– 78 –
They discovered themselves in a mountain meadow that the Princess had visited once before, on a solo backpacking trip after some time learning from a wilderness instructor. The skypilot flowers she remembered here were underground now; it was cold, and snow would be arriving here any day. The Vedani gearsuit she wore matched its panel tones to the surroundings and maintained her body temperature. Stepping down to the ground from her platform, she turned to face her vehicle, and spoke to those who accompanied her. “You said I have to address it properly. How do I do that?”
Here, the Kao-Sidhe looked particularly like themselves, with no end of fine detail; while they were also even smaller, the size of a figurine rather than a doll statue. Garlic was there with them now. Rosy Glow went once more to lie upon the handlebar podium, putting her ear to its surface. She then propped herself up on an elbow. “After listening to some of the Vedani protocols, I think the best approximation would be: try talking to it like a person.”
“Okay.” The Princess positioned herself to directly address the vehicle’s central processing, and gestured with her gloved hands to engage the system. “Hello, locomotive. Will …you… be okay here? Are you adaptable to this atmosphere?” She spoke steadily and clearly, wondering how well it would understand.
The display switched mannerisms, addressing her in the alphabet of her language.
Princess Soleil asked, “Do I refer to you as it, or he or she?”
“Do you have a name?”
YOU MAY NAME ME
Soleil blinked and examined the interface a little closer. “What are you?”
I AM YOUR MOUNT
The trail beckoned to Soleil. “Alright. Wait here, please.” To the Kao-Sidhe, she expressed the need for a private moment, which they granted with simple acknowledgment. She went to find the almost fully-masked trail to the viewing precipice. She wasn’t the first to seek it, but she was one of very few, as the footpath barely existed. It took a couple corners to the mountain’s shoulder.
The sheer rock ridge was so acute she could bend her fingers over it at a point where the edge rested at chin height. There, she was a tiny creature peering over into a great expanse. She showed her face in view of the city where she was born and had always lived – though she no longer completely understood it, as she had once believed.
To one side of the city in the center, across the dial of the valley, the Mt. Kairas viewing plateau could be seen. The visibility of the naked divot made her feel equally exposed. Upon the cue of a glancing glint in her field of vision, Soleil instinctively ducked. She sat with her back to the ridge, facing the mountain forest. She took two loamy breaths and then returned to the others along the trail.
Just before she reached them, something snapped within, like a tether from the edge she had just visited. With her first step into the clearing, Soleil could see her vehicle (which she hadn’t named yet) and the three Kao-Sidhe. “Leave my sight,” she said, feeling like this had been said by many of her own before her, though she’d never said it yet herself. “I am going to grieve. Leave my sight.” It felt like the urge to vomit, immediately present and violently unavoidable.
Realizing that this was a moment of dangerous vulnerability for any human, the aliens shot up into the sky, clearly going far, far away. The Princess wondered slightly how she could then call them back, but she also didn’t care at that moment.
Looking down, Soleil pulled off her gloves one at a time, and stuffed them into a suit compartment. She stared at her hands, sinking down to her knees. Clutching earth between her fingers, she closed her fists. She touched some of the dirt on her hands to her tongue, and began to shudder at a taste from a time past, feeling the part of her that was now missing. Her throat let loose a yell of rage – that this was so much bigger than her, that the lies of her life felt bigger than the truths, and even those matters were not in her hands.
From the edge of the clearing where she crouched on the ground, she turned, half-consciously reaching until she found the root of a tree beneath her hands. She clung to it solidly, noises of anger and sadness subsiding… until she held the root silently for a time, patting it as though it were special and dear. Then she let go.
Standing quietly once more to view the clearing, Soleil noticed a wild garlic plant. Had that always been there? Going into her recollections, the answer was yes. She had even eaten some here, that time long ago. Bemused, she was making her guess about calling the ambassadors, as she privately referred to the three. She also thought for a time about what she might be ready to do. Her fingertips went to her temples and she felt warmth between them, with recollections in her mind’s eye. She focused to remember what she’d learned, and why, in that dream.
Soleil crouched towards the garlic’s tender leaves, soon to wither. She tugged a garlic leaf as though arranging a shirt lapel, and said quietly but clearly, “You may return to me now. I request the counsel of the Kao-Sidhe.”
