142 \ 334

Toller had earned it up to get back to Genesee. A lot had changed for him, and he knew a lot had changed for the home planet, too. That first sense of exterrestrialism, or interterrestriality, transformed into feeling like the planet had become a friend instead of a mother – a being he could keep in touch with to remember who he was and how far he’d come. He knew he might not feel as much like he belonged after the time away, but he’d found another kind of belonging that spanned the stars.

It was just him and his backpack. Toller was backtracking. He hadn’t gotten all the way to Meriada – still might be too soon, still – but he went ahead and faced the pain of Anzi’s destruction. There might be someone who could use a hand. The city and the people who remained of it had moved to the outskirts untouched by the lava flow. Toller was making his way around the lopsided crescent. The whole landscape here was in early remediation phases, where life could be sustained, but it was also bursting. It was space pioneer life out here right now, but the surge of regenerative resiliency laid a cheerful tone over the struggle. There was a lot of cottage food and microfarming from neighborhood to neighborhood. This next one up the road had just gotten a mural on the facing outside wall, and Toller was definitely going inside.

He didn’t know what hit him, he didn’t know what just happened, but there was a time warp and he was looking at a beloved ghost. Her hair was short now, though. Cheli was making a drink for someone at the counter, behind the fresh sprouts growing all along the top and the bowls of fresh vegetables. He watched her pour it into a worker’s cup, who thanked her and left. A little dazed, Toller walked up and asked with a gesture to the jar against the wall, “Are you actually making spiced powder apple?”

“Um, Yeah!” she exclaimed with recognition, throwing her arms open. They hugged tightly over the counter. “There might even be some that you made in there. I seriously grabbed and ran with that huge jar, and it kept me alive. There’s no one else in here right now, I’ll just sit down with you.”

The day was mostly sunny right now through the screen window, where there were two chairs. They sat, each with a warm cup in their hands. “I turned thirteen,” said Toller as the first order of catch-up.

“I’m the big 1-7.”

“A lot has happened.” They both sat there, nodding and sipping. “I made some friends. I feel like I have some options.” Cheli smiled wordlessly, looking around her and through the window with some measure of wonder. “I have a newsrag. Care to have a look?”

“Yeah, actually. It’s been a little while. Give me the big stuff, news from another world.”

Toller shook the inkcloth and got an item that was new within minutes. “Plexus Signs Package to InnerG Transport. Hmmm. I might even know something about that,” he started before stopping awkwardly, unsure if it was even safe information. Cheli looked sidelong at the tone in his voice and shook her head, smirking. She was proud of him but didn’t really need to know, even though she could guess. “But that story would take a long time to tell, and might still be happening.” As he talked, Cheli looked as though she was figuring something else out while she listened. Toller shook up another headline, also brand new. “Twilight’s Arrow Reported Missing. A dragonslayer sword. It’s actually really old.” Cheli craned over to look at a picture of the sword.

A woman came in through the door with a basket of jars. As she rose from her chair, Cheli leaned over to Toller for another hug and said, “Ask me later if you think you might want a spot of work around here.”

141 \ 333

Ravl Pliskin doesn’t wear his dress cane out very often; in fact his old injury, from the days when he had to flee Hirylien, barely bothered him anymore. But he was dressed to go out tonight, and in the thick of dealings he felt like he wanted the cane with him, if only for the communications embedded in the pard cat topper. This call had come through just as he’d been ready to go through the door, so he was sitting in layered formals, hat and shined shoes, jeweled chain flashing, rotating his cane in a gloved hand.

“We’re ready to go on this,” affirmed his familiar peer in fast dealings for big business.

“And you’ve already run it through specs and probabilities, like we have? It’s a ubiquitous formula with wide-ranging ramifications, but if it’ll work, it should all work.”

“It’ll work. Our sharpest minds and pointiest heads are nodding. We want it, and we want it first.”

“We’re able to move on this if you are. Ultimately, other markets will become able to incorporate the development. You’ll be taking on the early adopters, along with the early rounds of development and bug fixes.”

“That’s what we want. We’re making it easy for you by accepting your terms.”

“Good, because those are the only terms. This was costly, and dangerous, and may still be, even though we know that it works. Beautifully.”

“Thanks to people who will be adequately rewarded.”

“Enough to go home big or live forever in paradise.”

“That’s what I like to hear – we’re not in the market for technology with ghosts.”

“Then, I’m surprised you’re in the market at all.”

“As am I, every day. But, at least I’ve got friends like you here.”

“With friends like me, who needs—“

“—lesser upgrades?”

