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“I got the data at the Women in Business Relief Assistance afterparty. It was heavy and hush-hush, but each one teach one. My state-of-the-art Iljen prototype minicom figured it out without a problem, so I’ve had this really reliable side channel for a little while now. I know that some of us began to inquire into its origins, and it spoke back – or, the admins spoke through it. Maybe a little bit of both; it was a nominal and mysterious introduction. I felt that I might be seeing something interesting come from this little gadget. Then a verifiable communication from an agent of an agent bearing one of your seals, requesting to activate receptivity through a secret line built in. I decided this would be worth participation.” Karma Ilacqua broke into a smirk. “So that came from you in the first place, did it. Didn’t we just see each other?”

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The finest remaining ships held a tight formation in stasis around the royal family’s secure bunker ship in deep space. When they’d exited the Imperial court starting on their way here, they’d put on a show of going on a short vacation. They waved goodbye to people, and made shallow promises of prompt return. The ships that escorted them into space were a heavier force than the usual detail. Not just a guard, but a final guard.

King Proxem Grant Vario was pilot of the family’s vessel, with the younger of his daughters and two sons inside. He had decided on a textbook strategic withdrawal in accordance with the defensive strength still present after the devastation of the Photuris Vortex, the city shutdown zone attacks, and the fleet wipe. They could muster an adequately impenetrable defense for the lineage, and Vario decided to do so before anything compromised that. This kind of extreme threat to the royal family had happened only very few times in the history of the Pan-Galactic Imperium. Grant Vario was sullen.

Little Carlo looked at his father thinking of asking him to play, then thought better of it. Instead, he took on his father’s mood and turned it on him. “Why is everything so weird,” he said with little expectation of response.

His older sister Mireille intercepted the communication for everyone’s sake. “Carlo, we’re in grave danger.”

“Well, where is it?”

“Everywhere,” said their brother Cristobal, “The danger is everywhere, but here.” He was poring over some files he brought that otherwise held his attention. He would occasionally lift a glance to his father, his sister, and his brother. He was also doodling in his notebook.

Mireille refrained from asking her father what he was doing about it. He did not look entirely well. Instead she asked, “King my father, can you show me the next flight system?” They’d already been over the first two emergency getaway protocols, making sure that Mireille also knew how to control this vessel.

They started going through the functions of a row of knobs. Vario looked at his daughter, and considered her maturity regarding the possibility of being next in the line. Her sister may not return, and he himself might not make it through this. Nineteen wasn’t the youngest age in their dynasty for the unexpected burden. Vario’s reckoning was at hand, and the math wasn’t working out well for him, no matter which way he turned the equation. Something would be coming for him. It might get the kids, or it might not. He knows he got some things wrong, really wrong, but he’d been holding onto his justification. He told himself he was serving the Imperium; he told himself he was serving his family; looking at them now, quietly enduring this floating bunker, he wonders if he might only be serving himself at this point. He hates it, enough to want to lie to himself some more. The feeling that he couldn’t keep doing that any longer told him that the world he knew was coming to an end.

She’d flown before, but in this circumstance, everything was happening for the first time. Princessa Mireille focused and learned the controls.

Mid-WorldCon Snapshot

Hey, a lot has been happening this weekend.

On this wall at least, I’m a member of the pantheon that includes Naomi Novak, Rebecca Roanhorse, and Kinuko Craft. Only one of these four has not won an industry award, but this makes it seem almost like she has:

Above, Death Be Not Proud: Character Demises That Killed Us with Seanan McGuire, Matthew S. Rotundo, Sarah J. Daley, Valya Dudycz Lupesku, myself & a great audience.

Below: The Hero’s Journey For All Genders, with SFWA President Jeffe Kennedy, K.M. Herkes, and Tamora Pierce (also in selfie)

That’s Ireland/Scotland WorldCon organizer James Bacon, up there. And down below is my early Nebulas mentor, Joe Haldeman, upon recording a spot to celebrate the translation of two books into Chinese by SF World.

And because the city is its own character, here’s me with Chicago. Serenaded again.

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“I’m glad you’re so up to date on today’s issues.” The two women sat at a streetside brunch table, plates empty and polished, sipping hot herbal tea. They both wore sunglasses, as it was a bright, warm day. The one speaking looked and sounded nothing like Princess Ascendant Soleil. To any passerby, she was an independent consultant, the kind that populate this district and are seen chatting at different places with different people throughout the day. The woman she was speaking with, the notable Margeaux Rienne, was footing the bill. They were concluding a detailed discussion about reallocating resources according to new and sudden changes in relevant economies – wink, wink.

“I’ve been closely concerned with these matters for a while, but you supplied key insights that’ll get me going on these initiatives right away. If I can leverage useful partnerships, I will. We’ll have a better chance of creating a more favorable environment for our greater interests.” Margeaux was wearing a smooth ensemble from the latest collection in her fashion line, the one that featured an edgy stamped tin necklace brought to the relief benefit runway at the last minute.

“I’m also deeply appreciative of the bonus, Ms. Rienne.”

The fiery-haired young business owner smiled behind her warm cup. “I already told you that you may call me Margeaux – and it’s a pleasure to adequately reward expertise and first word.”

“I’m in agreement with you on that. It has been a delight to finally meet you.” The consultant checked the small phone com on the table stickered with the Look Out World logo. “I have a couple replies already.”

“If you feel like sending that back, we’ll do the usual full scrub – but if anything terrible happens to it, you don’t have to worry about reimbursing us.”

“Company phone is an exciting extra. I’ll try not to flash your logo in any of the wrong places.”

“I have no idea where those would be, but I trust you to know.”