5x Rerun: Fire Within (1) 86-87, FIN

– 86 –

All the action was far from here. Visible – the anomaly couldn’t be missed – but the board game and pieces were all obscured. Channel feeds however were a different matter, and these were properly arrayed and attended to by the researcher and her shipmate. She listened and investigated.

“Arcs move in.” Processes were smooth as all the ships attained the velocity to begin acquiring target locations.

At full charge, all set, mirrors setting. Five to a ship, each process individual and coordinated. Their signals were negotiating the anomalous environment.

Flight pairs began lattice switching, to alternately set and boost until every ship’s energy charge was placed entirely in connection. In immediate shift, they began altering torsions in a curved net pattern. Light flashed, a mirrortech side effect.

These patterns tightened and new iterations overlaid atop them. Each set of actions felt as though it were sinking in. The signal nature began to generate tensile gravity. The environment was responding.

A collective gear shift enacted the pull, streaming towards the ship boundary around the vortex. Shadow images amid arrows of light swarmed in quantity.

A dragon can hatch a hundred ways. This one, made of eight, ready to emerge into material was a shared perception – new since its first eight were set to exist in an ages-long otherside trap. They discovered a truth immediately timeless, and encouraged it to be. And in its theoretical existence lay key after key for those that nurtured it. Always an immeasurable process.

All you need to do is meddle with it significantly, if you want it to happen according to your symphony. The song is ready to play regardless.

In the quiet world just a gasp was heard in the ear. It was lightning eyes and shadow scales holding everyone in its gaze, its gaze its grasp. In its grasp there was no pull, only a feeling of envelopment. Its breath an inrushing expansion, all parts of it very close now.

And so, a crumbling entropy unfolded, even as something was becoming. And with immediate wisdom, it claimed. The pieces, the wreckage, in wholeness at this moment. To shield, to resist the onrushing for those within its motion was incomprehensible. It was a swift reintegration of life.

This battle was already tragic. Arcta’s face was held like a crying statue as she brought the vessel on its own course, her shipmates doubly unconscious next to each other behind.

86

– 87 –

Arkuda could see the moment reverberating, behaviors and sentences replaying themselves on a fast elliptical, like distance marks on a running track, or the position of a planet during its solar celebration.

Carlos squirmed, sniffling occasionally and rubbing his fists to his eyes. Mireille’s hand kept finding various places to rest on her face. Cristobal sat hands curled in his lap, feet even in front of him. Their grandmother’s face was a mask.

He didn’t like describing dragon birth to the royal family, Queen and three grandchildren. Reducing the arcane nature of it into a methodical explanation gave him the shivers, as though he would be giving the wrong information. This mystery had kept peaceful relations between their people for nearly the entirety of the Imperium’s existence. But it was his task to help them understand what had happened in the face of their mother’s loss, the woman who was to be the next Queen.

He addressed the children primarily, as the Queen had bid. “Your mother fell to misdirection, a mistake when confronted with an unknown. We are often born of unknowns, that we don’t understand when we find them. This one wished to consume on its opening. That it was what it was, I’m sorry I didn’t foresee. And now, this one is born, its root existence set. In this way, at this time. We don’t know its name yet, so it’s still difficult to describe. It has to tell someone what it is.”

“We’ve kept our births a mystery for good reason, because that’s what they are, still. Only the first eight of a dragon have some idea of what’s going to happen, when or where. They are the only ones who are fairly safe nearby. They have little idea how to control their spatial dimensions at first. It’s a unique occurrence every time, and the events are hardly recordable.

“While this one stormed in its birthplace, its first eight appeared around it, which can be typical; in this case it was a shock. I’m saddened by the loss of the entire two-Alpha fleet. Those ancients are dragons we banished in the War.”

Here, the Queen interrupted to explain. “When dragons refer to the War, they mean the one that erupted in the Imperium during the reign of Oisine, when we had only expanded into the Primatris Federet. It was waged on human planets and over the value of humans’ and dragons’ rights and lives. The only one since we’ve known them.

Those dragons who insisted on their entitlements against humans had the rest working against them, and in a singular work of binding became trapped on the other side of a wall.”

Arkuda bowed his head. “We missed our cousins. We felt that their existences were continued, in the persistence of balances. They’re not back on friendly terms, clearly. We’re going to have to react to defend ourselves. They’ve dispersed after destroying their vicinity. They are the same Red Nexus of old, minus some. Plus one.”

87

– 88 –

A disheveled driver walked into a bar and took a seat by her favorite bartender. There were a couple occupied booths in the room, but otherwise it was an empty morning. The music was a cheerful rolling ballad at odds with her bereaved look.

“Hot Silver, please.”

“You got it. Been a long few weeks, has it? You were here just before Pyrean Midsummer, wasn’t it.” A smile played across his face as he began to heat and mix.

“Yeah. Actually I can’t think back that far right now. I just watched hundreds of uniforms ordered to fight something that would kill them. Using means completely unequal to the danger. I had the luxury of my own prerogative, so here I sit.” She looked out the window into a ray of sun for a breath while her drink began to steam behind the counter. She looked over doleful, yet matter of fact. “There are dragons at war.”

“You don’t say.” His tone remained light through a furrowed brow. He sprinkled spice over the top and delivered the cup to her hands.

“I wouldn’t if I didn’t have to.” Her head drooped over the cup as she inhaled the steam. Just as she began to close her eyes, someone yelled out from the kitchen.

“Hey Joe! Epic stack, look at this epic stack!”

Joe looked over at his loyal customer. “That’s our new dishwasher. He’s done it a few times, hasn’t broken one yet.” He patted the bar as he turned to go to the kitchen.