With a quick motion of arrival, the Kao-Sidhe were again present. Their gazes were intent and expectant, appearance sharp and bright. Dragon Food’s skin shimmered purple, and he wore a changing-hide garment that trailed to a wisp beneath his floating form. Garlic was a hardnecked varietal, roots waving, white papery skin purple-toned. Rosy Glow’s sweet face was framed by her dresslike patch of brilliant sunset.
Surprised by the ease of connection, Soleil felt humbled. “You are very courteous to me, for a people so angry with my people.” She could recall the presence of the Kao-Sidhe as expressed through flame, in her vision.
“And you are very courteous to us, for a people who have so injured our people.” Rosy Glow’s voice was ethereal and warm.
“I know not of the injury others have done.”
“And we know little of the anger that others feel. So we, out of all our peoples, are in positions to aid each other. And so we have, or done our best.”
“You have. I could walk home from here, and you’ve made no effort to prevent me.” Soleil studied them, and the surrounding trees. “How might I aid you in turn?” The three Kao-Sidhe appeared to savor this question.
After they regarded each other for a moment, Dragon Food spoke. “We would like you to meet our friends.”
“Are they like yourselves?”
“No, they’re entirely different. They know of the Imperium, and in a way, you have seen them. We know that they would like to meet you, Princess Soleil. But we would have to go to them first.”
Soleil reflected again on the destinies of the scions in her line, those lost and those ascended. She would be one or the other. “I will go,” she said. “If they would like to meet me, then I would like to meet them as well.”
The Kao-Sidhe aligned their flight in an equilateral triangle and bowed together, then all moved toward the quiescent vehicle. “Then let’s determine our method of travel, with you and your trusty mount…”
“Moonshadow,” said the Princess, donning a glove and touching a handlebar to awaken the system. “I name you Moonshadow.”
– 19TH SEQUENCE –
– 79 –
A Vedani woman relaxed, cradled in a conductive therapy hammock. The faintly luminescent walls radiated pearly moonlight. The occupational therapist walked in through the angled doorless archway.
OUSRK FNSD: Hello Eivnr, it’s good to see you. What do you need today?
EIVNR KFNT: I’m glad to see you as well, Ousrk. Open me up and reconnect everything, please.
The therapist activated the sling hammock’s transduction, causing all of Eivnr’s medium-length silver hair to lift into the air.
OUSRK: How and why do things feel disconnected?
Her hair bobbing with the differentiating current cycles, Eivnr sighed.
EIVNR: Imagine what it feels like to have five hundred different fingers that disappear abruptly. The connection pathways are strongest and easiest through the hand’s dense neural maps, so that’s also where the wear and tear accumulate. Including phantom effects, feeling things that aren’t there.
OUSRK: Then I’ll start by isolating and singularizing your manual sensations.
Ousrk’s longer silver hair was plaited down her back, but the ends waved a little when she made contact with the part of the hammock sling supporting Eivnr’s arms. She gently pressed each limb into its sling with holds that enhanced the field’s effects on her patient. She also folded the sling around the limb using various modes of wrapping, including strips around each long finger.
OUSRK: What’s your emotional valence?
EIVNR: Oh, that’s another thing. My primus, the most significant individual in my connective, has really strong emotions – there’s been a lot of anger and confusion, which can turn into determination mixed with helplessness. Though it is also driven by love, that serves to make things more intense.
The therapist chose a cycling pattern to run down the sling supporting Eivnr’s torso. The patient closed her eyes and breathed more deeply.
OUSRK: I have a funny question for you.
Her patient made a receptive facial expression.
OUSRK: Why are the messages from the connectives formulated in awkward archaic semi-prose?
EIVNR: Aside from the nebulous nature of collective transmissions focused with a primus, we discovered a type of human communicative medium that they themselves largely ignore: amateur poetry. If the humans in our connectives are to share a message amongst themselves with unrestricted initiative, it is still likely to go unnoticed and disregarded even by the attentive. It’s very easy to translate these effects from their interlingua to our speech and vice-versa. It’s become an entire craze among the youngsters!
OUSRK: I have not yet encountered that.
EIVNR: Dear hearts, they’re digging up all the least-read human poetry and forming a new culture around it – which is so incredibly Vedani. As we know, nothing exists to remain unlooked-upon. So much curiously beautiful work, and the transitive iterations get even better. Without any need for organization or instruction, they’re serving our purposes in a number of ways. One, that the messages reach as many as possible; another is that should the humans somehow learn to tap our signals, the messages will be surrounded with clouds of similar-but-different noise, being transmitted in the manner of idle entertainment. Furthermore the young are also using it to earn their autodidactic education levels. Thus, our people’s knowledge of humans will continue to outpace their general knowledge of us.
