– 81 –
The Array Synthesis room was clean and empty for her when she arrived, all consoles running as she requested. Soleil knew where she wanted to look, a set of coordinates based on her impression of its whereabouts.
She stepped into the suspension chair and engaged the full harness. It lifted, giving her the 47-million-degree view. She opened out the banks of physical adjustors and eyepiece optics, calling them within reach. The picture in mind was like a child’s drawing – the fewer obfuscating details, the better.
The pre-Ricardian scopes featured many degrees of diffraction, and she took a moment to enjoy the antique view that was a revelation to the seekers. She twiddled it, and looked into the scatter dimension. She shook her head at the moment she felt like an ancestor, as though she were looking through someone else’s eyes back down the line. There was something nebulous that the micrometers wouldn’t pick up, something parallax that current technology ruled out.
Hints at details were aligning, and she moved on to fine tuning. There was a seam stretched far and wide, and she was finding the stitches. She had seen it all next to each other as though it were one thing that faced out in many directions. The directions that she recognized weren’t near each other at all, but she didn’t worry about it – just kept finding them when things looked right, as she’d seen them there one after the other. The picture wasn’t complete, but it should be enough.
She collected all the views, superimposing and shuffling till she saw it there. Not a hole. Maybe a bump. She stretched and collapsed them together like a deck of cards. Yeah, it was there. She paused at this.
The contact through her coma wasn’t just an introduction. There was a deep history arriving to be accounted for, and Soleil understood why it was she who’d been called to task. When she went to see the hated criminal by her own devices, he’d given her a glimpse of things happening now, all at once, many and strong, everywhere and incomprehensible. So she worked with every impression.
In her notebook were drawings from the symbols, images, views, and her deductions. She translated these into coordinates, locations, directions, distances. She looked at the notebook nearby, being read in midair. The room was orbit station quiet as she hovered two feet over the ground.
The Princess readdressed the set of astronomical pinpoints, and drew a connecting line. She reordered them by proximity, tiling them by their signal sightlines in a triangular mesh. She set mirrors, and sent a signal loop from the corner that would touch every point in turn before repeating, and waited.
The remaining presence in her thoughts, that was confirmed when she saw Sturlusson and made possible her glimpse into imminence, was still there. She’d gained some understanding of it, the cup on a string hanging in the corner. She picked it up and listened, hoping the dots were connected.
The mirrors began to miss. They didn’t hit their spot or return correctly. The signal returned stronger, and she realized she was the mirror.
A rectangular dark patch opened in the space before her, bright motes flashing across it. A murmur of speech infiltrated her hearing.
“We see you again. Now you’re awake.”
“I don’t fully understand what I’ve found here, but I want to know more. I have questions about the things I’ve seen. You seem very much like us, though your allies are stranger.”
“We recognize your desire for understanding. There is much to be explained, and we are willing to share education. But these are matters both heavy and delicate, and it would not be a short amount of time.”
“I will take all the time it requires. This is my priority.”
The dark patch deepened, the motes flashing brighter. “We can bring you through, if you are so prepared. We desire your presence.”
Soleil gestured for the program to set her notebook down on a panel. “I seek resolution from all this information. Where would you bring me?”
“Out of the world you know, that’s for certain.” The motes gathered themselves into a glowing ball, which floated towards her. “When you are ready, you can take the sphere.”
The Princess disengaged herself from the floating harness and loosened her joints. She took a soft look back at the view of Alisandre before lifting her hand to the glowing light. A bright net encased her, the dark patch enfolded her, and the Array Synthesis room was empty but for her few belongings.
– 82 –
“Then they got me involved, and I kind of told them that you exist. So they’re probably coming at you with a job offer. I hope I haven’t done anything too terrible and that you’ll forgive me. Maybe this will be fun.”
Derringer bit his lip and shook his head as he followed his guide, who had not once looked at him since he arrived. He laid one considering footstep after the other. From his years of experience, he was wary of official jobs – if you couldn’t fill the bill, they had a way of taking it out of you. But this seemed like a good way to get swept up, and besides he might be getting overfond of that lady. Must be mutual, if she put the big dogs on his tail. So here he was, walking straight into the Spear.