Looking sideways over her cup, Wendel murmured, “There’s a voice…”

Re-emerging, the bartender gestured to her. “You should come see this.” Collecting herself, Wendel took a breath and a sip and followed him in.

For a stack, it could be said to be epic. Largest pans and sheets on the bottom, going to smaller pans, to platters and appropriately-sized dishes with the occasional balancing item, to a rotating tower of mugs and cups that ended in a pyramid. Other words that came to mind were magnificent; unprecarious; commendable.

She looked over to appraise the stacker and was greeted with a smiling face. “It’s you,” said the boy, grinning with his mouth open.

She blinked at Toller, suddenly breathless. “Hey, it’s… it’s you too.” She gravitated toward him to hold him in her arms for a moment. “You got a job, I see?”

The boy poked Joe in the side. “I left the capital after the Aquari concert. That really capped off the whole experience for me. At the docks, I found a ship with room headed for Dalmeera, so.” He pointed to the stack of dishes.

Wendel turned to the bartender. “Joe I hate to tell you this, but your dishwasher is overqualified.”

He laughed. “Yeah, I know. I just figured I could get away with it for a little while.”

“Well, you’re good at doing it.” She smiled at the both of them and looked at the cup in her hand, still steaming. She looked back up at the boy. “Hey have you tried this stuff?”

Toller looked at Joe. “Well I’m not really old enough, no.”

Wendel tilted her head at the bartender. “Is he old enough?”

Joe eyed the stack of dishes, all clean. “He’s older than I was. He can have his own cup. Stay back here. And would you take that apart and put it away?” The last he said to Toller, who saluted.

Toller set a chair on the countertop beside it, showing how unprecarious the stack really was. He climbed on top and began filling his arms with the assorted dishware. “You didn’t take long to come back, either.”

She made a long sniff. “It all really depends.” She just watched him do his job. “So you remembered the place?”

“Actually I met Joe at the seadocks where they were bringing up shellfish. He seemed like someone I could hustle for work, and I was right. Man was carrying too much.” He laughed and laughed with the dishes. “He brought me back here and I knew where I was.”

Halfway down the stack, the bartender returned with one for the boy and one for him. They clinked mugs and held them together for a moment, looking at the pictures in steam and spice and silver.

Upon his first sip, Toller made a face like he just saw a beast. Then he looked into the cup. “Are you kidding me what is this?”

Joe savored his sip and lifted his head. “Just something good we make here.”

Wendel smacked her lips in agreement and ran her tongue over her teeth. “Well young one, I want to tell you. You’ve got options.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yeah, really. With me, for one.”

“I could be mad at you.” Joe wiggled his mug in the air.

Wendel took a long, appreciative sip. “And lose your favorite customer?”

88

– FIN 1 –

 

5x Rerun: Fire Within (1) 81-85

– 81 –

The Array Synthesis room was clean and empty for her when she arrived, all consoles running as she requested. Soleil knew where she wanted to look, a set of coordinates based on her impression of its whereabouts.

She stepped into the suspension chair and engaged the full harness. It lifted, giving her the 47-million-degree view. She opened out the banks of physical adjustors and eyepiece optics, calling them within reach. The picture in mind was like a child’s drawing – the fewer obfuscating details, the better.

The pre-Ricardian scopes featured many degrees of diffraction, and she took a moment to enjoy the antique view that was a revelation to the seekers. She twiddled it, and looked into the scatter dimension. She shook her head at the moment she felt like an ancestor, as though she were looking through someone else’s eyes back down the line. There was something nebulous that the micrometers wouldn’t pick up, something parallax that current technology ruled out.

Hints at details were aligning, and she moved on to fine tuning. There was a seam stretched far and wide, and she was finding the stitches. She had seen it all next to each other as though it were one thing that faced out in many directions. The directions that she recognized weren’t near each other at all, but she didn’t worry about it – just kept finding them when things looked right, as she’d seen them there one after the other. The picture wasn’t complete, but it should be enough.

She collected all the views, superimposing and shuffling till she saw it there. Not a hole. Maybe a bump. She stretched and collapsed them together like a deck of cards. Yeah, it was there. She paused at this.

The contact through her coma wasn’t just an introduction. There was a deep history arriving to be accounted for, and Soleil understood why it was she who’d been called to task. When she went to see the hated criminal by her own devices, he’d given her a glimpse of things happening now, all at once, many and strong, everywhere and incomprehensible. So she worked with every impression.

In her notebook were drawings from the symbols, images, views, and her deductions. She translated these into coordinates, locations, directions, distances. She looked at the notebook nearby, being read in midair. The room was orbit station quiet as she hovered two feet over the ground.

The Princess readdressed the set of astronomical pinpoints, and drew a connecting line. She reordered them by proximity, tiling them by their signal sightlines in a triangular mesh. She set mirrors, and sent a signal loop from the corner that would touch every point in turn before repeating, and waited.

The remaining presence in her thoughts, that was confirmed when she saw Sturlusson and made possible her glimpse into imminence, was still there. She’d gained some understanding of it, the cup on a string hanging in the corner. She picked it up and listened, hoping the dots were connected.

The mirrors began to miss. They didn’t hit their spot or return correctly. The signal returned stronger, and she realized she was the mirror.

A rectangular dark patch opened in the space before her, bright motes flashing across it. A murmur of speech infiltrated her hearing.

“We see you again. Now you’re awake.”

“I don’t fully understand what I’ve found here, but I want to know more. I have questions about the things I’ve seen. You seem very much like us, though your allies are stranger.”

“We recognize your desire for understanding. There is much to be explained, and we are willing to share education. But these are matters both heavy and delicate, and it would not be a short amount of time.”

“I will take all the time it requires. This is my priority.”

The dark patch deepened, the motes flashing brighter. “We can bring you through, if you are so prepared. We desire your presence.”

