5x Rerun: Abyss Surrounding (2), 33, 13th Sequence, 34-36

– 33 –

Fate betides thee in the crisp edge, as you and your friends have called it – where you have so often found and been found by each other – where it’s easy to meet and split – the place that is not nowhere, but near it.  I know where that is, and where you go.  I am the other one.  I am the tide of the storm-brought flood, and your footing will have no purchase.  Time betides thee, and the hurry of the moment.



– 34 –

Derringer had known many a season at the Oriya River Aerial Parkway, which is why he was given a ranger position for season closing without any real fuss.  People had their own way of doing things in the Pioneerlands.  In days of Derringer’s rambunctious youth, he won fleeting local fame for his between-stream tricks.  Nothing like what the big stars today were doing, but enough to make people cheer.

There was a handful of people left working here that still knew him.  They’d all taken higher up jobs except for Silas, who was still a season ranger.  They mainly kept people out of danger zones and cleaned up, attending to the rare emergency.  The gravitational engagement of these wondrous natural streams was nearly impossible to escape, regardless of trying.

When people looked up at the span-high, ten-long stretch of suspended branching waterways snaking through the air like crystal ropes studded with gemlike rocks – their faces turned silly.  Derringer wore that face now as he watched people readying to bust onto the river together, in season closing style.

There was boarder Elgin Conully and his co-athlete wife Kalana Olpan, with their camera crew.  There was no trophy competition on the aerial rivers, but it attracted champions from many sports.  Derringer thought he spied his old boss four levels removed: Ravl Pliskin, Plexus founder and inventor, in a kneel-down ovoid.

Among the spectators he saw fashion models, travelers, and the Aristyd locals for whom this was the beginning of the season for silvers.  In another month the waters would be chock full of the leather-shelled aquatics.  The feasting on silvers would be followed by runs of the soft-skinned goldens and the plated coppers, prized shellskins for fabrication.  Derringer continued to observe the people gathered.

He was near enough to discern faces at the starting line, but far enough out that his position wasn’t pressed.  There were about thirty people in his shouting radius.  Nearest him, a dark smallish man with a stretchy face displayed silly-look fascination.  He met Derringer’s eye and opened his arms, clearly loving the event.  Derringer tapped his ranger badge and tipped his hat in case he wanted to ask any questions.

After a beat, the man walked over.  “This isn’t your first Oriya closing, is it,” he supposed out loud.

“No sir, I’ve seen a few.”  Derringer let his silly-wild face show.

“Oh I’m not sir – I’m Gretz.”  They shook hands warmly.  “And this is my first closing, even though I have family on Aristyd.  It’s the natural wonder everyone always asks about.”  He pointed with his lips to one of the many eager starters.  “My cousin is running it this year.”  The two men were conversing right over the starting line pump-up speech.

“Welcome then,” said Derringer.  “It’s a thrill no matter where you’re standing.  I’m just here to make sure that’s not in the wrong spot.”

“Do you get plenty of your own time up there in the flow?”

“Not afterward, but I’ve gone up plenty during this past week-plus.”  Derringer tilted his face to include the highest rivers in his gaze.

“What do people do afterward?” asked the guest named Gretz.

“Besides clean up?”  Derringer shrugged.  “There’s a ping-pong table in the 3rd Span Lounge.”

“Ping-pong… really?”

Derringer saw that he’d awakened an itch.  He decided that he liked Gretz.  “If you’re up for an epic match, you can find me there in the wee hours.”

“I’m a wee hours kinda fella.  Be warned, I may take you up on that.”  Gretz unleashed an impish look.

“Warning heeded.”  The musical cue preceded the starting blast.  Derringer spread his arms out as a standing area reminder.  He half-closed his eyes as the distinctive and familiar twelve-string klaxon sounded, and cheers arose.

– 35 –

Inverting clearance is an operational maneuver similar to castling on the chaseboard.  It’s often the best move and it happens all the time, an allowed exception.  A recurring turning point, a strategic tradition carrying the weight of invisible sanction.  Arcta sheltered her confidence within this behavioral blind spot.  With a group in tow, Arcta walked as though none could stop her, knowing and not caring how easily the situation could turn, making their way to a dead man’s tomb.

Sturlusson’s verdict had been the worst that anybody anticipated.  It was swift, quiet, and ugly.  Stillfreezing procedures were costly and awful, reserved for those who would be on view of judgment for generations.  What would they get when they broke Raev Sturlusson free?  Arcta wouldn’t wait any longer.

The group with Arcta was more nervous, and knew even less.  This place gave them the creeps, including Brave & Fearless herself.  Don’t want to know any more, don’t want to know any more – the strange litany kept her focused as she followed her thread of information down the hall.  They passed through the newest construction zone, and into the newest room.

In the center of a platform in the middle of the room, Raev Sturlusson’s body stood as though he were chained.  Intersecting his body were twenty-four spectral plates operating from their opposing pillars.  The chains and braces that held him for the freezing process were gone, no longer necessary.  Head bowed, his hair hung down either side.  Not alive, not dead… unreal and too real.  Arcta took half a second to master her own revulsion.

“Break it open.”  The edifice was intimidating, as though they too might freeze if they looked for too long.  The forty-eight slim pillars stood around the edge, no greater than saplings yet menacingly horrible.  The technician with them gibbered in distress.

Hydraia took a Multi-Tool from a companion’s hands, and with a reckless sneer dragged her suit mask over her face.  Her voice cut through the mask amplifier.  “This is Raev Sturlusson.  Break it open.”  They’ve never known what they were doing anyway, using this ghoulish thing.

