41.1 \ 223

The floor of this geode chamber was covered in shards and dust, from a Tempering that had just occurred. Most of those gems were in shades of blue. The young Aureny, given the fun privilege of sweeping up, a.k.a. bathing in riches, occasionally kicked sprays of gem dust at each other. With the delicately dexterous long claws at the ends of their trunklike limbs, they sifted with sorting pans into different bins. Some of the very fine stuff was taken to pots against one wall, where an adult occasionally appeared to fill one with goo and take it away, through a ground exit.

From the ledge above, Uixtr withdrew from the view and turned back to the newly arrived crate stacks. This azulian was beautiful, pristine, and incredibly regular in shape. This was a significant contribution that could accomplish something in itself.

Of the two Aureny present, Mystvall was more familiar to Uixtr, while Stonepoynte was the materials expert. They wore a casual level of decoration, mainly rings in the locks of their shoulder tufts. Mystvall stepped forward and produced a rough-woven pouch that Uixtr could hold in one hand.

OPEN IT.

The vibrational transducer that Uixtr wore on his head picked up the Aureny realm of soundwaves, then processed it as pure information in the aetherscape. It was then spoken to Uixtr the way any raw Vedani information would be verbalized to the ear; thusly their intonation sounded mostly natural, like one of his own people speaking to him. Inside the pouch was a golden-hued crystalline formation, sprouting from a smooth, slightly convex rind on one side. It nearly hummed with energy.

THIS IS A PIECE OF MY OMBA, THE ROCK I WAS BORN FROM. SINCE OUR FIVE PEOPLES BEGAN THIS RECENT EPOCH TOGETHER, WE HAVE WROUGHT MANY DOINGS. UNDERSTANDING HAS GROWN, AND WILLINGNESS TO AID CONTINUES. WHATEVER HAPPENS, WE HAVE COME THIS FAR. KEEP THIS AS A TOKEN OF MY RESPECT. IF YOU EVER NEED TO USE IT, KNOW THAT CHOICE WILL BE LIFE-ALTERING, AND YOU WILL NOT FIND MORE.

With both hands, Uixtr hoisted it before him. “I am touched that you would bestow on me this rare blessing. My gratitude.” He brought it close to the large angled tympanum on his headpiece, and registered some sound garbling. To Stonepoynte he said, “This stock you brought me is excellent. Bring that to my loading dock and we’ll take them. A boon to you and yours.” Stonepoynte thumped the ground once for punctuation, and with one clawed forelimb picked up the crates and walked off with them like a stack of pint tumblers.

40.2 \ 222

General Claymore accepted a binder from his officer. Inside the binder was also a chip, which he set into his desk’s info stack. “I’m glad you made it back, sir. You’ve done a great thing.” Then, Draig was alone again. He opened it up and paged through at random.

… Partway up a mountainside, in a flowery field overlooking a lake. A favorite view, a special place half a day’s walk from civilization. It was night, so I jogged into town, to the late hours store. The stars were out.

… I was standing on my lawn. I don’t let anyone stand on my lawn but me, when I’m taking care of it. When I’m gone, my family takes care of it, and who knows what happens then. But when I’m home, it’s only mine, even if it’s not very big. I don’t think I’d want a bigger one. No one was on it when I got there.

… I found myself at the base of a statue, a winged woman that I remember seeing on a family trip. Still there, apparently. When I saw her as a child, she gave me a sense of beauty and protection, though I was far from home. Maybe adventure is my safety. I might have just figured that out about myself.

As for Draig, he had appeared back in this very office. He felt the wash of fulfillment from his very first step in. It was a single flash accrual of every moment he embraced the calling of power in right relation, between the might held in prosperity, and the prosperity accompanying might. When he realized where he was, he engaged in routine. He corrected his wardrobe, took in some nourishment. Then he sat where he was sitting now, and marveled.

40.1 \ 222

Everyone who appeared somewhere in the Pan-Galaxies after the Maelstrom Rescue was asked, when they reported back in to their duties, to fill out a short questionnaire as to their whereabouts upon arrival. It was unclear whether these locations were all now known to the people who had sent them there, or how useful that knowledge would be to them. A small team had been assigned to the sole task of digesting these reports and spotting patterns or consequences.