Soleil gestured for the program to set her notebook down on a panel. “I seek resolution from all this information. Where would you bring me?”

“Out of the world you know, that’s for certain.” The motes gathered themselves into a glowing ball, which floated towards her. “When you are ready, you can take the sphere.”

The Princess disengaged herself from the floating harness and loosened her joints. She took a soft look back at the view of Alisandre before lifting her hand to the glowing light. A bright net encased her, the dark patch enfolded her, and the Array Synthesis room was empty but for her few belongings.

81

– 82 –

“Then they got me involved, and I kind of told them that you exist. So they’re probably coming at you with a job offer. I hope I haven’t done anything too terrible and that you’ll forgive me. Maybe this will be fun.”

Derringer bit his lip and shook his head as he followed his guide, who had not once looked at him since he arrived. He laid one considering footstep after the other. From his years of experience, he was wary of official jobs – if you couldn’t fill the bill, they had a way of taking it out of you. But this seemed like a good way to get swept up, and besides he might be getting overfond of that lady. Must be mutual, if she put the big dogs on his tail. So here he was, walking straight into the Spear.

As the guard stopped in front of the office door, Derringer checked if there was anything he needed to remember before walking in. The door opened, and he went in remembering nothing.

He faced a desk with a placard that read General Alisandre, Draig Claymore. The man behind it had a stack of papers on either side, signing them as they moved from one end to the other. “Welcome,” he said, “and thank you for never having been here.”

“It’s an honor.” He took the other seat at the General’s gesture.

“I value your credentials, and those who gave them to me.” General Alisandre signed another paper carefully. “It’s my duty to explore every possible avenue in my search, and I hope you can help me. Do you have any idea what I’m asking you to find?”

“An important person may be missing.”

The General nodded. “Official channels are already engaged, and we have scant days before it becomes a matter of public knowledge. Can you work under that kind of scrutiny?”

“Sure, especially if that’s not really what I’m doing.”

“No, of course not. Your actual employment would of course be your own business. And you would have all means at your disposal to accomplish it.”

“Means are helpful, so long as they’re not under supervision.”

“Why would they be? You’re not connected to anyone in this building.”

“Sounds like business as usual.”

“You will remain completely independent. We simply wish for the goal to be accomplished.”

“I think I can set myself to business as usual with a goal in mind.”

“Remember, we have no idea what it is you’re supposed to be doing.”

“Who does?”

The General signed one more paper, and put away his pen. “I’m having beef and beer for lunch. Perhaps you’d like to join me on the terrace?”

“There’s a terrace?”

“Oh yes, it’s lovely. And there’s more than one.” They stood, and exited to an empty hallway.

82

– 83 –

Queen Ascendant Charlotte stood facing the green-haired researcher in a chamber to themselves.

“Thank you for being willing to speak with me so directly, Your Grace.”

“Not at all. My priorities are clear, as parent and Ascendant. So, tell me about the surprise findings. I am up to date on the rest of the information regarding the Photuris Anomaly.”

Hydraia nodded. “I first noticed it while idly searching the shadow visual classifications. Patterns or formations will pop out variously, as this did. It struck me as both eerie and timely. I even sent it to Loramer for a second opinion, and they agreed. It looks like a picture of your daughter.”

The news had already been broken to the elder woman, so she took it well, reaching out to accept a copy of the data report. A pieced together image played above it: Soleil, looking over her shoulder.

The Queen Ascendant breathed deeply, looking intensely at the woman. “I realize your waking hours may be fully occupied, but I have need of some of them.”

Arcta acknowledged this with a nod. “I sent the matter to your attention thinking you might act on it.”

“My intentions are already forming, but I will need some dedicated, available guidance.”

“There is currently no one who can fill my role on Alphas 1 and 2 in the Photuris Sector. But I can be interrupted under prominent need.”

“Then I shall supply you with a communication line. I will not aim to make any interruptions. Just for burning questions.”

“Your Grace, I extend my correct sympathy, and I wish to offer as much of my time as you require.”

“You’ve already given us our first real discovery in the matter. We have four days before you are to enact a collapse interruption, right?” Queen Ascendant Charlotte finally offered her visitor a seat.

83

– 84 –

“Hey, what’s shaking you guys.” The redheaded dulcet tone spoke from disembodied audio. “How’s the office working out for you?”

“Good. We’ve been making cash credit under our new company name: Substitute Security & Systems. We’ll jack you up and make sure you don’t get jacked.”

“Sounds like a niche. Have you heard from Derringer lately?”

“Actually, just yesterday. He said he was going dark into Transnet Archipelago.”

“That’s a lot of gateway cruising. Well, it must mean he took the job. And I had just thought of something for him. Now I’ll have to run into him, how annoying.”

“We could pass on a message for you, next time he’s in touch.”

“No, I can take care of my own. But go ahead and tell him that we talked.”

84

– 85 –

The Lieutenant Corporal stood next to the researcher in the Alpha 1 core, with everything in place to interrupt the Photuris Vortex Anomaly. Statuses incoming.

Lt. Corporal Sorens, Technician Lead, called in over his channels. “Rotating longitudinal arc, torsion 1, four strong, unison report.”

“Ghost’s Embrace.
Fallen Fledgling.
Overarching Edge.
Bloody Reflection.”

“Counter-rotating longitudinal arc, torsion -1, four strong, unison report.”

“Family Intention.
Backwards Connection.
Glowing Core.
Heroic Tailspin.”

“Buffer Zone 1, Buffer Zone 2, unison report.”

“Man At The Bar.
Shadowed Flare.”

“Tech Reader, how long till equipment is ready?”

“The passing charge will reach desired level pulse at a quarter hour from now.”

