64 \ 246

Karma Ilacqua: I wasn’t expecting a call from you. This seems like a costly exception.

Arys Steinman: Correct, this is an emergency call from underwater.

KI: What kind of emergency?

AS: There’s a new appearance in the vicinity, somewhere in the air you won’t have noticed. On that vessel are people who need to come to us with the shipment.

KI: Oh, wow. Now we have mystery passengers? That sounds so potentially complicated.

AS: We wouldn’t ask you to compromise the current priority if it weren’t of approximately equal importance.

KI: Of equal importance in a multi-corporation versus fanatics standoff over a hidden advanced research facility.

AS: Yes.

KI: Send me the data. We have to do this?

AS: You have to do this.

KI: You’re lucky I found us an elite team.

AS: I expect that of you by now. You don’t disappoint.

KI: Your gin is in that shipment, you know.

AS: We are all hoping the best for the success of this transfer, myself for multiple reasons.

Karma brought the newly-informed strategy to Captain Wendel Harper elsewhere aboard Drift X. The ship was posing as a momentary standoff substitute, replacing one and ready to be replaced by another when called. Normal enough amongst the motley private forces present, including the supply exchange which brought them their goal objective. The shipment capsule was aboard, with auto-nav capability in case it needed to make its own way to its destination. The Foundational threat remained stoic. The change in plans presented a danger spike, but that was within their contract. They needed to pick someone up. They could do that, and Drift X had a special edge that suited the occasion. “It could be less difficult than you think,” responded the captain, “We can keep your secrets if you can keep ours.”

Karma factored this into her processing: secret means of locomotion. Just her kind of thing, actually. “This is all secret. It’s a layer cake of secrets. It’s secret who we’re picking up.”

“It’s secret how we’re picking them up.” Wendel delivered this with eye contact confirmation.

“And it’s secret what we’re bringing, and that we’re bringing it.” The boss ladies did some extended nodding to each other. Karma clarified by continuing, “We won’t be needing to say anything to others about what we see. Our contract confirms this.”

“We are professionals of just this kind.”

“Yes. I feel comfortable riding with you.” Not much was comfortable about this situation, so Ilacqua’s ordinary statement came across as extreme placid bravado. Her additional presence also piqued a sense of very high stakes, beyond that which was already evident. Starweavers live in this zone. So does Karma.

63.2 \ 245

Draig could hear Dragons along these corridors, nearer and farther. They were present in many places, while being elsewhere. The etheric ventriloquism of the Viridian Phasing collective projection created a hall of mirrors across their dragonroad dimensions. Draig’s experience of this was different from the dragonroads in that he would not sublimate along pathways of coexisting occurrences of his embodied element. Only Dragons do that. This entry of himself as a human was also different from his other emergency entry, and maybe every time would have to be unique.

He had a sense of distances from dragon entities or their echoes, which were functionally the same to him. He could contact either a Dragon or their echo. They were aware of his gaze; those protecting the Pan-Galactic Imperium by participating in the Viridian Phasing had more or less chosen to respect him, if by secondarily vouched opinion. They helped him along, opening successive search doors and leading him to the next. He felt these portals open in his mind, though they were not his mind. He used his own sense of the Dragon he was searching for, his accustomed advisor Arkuda, to make successive choices of direction along these spaceless corridors. This was like nothing he’d ever experienced, yet he made his way along with self-assured determination, like when he’d been searching in the halls as a child. This was what he had to do.

A familiar sense of his Councillor colleague grew distinctly until he actually found an echo, which he rushed toward. “It’s me. There you are.” Within range, voice imprints here delivered unmistakable identity. Draig had only to project clearly for Arkuda to know who he was.

“Yes. Oh, hello.”

“You sound like you’re in a bathroom.”

“There are unusual properties to where I’m speaking from. It’s very interesting that you’re here, in this way.”

Draig opened his eyes to get an image of the people in the room: Princess Soleil undisguised, Derringer, Toller, and himself. It was an odd image for his usual context, a sparsely furnished room with mugs on the floor. He transmitted this image clearly in his mind’s eye, relying on Arkuda’s knowledge of situations to accurately assess their degree of duress. “We are traveling together unsanctioned and unrecognizably. This is off the books, everything is off the books, we’re all off the books. We need to find you. Can we get to you? I have an excellent military mini, rendered untraceable. We have to go quickly.”

The barest of pauses. “Come to the planet where you took your Alpha base academy training. Write down this triangulation and atmosphere level. It’s about to happen. Come over now.” Arkuda shut down this echo.

Draig opened his eyes with a gasp. He took the notepad and pen from Derringer’s hand and scribbled down the information he’d just received. “Let’s go,” he said. They stood, leaving their mugs.

63.1 \ 245

Draig had decided on a hidey-hole off the map, something with comfort and sustenance before they were off to wherever they were going on the run in their untraceable vehicle. Campaign logistics. He knew Derringer already knew the place, and it turned out that the kid, Toller also of single appellation, did too. The place was at least new to Soleil, so the spot wasn’t entirely blown. A local bird of paradise had adopted them, and decided to cheer them on with its loud, clear call.

They had one of the rooms above Joe’s seaside tavern in Dalmeera, rather than one of the subterraneans. They were all sitting on the floor with mugs of Hot Silver, which Toller was also allowed. Draig had been coaching the others on how to support his intended trance; that was mostly to be present, quiet, attentive, and ready to respond. He felt confident that he understood the ability of his special operational privilege well enough to get some of the information they needed. He could figure out how to begin as certainly as starting up a familiar vehicle. This was a sort of seeking, which he’d done before with this being (but which has always never been done before).