OUSRK: It sounds fun. I’ve been examining totally different areas lately, but now I’m piqued. Maybe I’ll participate.
EIVNR: I’m a default main participant through my role. I have another request… my neck, please? It’s the balancing hourglass multimolecular coilhat I’m using – piles on the neck stress while ensuring that I remain in optimal connective posture. The vocal chords are also similar to the fingers with significant active multiplicative connections there, that suddenly disappear. The sadness pockets could also use your attention…
Ousrk squeezed her patient at the junctures between neck and shoulder, in addition to the neck and vocal muscle groups and structures.
EIVNR: I absorb a lot of that from my particular connective. Even though my role in the beloved-aspect is the friendliest out of all of them, it’s also the most numerously populated at the moment. They all just personally experienced a hidden means of mass slaughter, that they now recognize as such. Along with their motivational fury, which nearly matches that of the surviving Hirylienites, they carry a lot of grief and guilt. That’s where I feel it, even though it isn’t mine, though I understand.
OUSRK: Are you having any numbness due to your own experience of the Affliction?
EIVNR: A little, a nearly imaginary amount – maybe having more to do with recovering straight into the connective as conductor. Could you trace me back out to finish the session? Wires feeling frayed, you know?
The therapist gently ran her fingertips along key nervous pathways toward out-points on her patient’s body, where she grasped the invisible-but-perceivable energetic bundle there, and drew it out into the air and aetherscape. Vedani must maintain their aetherscape connections, or languish. She did this around Eivnr’s entire body, including her floating tresses. After a full addressing, Ousrk switched the hammock cycles to move towards the heart.
OUSRK: I’ll shift the light to full spectrum now. I recommend that you photosynthesize here for at least three thousand beats without a coverlet.
EIVNR: I will, yes thank you.
The therapist walked out of the room and altered the wall settings to a blinding shine. Not exactly natural sunshine with all the combined elements, but still delectable. Eivnr closed her eyes and relaxed in order to gain a deeper shade of blue.
– 80 –
“This is disheartening,” said Soleil finally, with none but Garlic to listen. Dragon Food and Rosy Glow had departed on their own matters, possibly helpful to the situation. From where she sat on Moonshadow’s platform, she looked around the designated sidespace where she’d ceased arguing with a machine being that didn’t seem to entirely understand. It hadn’t been so hard in the midst of their trial of deep space survival. Now they sat parked in a place where they could officially or unofficially be found. At this level of frustration the novice pilot barely cared, though their potential visibility made it urgent that she learn how to use the new trick up her sleeve. Returning to that realization, she addressed Garlic again where it floated next to her at the level of her head.
“I need to ask you how I look,” said Soleil. “I’m trying something, though I don’t want to explain completely. Will you just watch me?” Garlic turned another side toward her, which she took to mean that she had its attention.
She looked down at her reflection in the mirror-shiny floor of the platform. “Okay, now I’m doing something.” She felt an aural rush flow outward through her. “And, now I’m not.” The rush dissipated. Throughout this, her reflection as she saw it in the floor mirror hadn’t changed. She knew what it was she was doing; she was changing how she looked, how she was perceived. She knew her chosen parameters, but she couldn’t see the results, so she kept it simple. Maybe Garlic would be able to tell her.
“I can understand it like it’s always been a part of me, but I still need to figure out how it works.” Soleil touched her lips as she concentrated on this puzzle, remembering the way the dragon’s gift had sunk into her skin. She accustomed herself to turning the glammer (‘glamr’) on and off by engaging it with her intentions of appearance. To herself, she looked the same. But what did someone else see? How deeply could she trust it, how extreme would the illusion go, with what nature would it manifest?
This matter of concentration safeguarded her from the disappointment that their next travel effort had gone awry almost instantly. She and Moonshadow just couldn’t seem to understand each other right now, or Moonshadow couldn’t figure out how to get there with the information it was being given. Soleil had ridden equinax when she was younger, and the psychology of this mount (as it had referred to itself) felt somewhat similar; but this being was also verbal, could understand code, mathematics, signals and power, and she didn’t know how many other differences there might be to this type of mind.
“If you would please hold up with me and observe – tell me, if you can, how I’m doing or what you see. On… off. …on… off.” She was looking between her reflection and Garlic, which was doing something strange. There was now another garlic next to Garlic. At this moment, when not engaging the glammer (‘glamr’), the garlic next to Garlic looked exactly the same.