The Multi-Tool’s armlength blade glowed to cutting heat, and Hydraia applied it indiscriminately to the nearest pillar.  At this the others took action, pillar after pillar toppling in elegant atrocity.  Arcta handed the Multi-Tool back and stepped away.  She withdrew her firearm and shot the platform console computers, shot them to slag.

They all stared at the man in the center, dropping or setting down their tools in silence.  He teetered, and hands sprang out in the distance around him.  He took a step, and stayed standing.  He lifted his one hand slowly, palm toward his face, and gathered the sides of his hair behind his head.  Arcta Hydraia brought a hairband out of her pocket and stepped around him to tie it back.  The surrounding hands lowered and relaxed, and Hydraia faced Sturlusson from one side.

His mouth worked as he accustomed his eyes.  Then a word, barely audible.  “Cozy… as a frog in the frozen ground.”  He shored himself up, and barely wobbled.  Members of the group shivered repeatedly.  Raev turned to face all the unspoken questions.  “Maybe I’ll write some poetry about it.”

Arcta pursed her lips and pointed her chin.  “I’ll read it.”

Raev Sturlusson gathered them all in one look and dropped a loose nod.  Together they exited.

– 36 –

The rookie human sled pilot examined her gloves.  The dark, vacuum-to-fit plasleather was thick and flexible with its embedded and overlaid tech circuits.  The material itself was a matrix that delivered highest response from the fingertips and palms.

In Soleil’s spaceflight sessions with Vedani teams, she learned the movement orders for their one-person standing sleds, reconnaissance vehicles.  The gloves recorded and sent information, and kept the vehicle positioned to its user.  Soleil had been told that as a human she lacked at least one communicative interface between the Vedani and their tools.  They set those levels for her into a cooperative subroutine.  She listened to the drumming sound of the gloves on the handlebar podium.

The Princess hadn’t expected to be included on a mission.  She’d attained proficiency but not expertise.  Her thinking shifted, wondering if they were now intentionally placing her in a tragic situation.

The intense learning had changed the tone of her captivity, and at this moment that she was keenly aware of being a prisoner.  She was willing to go, but she wondered what would happen if she refused.  They wouldn’t have brought her into service without a reason, and it wasn’t graduation day.

Uixtr (pronounced “eks-ter”) was the Vedani man who’d been nominated to keep her clearly informed.  He was quite familiar from around the environment, enough so that it dawned on the Princess he might also have been in charge of keeping track of her.  He projected an air of ambivalent acquaintance, and spoke well in her human language.

“We have ways throughout space, established in certain places, that lead to certain other places.  That concept is familiar to you.  Our pathways are utilized in various and different manners.  Some of our waypoints, to use a familiar word, or transanchors to be more accurate, have been newly established with the help of our current alliance.

But now we’re finding a mysterious vulnerability that threatens the placement of the ship where we now reside.  This intrigues us, and it could concern you.  It may be coming from… your side.”  When Uixtr said that, Soleil thought about where she was now, where she came from, and what she was doing.  That opened a deep well of inquiry with invisible depths, into which she avoided staring.

“What is your current alliance?” she asked.  As the question left her, Soleil recognized how bold it was.  It was her puzzle solving reflex; she had actually been curious from a technical standpoint.

Uixtr blinked at her and curled his lips to smile.  “This type of transanchor is created in concert between our technologies, the work of certain dragons, and some unusual little people who can be difficult to define.”

Soleil wondered if Uixtr was hinting at knowledge of her recently gained acquaintanceship, and decided to give-for-give.  “Do you mean the Kao-Sidhe?”

Uixtr nodded a dawning acknowledgment.  “Yes, theirs is a critical contribution.  We don’t know what you may see in this situation.  That’s why we’re bringing you.”

With that, it was time.  Soleil geared up as in usual exercise, in familiar team configuration including Uixtr.  There was an addition of reserve experts, with whom she hadn’t practiced.  Together they exited from a different part of the ship, through a gate new to her.

5x Rerun: Abyss Surrounding (2) 13th Sequence, 29-32



– 29 –

I behold thee: a different fish amongst a school of fish, swimming in the void.  Behold, you have attained what was once, to you, secret knowledge.  This may be enough for thee.  How much longer will you play in these safe waters, thee whom I beholdst?

– 30 –

Beware thee not, all lies within expectation.  ‘Ware the gazes, their points of origin, their aim, crosses, landings.  They have their wrong directions.  Beware thee inasmuch as a shadow.  ‘Ware also the shadows, how cast, how fallen, how long.  Shadows under different suns.  ‘Ware the meeting of each shadow, yet only as such.  I am ‘ware for thine, beware thee not.

– 31 –

Beloved, thou survivors of shared trial.  Beloved for thy personhood, for thy minds behind eyes which grasp what has been seen.  Beloved for thy strength of heart.  Beloved thou, in new awareness discovered, beloved for thy part.  I honor you, I embrace you, I welcome you, beloved thou to me.

– 32 –

I have reasons to believe thee, who tell me what I am not yet sure we need to know.  For thou art the experts, and I believe thee with my own expert understanding.  Together, we forge what I shall believe of thee.  I believe you are the only ones in this darkness.  I believe I can light with thee the sparkling ways.  I believe you glean the greater of our questions.  I believe thee thine conclusions.  As we grow finer in knowledge, so shall I continue to believe thee.

5x Rerun: Abyss Surrounding (2) 24-28

– 24 –

“I am the monarch of the seas, living the dream that I’ve always dreamed…” The cheery tune approached them from around the corner, and they were greeted by a gentleman who appeared very merry to meet them. He was dressed Foshani, in a loose shirt of loud seaweed floral print, linen trousers that went partway down the legs, and rope sandals.

