– 37 –
Soleil had not a single reference point in this universe-sky… not one! She was good at making sure she had some, which is how she noticed that she had none. She kept her individual sled with the group, but with part of her attention she continued to search for her location.
Soleil mused on Uixtr’s word for their waypoint technology, a transanchor. What words did they combine from her language, and why? ‘Anchor’ has a clear meaning: it holds something in place. A transanchor could be something that holds something in place to a different place, both anchor and transport. This really did look like a totally different place from their usual exit. How would a ship be so big that it had different stars on another side? Behind her, the ship with its doors closed was invisible to sight as usual, and in her glance she marked three star shapes that framed its location from this direction.
The team paced, weaving in a kind of search pattern. Soleil made sure to keep her return flags identified in view. Since she didn’t know what they were searching for, she tried interpreting their pattern. She wasn’t entirely sure they knew, either.
Ah! There was something on her readings. What was it? Soleil tapped her console to alert the mission leader of the detection. He returned a clear message: go find it, and figure it out. A nervous chill washed over her, suspicions of a brewing situation not entirely wrong. The others now monitored her instrument readings.
Faced with an open-ended quandary, the Princess decided to have some fun with this puzzle. Freed from the constraints of flying formation, she did some strategic wheeling and whizzing – justifiable maneuvers with a dash of grace and whimsy. She was chasing blips, after all. When going back to the same coordinates didn’t work, she switched to disorganized logic. Her freeform trajectories encountered two more instances of blips, which they pondered. “Continue combing,” was the order given.
Carefully courting danger, the Princess decided to experiment further. The glove control movements for her sled reminded her of the moves on the page given her by the three Kao-Sidhe. Observing the approximate precision preferred by the vehicle interface, Soleil tried moving with increased gesture arcs and an adjusted speed differential. With her moves, she could enact what to one part of the field was an unnoticeable torque, while in another part creating a visible and calculated rotation, and she could link these gestures smoothly from one to the next. As she followed her readings, the motion reminded her of a giant invisible geochronmechane, the toy of sliding dials that only came apart after seemingly endless flipping, spinning, and switching towards a solution.
Soleil adjusted her base settings a little, just four of the obvious ones that she knew well enough. This would skew the workings into different but still understandable directional sensitivity and scale. Her Vedani teammates made no comment to interrupt her, though she knew they were monitoring her decisions. Soleil knew there was no proof yet for what she was trying, and her included factors would probably fill a chalkboard, if the Vedani had chalkboards. At least there were people nearby if something went wrong.
Her new settings acted stable, so she launched into a chain of movements. The sled field could now read a sizable 75% of her kinetic input, and her movement allowances let her respond more dramatically to the unknowns when they appeared on her readings. The team let her continue unremarked, and their silent, intense focus boosted her concentration. Soleil moved her sled along the edges of the problem. She hoped they were recording on all layers, as she appeared to be tracing something.
The Princess was mapping the shape in her mind as she moved around it. It was a structural, locational convergence point made of sound or vibration, exhibiting edges and angular crossings – like a cluster of intersecting, emitting windowpanes. It was able to hold together in the vacuum, throwing off the disturbances that clashed with the Vedani’s new alliance technology. Parts of the cluster shook with varying degrees of difference, and she noted their frequencies against her own contrastingly reliable and consistent biological movements. Going from this fast part to that slow part, she worked transitions between minor degrees of difference, linking similar resonances along her unified spatial path. She pursued a definition of each glimpsed factor. Directional multiplicities in magnitudes: the Princess tied them together in the moment with her presence of mind, motions, and timing.
Soleil thought it possible that the directionality of each windowpane worked like a signal dish, but she couldn’t divert the attention to study that with a handy detection. Instead, as the order of this thing became clearer, she matched her movements to directionalities, and her rhythms to frequencies – finding what she could link most smoothly with her own body, the sled an extension thereof.
Soleil’s breath slowed, and time seemed to slow with it, as she examined the differences with greater fineness. With her understanding, she glimpsed a path through the panes, like an eye opening directly in the swing of her rhythm. With a burst of urgency, she surged into it – and then, she was somewhere else.
– 38 –
Facing conversationally inward, three ships anchored to each other moved together through space like a slowly twirling lily. They were the only gleaming thing in sight.
The actual conversation was occurring aboard the ship displaying greatest authority, an instrument-bearing member of an Imperial Alpha fleet. It would be very, very hard to tell that its identifiers had been altered.
Five people fit snugly in the equipment chamber. Leanders, grizzled, stood silently, contemplating middle management while others drove their bargains. He looked across at the one he called boss, repeatedly surprised by his presence. Not just the unlikelihood of it; the man could turn nearly invisible unless he spoke, and he hadn’t spoken for a while. Sturlusson was looking around the interior of the craft with an ear following the discussion. It wasn’t the newest of Imperial ships – looked like it was made of routine repairs. Nevertheless, it had squeaked over to this rendezvous with a bit of shine left on it.