With thought, Soleil consciously shifted some traits to those of a different person; and the garlic next to Garlic looked like a different kind of garlic! The second garlic was about as different from Garlic as the intended personage was different from Soleil. She examined different extremes of alteration, and Garlic demonstrated the effectiveness back to her. All the while, the reflection in the floor remained the same to her.
When she inquired, Garlic demonstrated to her that her apparent reflection also matched the given illusion, with a head of garlic under the different garlic that matched the different garlic, not today’s original Garlic.
A new thought occurred to her while she held an unusual glammer, one of an easily welcomed ally that should soon go on their own business. “Garlic, if you touch me, do you feel that you touch the form that you see, or my usual form?”
The two different garlics hovered before her. Gently, they both approached to touch either of her cheeks. One drifted back, while remaining was the garlic of altered appearance. So then, Garlic felt that it was touching what it could see. The altered garlic then moved back, and floated in again to gently bop her on the nose, then rested once more against the tip of her nose. So, the illusion was thorough.
Soleil wondered if the camouflaging panels of her Vedani gearsuit were superfluous, then figured it didn’t hurt to have extra layers of reliance, in case holding a glammer was tiring. Her dragon gift whispered about itself in a specifically coded inner language; any question about it, she could check and be informed. But she had to ask correctly or at all, except for those times it would volunteer itself to a specific demand. It was like using a new, yet innate sense.
There is an abyss, infinitesimal or gulflike, between any two understandings in the communication of an impression. What one is, and what the other perceives. Now, she could intentionally influence this space. Now she could decide how she was perceived. Though in a sense duplicitous, there was an honesty to it; she could honestly effect what she honestly decided. She must hone her intention in order to use it well.
“Tell me how this goes. Can I appear as something other than a different person?” With a little difficulty, as she wasn’t entirely sure how to project the right set of traits, she attempted something like a pard cat. The second garlic flickered rapidly between looking like Garlic and looking like some kind of large pod. So it may be successful but she wasn’t good at it yet, or garlic wasn’t good at imitating anything other than garlic, or it was only semi-successful. Okay.
They needed a catalyst. She decided to activate the sidespace flag for assistance signaling, and filled out the list of possibly helpful things. Soleil continued to focus on practicing her new ability while bothering Garlic as little as possible. She could keep on doing this for the rest of the time in her active day.
There was a passerby ship, the first in this out-of-the-way location. Soleil watched it reappear as it doubled back around, lucky day. The maneuvering looked inexpert but careful. It was returning her flag with a wave.
Looking at Garlic, she remembered she was hungry. On a slim hope, she asked, “Hey can you make food, something I can eat?”
A clove of garlic fell to the floor, and upon hitting it turned into a garlic chicken wing. “I guess it’s a good thing I like garlic,” she said as she picked it up. Garlic rolled around in midair. Soleil scarfed the food before she had to face the incomer, placing the bones in an ejection vesicle. She watched the vesicle pop its contents out of the field, releasing them to the vacuum. She turned her concentration inward to identify what she needed to be in this situation, and she answered the ship’s reply.
– 81 –
“I’m lining up our next paid gigs,” said the short-haired blond woman in the co-pilot’s chair. She was scanning messages displayed on the infosheet statically attached to the wall next to her.
“Cool,” said Toller as he concentrated on being a successful student driver. Pilot. Driver-pilot. Wendel called it driving as often as she called it flying, something about being in the profession.
She laid it down bluntly. “Having you along means a different kind of picking and choosing – but it narrows things toward my preference, anyway. I still consider you an asset onboard.”
“I believe that I can be,” the boy said with equal bluntness. “If I’m not, you just boot me right away.”
“I would, and I hope you wouldn’t take it personally.” She smiled fondly. “But you’ve already turned things around for me once. After that it’s just about anything you need, friend – I’ll stick up for you. Your limits are my limits, which are honestly good for me.”
She propped up her feet on the corner of the controls and continued musing aloud. “No official contracts that don’t include personal appointment or come from close enough to allow clauses. We’ll only accept under-the-table work for a while. I’m fine with those clients and that shift in the balance now, after my stint as a big-scene chauffeur.” Wendel covered her face with both hands, something she would do in reference to that time. For a quiet moment of driving they both stared straight ahead.
