic signals, limiting in and out-bound. There’s a newscast about it.” Wendel Harper reached up to tune in the overhead speakers. The boy sitting copilot and the passenger hushed up to listen.

“The Pyrean Midsummer Vision was interrupted today by Raev Sturlusson, who descended from the skies on the capital during the final moments of the intergalactic solstice celebration. The capsule he descended in was emitting an agent bearing HA235, the disease that decimated the planet Hirylien twenty-five years ago. Many attendees are already experiencing symptoms. The Verdant Plateau of Alisandre Capital is under quarantine, and vision attendants are being held there and at Eldea Hospital.” As this narrated, they silently turned to meet each other’s eyes.

Hydraia rose from the fold-down seat to stand behind the pilot’s chairs. “We’re waiting to be let in to the main transport arena, correct?”

Harper nodded. “That’s right. They’ve paged us with a wait time of a couple hours, but there’s no telling how long we’ll be in line.” She pointed to a timer on the air traffic display.

The passenger pulled a piece of paper from her pocket. “Here. Establish a link with this frequency.” Harper checked it and nodded.

After a short moment, someone answered. “Spear Traffic Control, how can I assist you?” At mention of the capital’s towering military building, the captain faced her passenger in mute surprise.

“This is Dr. Arcta Hydraia of the Loramer Institute, requesting entry to the Helianth Airlot.”

“Acknowledged Dr. Hydraia, do you have a clearance code?”

“2-10-6-P-Night-C3W.”

“Thank you, Doctor. Drift 9, new traffic directions have been sent. You may proceed.”

64

– 65 –

King Ascendant Grant Vario raised the mask to his face and activated it. The hairs on his arm lifted as the ion barrier activated around him, effecting a blue glow. He nodded to the Dragon Councillor, and they exited the transport onto the grounds of Eldea Hospital, accompanied by a security escort.

The quarantine guards opened the door for them. Inside, the halls were filled with people reacting to their symptoms, rubbing their faces and blinking. Back when the sickness appeared on the planet Hirylien, there had been no knowledgeable measures. By the time they recognized the epidemic, the majority of the planet had been infected. The symptoms had been difficult to distinguish until they were too serious for recovery. This time, they’d recognized it almost immediately.

From the room she shared with her father and two other patients, Chrysanthe watched the hallway. The retinue walked past, and she saw the second dragon she’d ever seen in her life. Arkuda’s scaly form gleamed next to the King Ascendant’s grave face, and they passed in a quick moment before she could mention it. She wasn’t sure if her sight had already gotten fuzzy, like they told her it would, or if they were really glowing. She turned her head and succumbed to drowsiness, closing her eyes on the sight of her sleeping father.

They met with the head of the hospital, who debriefed them on the patient population. Those furthest along were beginning to lose their eyesight to nerve degeneration. Vario took this in, but refrained comment.

They passed through layers of security till Arkuda and the King Ascendant were outside Sturlusson’s room. The guard coded them in.

Inside, the quarantine prisoner sat shirtless in the bedside chair. Hospital equipment had all been moved to the corner. At the sight of visitors, he rose to his feet. “I am honored. The King Ascendant, and his dragon.” Arkuda gazed at him in silence.

Vario faced him squarely, hands behind his back. “You declined treatment, even though you tested positive for HA235.”

“Yes.”

“So is this, then, your farewell note to the Imperium?”

Framed by his dark hair, a smile crossed his face. “No.” He locked gaze on the King Ascendant as he sat down again.

Arkuda eyed Raev Sturlusson sidelong. Over the man’s collection of tattoos, he glimpsed disruption patterns. Residue of communication with others. The dragon studied him intently.

Vario clasped his hands tightly. “We have reports now of cases on Ionos and Lurin. How many more outbreaks are we to expect?”

“How many more do you need in order to put an end to them?” Arkuda watched his surrounding disruption evaporate.

The King Ascendant drew himself up. “We are now enacting the same quarantines that we did on your home planet. You were lucky to have survived.”

“I really was.” The communicative traces reappeared as Sturlusson joined together different faces of his fingers. He looked at them through half-closed eyes. Arkuda stirred the air toward the prisoner with his breath, observing the patterns react.

King Ascendant Vario made a prompt and wordless exit. Sturlusson angled his hand sign to the dragon Councillor, who curled his lip before exiting in turn.

65

– 66 –

The airlot manager stood with Arcta Hydraia and Wendel Harper by the Drift 9, surrounded by military and council vehicles. The wind was high, and they raised their voices to speak over it.

“Ms. Harper. I’m required to use private transport during my consult here at the Spear. I’ll be traveling between here and the Libran Federet. Are you available exclusively for the short term?”

Wendel tilted her head and nodded. She’d been half expecting the offer. Setting herself on an appointed route might be a good way to let trouble blow over. She jerked her elbow toward the ship. “What about the boy?”

The airlot manager considered. “We may be able to offer him clearance.”

“I’ll be here for the night,” said Hydraia. “I’ll get in touch with you soon, if you want to talk it over with him.” The captain shook hands with Hydraia, waving as she re-entered the ship.

She set herself back down in her chair. From where he remained in his seat, Toller looked past the airlot shadows toward the Royal Court. “Dr. Hydraia is hiring me up for a shuttle route. You can stay with me so long as you’ll be handy.”

Toller lifted a hand at the view. “We’re at the capital now.”

Wendel smiled, remembering he’d never seen this before. “Yeah. Old Alisandre.” Her gaze traveled up the dark octagonal obelisk to the sky.

Toller tapped his teeth together in consideration.

“Tell you what,” said Wendel, powering her ship. “We’ll decide over dinner.”

66

– 67 –

In a waiting chamber in a middle floor of the Spear, the dragon Councillor and his protege sat kneeling against one wall. She searched the patterned tapestry facing them. The dragon opened his eyes.

“The man you’re going to see – I observed points of contact on him. Communication disturbance, perhaps. I recognized patterns there, and I feel troubled about it. So be aware, in every way.” She breathed deeply, returning his look. He nodded and rose to exit the room.

The Princess rested alone until the door opened once more, and her father stepped inside. “If you’re ready, Soleil.” She stood and straightened herself, inclining her chin before joining him.

They walked down the hallway past two corner turns. The walls of the octagonal tower turned gently around them, regularly giving way to heavy framed windows.

“You’ve been made aware of the state of things at the Verdant Plateau and in the quarantine areas, and of the other new outbreaks. You’ve heard what he’s done over the last twenty years, so you have some idea of who we’re encountering.

“We’re fortunate in not having contracted the affliction. Though tests show that Sturlusson has HA235, he’s not developing symptoms. We’re not taking chances, so,” he passed her a barrier field mask, “here you are. Observe him well, Soleil. He’ll soon be on trial.” They donned their masks outside the guarded door, engaging the minute blue glow before they went in.

The prisoner sat on the floor, his back against a wall bench. At their entry, he rose to this feet. Soleil walked in behind her father. The man before her was not as he looked in projections. The air around him roiled with energy, and she stayed on guard.

The King Ascendant gestured to the wall benches, and they all sat; the Princess and her father on one side, Sturlusson on the other. “Ionos,” began Vario. “We found your agent there, one Teryj Lakos. From Hirylien, like you. He’s told us enough to find the rest. But we know there’s more. Where?”

A grin spread across Raev Sturlusson’s face. For a moment, the Princess’ vision grew dark, and her temples felt warm.

“Waiting, aren’t they.” Her voice sounded thunderous hearing it for the first time since she woke. Sturlusson raised his eyebrows. King Ascendant Vario turned to regard her.

67

– 7TH SEQUENCE –

Seventh Sequence