– 10 –
The feathery grasses swirled over the child’s feet, ribbonweed creating breaks in the soft shrubbery to show the life underneath. The older boy’s legs were folded underneath him, balanced on their partially submerged log.
On this occasion when the Imperial family left the capital for an idyll with other families, Draig’s was one of them. He and the young Princess sat in a familiar place, talking about their growing lives.
“I met with several Councillors,” said Soleil, “and the Dragon Councillor Arkuda says he’ll teach me.” She looked from one horizon to another. “But he gave me a course of study first.” She shrugged towards her friend. “I’ll have to drop a couple interests, but that is my interest. Call it a focus shift.”
“Really?” Draig asked, leaning away from her. “Dragons are scary… awesome. Scary awesome.”
She turned on him, dragon-claws in the air. “Maybe I’ll learn how to be scary, like Rianoire. She was dragon-taught.”
“Not like Rianoire, I think. Maybe like Arianne. At least, we hope.”
“So do I.” Soleil vigorously shook her head and nodded an affirmative. “Besides, Councillor Arkuda is sunny. That’s what he is, isn’t he? A sunny dragon.”
“That makes him seem friendlier to you?”
“Well, to me, yeah.” The girl took a breath and then paused, wanting him to talk instead.
Draig launched into more of his news. “I’m about to start a full course in achievement training. There’s a physical core with a lot of coursework build-ins. I expect it to be brawny and competitive.”
“I’ll make you a page of encouraging slogans to tape onto your things.”
“Wow Princess Soleil. I can’t wait to see them.”
“They’ll be group-safe.” Soleil’s feet surfaced, causing a fleet of ripples. “None of the swears you taught me.”
– 11 –
Node utilities were accessible and available amongst the Vedani streams, and Soleil stumbled onto one before she knew what it was. This one didn’t activate for her, instead calling its owner, who showed her how it worked though he couldn’t speak her language.
After that, the Princess crafted a node for herself. It mapped things into a country. Learning Country was her secret name for it. She made a number of structures beyond the informative suggestions. Like the giant golden tuba that plugged into a weather system. It listened for things like an ear horn, fed them into real-time weather patterns that adjusted flows, and would play things back according to nature, loudly to all of Learning Country. That was her most ambitious and interestingly functional feature.
Perhaps she shouldn’t have been, but Soleil was surprised at how many people knew who she was and understood her relevance. When someone started bundling, people learned of them. Anyone changing the networks and altering flows opened themselves to the understanding of others, a milestone young Vedani look forward to encountering. Soleil felt some pride in being able to do a five-year-old’s math.
– 12 –
“They’ve recruited you for further succession aboard an Alpha?” Soleil tossed the volley baton end over end in one hand, shield spaces around her flickering on and off. Draig rested his on his shoulder as the two descended to the workout basement.
“Yeah,” the lad replied, “I’m leaving in two weeks for the base off-planet from Foshan.”
“That’s remote.” They emerged from the stairs into a warehouse basement with extremely worn wooden floors. Nothing else lay out in the room, four exact pillars upholding the expanse.
“It’ll be like any other orbit station.”
“So, this may be the last time you spar against this upstart scrub?”
“Don’t call yourself that just because you haven’t won yet. And you’re not an upstart.” Draig effected a front-to-back shield rainbow while they loosened up.
“I’m still technically too young to be allowed to play. I have to notice when my status is the reason I’m given dispensation.”
Draig held his baton end up in a ready position from his zone. “There are ways to earn it. Stubbornly forging a shortcut could be considered one. Where did you learn to write a syllabus like that?”
“Don’t ask. Thanks for daring to duel me all this time.”
“You’re welcome. For what comes next!” They faced off, the younger girl already in a learned stance. They began with chivalry, a dialogue that allowed each other to display their finesse. With their batons, they batted the bright hitpoint between them while producing shielded areas with different rebound modifiers. Some of her moves had evolved past training, and he saw how she used a heavier baton for counterbalance.