The captain turned and flattened a wrinkle in the kerchief-weight infosheet against the wall. She tapped through and wrote some replies. The lad held his silence while she expounded. “Everything can take as long as it needs to. Partly because I want to keep teaching you, but also because I don’t want some of the patchwork on here fraying untimely.” Her eyes pointed around the ship. “No hurry jobs.”
As he kept even progress, Toller noticed her assess him sidelong. “So… there’s under-the-table, which you know about, and there’s hidden, which you shouldn’t. Hidden jobs often aren’t planned for. They’re bonus. I may not let you know they’re happening, though you may suspect. I may not even actually know, myself. One of the cautionaries of being an independent contractor. Hidden should stay hidden, more or less, if you know what I mean. We’re not in the business of judging.”
“I know I’m not.”
Wendel snapped a finger in front of her face to break her focus from the infosheet, and she relaxed back into the co-pilot’s chair. “We’ve got one probable, which is enough forward thinking for now.” She nodded to the boy. “We’re already on course. You’re doing very well! Oh hey, wait…” Toller kept his cool and kept his course, letting her explain. “There’s an assistance flag for this occupied sidespace. We’re about to pass it, but don’t alter too quickly. Just start removing top speed factors, and we’ll see if we can get a good look.”
As they passed, Wendel captured a direct view. “Weird, it looks like a life raft. We can come back around. I’ll let you do this – take a side lane, keep slowing down, and listen as I talk you through.” The student pilot did so.
“Add three planes and take an outer tangent. Then a reverse reverse-acceleration parabolic, RRAP, which spells Wrap, which is not done in reverse -“
“- I remember -“
“- And then we have to overshoot to use the correct traffic entry for the sidespace – remember, in space there are no roads, only rules – then minus a plane, take a minor tangent, then Wrap, and we’ll descend in. We call that a cloverleaf.”
Toller nodded as he assembled these directions in his mental picture. “I can technically do each of those things.”
“Now do them one after the other. I believe in you,” said the captain, shooting her protege an adventurously reassuring smile. She supplied reasoning for the detour: “I’ve got most of the tools, and I’ve practically stitched two halves of a ship together, so I stop for people in the drifts when I can.”
“Drift 9?” he asked, referring to the ship’s name.
“Drift 9. Do you remember how I showed you to turn this on?” Toller looked over to where she was moving the spherical toggles of the photon-particle co-disruptor, the PPCD, the C-D bands.
“Uh huh,” he murmured, eyeing her actions. Wendel used a fold-out keyboard to send a symbol flag, which she dictated for his benefit: “Offer of Assistance.”
“Did you really total your ship nine times like you said to your friend?”
“Not exactly, but in manners of speaking.” She viewed another capture as they passed close visibility again in the opposite direction. “That is a weird thing to see in vacuum space. Someone’s just standing on it, looking comfy. Seems like they could use some help, though.”
A reply returned to them. “Assistance Offer Accepted. Wanted: Fuels, Charges.” Toller started executing his second Wrap. On the co-pilot monitor, Wendel scrutinized what she could see of the strange little ship. “I’m not sure what types of fuels that uses, but I’ve got some kinds. My charge modulator is a good one, anyhow.
“Stop in that zone ahead.” She pointed toward the indicator on his display. “I’ll take over from the descent. I’m not going to quiz you, but I want you to pay attention. I’ll tell you things as I do them.”
In the captain’s chair, she settled into her straps and rapidly readjusted her settings. She also received standard ship spec dimension readings and fed them to her specs. “Would you use that keyboard control to select spaces A5, E7, and B1 on that grid?” He deftly manipulated the PPCD. Stating the message, she recited, “Hold space adequate. Encapsulate? Confirm.” Drift 9 lowered gently into the wide field by the other vessel.
The simple reply bounced back: “Confirmed: Encapsulate,” Wendel read aloud.
Soleil watched the ship’s large door approach and open, like the maw of a fish to a floating tidbit. The craft was in good repair, with emphasis on repair. She could have been more nervous about the encounter, but she wasn’t. The boon felt effective as she used it, as surely as her hand could move. She engaged it with certain details: appearing as self, well-kept; wearing Zero-Clearance no-questions flash-display credentials, the signs of official covert business; with personal cam-jam. It would work because she could tell it was working.
As Moonshadow was about to be swallowed, she looked around to no sign of Garlic. “Garlic?” she called aloud. No Garlic. With that, they were inside the vessel. The door closed, and they settled into gravity.