“Appropriate, with leeway.” Tyson Sorens turned to Arcta Hydraia on his right to meet her eyes and nod. She flickered her notes on the air in front of her and gazed at the room unfocused, hand to her mouth.

“Alpha base 2 reporting.” The solid voice of General Ionos, Ehrenson Sorens transmitted to the main line. “We’ve bundled our frequencies to feed into Buffer Zones 1 and 2 as well as satellites D and E. Ionos base reads and reports. Planetary contingencies are in line. This is the big day.”

“Technicians, it’s time to compare and align your formulas. Coordinate trajectories with your squadron.” The Lt. Cpl. craned his neck around as he listened to pieces of channel chatter, mainly in the direction of various spec prints.

“‘Scuse me there’s, uh,” this rose in volume precedent, “We have an extra ship in formation.”

“As do we.”

“It just entered our logs officially.”

“There are two more of our own ships, not shadows. Both in five strong position.”

A visual transmission appeared of Queen Ascendant Charlotte in flight uniform in the technician’s seat. “It is my responsibility to be a part of this mission. I have sent record of my full qualifications.” The juxtaposed image of General Ionos nodded an extended affirmative to this. “The rudeness of my intrusion requires your tolerant pardon.

“I have also sent you a data point schematic, doubly approved at Loramer, confirming the viability of an extra pair in your formation without any path alteration. This qualified crew, including myself, will now be a part of this maneuver.”

The vortex anomaly heaved before her gaze. She turned to her pilot and looked back at the massive anomaly. “That looks really complex.” Her lips held back bile.

Lieutenant Corporal Sorens stood still as he scanned the new information. He turned slowly toward Ms. Hydraia to find her already facing him.

She gestured to him with her pointer. “We didn’t include the last pair because we wanted to minimize the roster – not because of any dynamics issue. We even practiced five strong formation.”

“Your Grace, it can be as you wish. From your position you will report to me as Technician Lead.”

A message flashed in from the General on Alpha 2. The Lt. Cpl. uttered a small, “Uh oh.”

“I’ve examined the additional crew roster, and I deem it necessary to make a substitution. I will take the place of counter-rotating pilot CR5. The Queen Ascendant and I have flown together before, and I have experience in heroics.”

“I find this a comfort,” spoke Charlotte from her ship.

Hydraia’s posture expressed alarm. “Can we just let a General go pilot one of these?”

Sorens nodded. “They keep fairly current with vehicular training, they won’t jump into chairs they can’t handle. It happens.”

“So he’ll just taxi out to the counter-arc? Tech Reader, how long till equipment is at level?”

“It will be another ten minutes. Leeway diminishing but still present.”

“So he’ll have the time to get out there.” Arcta closed her hand into a fist to rest in front of her face.

From Alpha 2, “Sir, Buffer Zone and Ionos Base calls are now routed to you.”

“Yes, I would be the next person they want to talk to.”

“There is a medical emergency aboard Buffer Zone 2, Shadowed Flare. The signal reader has lost consciousness.”

“Get me the pilot’s report.”

“She was keeping quiet over there until just a minute ago when she blacked out over her controls. I settled her safe in the back, but that leaves me to manage this by myself.”

Arcta Hydraia raised both arms widely into the air and brought them down. “Okay before you bring up any qualifications, ” she paused in the space between her hands, “I’m a co-inventor of this energy and placement technology. I issued the first ten certifications along with twenty other experts. I’m the best person here, now, to read and understand that position.”

He looked first down at his chest, then up at her, the people around and behind them, then back at the transmission.

“I can do all our coordination from Buffer Zone 2. I might even beat your dad aboard.”

“What’s your call sign?”

“Brightening Watcher.”

He spoke over transmission. “Okay we’re sending in a replacement for Flare, the unit is now Shadowed Watcher.” Tyson Sorens turned back to her. “Go be the other half.” He let her abandon him, and viewed the progress of intermediate craft.

85

5x Rerun: Fire Within (1) 77-80, 9th Sequence

– 77 –

No sight or sound, given up trying to hear herself. She could feel her motions though, and the occasional shift let her know she was alive.

She thought in litanies, things to remember and wake up to, going in circles and ladders. It was hard not to fill the silence. Sometimes she just listened to it. She was breathing, even if she could no longer hear it.

A touch, coolness. Than a pinprick.

She began to hear a sound – unfamiliar and far away, though comforting like a net in the void.

Language grew steadily louder. Had they taken her somewhere? She clenched her fists on occasion. It felt good.

It was a long time building. Occasionally, in her breath she felt a blast of fresh air.

Almost suddenly, she saw a bright triangle. She couldn’t tell if it was big or small, it was just the only thing. As she thought about it, still itself it became a message.

Cousins… she learned where they found this disease. The planet who suffered by it, gone Hirylien. How they changed it, she would be okay, and why. She couldn’t always keep her focus on it, but when she did, she learned a little more. It was fully understandable. She hung on to the net.

77

– 78 –

“I received some of your recent news broadcasts, and saw the King Ascendant waving your arm around. I admit to some amusement. You must have pushed him far.”

“Oh, hardly at all. He didn’t need much help.”

“Are you surviving it well?”

“Other than painful attempts at using an arm that isn’t there, I’m in good health. They gave me rush treatment to be sure I’d be well enough to receive my verdict.”

“You sound fine, and it’s good that you’re healthy. The time is upon us.”

“My elements are in place. There’s no reason to change any part of the arrangement. Go forward without hesitation.”

“What about the scion?”

“Her spirits have improved, even if her confusion has grown. I think she’ll be coming to more specific understandings shortly.”

“This could go of two ways. I believe people will prefer your version. We hope your plans hatch properly.”