“Greetings! I am Arjun Woollibee, of the firm Woollibee & Woollibee. I am the head abyssal inverse dwelling designer. Around here, they call me First AIDD. Yes – I created my own job title. If you have an injury, then you talk to medical.”

The First AIDD made a courteously staged bow and continued. “We have a little time before the tide current brings us under again. There is no defying the tides here on Foshan. Now, they bear us as we have asked. Soon, they will draw us in as we intend.”

“First orders,” and with that the host promptly ignored the General as he focused on the dragon. “I have looked forward to this meeting for some time, Arkuda. And the setting, in every respect, is stranger and more fantastic than I could even have guessed, though I created it.”

“Arjun.” The dragon, er white scales gleaming gold, lowered er bulk into an almost-kneeling launch stance. In handed-headed-torso-bipedal-winged form, Arkuda held er ornamentally ornate wings like a lifted cape. Formal golden jeweled raiment trailed from shoulders and horns. ‘E pointed er horns at Arjun Woollibee and huffed.

The human stepped forward to the dangerous assembly of horns at chest height. He laid his hands on them and began to murmur a stream of indistinguishable language. His eyes alternately widened and narrowed as though reading, a smile flitting to and from his face. Arkuda’s breath was audible and controlled. This stretched on for minutes, as Woollibee made permutations of alignment contact with Arkuda’s horns. The man stood back, wiping sweat off his brow, then mirrored the dragon’s stance in front of em. They lifted their eyes to look into each other’s.

Then they sat, still facing each other; quietly, for equally as long, eyes opening and closing. A seeking was generally about something, but Claymore couldn’t make a guess as to this case. From where he waited to one side while this took precedence, Draig realized he’d been holding his breath. He recalled a visual memory of a small bird doing something very similar, hopping amongst Arkuda’s horns like they were branches. That hadn’t seemed unusual, but then, that was the only time he’d ever seen it. Do birds seek dragons for their own reasons?

He thought back to his first official meeting with Arkuda, part of the very complex process of becoming General Alisandre. It seemed casual in comparison. He wondered at the difference, then acknowledged there was no reason the meetings should be at all alike.

The General’s reverie ended when they stood. Their host went to him directly. “If you can stand a little vertigo, we can move to the end room further ahead, where we can view the descent.” Claymore nodded with surety.

Woollibee talked as they moved. “In here, gravity works more like a spaceship than a watercraft. Don’t assume you know up or down as we go, or that there is an up or down – it’s easier on the constitution. It takes more training to live here than it does to visit. Just know: your feet are on the ground and will remain so.”

– 25 –

The current began to swell, bearing them higher into the air.  “Now, the tensile force technology unclasps from its connected water layers.”  Instead of a barely perceptible yawing, the building moved in a steady direction: down.  It accelerated smoothly in the current’s tow.  Claymore guessed that they were moving faster than it felt inside the room.

“Are you normally in charge of this descent?” the General asked the engineer.

“My brother and I transfer the duty between ourselves.”  Just before the surface disappeared, it shifted towards the corner of the room.  “The structure changes shape in response to the first diagonal shear current.  We are now in this conformation.” He placed the heels of his flat hands together in a consummate V.

Woollibee dimmed the lights so they could see something of the ocean through which they were passing.  He pointed out a mesopelagic vegetative raft, with signs of cavorting from its resident life forms.  “Without shining any lights it’s mostly a series of shadows, but we don’t do that without a reason.”  Councillor Arkuda sat erself down on the ground.

“If you appreciate blackness, we can watch the last light disappear.”  Draig and Arkuda both nodded.  Arjun extinguished the light in their chamber, with the timing of a sliver of moonset.  Their eyes sought it, and barely caught the remaining trace as it left like an imagined shimmer.

Arjun Woollibee gently revived the room light.  He continued to narrate, doing a sort of interpretive dance while describing the progressive shapes of the structure, as he liked to call it.  “We move through the water as the leading edge of an object that becomes denser and more massive.  The invisible object has a shape that can withstand the pressures through which we descend.

“After the V, the linear form bows out into the shape of a lucky bowl: smooth, open, drifting down through a full sink.  Farther down, the shape becomes flatter, and weighted – like a bag with objects placed inside, or a tea mug.  The flatten widens, bulging: a market basket or longboat’s bottom.  Then the curve really stretches out, really really big – this is the meteor.”  He called each stage through the climes of darkness, keeping time and mental track.  They took his word for it that the subtle motions they felt meant what he indicated.

“Inverting.  Are you ready?  We’re going to see light again.  But this time, it comes from below.”  Woollibee turned out the room light in time for them to catch another breath of darkness.  Glimmer appeared again like a distant moon rising from the edge of the floor.  It was more concise than surface light, something to squint at.  It rose and grew, centering directly in their field of vision.  “These windows respond to light intensity with filtering that keeps us from going blind.  It’s worth it to be able to see.”

The light rushed toward them with increasing acceleration.  It was a square landing coupling, bright, and bigger than the end of the structure.  With immediate gentleness, that was it.  Woollibee looked at the other two.  “The quicker, the better.”

The glow of the landing socket surrounded them on all planes but the floor and the entrance wall.  The light color cycled slowly and seamlessly through the spectrum.  “I like to take a self-portrait when we land,” said Woollibee.  He punched in sequences on a ten-key pad by the door, and pointed to the wall.