As they ramped up their movement, Soleil’s patterns went bonkers, as if she were using three effects instead of two. The hitpoint interacted oddly with his shield placings, bouncing and brushing them at tangents. He saw that she was attracting specific feints, of which he gave some but not all.
There came a moment when Draig realized that something had been achieved. His shields were different. When activated, the planes were ragged with rippling holes. Her ability to achieve damage inside his shielding went from nowhere near his, to completely unfair – but he was smiling. He thought he might have just learned something about this exercise.
Afterward he asked what she did, and she replied, “I used instrument harmonics. Tone and tempo that match the technology. And programmatical geometry. And persistent point-slinging. I was not allowed to get distracted if I wanted to test my theory, because of how annoying you can be.”
“It’s my edge. I think you’ve found yours.”
Soleil’s face showed confusion. “What’s that?”
“The sudden and complete dismantling through study.” He saluted her with his weapon. “It’s been an honor.”
– 13 –
Now that she was tall and strong enough to open the barricades herself, Soleil ran the wall track for special occasions. It happened often enough that each time was memorable, though not strange.
First she’d go around opening the doors. One barely known edge of the Imperial Court, the track was worn, and never repaired in full. It wasn’t a secret – it was a hundred secrets that amounted to one well-known fact. Soleil liked to see whose attention she could catch with a wave as she skirted the upper and unusual views.
The record of the run was lodged in her muscles, in the limb angles and variances. Every part of the path was made to be walked on, but she didn’t think any other feet bothered to traverse the entirety.
Sheer edges in some places, breathtaking and life-giving. She powered up, letting her breath breathe her, bringing her body to move.
– 14 –
It was like a wink, and she noticed it as one might, after the fact. Soleil stopped in her meanderings through visualized information. She remarked on it.
Later, she was muddling around in the same areas of research. It had crossed her mind to poke into the parameters of her environment, but that would do her no good as she wasn’t there to escape. Soleil still felt a flavor of restlessness, searching for something that wasn’t there. And then it was, again. Right there. And there. Then not anymore.
That unusual glimmer appeared in her streams more frequently, like an approaching animal. She couldn’t find anything to learn about it, so she played at coaxing it. This felt like a little game, and she wondered if there was something wrong with her streamviewer.
Soon, Soleil found herself caught in a looped knot of connectivity. Information pathways operated with circular logic, like a maze of doors that led back to the same room. Then, something turned the lights on, and her programs went berserk – in a nice way.
There were a few consistent tracks in the disturbance that kept a kind of form. Soleil could follow them by observing where there was something particularly unusual. These unusual things showed patterns different from each other, like individuals. The Princess wondered at it, while being aware that programmatically speaking, she was stuck in a back alley.
A noise began that was just like a word: Hhhhhhheeeeeyyyyyy. It flickered from one point to another.
Soleil put her hands on her hips and tried to take this in. “What have you-“ She interrupted herself, “actually, who are you?” The protracted ‘hey’ that ensued sounded also like laughter.
Then a flurrious introduction in very well-formed language. “Who what is that?”
“Who/what is right.”
“Who-what is us, and she’s right.”
“About what, who?”
“Us. She was completely right about us.”
“What about us?”
“That we’re here!”
“So you found us, and you saw us. How do you think you did that?”
“Yes – tell us how!”
The Princess tilted the view, keeping all the glitches in her field of vision. Somehow they were more present than the program. “It seemed as though it were you who found and saw me.”
One replied. “Not entirely, no. At a point, yes.”
Soleil asked as to whether they were Vedani. “No, but we know them.”
“They know us. When they can find us!”
“We show them.”
“We sure do.”
“So they know us. We are named.”
Soleil regretted it as she said it. “But what are you?” This was followed by a silence.
“We’re not always entirely sure.”
“You tell us.”
“And, tell us how you found us!”