As the guard stopped in front of the office door, Derringer checked if there was anything he needed to remember before walking in. The door opened, and he went in remembering nothing.
He faced a desk with a placard that read General Alisandre, Draig Claymore. The man behind it had a stack of papers on either side, signing them as they moved from one end to the other. “Welcome,” he said, “and thank you for never having been here.”
“It’s an honor.” He took the other seat at the General’s gesture.
“I value your credentials, and those who gave them to me.” General Alisandre signed another paper carefully. “It’s my duty to explore every possible avenue in my search, and I hope you can help me. Do you have any idea what I’m asking you to find?”
“An important person may be missing.”
The General nodded. “Official channels are already engaged, and we have scant days before it becomes a matter of public knowledge. Can you work under that kind of scrutiny?”
“Sure, especially if that’s not really what I’m doing.”
“No, of course not. Your actual employment would of course be your own business. And you would have all means at your disposal to accomplish it.”
“Means are helpful, so long as they’re not under supervision.”
“Why would they be? You’re not connected to anyone in this building.”
“Sounds like business as usual.”
“You will remain completely independent. We simply wish for the goal to be accomplished.”
“I think I can set myself to business as usual with a goal in mind.”
“Remember, we have no idea what it is you’re supposed to be doing.”
The General signed one more paper, and put away his pen. “I’m having beef and beer for lunch. Perhaps you’d like to join me on the terrace?”
“There’s a terrace?”
“Oh yes, it’s lovely. And there’s more than one.” They stood, and exited to an empty hallway.
– 83 –
Queen Ascendant Charlotte stood facing the green-haired researcher in a chamber to themselves.
“Thank you for being willing to speak with me so directly, Your Grace.”
“Not at all. My priorities are clear, as parent and Ascendant. So, tell me about the surprise findings. I am up to date on the rest of the information regarding the Photuris Anomaly.”
Hydraia nodded. “I first noticed it while idly searching the shadow visual classifications. Patterns or formations will pop out variously, as this did. It struck me as both eerie and timely. I even sent it to Loramer for a second opinion, and they agreed. It looks like a picture of your daughter.”
The news had already been broken to the elder woman, so she took it well, reaching out to accept a copy of the data report. A pieced together image played above it: Soleil, looking over her shoulder.
The Queen Ascendant breathed deeply, looking intensely at the woman. “I realize your waking hours may be fully occupied, but I have need of some of them.”
Arcta acknowledged this with a nod. “I sent the matter to your attention thinking you might act on it.”
“My intentions are already forming, but I will need some dedicated, available guidance.”
“There is currently no one who can fill my role on Alphas 1 and 2 in the Photuris Sector. But I can be interrupted under prominent need.”
“Then I shall supply you with a communication line. I will not aim to make any interruptions. Just for burning questions.”
“Your Grace, I extend my correct sympathy, and I wish to offer as much of my time as you require.”
“You’ve already given us our first real discovery in the matter. We have four days before you are to enact a collapse interruption, right?” Queen Ascendant Charlotte finally offered her visitor a seat.
– 84 –
“Hey, what’s shaking you guys.” The redheaded dulcet tone spoke from disembodied audio. “How’s the office working out for you?”
“Good. We’ve been making cash credit under our new company name: Substitute Security & Systems. We’ll jack you up and make sure you don’t get jacked.”
“Sounds like a niche. Have you heard from Derringer lately?”
“Actually, just yesterday. He said he was going dark into Transnet Archipelago.”
“That’s a lot of gateway cruising. Well, it must mean he took the job. And I had just thought of something for him. Now I’ll have to run into him, how annoying.”
“We could pass on a message for you, next time he’s in touch.”
“No, I can take care of my own. But go ahead and tell him that we talked.”
– 85 –
The Lieutenant Corporal stood next to the researcher in the Alpha 1 core, with everything in place to interrupt the Photuris Vortex Anomaly. Statuses incoming.
Lt. Corporal Sorens, Technician Lead, called in over his channels. “Rotating longitudinal arc, torsion 1, four strong, unison report.”
“Counter-rotating longitudinal arc, torsion -1, four strong, unison report.”