Leanders was feeling relieved and even lighthearted after a series of simple stash drops. Raev’s one fist was held clutched, like it was holding the strings tying everything together.
– 39 –
With the motion of the ship at stable velocity, the redhead in a skirt suit felt like she was sitting still; maybe a few hairs wafting. She looked at the driver to her left. “How long am I trapped in here with you?” she asked with dry amusement.
Derringer smiled serenely. “Until we reach your destination, or something terrible happens.”
Karma’s head rolled back along with a smooth yet sudden acceleration. “I wasn’t aware that this is how you drive.”
Through his mustache and dark curls, he beamed in no particular direction, then swiveled his head to look at Karma from an angle. “Right now is special!”
Her smile bloomed into a grin beneath astonished eyebrows. “I’m thrilled! And… so on.”
Derringer blinked softly, like a unicorn. “Good.”
– 40 –
Arcta Hydraia joined the others amongst the fold-down seats of the equipment chamber, remaining in the doorway. She wore loose high-collared jams in uniform grey. She felt a small, painful bond with this ship that saved three lives from a hatching dragon. She looked at the two she brought with her, wearing their Pan-Galactic Imperial uniform. The shorter woman with chestnut skin and deep brown hair pulled back in a ponytail wore a nametag that said R. ARRIBA. Her counterpart, tall, dark-haired, rail-thin and sallow, was labeled T. VADR. Their faces wore the look of stored answers after having talked things over between themselves.
Arriba focused on the guy in the corner who’d been addressing them. He stood feet planted shoulder width, arms across his chest. He had an unusual way of looking like nobody from behind sharp, blank features. “So, we can take our ship, the one we’re used to, with all our things in it?” As Arriba inquired, she waved her hands to indicate everything around them.
His black turtleneck and grey slacks didn’t appear to move a micrometer as he gave a one-inch nod. “Sure.”
Vadr raised his head from where it hung in contemplation. He looked up from beneath his eyebrows. “But now we’re ghosts, right, Trosper?”
“Not really,” said the man explaining. He swung an arm out to indicate the other three with them. “You have some people who care about you.” From her leaning spot inside the doorway, Hydraia curtseyed with gentility. Her shadow of a smile was rueful yet accepting. “You know, if it makes you feel any better, I’m a ghost too. But I guessed it was coming.”
Former Alpha Technician Arriba released a slow puff of breath. “New best friends. I’m glad.” She continued to ponder her answers, chin up. She fiddled with a seatbelt and used it to indicate her and her partner. “And the two of us will be on retainer?”
Trosper nodded again as he answered, “With none of the paperwork.”
A strange light kindled in Arriba’s eyes. “No paperwork?”
Trosper shook his head to the same degree as his nod. “No paperwork. A special bonus for being undead.”
T. Vadr looked at the ship like it wasn’t even floating around him. “Then why do I feel so alive?”
R. Arriba gave him a cagey look. “You might want to have that checked.”
Trosper let a smile grow by an exact inch. “It’s your choice. Choose your company, choose your consequences.”
Both ex-soldiers narrowed their eyes at each other, looked mean, and knocked on metal. “We’ve had a lot of those,” said R. Arriba. “He says, and I say, that this is okay.” Arriba put her fingertips on the ship’s walls, appearing to absorb life force from them, and become one with them. “We’ll just do this.”
Trosper did not nod or anything as he replied, “These are unusual circumstances.” Arriba thought she saw a flash of regret. “We’re unusual people.”
Vadr showed the depths of unrest beneath his eyes. “How lucky,” he said.
Trosper jerked his head down a fraction, sharp then slow. “All kinds of lucky.”
The two actually smiled. “The deal is good.”
– 41 –
The mustachioed one brought concealed exterior vehicle weaponry into plain sight. “Ohhhh, are we doing this?” Karma asked, sled-bracing herself in the rider’s seat. “Is this also something you do, one of your hidden qualities…” She flashed the whites of her eyes at him. “…a propensity for space dust?”
Derringer did a little dance in his seat and shook a few sparkles out of his hair. “Cloudbuster’s League.”
Karma swallowed behind a playfully dubious look. “That sounds real.”
Looking like a master, Derringer picked a sweet target, a little lone rock. Its blast radius was already clear. With the most minimal fiddling, he loosed a clean shot. Karma inhaled smoothly with appreciation, her target-seeking eyes relaxed and happy as the beautiful shatter occurred before her direct gaze.
She turned to meet his dear look with a honey smile. “Oh, it’s real,” he said. “I knew the moment I made Cloudbuster’s League. I know I’m not the only one.”