39.1 \ 221

Uixtr hadn’t yet returned to his home sector before all the fufurrah. Back in familiar corridors, he brought Moonshadow to a deluxe stable. “Make sure this one gets everything it needs,” he said to the ridekeeper, “it’s made some important discoveries, and may yet continue. Totally unique acquired knowledge base.” The ridekeeper made amiable beeping noises to Moonshadow as she led it to a suite with a set of auto-connecting banks, terminals, and a fuels buffet. As Moonshadow got situated, Uixtr placed a glowing purple crystalline rock encrusted with points on the ground next to the fuels. “And leave that here, as it’s still furthering its analysis.”

“Beep ba boop beep,” burbled the ridekeeper in jocular affirmative.

“I’ll see you again soon,” said Uixtr as he patted the handlebars before leaving.

38.2 \ 220

Dotted around the schooling soldiers, against the shocking backdrops of the disintegrating fleet, were floating groups of wacky individuals various in face, appendage, form, and obviously not human. They seemed to possess no clear scale of size. Were they huge next to that ship, or tiny next to that person? Did they loom over the carnival scene, or were they impossibly far away? They were all furiously interacting in several directions – with each other, the places of egress, and somehow at least one of them managed at some point to make direct eye contact with each human. Were those eyes? How many eyes? Strange eyes, laser eyes on what looked like a cat.

Stationed within the column of this swirling sardine funnel of soldiers was the reassuring figure of General Alisandre. Astride a gorgeous glowing spirit horse, floating solidly there in the space between spaces wearing insignia longjohns and t-shirt, he looked glad to see them there. As people registered his mount, their carrying breezes began to also transform – but into something that suited the person, that made them feel happy and comforted, that made them smile. It continued to liquidly transform until a smile appeared, when they were reminded of a time and place where they felt perfectly safe. Then, it smiled back! They felt as ethereal as their atomic selves, awash in the violet light that encased this between-space. Looking around at their crew members, some cackled at the sight of one astride a swan, the other riding a fish, a gatorwing, plumehound, in all the intergalactic variety of rescuing entities. There was music, but everyone heard something different. The music shifted until they heard something they liked, then it grew louder.

When the fleet had been reduced to flotsam, everyone had arrived that was going to arrive. It didn’t seem to take very long, though the details were memorable to those who saw them. The wash of violet light started sprouting nodes around the periphery. In order of readiness, people on their mounts began to flap, run, swim, or locomote toward them one at a time. They didn’t necessarily seem to grow farther in distance, perhaps just smaller in place. As each soldier left, they caught a wave goodbye from one among the Kao-Sidhe. Individually, they were drawn again into a throughport in a burst of energy that was the disappearance of their mount.

The symphony of destruction surrounding everyone was over. Traffic picked up, and people streamed to the many exodus points until the last human left was General Alisandre. He’d met all this with trepidation, wonder, uncertainty, hope, and now, determination; presumably, the things that any of the humans may have experienced in this situation. Wherever this was taking him, he’d have to figure this situation out from there. He still had no dictated destination, only this horse and a favorite power anthem stuck in his head. His horse cantered gaily toward a node which seemed far, but took hardly any time to reach. He caught all the Kao-Sidhe coordinators waving him goodbye as the violet flash overtook him.

38.1 \ 220

Through an antechamber experience of blinding bright violet, where the body barely existed but the connection to others remained. A twisting feeling, then each person was carried forward on their own spirited breeze.

The first thing that registered was the naked view of destruction surrounding them. Every scene of fleet attack was visible in all directions, as though they weren’t galaxies apart. From these directions came the hordes of soldiers out of brief violet flashes, each one hanging onto a vivid current that brought them toward a swirling maelstrom of people in the center. The looks on their faces were priceless.

For the record

Had an enjoyable reading for the virtual OR-eCon last weekend, and we did dawdle just a little bit into lunchtime.

Sharing here the autograph pages of the WFC 2020 program, featuring our various digital signings. I’m there on the far upper right – on the edge, naturally – near Mary Anne Mohanraj and S.M. Stirling. Heading leftwards along my latitude, I can find Sarah Pinsker, Kate Elliott, Sheree Renee Thomas, Julie Czerneda, guest of honor David Cherry, and my Nebula grandmaster mentor, Joe Haldeman. Great reads by all of these authors, glad to be recorded in their company!

37 \ 219

“This is General Alisandre, your top-ranked commanding officer. Sooner than any known actions will forestall, the vessels you are in will be destroyed by hostile Red Nexus Dragons already present in your vicinity. You are being offered unusual means to escape annihilation.”

This familiar voice resonated oddly inside the Alpha station, vibrating off of metallic surfaces in all directions at the volume of loud internal thought. People looked around and at each other. Some touched the walls as though the ship were shaking.

“Move now to your nearest external view. There will be an unfamiliar object, an orb of energy in midair. Gather around it, and link hands to stand continuously touching each other skin-to-skin. Have the two closest ends of each linked mass touch the orb bare-handed. This will bring you somewhere else which cannot be disclosed. This means of egress may be unpredictable, but it is your only option if you wish to survive. These are your orders. I am going along with you. General Alisandre signing off.” Random noises in the station escalated suddenly. The corner of an inner panel popped. This uniformed group met each other’s eyes and bolted up the hall.

The nearest outward view was a floor-to-ceiling section, where others were arriving from different directions. The object in reference was there: strange and alluring, changing the light’s tint with its glow. Shucking and tucking any gloves, hands found each other with high urgency and low awkwardness. The sound of disaster was increasing, along with their resolve to go somewhere else unspecified. There was some visible sign of inflamed Dragon presence, a fizzing yellow-green crackle against the stars.

This scenario played out in groups large and small near every porthole. Nods circled around, and with some variety of command assumed, the two nearest soldiers contacted the orb with a free hand. A bright netlike charge encased them, bringing them through as the thousands of vessels commenced to crumple, shear, and melt.