He closed his eyes; then he opened the first door, which he had known was there. Like the entry to a cellar, it wasn’t a place that was needful to go. Draig would consider himself someone who only approached unfamiliar mental states needfully, and here he went opening the door. It wasn’t locked, and it wasn’t really a door, just a helpful human analogue for the portal which he was sure had its own special word, if it existed for anyone else.

After the first door was another door. This was a different place. This was not inside his own mindspace, even though that was how he accessed it. He saw his own mind differently, as a place that was connected to other nearby places, like a house in a neighborhood with a street outside. This street, which he’d accessed by stepping neatly out of his own mind, was made of these portals. Each successive portal was one choice out of many, with ways back to where one began, like in physical space. The Viridian Phasing was a different version of space, and this experience of it was an adaptation to his human existence. It was similar yet different to the way he’d traveled it before, less voluntarily just before the fleet had been attacked. His intention shaped this process into something more familiar, his keyholder access as the original point organizer.

62 \ 244

Getting there went well, for being a high-risk detail. The location was accurate, and verifiable. It was no trouble using their particular means of new physics, recently reiterated to a version that required only arm motions for rhythmic human bio-dynamic jump input. They’d been given generally favorable conditions. They were suspended in placid awaiting, safely out of range of the fracas they knew they were entering. Gretz, Wendel, and Leiv broke open a snack to share.

Karma Ilacqua was glad things had gone well. That, not completion, was the high point of her work. Work was never over, but do it well and die happy. Her stakeout standoff copter had gotten a relief substitute in the faceoff formation; this had occurred regularly for the legitimate protecting interests, but not for the Foundational threat. Going on the most conservative measures, they still only had so much time. Karma’s double-piloted copter did some advanced yet subtle instrument-jamming trail coverup getting to the rendezvous. What was happening in this world? How was this her life? Karma usually likes thinking this while life is amazing. This was amazing, alright. Whatever it was had to be, for this. Did anyone really know? It was just that good on spec?

The Starweavers had been warned in the hiring document, but they didn’t have all the details yet. High tension. Multiple concerned parties. Varied equipment. Why were they doing this again? There weren’t a lot of ideas out there, and this was suspiciously yet conveniently at their fingertips. They had the full capability, and they were experienced habitual de-escalators. Them Kao-Sidhe could never really even tell you what they were doing, just that they were doing it. Cryptic situational prophecy was the most exact communication of their work that they could possibly deliver. Things like this made one think they might have just realized what those fey folk had been talking about, maybe. Or did they actually even say something like this exactly, or was it just a thought? Some specifics were unnecessary, and should not be pursued. That was Wendel’s way, anyway.

Karma took a platform skipper from her chopper into the ship called Drift. This outfit had just been well upgraded. Good. That could do it. Holy smokes. When she saw the three adults staffing this ship, she had that hiring jackpot feeling. Get them.

She got them with honesty, a well balanced and direct assessment. Their risk was secondary but acute. A courier role, from the thick of airborne tension to the aquatic heart of the matter; carrying what may or may not be the most valuable object of the current moment, still yet unknown to the opposition but now present in the engineered stalemate. The three took in all of this with the visible wisdom of experience, and the willingness of the peaceably damned. They filled in the new hire details in her custom-programmed contract wizard. Some terms of payment were gladly adjusted to reflect their high grade of equipment and skill. Karma wanted to shake hands a second time. They did.

61 \ 243

“I want to do the thing,” said Captain Wendel, piloting her ship.

“We can do this thing,” reinforced her dear partner Leiv from the copilot’s chair. With a quick turn, they navigated toward the next drift along the Brave Crossing, the tenth drift from the point of departure. It was Wendel’s signature ritual, her established finding point in case anyone thought to look for her along the road they were traveling. She hadn’t posted up at a drift since Drift turned X, so this instance had a ceremonial feel to it. Going to the tenth, no longer the ninth.

Once they settled in, they set out a picnic to hash over details before going straight into the contract. Leiv Gruun took his time to get really into the document and read all the fine print. Gretz felt able to breathe in this pause of activity. “That was a heavy situation down there,” he said, breaking a companionable silence across the foldout table, “and now I’m not there. Now I’m in space.”

“The way things are right now, we’ve all come from trouble in different places, brother.” Leiv paused his reading to nibble a biscuit. “You can relax here in the stellar breezes.”

Eventually, Gretz got up and wandered to the cockpit, where Wendel was lounging athwart her captain’s chair. She didn’t like being near Leiv when he was doing a contract reading. “Have you heard from anyone else?” Gretz asked, scratching his abdomen in sleepover comfort mode.

“We came to you first, after I got Leiv. If I hear of more things that want doing, it would be more than I can handle right now. You know I ignore almost nothing.”

Gretz looked around at fine points of some upgraded interior panels. “So, what happened to Drift 9?”

“Well, it’s Drift X now! Yes, with the alphabet pronunciation which makes the ship sound ten times cooler. Maybe you can ask Drift X.” She evaded giving the full story, but introduced the possibility of talking to the ship. Gretz nodded as comprehension of this strange reality dawned.

“I can tell I’ll need the time for a full discussion.”

“Drift is as opinionated as ever.”