140 \ 332

Soleil was going through extra motion analysis rounds with Moonshadow, building their physical vocabulary. She needed to keep limber, things were really underway. In her youth this was when, with a predatory sense of timing, her teacher would emerge from the shadows. Her teacher found her, and she recognized and accepted her teacher. They were from an order, whose name kept itself usually forgotten. “Don’t trust me, fight me, and fight me by fighting your own distrust, and that of your body; if you trust it, you can control it.” She grew to defeat her teacher many times before these lessons faded to a close.

The other thing Soleil knew by understanding the stories, and learning to know – the weapon would be available. There was a famous blade in the news. It was having its provenance transcribed, and this was a part of the new collection for the historical establishment that was the last act of her grandmother Celeste. Soleil eyeballed it, imagined its balance and weight ratio, looked at accounts of what it had done, remembering the baton she chose for her pong training.

She traced the sword through its publicity. It was the one that had killed Ignivus, and by legend and full likeness, Hamurlae. In the file from the new historical institution, Soleil found the name of the experts currently handling the provenance: CJ&c., Ultd. Upon her request, Moonshadow went looking through the channels to make an affirmative contact.

Casper Jacobs was wearing casual snazzy, wondering about this unusual side chat he’d been plying. They’d been earnest, entertaining, hypnotically insightful and well timed. While Casper had other things to do, he made room for this little appointment, just to give his brain enough things to keep it running fully engaged. He knew he was about to get his mind blown, which is one of his favorite things in life. He had the feeling this could really be worth it.

When Soleil strode off Moonshadow’s platform toward Jacobs, appearing decisively as herself to this person, he was taken aback. He recognized her immediately, and with a microgesture flashed up an ident which corroborated his guess. This was part of something that was happening right now. “Are you,” he asked with a gesture of assessment, “133740R53?”

Soleil looked back at Moonshadow, who blushed. “That would be my friend there,” she replied pointing. She didn’t stop walking toward his door.

“Would you like to come in and talk?” asked Jacobs.

“Yes, thank you.” They went in, and Moonshadow hid.

Then, he did it. They talked, and Casper decided to give her the sword, Dusk-Arrow. His whole fate on the line for something totally unprecedented, but he already lives this kind of life.

139 \ 331

Resting atop a crag overlooking a view were a man and a Dragon, sitting in humanoid with outstretched flight wings. They had sat in simple silence for a while. Out of some void in peripheral vision, a curly, fluffy pigeon swirled straight toward them. It landed next to Acamar on the crag. It did a special dance, offered its scroll, and made a special noise. The meaning was clear to Acamar, who accepted the scroll from its leg. The pigeon then flew up and perched on Acamar’s horns – first one, then another, then another. It was a proper meeting.

“I’ve never received a pigeon, though I did hear of it. This one is finding Dragons for its message, perhaps certain dragons. It rode on spaceships to find me. This pigeon has already met more Dragons than most people.”

“This planet has an established Imperial population.” The meaning of that sank in for Raev. “You’re in the Imperium, we are, and you’re unaffiliated. What happened? The Viridian Phasing…”

“Growing patchy, it seems. This is the physical place of our requirement. It is in the Pan-Galactic Imperium, and so now are we. Hmm, yes. Where a pigeon looking for me, or such as me, could find me.”

“This must be extremely important. Can I look?”

Uninterested in subterfuge, Acamar said, “Yes.” Dragonseye sight decodes these holokeys into their abstracted multifold dymaxion projections.

The Dragon was processing this on er own terms, and Raev engaged with the information as it unfolded and illuminated. He became fully absorbed in digesting this. Some things sounded fine; others good; some sounded like human-minded approximations; there were some typical workable compromises, or so they seemed to him anyway. This was put together in a knowledgeable fashion, leveraging an understanding of the status quo. This was all tailored with Imperial language that encouraged expediency and signaled clarity of transmission. On top of that, it was also historically contextualized. This took a lot of work to make. With a sentimental flourish, the pigeon flew onward and away.

Raev smiled softly in response to what he read, from more of a detached sense of aesthetic admiration than anything else. He was already internally withdrawing from the struggle. He knows the fight never ends, and is expecting to be of very little use after this. But for now, this crag with its four-petaled stoneflower, in an unmapped corner of a low-population planet. Here they were, two people; one Human, one Dragon, widely hated yet role critical.

Breaking the thoughtful silence while inspecting the projection visualization, Acamar spoke quietly. “Upon hatching, we emerge as a truth that is already universal. Not like a small being that needs to grow, but like a person walking into a room. The circumstances of my entry to the world are mine alone – unique, fraught, and lethal. I’m reflecting on what it means to be the person I am.”

Bemused by his insights, Raev empathized. “I understand some level of what you’re saying.”