“Here it is – here we are.  Welcome to the Arch.”  In the snapshot on the wall, it was hard to tell how big it was with nothing nearby for comparison.  The straight black bar they entered from the air was now judiciously curved into one of the oldest shapes in human construction: the keystone arch, each of its tall feet planted in a glowing patch of light.  Draig traced the outer shape of it in the air with his finger, sighed, and nodded.  Arjun smiled at him from one side.

Though er countenance showed little difference, Arkuda was beaming.  “It’s a distinct pleasure to be here with you, where sunlight has never reached.  Under the mystery.”

– 26 –

“We’ll go now from the foot to the peak.  But alas,” Woollibee said with a playful tone, “no peeking.  You are here as guests of Arctyri’s.  What we do here, as well as the Arch’s purpose for existence, is outside of your business.  Luckily for you, or it might be another year before you once more took to the air.”

“Whatever you do, it must be fascinating,” said the General.

The builder nodded sharply.  “At times.”  It was then that the door opened, and they beheld someone with an unmistakable resemblance to their host.  “Bux!”  The two kin raised their arms at each other.  “This is he,” said Arjun as he gestured them out of the room, “my brother and partner in science, Buckminster Woollibee.  He is the leading mind behind the tensile force technology you just witnessed, as well as many of the other systems that keep us comfortable and secure.” The researcher was dressed in a buttoned floor length off-white overcoat with a closed-neck collar.  The General and the Councillor approached him and made handshake introductions.

“Bux Woollibee, at yours and Arctyri’s service.  When I was informed that a seeker would be arriving, I knew it would be worth whatever inconvenience.  I sought Arctyri myself long ago, and I know doubtless that without that significant experience, I and my teams couldn’t have accomplished the feats within which we now stand.”

General Claymore began to wonder what the seeking process would impart to him, rather than to them.  Other proposed options had seemed poor and ineffective to his preliminary glances; but he hadn’t fully considered himself an actual part of the Viridian Phasing protocol.  That it might somehow empower him hadn’t been a goal, but now he perceived it may be a key matter.

“Let us travel,” said the mechanical scientist.

– 27 –

The two residents and two visitors stood in the observational bridge of the Arch’s peak room.  They looked upon an expanse that faded from view.  Displays monitored the structure and the space around it.  Brothers Arjun and Bux turned to General Alisandre.  “So, what happens next?” Bux Woollibee asked him.

The General looked steadily back at the other two men and the dragon.  Disengaging his gaze, he gestured toward the furniture.  “Seat yourselves.”  They did so unassumingly.

Draig paced slowly.  He gazed from each corner, trying to focus on the depths beyond.  Turning to his hosts, he asked, “Can we turn off the lights?”  Arjun nodded, and without reply made the room go dark.

Now they were lit only by the residual glow from the Arch’s basal sockets, like streetlight seen from upper stories.  Draig looked intently at the displays showing gradations of light in the areas below them.  He felt a desire to press himself against the outward windows like a child, as though they might let him through.  He had never admired empty water so much, or felt so drawn to it.  Behind him, the Woollibees wore their own secretive smiles.  Arkuda opened and closed er eyes.

Draig was grinding his fist into his palm.  “Is it possible to dim the base light?” he asked.

“We can make it go out completely, if you wish,” replied Bux with a gleam in his eye.

“Yes, I want that.”

Arjun rose from where he sat.  “I’ll go issue a lights-out, windows-black.”  He exited the room, and Draig turned again to the displays.  Slowly, the light left.  As it disappeared, his limbs seemed to gain weightlessness as his eyes fixed on nothing.  “Ah,” said Draig.  The others kept silence.

Arjun returned, briefly allowing in a slice of light from the doorway.  It was sealed out, and the weightlessness returned once more.  Draig could see neither floor nor ceiling, where they ended nor what was beyond.  The displays were invisible.  He enjoyed this moment padding in the darkness, feeling far from anything.  If he tried he could hear breathing, including his own, but for the most part he didn’t try.  He chuckled and liked how the sound hung in the air.

Something showed itself out there: a moving finger fish glowing indigo-cobalt.  “Life,” said the General, puzzling it out.

“Yes, life,” said a Woollibee; which one, he wasn’t sure.  More fingers of light joined the first, as though appearing from a distant current.  They flickered, oscillating and migrating.

“Do schools exist down here?”

“Yes,” said one of the brothers.  “And things that eat them.  And, things that eat them.”  The lights approached, flickering.

“Have you noticed how stable it feels in the Arch?”  Arjun’s tone as he spoke was candidly jovial.  “You can thank Bux for reversing the tensile hold you witnessed on the surface – down here it’s known as torrential slip.”  The glowing school arrived at a static space where it shifted around, unwilling to pass the Arch.

“Do you keep a repellant field around the structure?” the General asked.

“No,” replied Bux, “it would interfere.”  The curious school came to a still rest and disappeared.  Something completely different appeared in its place: a maze of light the size of a city block.

Draig spent several seconds assessing and managing his alarm.  He almost jumped to action, but didn’t.  The Councillor, the engineer, and the scientist remained silent.  This wasn’t an attack situation, yet.  The glowing thing turned, as though it had seen something, and continued to turn until the same part of the maze was facing them again.

Then the General noticed two large shadows occluding parts of the glowing pattern.  He moved his hands in front of his body, mirroring the way the shadows moved in front of the maze.  This felt similar to the delivery of a detailed speech.  Noticing, he turned to show the others what he was doing, then remembered it was pitch dark.  “You two brothers, do you see it?  Have you seen this before?”

“I have never seen… this one.  Similar things, much much smaller.  Yet, I am not afraid.”