Sturlusson felt the contact dissipate. The door of his room opened quietly, and he raised his eyebrows. In came the girl, slipping in sideways. She closed the door and paused by the wall, appraising his condition with a grimace. He lay back in a hospital recliner, right shoulder heavily swaddled. Soleil could detect a smile beneath his unwavering gaze. She took a deep breath, blinking.

He dipped his head. “Your Grace the Princess.”

She stepped toward him with a controlled voice. “You were in my vision during my coma sleep. Who are you and and what are you doing here? Why couldn’t I speak until I saw you?”

He stretched his head back to gaze at the cieling. “Not much I can tell you, Princess, that would give you greater insight.” Around his neck and face a roiling shimmer formed. Soleil stepped backward, and Raev Sturlusson met her eyes without moving.

A consistent swirl formed between them. Soleil looked into it, and lifted her hands to cover her eyes. She staggered a little, but kept them there, breathing. The volcanic earthquakes of Genesee filled her sight, and she zipped through a whirlwind of relays – the Aquari Home Fires, portals bursting with newly familiar presences, and depthless chasms emptying in conflagration. She tore her hands from her eyes and looked over at the prisoner with dread.

She went to the door, looking back at Raev Sturlusson one more time before she left.

78

– 79 –

The gentleman tugged at his collar as he looked out over the floor, then to his friend. “Thank you for dragging me out. Would have been a shame to miss it. So, who is this year’s beneficiary for the Claret Occasion?”

“The Genesee Refugee Fund.”

“Oh, what about Aquari Home Recovery?”

“Well you see, there are still lives to be saved on Genesee. With five new red zones, we have to practically depopulate the planet, which you can imagine takes time. We haven’t depopulated anywhere since Hirylien, which – had pretty much happened already.” He sipped from his wine glass. “And not for generations before that. Geologists have gone from stumped to overwhelmed in their attempts at prediction. So, crisis before recovery.”

“I understand that.” The gentleman inhaled sharply. “Bright Wave’s up to perform, isn’t she? I’m glad she’s well enough to do the occasion this year.”

His friend with the white ruffled collar nodded. “Her performances are a pleasure and a privelege.”

The two wandered from the upper tier where they’d left silent auction bids, nodding to others passing by in red and white. They refilled their cups at a lower tier, and made their way up an aisle to take seats. Below on the floor in the center, dancers were finishing the Mobius Spiral to the sound of a brass ensemble. Applause rose at the end as people filtered up the slopes and steps.

An oval of light burst into glow on the now cleared floor, and the plane within elevated, revealing the lifting stage walls and spiral staircase. The double doors in the side were revealed, and parted.

An Aquari man emerged and placed himself atop the stage, facing in. “That’s a Lead Composer.”

“That’s THE Lead Composer. She brought a sendsinger?” They looked at each other.

Fleeting Shade folded his legs to kneel. The amphitheater had gone quiet, but for a deep bass wave washing in like breath. The place turned dim but for a glow remaining at the door. She emerged shrouded in mist, moving by her tentacles and tendrils, carapace trailing behind her. Up the stairs her body rolled, the mist growing as it mingled with the bass in ripples. Bright Wave curled crouching opposite the sendsinger, facing in.

From where she stayed, she moved a figure around in the mist like a shadow. The bass rose to the beat of a resounding wall. Flashes revealed columns like a maze for the figure to weave through as it grew with the sound.

It wove its way to the center, where it rested against something bright. The mist clarified into luminous points. More Aquarii came through the door and up, to crouch around the edge, facing out. There were eight, and their echoing sounds only occasionally overlapped.

In a hollow, windy voice Bright Wave spoke a two-note phrase, and the bright something in the center showed color. She did it again, and so did another of the crouching Aquarii. Again and again the relay echo grew, until the pulse moved continuously.

The central figure gripped the bright something, pulling itself up. All of them rose. The pulse changed, and the points of light expanded to fill the entire amphitheater. The music turned clear and loud.

The gentleman watching from the seats waved his finger to encircle the performers. “Those are all sendsingers.”

“Yes, indeed.”

Then the language began. It was amusing! No one had any idea what they were saying, but it was certainly funny. As people around the amphiteater laughed, that became the central chorus of the music.

Sun rose, shining on the bright something. Its light condensed into a swirling trunk, the glow branching upward and spreading out. One by one, the eight sendsingers visited. It pulsed and sang differently for each; and as they walked away, so did they. All eight returned to sit around it together. The pulse continued as they watched the branching light, their music gathered illustrated above it.

The door glowed again, and eight more sendsingers walked in to fill the places around the stage, facing out.

The gentleman swirled his finger at this in maddening circles. “Are all of them?”

His friend looked agog. “Well, yes. And that must be nearly half of them.” He gripped his armrests and looked behind him as though he could see the sky. “How is traffic running right now?” He noticed other audience members in discreet communication. He sank back into his seat a little.

The cloud above reflected those sitting beneath. A color portal engulfed the trunk and branches, reaching the ground. Bright Wave rose and walked into the center of it, and it became a swirling mirror with sides. The inside eight rose together and stepped through.

In the amphitheater, the atmosphere changed. It seemed any point could lead to any other. These pathways became traveled, by few and then by many. If people touched them, they changed. The eight who stepped through found one of the eight around the edge. They sat back to back and twined their tentacles, one facing in, the other facing out. The pathways extended beyond the amphitheater.

In the center Bright Wave sat, leaning against the tree, which was there. She reached up to touch the billowing sheets of motion, twined and hanging from the branches. Great gusts flowed inward through the sendsingers, to the branches and trunk where Bright Wave could touch them, and she weaved. The air was full of Aquari melodies, clear from eight different kinds of far away.

“Could this be live?” he asked, holding down his white ruffles. At the word live, an unseen group of Aquarii echoed the word in confirmation. Live. He gasped, and his was not the only one.

