– 56 –
The ones I don’t really get to see anymore, I miss them… some more than others. There are ways that I haven’t been like in a long time, ways we only are when we’re together. These counterpart-nerships are special to me and I feel lessened by their remoteness, that combination of their distance and existence. I feel an invisible dance from afar, knowledge of a time approaching.
There are dragons that have never appeared to the life forms of the Pan-Galactic Imperium, and are unlikely to ever do so. They are rooted elsewhere, and so unlike in form that Imperium sentients may not even be able to seek or meet them. All dragons can meet all dragons, not that they will or should. They can’t all live together, but they can all be together on the Tabula Rasa. The tiniest glyph, the smallest inkling of desire to communicate can be the anchor holding the space, and there is always at least that. The beautiful Tabula Rasa, Level Plaine – ever haunting to return, a place only of perpetual passing, a between-all.
Now the gulf widens, like a rearing back before the clash of horns, as dragons determine how they feel about all this – the release, the attack, the phasing. There are already great differences, and opposition. There shall be woe.
Arkuda remembers the previous, and only other, Pan-Galactic Imperium-centered dragon conflict. Now is the time to feel and gain strength, before the falling out robs what precious is left as things spiral outward and people become lost in the forces.
Love blooms and dies on the Tabula Rasa. Life changes, and so does the universe. Arkuda goes to observe the changes. ‘E feels scales tugging apart, as though losing someone identity-bound. This discomfort was anticipated going into the Viridian Phasing. Also, a spot of deadened scales is coming back to life, sometimes with a burning sensation. Arkuda remembers the Chainers, too.
A number of dragons were born after the War, as the wounded balance was corrected. New, old, exiled, abstaining, participating – Arkuda imagines cutesy figures of them jumping or flying into a shared zone and dancing together. The thought is so nice, ‘e imagines it twice. That’s how Tabula Rasa is supposed to feel, with the joy in anticipation. Despite the impending turmoil of an epoch, the dragon feels it now, like the newborn young. Every time, as if the feeling itself were a key to entry.
– 57 –
A dragon goes from being one thing to another, crossing various states of existence. These phases, ideas, and pieces of matter share a commonality – the dragon erself, sentient. Dragons exist in flux; not confusion, but flow and change. To create a ring of awareness through all their aspects as an individual, they go to Tabula Rasa, Level Plaine. Doing that means they are there, they can only do that there, and they must do that to be there: a wholeness of dragon that is a different and particular state of being.
Arkuda is the brightness of a sun, in simplicity and complexity; understanding er being as something received. Shining through and being shone through. Pure speed and crackle of raw photons traveling together, the particle-wave and refracted spectrum. Every datum of light cast from star-source to a living destination. It is impossible to contain the singing of er being, and that is the world. Naked and of the world in a place to be known beyond knowing, and to know beyond the known. Yes, ‘e lives in all of these things. ‘E is here.
The dragon creates a glyph beneath erself and opens er eyes. The glyph serves as a primary point of dimension; this one is an unremarkable point of blue flame. Arkuda is located above it, in all forms and all sizes with all aspects showing, such as can only be fully beheld by another dragon. Though there are plenty of possible solo occupations in this place, the nearby glyphscape is lively and populated.
The Tabula Rasa is undefined. Dragons in it use perceptually anchoring structures, known as glyphs. Glyphs appear as desired, can be seen or sensed, and they leave residual traces. They create and mark space, and like the dragons themselves while there, glyphs are all and any size.
Near and far, glyphs display themselves to Arkuda’s focus with perfect clarity. Regardless of their placement in relation, all are readable and correctly facing. More elaborate glyphs tell stories, give information, or signify more than a space marker. Present nearby in this part of glyphscape perception are two other dragons: Myricotl and Ottokad, self-occupied. Arkuda is painfully excited to see these two, who in abstaining from the Viridian Phasing have chosen soft exile. There are also a number of occupied glyphs, and one leaps to notice immediately: Saga Within, Welcoming One Other, Purple Lotus Waterfall.
Rather than accost those in reverie, Arkuda goes to see the one who, also dearly missed, waits in er meeting room. The Councillor reaches the glyph, fits erself into it, then is inside. The glyph changes to read: Saga-Arkuda Within, Sufficient, Purple Lotus Waterfall.
– 58 –
He’s not exactly supposed to be gambling while on errand, but he’s reserved a maverick moment for one such a non-occasion. The best time to break a rule is when nothing seems to be working. So, General Draig Claymore got into a poker game with strangers, after going to see nothing where nothing was supposed to be. He wasn’t protected, nor was he wearing anything officially identifying. He worked unrelated thoughts and feelings into his gameplay, just to see what that did, win or lose.
Draig’s stack of coins was slightly bigger than when he first began. He received gazes of mild confusion from his fellow players, as happens when playing Riverboat like an oracle. Not acting or thinking like he’s in it to win makes it a mystery when he does. In this fashion, the cards in his hand are known characters or elements within control, and the cards on the table are the circumstances. The cards in his hand react to the cards on the table. Draig wins this way approximately as often as when he plays to his prowess.
On the ship that had spotted the Princess, records were intact and frustratingly uninformative. Biometric positive for Soleil, Magus. Unidentified vehicle type. Totally unexplainable behavior. Subject vanished.
Hand after hand, Claymore middled around. This was a nice old place; a heritage hole, as he referred to them. There was no sign outside, but it was all documented and above board. It reminded him of a pub in the Capital called the Show Horse, with the thousand-year-old bar that predates spacefaring. The establishment he was in now had a little less memorabilia on the walls, though still a seemingly popular accommodation. The General’s contacts used this place often when in Dalmeera; the communications must be good here. From inside the kitchen he heard the sound of dishes being stacked one by one, rapid-fire. It was somehow more orderly than the usual clatter, and he liked the sound.