“We have reason to be, judging by the size and power of this denizen.  But I’m not afraid, either.”

“I’m very pleased to meet it,” said the Councillor.  “It may be expressing the same.”  Draig turned to look.  The mazy glow dimmed and brightened with a soothing pulse.  Claymore decided to try something.  Facing out, he shadowed his chest with flat hands then dropped them open to his sides, palms out.  Two giant shadows met in the center of the maze and opened back into the unseen.

At this, the mazy lights darkened to invisibility, erasing themselves.  Twenty glowing bulbs appeared.  Draig looked down at himself and saw his outlines illuminated, as this light was noticeably brighter.  The two greater bulbs resolved into a pair of shapes like boltcutters the size of small spacecraft.  They threw the most luminescence.  Above them close to center, two bouquets of nine comparatively tiny bulbs sprouted, each on its independently moving and lengthening stalk.  Below the bouquets appeared feathery mandible appendages, framing a mouth outlined in a proportionally small grin.  One, two, then three pairs of glowing parentheses lit successively, widening the teacup grin.

Draig laughed despite the gigantic strangeness.

Below the mouth, an outline of a different color drew itself in the darkness: the edges of its central plates.  It roughly resembled a heart with wings.  The General couldn’t bring himself to remark; he looked sidelong as though expecting the practical joke to be explained.

The central shape pulsed as a point of light appeared between the eye bouquets, spreading outward to circle its entirety with a simple, galactically elliptical outline.  “Aaaaaaaaahhhhhh.”  The sound of overawed acceptance flew out of Draig’s throat.

“It’s bigger than… than this!” exclaimed Arjun, flapping his hands in the way that speechless engineers indicate their walls.  “There has been nothing of the sort that we have seen.”

“Yet here it is,” his brother said, seeming pleased.  “I am glad to see this… one.”

“Are you not?” said the Councillor.  “It is an honor.”

“I feel vulnerable,” said the General.

Arkuda replied, “That is also appropriate.”

The creature’s outlines were obscured as flickering wiggles of light covered its entirety, including its propulsory rippling fin skirt.  All was lit as though in alarm, rather than in deceptive patches.  The mazy lights that had first awed and stunned them grew bright underneath that as well.  Draig worried that something bigger was about to arrive.

It did.  The torrential slip didn’t waver, as around them particles of ocean floor lifted and motion-froze in upside down tornado shapes.  How could the cold down here get colder, how could a current make ice within the ocean –

– and what was that crustacean doing?

Its giant claws opened and shut with musical timing, sending regular shockwaves through the water.  Its glowing furriness blinked in alternating patches, also in time.  It looked absolutely jolly.

A shape formed beneath the creature, lifting it high above them as it continued to dance, play music, and emit light.  What appeared was the form of a head large enough that the creature atop it looked like a hat.  The enormous dragon face appeared endlessly pleased.

Draig finally pressed his face against the glass, to be sure he was eliminating the illusion of a layer.  Behind him, Arkuda drew breath to speak, but didn’t.  Draig knew who that was in front of him.  He swayed back and forth as though meeting a childhood hero.

He now recalled his actual first meeting with Councillor Arkuda as a boy of three.  It was easy to forget because it was as though he’d known er forever.  He had slipped free from his busy Arbiter father in the Council hallways.  He roamed passageways in earnest search of something certain, shortly to be stopped by an awesome being.  His search over, he allowed the dragon to place him on er shoulders.  He held on carefully to Arkuda’s horns as he rode back to his father.  That Draig was remembering it now felt elegant and real.  He couldn’t quite recall the lesson, only that there must have been one.

Draig then realized that Arctyri was only the second dragon he’d met.  He had seen others, but only met Arkuda.  Perhaps that was an inaccurate human tendency, to think they knew a dragon after having only seen em.

Under the gaze of this dragon pleased to meet him, Draig sat.  He got as close as possible to the barrier separating him from a friendly-seeming abyss.  The dragon shimmered as ‘e further materialized.  The glowing creature balanced atop the dragon calmed its light display.  At this depth, the dragon’s form was especially crystalline and fluid; the light emitted by the friend on er head was distributed via contralucent conduits, enough to display itself in the deep darkness.

From cross-legged, Draig pressed his palms to the window before him, trying to feel the water on the other side.  The crustacean scooted toward Arctyri’s back as ‘e angled er horns toward the window.  Spiraling in shapes like the icy peaks formed in the current of er arrival, three horns rose in the center toward a triangular peak.  Two terminated at the distance between Draig’s palms, the third between and above.

Arctyri’s third extended horn touched the barrier, which appeared to change.  Draig placed his forehead against the spot, and he no longer felt anything between him and the water, or him and the dragon.  He felt the other two horns connecting with his hands.  The window barrier remained, yet it wasn’t between them.

Draig felt the coursing cold, depth deepening, freezing breath, rude harshness… a swift, seamless, ouroboric mobius attracting power by its concentration.  The fleetest and most shocking current, harbinger’s whistle, riding ice to clouds that dance beneath nothing but stars.  Whole worlds in continuous grasp: Arctyri is there somewhere, bringing food, or death, motion, or change.  Draig learned of the being and how ‘e works.

Arctyri met Draig Claymore as well, through small stories he told er in split second word-thought and physical emotives.  Arctyri introduced to him others of er acquaintance, including the Davyjones (as his species name was given, this one male and eldest of them) still perched on er somewhere.  Seeking and meeting was something dragons would allow with any species, learned Draig, though a dragon attracts its kinds.