“Buffer Zone 1, Buffer Zone 2, unison report.”
“Man At The Bar.
“Tech Reader, how long till equipment is ready?”
“The passing charge will reach desired level pulse at a quarter hour from now.”
“Appropriate, with leeway.” Tyson Sorens turned to Arcta Hydraia on his right to meet her eyes and nod. She flickered her notes on the air in front of her and gazed at the room unfocused, hand to her mouth.
“Alpha base 2 reporting.” The solid voice of General Ionos, Ehrenson Sorens transmitted to the main line. “We’ve bundled our frequencies to feed into Buffer Zones 1 and 2 as well as satellites D and E. Ionos base reads and reports. Planetary contingencies are in line. This is the big day.”
“Technicians, it’s time to compare and align your formulas. Coordinate trajectories with your squadron.” The Lt. Cpl. craned his neck around as he listened to pieces of channel chatter, mainly in the direction of various spec prints.
“‘Scuse me there’s, uh,” this rose in volume precedent, “We have an extra ship in formation.”
“As do we.”
“It just entered our logs officially.”
“There are two more of our own ships, not shadows. Both in five strong position.”
A visual transmission appeared of Queen Ascendant Charlotte in flight uniform in the technician’s seat. “It is my responsibility to be a part of this mission. I have sent record of my full qualifications.” The juxtaposed image of General Ionos nodded an extended affirmative to this. “The rudeness of my intrusion requires your tolerant pardon.
“I have also sent you a data point schematic, doubly approved at Loramer, confirming the viability of an extra pair in your formation without any path alteration. This qualified crew, including myself, will now be a part of this maneuver.”
The vortex anomaly heaved before her gaze. She turned to her pilot and looked back at the massive anomaly. “That looks really complex.” Her lips held back bile.
Lieutenant Corporal Sorens stood still as he scanned the new information. He turned slowly toward Ms. Hydraia to find her already facing him.
She gestured to him with her pointer. “We didn’t include the last pair because we wanted to minimize the roster – not because of any dynamics issue. We even practiced five strong formation.”
“Your Grace, it can be as you wish. From your position you will report to me as Technician Lead.”
A message flashed in from the General on Alpha 2. The Lt. Cpl. uttered a small, “Uh oh.”
“I’ve examined the additional crew roster, and I deem it necessary to make a substitution. I will take the place of counter-rotating pilot CR5. The Queen Ascendant and I have flown together before, and I have experience in heroics.”
“I find this a comfort,” spoke Charlotte from her ship.
Hydraia’s posture expressed alarm. “Can we just let a General go pilot one of these?”
Sorens nodded. “They keep fairly current with vehicular training, they won’t jump into chairs they can’t handle. It happens.”
“So he’ll just taxi out to the counter-arc? Tech Reader, how long till equipment is at level?”
“It will be another ten minutes. Leeway diminishing but still present.”
“So he’ll have the time to get out there.” Arcta closed her hand into a fist to rest in front of her face.
From Alpha 2, “Sir, Buffer Zone and Ionos Base calls are now routed to you.”
“Yes, I would be the next person they want to talk to.”
“There is a medical emergency aboard Buffer Zone 2, Shadowed Flare. The signal reader has lost consciousness.”
“Get me the pilot’s report.”
“She was keeping quiet over there until just a minute ago when she blacked out over her controls. I settled her safe in the back, but that leaves me to manage this by myself.”
Arcta Hydraia raised both arms widely into the air and brought them down. “Okay before you bring up any qualifications, ” she paused in the space between her hands, “I’m a co-inventor of this energy and placement technology. I issued the first ten certifications along with twenty other experts. I’m the best person here, now, to read and understand that position.”
He looked first down at his chest, then up at her, the people around and behind them, then back at the transmission.
“I can do all our coordination from Buffer Zone 2. I might even beat your dad aboard.”
“What’s your call sign?”
He spoke over transmission. “Okay we’re sending in a replacement for Flare, the unit is now Shadowed Watcher.” Tyson Sorens turned back to her. “Go be the other half.” He let her abandon him, and viewed the progress of intermediate craft.