Joe the bartender brought Claymore another Hot Silver, calling him Gerald. Draig was drinking, too: double maverick. If he had too much for the evening, there was inn lodging underground, from when there was once a clandestine dormitory adjacent to the Scurry, Dalmeera’s historical tunnel network.
His thoughts were in outer space, somewhere around the Viridian Phasing point intersection. She – possibly the Princess – had been there, and then she wasn’t. There and gone, there… and gone. And, gone. What was that about? He’d been under the casual assumption that she was working to meet him halfway. Did she run? From him? Or from Derringer? Or from home? Did she mean to give them the slip, was she under a different danger, or was it terrible luck? Draig’s stack was still growing. He thought he would have lost by now.
– 59 –
Saga’s serpentine form was positioned throughout the waterfall, rainbow scales flashing over and beneath the water. Er head rested up top in the foam of the churning rapid cascading over the edge. Raising er gaze to meet Arkuda’s, Saga blinked softly and rose from place, glittering drops sheeting off er scales. Saga’s draconid humanoid also appeared on a ledge from behind the waterfall.
Arkuda stood at the edge of the purple lotus shore in humanoid; above, er serpentine mirrored Saga’s newly arisen position in midair, brightening like a cloud revealing the sun. Between them they released a tunnel of sound, replaying voices heard and things said between the times they’d seen each other.
The Councillor’s Imperial status was of no concern except as a topic of conversation. “Why do you bother taking anybody’s part?” asked Saga. “How is it worth it? Can’t you just go somewhere else and let them do unto themselves as they will. Shake their grip on your scales, you owe nothing.”
“They are written on your scales too, Saga. You love them more than most of us.”
“I can’t oppose kin this time.” Their serpentine shapes twined through the air without touching.
“Are you missing very much of yourself?” asked Arkuda.
“I feel distant in some ways, yes. I’m practically living on Level Plaine, which of course we can’t. But at least I get to see others in a remote, sort of empty way.” The space between their flying shapes narrowed as they circled and opposed each other in various dimensions. The setting pulsed vibrantly as lines of white radiance drew themselves in the air.
“How long must we be apart?” Arkuda understood that Saga was referring to the standing divides between all dragons, including the two of them.
“Until time’s tide changes its flow. The sea is rushing up to engulf the land. I must hold with these people, even against my kind, and not for the first time. They are a part of me, and you too; standing beneath a rockfall, and backed against a cliff.”
“Where they placed themselves.” The two flattened the coils of their flight against the glyphwork cliffs to either side of the waterfall, turning their heads to speak across the energetic rush. “I’ve been with them since beyond their known histories, but I don’t belong to them. Love as I may, I would hinder as hinder not. I have the rest of me to consider.” Saga lengthened, dipping er tailtip into the purple lotus pool. “Have you met with a returned exile?”
“No!” replied Arkuda defensively. Saga leveled a look at er, as though ‘e were clearly missing something. “Have you?” Arkuda returned the question.
Saga evaded the retort. “My presence wanes now in some of the places we know.”
“It’s not the same without you.”
“Of course it isn’t,” Saga said with an exasperated guffaw. “I’m just not taking a side this time, which is lonelier. But I am not alone. You saw the other Unphased outside?” Arkuda hummed affirmative. “I think we are all wanting to talk with you, if only to match scales again.”
“I am glad.” Gazing at Saga across the waterfall, Arkuda had little breath left to say more.
“Will you welcome the others with me by the Golden Apple River? So we may all have time and so that I might stay by you.” Arkuda nodded. Saga took hold of er finely crafted glyphscape, and the scene flowed away from Purple Lotus Waterfall, over and down to the banks of Golden Apple River: a shining orchard on a leisurely picnic slope where the current flowed past in natural rhythm. A river wide enough to get into, a cleansing wash.
The glyph’s exterior reading changed, and the two in reverie outside both noticed: Saga-Arkuda Within, Welcoming the Unphased, Golden Apple River. Ottokad and Myricotl entered in succession.
– 60 –
Video receipts from recent days of exploits began queueing in the display of Karma Ilacqua’s sunglasses, for send-to and replay.
More honking big knife switches for big power loads, from a custom fabricator she had gone over to babysit. During that rollicking week in a Pioneer Federet backwood, they also accomplished some playtesting on other custom parts in the shop. The way he put it, “You’ve got good skills, you like new things, and you’re risky.” He finished the order on time, and Ilacqua sent the cargo examination and handoff video to the department that talks to departments. They had actually sent the guy who uses the knife switches to receive them. He explained that he has this job because he’s a natural-born lever puller, and he knows how to put out the fires.
Then there was the cool tubing. This tubing was really cool; incredibly complex, awesome, cool tubing. The inventor explanation (full of her and Karma saying the word ‘tubing’ back and forth) was sent to two project overminds, to the general group of people who carry things, and to her separate archive of information that people might request from her again.
One roll of ‘charged filter’ was the most delicate shipment. Ilacqua received it as a closed container. The handling request was to keep it both electrically grounded and in suspension. It sounded like a car part for a computer inhabited by sentient dust. That was her best, wildest guess, and as far as she went with that. A series of process shots and setup transition videos were sent to the project’s quicklog.
Karma accounted for her ride with Derringer in straightforward fashion. She didn’t want to be targeted as a secret accomplice on a secret mission with secret expenses. She maintained her innocence, didn’t ask him any awkward questions, and he didn’t require any promises from her. How unusual; he’s practically zero headache. Like with the elevator escape. She’s never had to eject him.