The Davyjones crustacean crept over the back of Arctyri’s head and laid his claws next to horns further up.  Davyjones, crunches bones, sees yours inside you, gravity guides you to Davyjones who rules the floor.  Draig and Eldest Davyjones got to know each other well in that moment.  They would recognize each other anywhere.

Arctyri extended two more freezing horns to touch the barrier at either side of the General.  Claymore called, “Woollibee and Woollibee, Arctyri asks you to approach and join.”  They both went to a point of contact, pressing their hand to it and facing each other.

Arctyri charged them with responsibilities and knowledge according to their roles.  Should the dragon be compromised by er part in the Viridian Phasing, they understood what they each could do.  ‘E communicated er reasoning and motivations for being a part of it.

In addition, there was a new name being spoken by dragons.  Acamar.  This was the first time any of Arctyri’s audience heard it, including Arkuda.  Arkuda repeated the name reflexively in er voice: Acamar.  Arkuda formulated a meaningful phrase for the humans: “where it stops flowing.”

Arkuda was shining softly.  The three humans were lit on one side by frost-carried bioluminescence, and on the other by early morning sunlight in a place that never sees it.  Quietly, Arctyri withdrew and Arkuda dimmed.  With a last look at them, Arctyri loosened er manifestation and soared faintly upward in er current, Eldest Davyjones riding just behind er head, skirt rippling.

– 28 –

Upon exiting transport, the three young royalty followed their father to the Verdant Plateau, where children were gathered.  Carlo felt nervous, as if he were somehow to blame.  They were meeting other kids who were at Pyrean Midsummer, to celebrate that they were better thanks to the Imperium, after the evil criminal had made them all sick with the virus.  This was happening on the Verdant Plateau to remind everyone that this was a place of health and prosperity.

In front of Carlo, his older sister and brother didn’t look at each other much, but looked up often toward their father.  The walk from the plateau’s edge seemed long, until they reached the opening in the Pergola that awaited them.

The Magus children stood to their father’s left, Carlo the youngest standing farthest out.  He stood up straight and tried to smile.  The kids he faced looked very serious. He wasn’t sure what they expected of him, so he tried to smile a little more.

King Ascendant Vario addressed the children’s assembly, flanked by teachers and caretakers.  He congratulated everyone on the sick population’s total recovery, and proceeded to explain everything:  that the disease had come from Hirylien, the many misdeeds of criminal Raev Sturlusson, and how the doctors created the cure from the hidden serum in the man’s arm.  The kids looked at each other and back at the royal family through the corners of their eyes.  There was one girl whose gaze was fixed on Carlo, and didn’t leave him.  He would look away and back to see her still watching him.  Her hair was yellow and straight, and she looked only a little bit older.

When the speech was over, the kids lined up to shake hands with the royal children.  With handshake after handshake, Carlo grew confused and more nervous.  There wasn’t anything in particular, but this wasn’t going the way it was supposed to.  There was none of the ecstatic fawning common at other children’s greetings.  They peered at him intently.  When that girl walked up to him, he almost wanted to run and hide.  Panicking, he looked at his father, who was looking right at him.  Strangely, Carlo bowed before sticking out his hand.  The girl bowed back, and without saying anything, shook his hand in a way that felt like she wasn’t shaking it at all.

5x Rerun: Abyss Surrounding (2) 19-23

– 19 –

This is no more trying than anything my forebears have committed. Missing the Ascendant; missing the Scion. We have a succession, like we’ve always known to have. The Imperium is still the Imperium. I’ve made it as it is now – this is what we’ve all said.

I have made it as it is now, so it will continue. As it will, so shall I. All we have, our lives from beginning to end. All this I must.

I am the twenty-fourth ruler of this era. We have forged a memory, all our lives, from beginning to end. The way it could be, and the way it is – we all step upon this stone. It really is not so simple, and never has been. We are thus, and at times the grand total outweighs even a lifetime.

Unwearied, at full measure, equal to my greatest moment. I am always.

(from The Annals of Celeste, Magus the 24th)

– 20 –

I deduce their fall, as I sense her flight. The rest goes accordingly. More will come, quickly enough; I’ll know when it comes for me. I have no worry, and my own fear has died over and over. I’ve never gone with it.

What about them? This, one of the largest and most fraught questions of my life. What about them? The things it has meant, with what I have seen and been.

It’s almost comforting to be caught in self absorption. I think practically nothing of myself, except what may be mine to accomplish. I have nothing but myself here in these walls, which to me are nearly illusory. I am entertaining this illusion now, though it may not entertain me for much longer.

I could send my being out in some way, in some direction, for the cost of the time it took. This has taken me all the time till now to be able to do. I’ve made myself and been remade, to become able. I accept my abilities like fate, but the decision has always been mine – in the surprisingly rare points where one exists.

Here and now, I have no decisions to make. I do little but recall who I am, and try not to think about the parts missing.

– 21 –

The dragon Arkuda is remembering the names of the unbanished dragons alive for the War, and which of them still live. ‘E is one of them. Thinking of the others not by the shorthand pronounceable by other species, but the name of a dragon called by another dragon, the bugle that can be heard over other planes. A human, an eagle, or an ant might hear it as a roar. They might all hear it.

Some that hear a name might have a response, and by that response guess whose name was spoken, calling them closer by remembering. Unseen dragons often lurk in the unremembered. Unremembered by whom?

The Dragon Councillor sought places of revealing, though nowhere near a revelation. A revelation fills the sky. Calling dragons was a matter of timing, not time.