The size of the personnel group from the five largest fleet bases of the Pan-Galactic Imperium meant that there were thousands and thousands of accounts, which would continue to trickle in. They had saved most. General Alisandre, Draig Claymore was himself still reeling with survivor’s euphoria, multiplied by the number of people who’d made it out. That feeling still eclipsed trepidations as to what history might say about this massive blow to Imperium forces despite the costly and difficult safeguarding. He probably would still not have time to worry about that as they continued to wage defensive war.

Lieutenant Daguerre-Asahi stood before Claymore’s office desk, delivering a handpicked assortment of reappearance questionnaires with widely varied locations. “So far, the strongest pattern we’ve found is that the places in question are of great personal significance, with markers that belong only to the person relocated. Another thing – everyone reflects on themselves in their accounts a little more than we normally expect in military reports, while that is consistent with mindstates of near-death survival.”

39.6 \ 221

Model visualizations sprang out of the info strand as the other two looked through. A hollow polygonal dagger with a chamber hilt. A specific list of aetherscape-reactive alloys, for information-to-matter transfer; Kao-Sidhe-modified circuit runics; a recipe of elements; an integrator unit.

AELRN: That’s stuff I want you to see and know about, and we can discuss it specifically later. Because of this, and from this, and for this, the Symbias have been giving me really interesting techneurolocative patternings. I have working experience in maps and interfacing, and believe that our teams should, or must work together, Yykth.

YYKTH: Thanks, I’ll start including you in the discussions as they occur in the areas of your relevance. Yours might both overlap. There’s another thing, if you can tell me where to look in the world of adults. Considering the debates between elders and young about the nature of our actions and who might be taking them and what other actions we may also need to take, can you think of someone willing to associate with Humans who is good at… getting people to relax? Or to have them remain calm and feel healthy? One of the Human kids suggested this might be a good idea.

UIXTR: Give me a moment to check on someone.

He extended an optic tunnel across the aetherscape. His reference was occupied with others, though Oibhn was running a calling-screen of the room they were in, saturated with colors and patterns sliding over every surface, including the curved furniture. This played over mellow strains of siren song and gentle rhythm. Oibhn was testing the castle again, one of the more soothing room projections. Uixtr watched for a beat longer before returning to his in-person conversation.

UIXTR: I’m signing a pathway to CLNR:OIBHN, the ultimate host of a central block. He loves taking care of people and having them leave in a good mood, feeling nourished. This is for any of us to use. He has also had Humans in his lounge and fed them, and they ate a lot of his Human-style food, and some of the Vedani food.

YYKTH: That sounds like it would be a nice visit. For me at least, first.

39.5 \ 221

They saw Aelrn as she stepped into the middle of the room. She turned to meet their eyes and walked over, stooping to join them in the low space. The three exchanged exuberant niceties before Yykth turned the topic to mapping coaches for the mecha team, both machines and operators. Acknowledging the mood of business, they settled into aetherscape interaction behind closed eyes.

AELRN: There are some things I’ve been working on, Yykth, which made me decide that my experiences and advances might be an important piece of your endeavors, which I’ve heard circulating along with your requests. You might even provide a key element to mine. I’ll show you both what’s new with me.

A freshly formed branch came loose from Aelrn’s info structure and duplicated itself to both Uixtr and Yykth. Concepts in visual display projected the glowing forms of Symbias trees, with some power data of new rare gems given from the Aureny. Yykth hadn’t been introduced to most of this, but she let Aelrn explain, framing this with context clues and fitting in the floating errata. She connected the branch to her tree, which fed it meaningful detail that amounted to a reasonable level of comprehension.

AELRN: Uixtr, you remember how the aetherscape forms of Symbias are connected analogues of physically rooted forms? We think we’ve found a way to trigger new physical forms of Symbias that are now found only in the scape. There’s a way we could try it, but we would need to be intrepid. It’s worth it not just because they’re interesting, but because the Aquarii are important.