The sendsingers began switching pairs, counter-rotating. Human voices became a loud addition, and the sound of a dragon.

From a vantage point in the city, Toller watched the amphitheater surrounded in glowing whorls. If he cocked an ear, he could even hear it. His chuckle seemed to fit right in with the music.

Then something broke. It was wrong immediately. People could no longer hear their voices correctly, and when they grabbed for the threads, they weren’t there. It was the frantic feeling of something important missing. The bright branches fell apart and floated away. The sendsinger’s channels fluttered. The trunk disappeared, down to the ground until there was only a heap in which Bright Wave sat. The weaving in her hands threatened to disappear, but she sent ends of it to the Aquarii surrounding her. They held to it as though suspended. The points in the sky reappeared above them.

79

– 80 –

Something is happening on the outskirts that the Imperium isn’t prepared for – but we’re responsible for it. And it wasn’t my mother, or father, or grandmother who informed me, but them. I don’t quite understand who they are – except for him, that one – which feels like the greater part of the problem.

Tonight is the yearly Claret Occasion, which I’m not required to attend, though I’ll likely be missed. Instead I’ve contracted transport to Alisandre’s outer orbit, where I’m going to peer through the scope array. Both the new ones through which you can view every one of the Imperium’s planets, and the old ones that helped us find these distant galaxies in the first place.

80

– 9TH SEQUENCE –

Ninth Sequence

5x Rerun: Fire Within (1) 73-74, 8th Sequence, 75-76

– 73 –

The panoramic door drew upward, revealing row after row of hard gazes landing squarely on the prisoner and his two keepers. The clamoring hiss fell silent. The three traveled up the center aisle toward the hearing platform ahead. From within the green-tinted keeper’s field, Sturlusson received their suppressed snarls. He looked up at the ceiling full of recording lights, the fixated heads around him, and the arbiter’s tiers beyond the rest. Passing the front row of assembly seats was like breaking a runner’s tape.

At the pause before the platform, he was greeted by the three judges, and the King and Queen Ascendant above them. They all went through the requisite gestures. He eyed the empty witness’ stand, and opposite that, to the right of the arbiter’s tiers, the large screen where the Queen’s face watched the proceedings.

As he stepped to the platform and the keepers attached the field to it, he felt nudges at the tip of either shoulder over his burn scars. Sturlusson glanced up again, and behind his field of vision he pinpointed two watching presences. Their communication with him was more or less clear.

“I loathe them, and watch this only under duress.”

“I sort of know what you mean.” He looked to the medallion above the tiers, which read Justice Is Served In Many Ways.

“Over the next few days, we will hear from witnesses who will present accounts of your doings. There are many in this hall who have waited some time for the opportunity, though their statements must remain brief, as must your rebuttals. You’ve opted against the presence of a legal interpreter, so you are responsible for adhering to the guidelines of reply.” He received a veiled stare from King Ascendant Vario in his red arbiter’s garb.

“From the witnesses’ statements and your replies, we will build and subsequently examine the case to determine your sentence. For all that you yourself have taken credit for, you can expect no less than a great period of suffering.” At this, Raev Sturlusson blinked slowly. He heard a hissing chuckle of irony.

73

– 74 –

It was like flipping through a yearbook, or being at a royal roast, or attending his own funeral. A little like all three. It was serious – every one would draw blood if allowed, but Raev remembered them more clearly than suspected. His past decisions were walking up to greet him, and he knew them very well.

The critical ones, everybody knew about. It started a long time ago, and he learned quickly how to use notoriety to his advantage. Some in particular created a lot of requisite damage, that he wished weren’t so even as he made it happen. It was pointless telling them he didn’t have horns – after all, he wore them so well. True, for some time his thirst for retribution could hardly be slaked. But it had taken him all those years to figure out why.

When he acquired that first gargantuan sum of funds off the Oligarchy of Tamakopa, it was enough to shut down companies and end towns. He’d known who would greet the citizens beyond the town borders, and now he learned how life had treated them. Ultimately well, he thought, but he must be held accountable.

There was the one he hated to hear, even though he reminded himself of it all the time. When he didn’t keep her – lost her and everything in one fell swoop, all involved. People had never been more angry with him, and he with himself. Here he paid probably his greatest price.

After that was a lot of boat rocking, and sinkholing. And of course, the disappearance at the prestige. His return still had people fuming, most especially because he had won sympathy, and families divided over it.

Certain attributed tidbits, he did not recognize. He didn’t bother making contest, only took in the news as it came to him. The source of his privately connected counsel noted the new information as well.

“They have added to your reputation.”

“Clearly. Though I don’t mind, as the time for setting things straight is not now. The tall tales are an added layer of distraction, which is fine with me. The truth overshadows them regardless, which is why they slip right in.”

“How will they hang you for your current move?”

“They can’t yet. However this centershow works out, they still need me to get them out of the corner. The King Ascendant and Queen haven’t released a reverse agent. We got it from them after all, though we improved on it. I suspect what final option they’re narrowing down to as far as handling this. I don’t think I’m prepared to play lab rat to satisfy the cameras. They have days before a toll begins to mount, as far as they know.” This final indictment was difficult, as its inconclusive nature brought everyone to edge.

Raev Sturlusson heard it all again in the Queen Ascendant’s voice as she announced the collected statements.

74

– 8TH SEQUENCE –

Eighth Sequence

– 75 –

The sphere image was frozen steady, drawn lines within reading as chaos. At one side of the table, the two Alpha Captains and General Ionos leaned forward. The General lifted a hand to the display. “Explain how the surrounding technicians are supposed to align and co-triangulate.”

“My Loramer co-fellow can answer that,” said Dr. Hydraia, turning to look at her colleague to the left.