Arkuda liked the Imperium. Thought it was a genius idea for its time. ‘E’d already spent human generations explaining it to other dragons, so they would understand how they were included. Conceiving of oneself as a part of the universal fabric is different from interlocking with a species nation.

Arkuda didn’t mind explaining all that could be explained. This is why Arkuda was selected as Councillor.

– 22 –

The Dragon Councillor had familiarized the General with the kind of bird they use in covert messaging. He hadn’t before needed the service of these creatures, or rather the dragons hadn’t employed them to his function.  Claymore could see the recognition and wayfinding abilities in their eyes.  Their plumed posture belied a sense of humor.  They were said by dragons to have a ‘confusing warble’ which causes them to be strangely forgettable to dragons despite their charming appearance.  Excellent birds, said Arkuda, who seemed to have a fondness for them.  Claymore, too, liked the bird well on its visits, and noted its plumage.

That’s how he knew this was a different bird arriving to his office, not the one with whom he was already friendly.  The bird looked primally satisfied as the man removed its written burden, and left without ceremony.

“3 Pyrean,” spelled the message in shorthand.  Claymore understood why this course of action should follow.  They had discussed seeking, hunting, baiting, drafting, hiring, and auditioning, all relating to different dragons.  They would seek three of this year’s Pyrean Midsummer dragons; Saga, the fourth, was known to have a long-standing conflict with this conflict.

Three Pyrean.  That meant he needed to tie up loose ends today, or at least tuck them in.  Now that the Sturlusson matter was delivered entirely to the Keepers, he could address his new primary duties.  The General opened an occasional line to his planning officer.  They spoke of his likely travel course.

He could continue to be the operatives’ anchor as a briefly active agent.  The royal family didn’t strictly need him at this time, even if they liked having him around.  Keeping himself chained wouldn’t bring the missing Princess any closer.  General Alisandre also needed to pay a visit to Freshwater, for more than one reason – he’d been invited to a rabbit dinner.

“While you’re off-planet, do you want us to shunt communications to the next organizational layer?”

“That will not be necessary – for I, Draig Claymore, am in charge.”

“Thank you, sir.”

After finishing his call, he retrieved his box of previous bird-carried messages.  He translated one of his more recent missives to Councillor Arkuda.  “Cultural liaisons and military historians recommend Viridian Phasing protocols.”

That sentence meant pages of debate that the dragon Councillor would infer because ‘e would be the first to point it out.  Convincing the participation of enough dragons was a battle-scale endeavor.  This war maneuver (for that was what it was), researched and proven in a nearly mythical time, was a matter of rare curiosity.  General Claymore thought to himself that if he could vanquish impending struggle by ringing the first and last note of a twenty-part chorale, he would award himself another imaginary secret medal.  His favorite kind.

This was to be a seeking.  Claymore knew there were steps to a seeking, and Arkuda would make them easy.  But one still had to embark upon it.  From his armoire, General Alisandre selected a midweight streamlined woolen outer.

– 23 –

The autopod containing General Alisandre and the Dragon Councillor descended smoothly through the layers of Foshan’s atmosphere, reaching the formational storm clouds beneath.  Attendant pressurizing meant they had time to continue discussion.  In their case, that meant Councillor Arkuda carried on a considered monologue while the General concentrated and displayed his reactions and degree of comprehension.

“The difference between seeing a dragon, and meeting a dragon… with the latter, you may have some exchange.  For instance, I don’t actually talk to that many people.”  The General thought that Arkuda talked to a great many, then thought perhaps the dragon drew a distinction between public speaking and conversation.  “Having met once, it’s easier to meet again.  I’m an easier dragon to meet than most.  I am well understood.”  The dragon blinked with satisfaction.  “I have been well understood by many over quite some time, which makes seeking me simple to an unnoticeable degree.”

“Other dragons are more reclusive, even alien to those who haven’t considered eir existence, or thought as to what ‘e might be like, besides simply a dragon.  We have very little in common at times between individuals.”  The dragon briefly clasped er scale-plated hands before bowed head.  “This is our problem currently.”

A noise alerted them that the autopod receiver had made contact and was now guiding their vessel.  Below them loomed a massive black bar sitting very still in the storm-tossed waves.  It was as long as some of the tallest buildings in Alisandre Capital, and radiated shadow from its light-absorbent surface.  A landing port slid open beneath a pop-up fielding, which deflected an errant wave like a stone.  The autopod entered the giant bar with Arkuda and Claymore inside.

5x Rerun: Abyss Surrounding (2) 15-18, 11th Sequence

– 15 –

Starting with the conviction that they did in fact exist, Soleil began to gain a sense of what they were. They had a signature effect in her virtual environment, speaking at her from all angles. The Princess asked if they’d encountered people of the Pan-Galactic Imperium.

Silence fell that was larger than the space they were in and longer than the time it took. When it was broken, the speakers sounded far away and down below. “Again and again, those that would see us, did.”

“Even hear us, visit us.”

“But we were never important enough. If they understood us more, we were often destroyed, or driven out. Yet we exist. We want that to be clear.”

“Especially to those who deny it.”

This time the silence came from Soleil. “Is this why you found me?”

Their voices began to move position again. “No, it was you -“

“It was you.”

“- who saw us.” Another pause marked that this was unexpected. “So we are treating you as though you exist.”

“As though you have importance.”

“And we attend you now as one who does.” It was then she recalled her memory from that dream-sending, of people (not creatures) who didn’t appear as any one thing in particular, but perhaps a number of related things, or the relation between things themselves, and as changeable as that. These weren’t glitches in the system, or Vedani kids playing a prank. This wasn’t exactly a courtly introduction, but Princess Soleil recognized the emissarial encounter. Maybe this was their policy of introductory etiquette. Maybe it was a unique situation. Maybe both.

“You may speak with us.”

“We will treat with you, and show you the nature of our characters as though -“

“- as though!”

“- we were not at war.” The Princess knew they were on opposing sides of a conflict, though there was nothing yet between any of them. She accepted this precarious position.

“You may visit or call us; it’s a same difference. May – not so as to give permission, but as acknowledgment of possibility. To be with us is to be with us – it’s a matter of creating a way from us to you, or you to us.”

“We have our homes next door to yours.” Soleil could only think this was an error of translation, because she could sense that homes, next, and door, all meant something else. She felt sure.

“There may be a way to make a way – you must recognize when it may be there.”

“Only then would it be.”

“This way leads to us three, and that may never be true again.”

“There has to be a key, to a door, to a path. These are human things you can remember, right?”

Soleil blinked and thought. “Anytime.”

“Anytime, she says! Well, I say anytime too.”



“Now that we’ve agreed to meet at anytime, let’s have a round of names. Beginning with the human.”


“Rosy Glow.”


“Dragon Food.”

– 16 –

“We can bring you things you don’t know, that you’ve never seen,” they had said in more words than that. “But – you have to ask.” So the Princess thought of something to ask them before they released her streamview from the program loop – a genuine curiosity, simple and inconsequential. Soleil told them about the book she never found in the Great Library at home, from her memory’s sparse detail, with the word ‘movements’ in the title. The three individuals had accepted her request as reasonable.

Now, Soleil was again at a streamviewer, the common equipment that also allowed for human connectivity to the Vedani network interface. Not just a few, but many things made for Vedani suited Alisandrian human capabilities as well.

With her new skills and the ingrained technological acumen imparted by her mother in their lessons together, Soleil could create harmless program structures to her suiting. She’d created an inviting shell for housing unusual occurrences without disturbing other virtual furniture. She noticed residual environmental effects from her previous encounter with the Kao-Sidhe, as they suggested she call them.

Neither of them were waiting for the other. They intended to collide, at which moment the Gazebo would open. A place to meet with a nice view, designed a little like a trap to spring up around them on mutual recognition of their next encounter. It was amenable to them both, with a stability that would allow Soleil to keep her grounding, and enough flexibilities to allow the Kao-Sidhe a comfortable presence. Their embodiment had been characterized by phenomena to Soleil; this time they made an effort to visually appear.

They presented relatable expressions that wouldn’t stress-load the system. A jumble of humanoid and other puzzling features represented each, to the degree of a quick knife-and-woodblock carving. Each was nevertheless iconically distinguishable, and the encounter felt a little more real.

“We’ve brought you a page,” they began without introduction. The Gazebo was an attractive visual setting, with conglomerate views of favorite gardens around the Pan-Galaxy.

“A book-style page!”

“We believe it’s exactly what you are looking for.” Soleil faced from one icon-being to another. One resembled a bright vegetable and was mostly silent. The second had a lot of detail embellishment and flourished with excesses of color. The other stood forth with presentation and drew a lot of interest. Garlic, Rosy Glow, and Dragon Food didn’t bother naming themselves again, but Princess Soleil could assign their distinct attributes.

They displayed a painstakingly crafted page. A graininess indicated that it was an artistic virtual replica of something physical. It looked to be from the right age of her life, and the title included the word ‘movements’. But the page was covered in dance diagrams. Soleil really didn’t think that was the book she’d chosen as a youngster, but it was interesting – at least, difficult-looking and similar to a familiar martial art.

She accepted the page graciously from Dragon Food. The stream transfer took unusually long, and for some reason their virtual sprites were winking the entire time.

– 17 –

This Vedani transport was familiar enough in form that Soleil could stand on it correctly by guessing. There was room to swing her arms around on the handle-grip platform encased by its interactive field. The gloves they gave her to control this machine were wearable without modification. They explained that she would lack certain degrees of interface, but that she had enough inherent skin conductivity to enable control. They showed her how to make settings for human accommodations.

It moved, and then she was adrift with others in space. Soleil thought she knew all about space, before. Now she was standing in it, fielded, with the rest standing nearby. The stars rotated around them as they changed their individual footings with a sense of coordination and comedy. It felt like something she’d wanted for a long time, but that she didn’t know existed.

– 18 –

Stretching, then a big step to launch into the movement. Heading partly upside down, involving limbs with the floor, from one movement to another – rotating in a controlled tumble, she enjoyed the rhythm her body defined.

A bright beam burst into the room from a small plane of light. The woman noticed it as she danced. Guessing a correct reaction, she passed her hands through the beam as she continued. Three sparks emerged, expanding to glowing wire frames which floated to their own positions. She let her momentum spin to a stop.

One spoke. “Is it exactly what you were looking for?”

“I’m unsure as to its importance,” the Princess replied, “but I am enjoying what you brought me. In that sense, perhaps yes.” The wireframes nodded. “I do wonder where you found it.” The wireframes shook their heads. “For some reason, I haven’t asked anyone to learn this with me. Do the Vedani dance?”

The Kao-Sidhe paused in motion. “Not exactly. Not like you’re thinking. It’s not for the sake of a good time.”

“Unless they’re having a good time doing it.”

“But it looks like dancing.”

“It’s scary,” Rosy Glow said, giggling.

“If you see it, something terrible may be occurring.”


“The answer is no…” Dragon Food smothered his chuckles. “…but yes? They’re very good at it.”

“If they teach you, you should try it.”

“Try it!”