“This is an unusual problem,” said Arys Steinman, laying out a few notes. “We can create a system that will co-map a series of points, call them mirrors. For the interruption sequence we want to enact, each point needs to be an intersection of the signal figures we reviewed.”

Steinman laid out the factor maps, pointing things out. “A technology pattern found in our Zerite-based inventions. The energy signature of an Iljen Engine at pre-critical burst. Here’s the map of microhole readings, and shadow radius sectors.

“Each mirror spins at a live rate responding to the weather of the vortex, tethering to each technician ship along designated connection paths. Setting a mirror takes more energy input from the initiating technician until it can tether down multiple paths. You’re tethering the mirrors, not the other way around.

“At a designated level of synergy, the energy to maintain the mirrornet will drop greatly. At this point, co-triangulation can run automatically, and we can move on to the next phase, precise insertion of chain reactives.”

General Ionos sat back, looking partially satisfied. “You’ve said we do this rarely in application. What makes you confident that this maneuver will work at this scale, with live pilots instead of robotics?”

“We’re keeping in mind that pre-critical burst phase of an Iljen Engine is only inwardly unstable. So while ships must remain in place to enact the interruption, they remain outside the boundary of collapse. In recorded failures, backlash occurred in the programming, preventing recurrence of the process without damaging equipment. The program you’ll be using is contained separately from ship operations.”

“How many times did you run this in simulation, and on how many levels? And did you do your utmost to minimize the number of technicians required?”

Arcta took in a slow breath. “We forwarded the ultimate simulations to you and your captains. If you want the complete logs, I can request them from Loramer Ultra sim rooms, but they were combed deeply and to do so again would be a great waste of time.”

The General leaned on the table. “If we determine this course of action, when will we need to mobilize?”

“In about twelve days, we’ll get our next likely shot in the vortex activity cycles.”

75

– 76 –

The King Ascendant with his two armed guards filled the room when they entered. “Now that the verdict is being processed, we can attend to other pressing matters. The HA235 patients on Alisandre are nearing critical status, and thousands of people on three other planets are close behind them. Tell us everything now, because if they die, you will die with them.”

“Wasn’t I supposed to in the first place, with my family and home? Your stance and bluster don’t convince me. You’ve held out far longer than I have with the truth of the matter, and not even the impending death of thousands will change your tune. If you want to keep all these people from dying, that’s within your power. These deaths will dig your grave if you allow them.”

“How are you carrying the disease and not suffering symptoms?” At his gesture, the guards flanked the prisoner.

“Have your doctors not figured that out, with the samples they took?”

Looking him in the eye, the King Ascendant stepped close. “They have not. But I believe the answer is in you, somewhere.”

“It would have to be.” Raev bowed his head for a moment before looking up at the three surrounding him. “You might be surprised how simple it is. Since the verdict is being processed, and I’m facing my fate, perhaps you deserve a farewell letter after all. Bring the doctor.” He turned his right side to Vario and lifted his sleeve, revealing designs on his skin. “It’s here. Beneath the winged horse in the lightning.”

“Take off his arm.” A guard drew a hot sword and it was gone. Raev Sturlusson sank to one knee. The King Ascendant picked up the limb, lifting the tattoo to his eyes. “Make sure he doesn’t die.” He exited, leaving the door open, blood decorating the hallway floor.

76

5X Rerun: Fire Within (1) 68-72

– 68 –

Bright Wave sat curled at the base of the tree growing from the platform over the valley below. With half-closed eyes, she moved a line of color across the sunset. Slowly, and with care – previous ambitious attempts at expression had made her faint.

Her reverie was interrupted by the big grey pietrobird, scattering rocks as it landed. She rose from her seat, and went to look the bird eye to eye where it stood. It hopped backward, pealing loudly, and dropped below the ledge before its eyes popped over again. Someone may be down in the mountain. She sent the bird a flash of color, which it spread its wings to absorb.

Bright Wave moved down the rock face. Halfway down, outside the cave, hovered a vehicle. With a tentacle she parted the vine curtain to see a mantled Fleeting Shade.

They stepped toward each other, tendrils lifting. They met partway, super and subsonic vibrations popping in the air. The leaves on the vines shook lightly.

Lead Composer Fleeting Shade gestured, and a stage floor shimmered in to surround them. Figures in red and white danced around the edges. The star image above reflected the sky in two weeks’ time.

Bright Wave cast her tentacles aside and whipped one around in a circle, marring the picture with scratches. She would have dispelled it entirely, but it remained. Her supersonics morphed to echo the burning Symbias, which made him flinch. She reached out to him again, and the dead silence of the groves fell around them. She sagged, her head hanging.

Fleeting Shade held her up, and the edges of the stage surrounded the silence. The figures in red and white appeared, drawing themselves into the dead space around them. They had eyes, and ears.

She straightened and looked up. Before her she created a candlepoint of light, which grew to the size of her head, then faded. She tried again to make it brighter, but couldn’t, tendrils shaking in frustration. He drew her in to hold her. The stage and people remained.

68

– 69 –

From her perspective in darkness, the occasional sound reached her ears. Chrysanthe was thinking of her pillow and blanket forts – the way everything became dark and hot, smelling of her own breath, and she listened to her father in the house. She couldn’t hear much more, so she stayed in that cozy place.

Her dad hadn’t said anything since she’d last slept, but he was nearby. When she reached for him, he played with her hand a little. The occasional squeeze was enough to reassure her, since she didn’t know if he couldn’t speak, or she just couldn’t hear him.

People approached, talking. Just the rise and fall of their voices, through many layers. She jiggled his hand and he wiggled back.

“We’ve sent so many nurses to other planets. Thank you for volunteering.”

“This seemed an appropriate time to step back in. Yet, I’ve never done triage. What am I looking for?”

“This is our first sweep. We’re reaction testing. This device measures muscular nerve response and blood flow to extremities. There’s a threshold.” She showed the readout to the volunteer. “During high rush, patients below that will have lowest priority as instructed. I’ll show you.” She gestured to the man holding his daughter’s hand. “He’s awake, we’ll start with him.” She cradled his other hand in hers and he flexed it. He did the same for Chrysanthe on the other side. The voices were louder going wah wahh wahhh.

The nurse put the holding device in his hand and wrapped his fingers around it, squeezing them. She released and cradled it for a moment until the device light turned color. She checked it, and glanced at the other patients around the room before showing it to the volunteer aide. “This is a significant reading, below threshold by a margin. Input the command here, and his bracelet will carry the tag. And that’s it.”

The aide nodded. “I’ll watch while you check the next patient over here.”

69

– 70 –

“Due to energy pattern expansion rates, we need to widen flight paths beyond the C sphere, here.” With her laser pen she colored the zone orange.

“Except for you people,” Arcta indicated the technical instrument pilots, “because you’re carrying the Dyson probes and photon sounders. You’re in two teams, each covering a hemisphere. There is a set rotation plan, in case communication equipment is affected. We already have some signal bandwidth workarounds.”

The door opened, and General Iparia stepped in. Dr. Hydraia straightened.

“Now for those of you shadow marking – priority observations are signal strength, signal length, placement, and finally type.”

“Don’t you think the subject of what we see might be more important than the quantified signatures?”

Arcta looked down and let half a smile emerge. “Those of you who’ve examined the list of signal types have found, I’m sure, that the list keeps growing longer and is already too long to memorize. Type recognition is last priority because attempting it would keep attention from every other reading. The data is being pored over at Loramer. If they find a useful pattern in it, then we might shift our focus there. Until then, let’s concern ourselves with the possible effects and direction of the energy output, and how to handle and defend ourselves from it.”

Iparia leaned against the wall, arms crossed.

“And we’ll detach one team – that’s you – to array themselves between here and Photuris. You’ll have a more sensitive set of instruments. We want you to sit there, and read. I’m sorry we can’t just deploy satellites for this – we want people there live reading, and able to respond.”

“That’s all you need to hear from me. Your officers will give you the nitty gritty.” She watched the pilots exit, saluting the General as they passed. Hydraia cleared her data display.

The General took a step forward. “We’re going to assign two shadow markers to type cataloguing.”

“That would leave holes in our coverage. We’ve already thinned out in order to create a buffer zone.”

“I think the greater hole in our knowledge would be to ignore this information. We can spare that much, so that’s what we’ll do.”

“Do you realize that the energy dynamic in that sphere is over twenty times that of any known anomaly? And we still have no reason, or insight other than confusion. Diverting resources from safety on something practically pointless is reckless. I hope you understand that.”

“That’s what we’ll do until or unless we can bring out another Alpha base.”

At this point Hydraia nodded, turning around to put things in her bag. “I’m heading to Alpha 1, and back in three days.” On her way out she stopped to salute. “General.”

She crossed the corridors of the Alpha base to where the Drift 9 was docked. Arcta entered straight to the cockpit where Wendel Harper lounged in the captain’s chair. She chucked her stuff into a bin and flopped down next to her, heaving a sigh. “Fools. They really have no idea.”

Wendel straightened and began powering the ship. “That kind of day today?”

70

img_5200

– 71 –

“I’m being transferred to Ionos. They’ll put me on show shortly. There’s nothing you wouldn’t already know.”

“Your sham trial is not a concern. We can feel them meddling with the relay amplifier. Are you ensuring they are properly misdirected?”

“Someone’s making sure they’re properly misdirecting themselves. They wouldn’t recognize the technology for some time anyhow, given their own devices. The Imperium may have picked up some Vedani trash, but the cutting edge, combined with your additions, is outside their scope. The best researchers on the subject are currently occupied with other things. Is the power accrual going smoothly?”

“Certainly. Nothing is interfering with the core, which will soon be drained.”

“Which is… devastating. I hear the survival rate has been very good.”

“We’ve given them plenty of time where we could. But forces operate as they must.”

“That’s good to know.”

71

– 72 –

Mireille loaded her bowl with greens as Margeaux took her seat.

“Glad you could join us, dear,” Charlotte intoned, leaning forward to fill Margeaux’s glass.

“My pleasure. Where is Queen Celeste?” she asked, looking around.

“The Queen pardoned herself for other matters,” replied Vario. Mireille rotated the greens to Margeaux’s place and dipped into the capers and onions.

Charlotte smiled, and asked “Have you spoken with Soleil in the last couple days?”

“Yeah!” Margeaux flashed a grin and laughed. “What a relief it is. I expected her to sound croaky, but it’s her very same voice, only a little quiet.” Charlotte nodded.

Mireille sampled her melange. “She hasn’t been eating with us,” she shrugged, “so.”

“Oh, I know. It makes sense she’s withdrawn, considering. It’s strange as to when Soleil started speaking again, isn’t it.” Margeaux sipped on her drink. “At least that’s all there was to it, and he’s off to get what he deserves.”

Charlotte pressed her lips shut and looked at her husband. “It was a surprise, yes,” said Vario. “One that I was glad to see. I was only expecting she would learn from the encounter as necessary, but her speech at that moment was revelatory.”

“Can’t argue with that,” said Mireille. She tipped a ramekin of honeygrub dressing over her bowl and cracked pepper over it. Everyone continued to help themselves.

“It had been a while since we two caught a sunset together.” Margeaux smiled as she nibbled.

“Here’s to many more,” toasted Charlotte, raising her glass. Vario returned the gesture, and the girls followed suit.

72