5x Rerun: Fire Within (1), 51-55

– 51 –

As she came to, Wendel calmly opened her eyes. She was sitting on the floor, her hands secured to a fixture behind her. Looking to either side, she saw a darkened bunk. Across the room, someone was chained to a wall pipe. “Toller,” she whispered.

Conscious, Toller nodded to her and jutted his chin to the door. Then he jerked his head to one side, indicating something behind him. He wiggled his shoulders and gave her a slow nod.

Wendel smirked and curled her fingers up to examine her bonds. Locking strongfiber loops. He had something that would open these? She watched him shift and work, both of them listening through the quiet.

Bootsteps approached, followed by discussion, then the sound of a key. In came two men wearing grey coveralls off the loading bay. They shut the door behind them and turned on the light.

One walked to Wendel and tilted her face up. Meeting his eyes, she felt a rush of recognition. She had been right about the undercover shipping network. Poke a web at enough points, and the spider comes out to investigate. She only regretted the boy’s involvement.

“This is she. Wendel Harper.” He sucked his teeth. His rough black countenance showed him to be some years older than his associate, and his posture was military. “We’re going to have words about your presence in our doings. Possibly you made an honest mistake or two at the beginning. But now you’re meddling. And we won’t have it, not from you or your group.” Her group.

Wendel’s voice stayed light. “Leanders Aynsdotr. It was your patterns that tipped me off. Pirates and thieves.”

“Call us what you want, we’re not petty.”

“You’re building an interesting stock of materials. What is it you want here at Genesee disaster? You didn’t come all this way for little old me.”

“You know much less than you think you do. Don’t worry, we’ll teach you more about us before the day is over.” He turned to the other man. “Well done. Let’s get them all on board, and we can go.”

She watched Toller in her peripheral vision. Aynsdotr’s lackey stooped to reach the restraints. With unexpected grace, the boy slithered from where he sat, trapping the man’s feet. Toller grabbed his shirt collar, using his arm as leverage to bring him down. The boy kicked him in the head hard enough to knock him out.

Wendel saw Aynsdotr draw his weapon as Toller grabbed the electric baton from the downed man’s belt. The boy flung it across the room into Aynsdotr’s face. In the time it took for him to scream and drop his aim, Toller closed the distance, wielding his broken cuffs like a sap. Rooting his feet, he swung it straight across Aynsdotr’s temple, dropping him to the ground.

Wendel watched Toller pause for the next couple breaths. He blinked and began to search pockets. He withdrew a rectangle key. “Here, this is it.” As he leaned toward her, she caught his gaze with a piercing look. He let her search his eyes, appearing slightly embarassed. Satisfied, she relaxed, leaning away so he could unlock the cuffs.

She stood, rubbing her wrists. “We have to find Leiv, and the others. We have to get off this ship.” Looking at Toller’s puzzled face, she realized she was grinning. She raised her eyebrows and started to laugh.

51

– 52 –

The four Generals looked from the observation window onto a large patch of space that billowed inward and out. It was defined by a minute fringe of light that only instruments could clearly magnify. The four of them stood transfixed. It caused the mind to chatter in every possible direction.

“You see why it’s been difficult to study, then.” General Ionos of the Libran Federet took a sip of whisky and turned to face the projection dais in the center of the room. The others followed suit, though General Alisandre let his gaze linger on the vortex for another moment. It felt like a familiar puzzle. Just as he turned away, he saw a flash of blue-green aurora.

“We know what you mean now about the ghost ships, the random images.” General Lucay gestured with his glass to the projections, live relays of skewed shipboard readings. “In the course of our approach, instruments reported five bogeys, then twenty-five, then two, then a small fleet. Scout ships found nada while all this occurred. The placemap read the bogeys as asteroids, and the network read them as com points.” He rubbed his forehead with a bewildered smirk. “Then they started wheeling around like a flock of damn birds.”

Ionos nodded. “Yup. Just like that. Though it’s never the same twice. The false echoes, we call them shadows. We’ve been watching for patterns, set some programs to scan, but so far the only trend is an activity increase with no physical correlate.” He played back the original recording. “The shadows started early yesterday.”

“Around the time of the fires in Aquari Home?” General Iparia swished a sip of whisky.

“Not long before.” Ionos swept his finger along the arc of the barely visible formation. “This Alpha’s captain thought he saw the arrival of completely unknown ships. He raised alarms, but recon was barely out before displays changed again, showing nothing as before. They confirmed the false readings, and that was our first sighting.” He reinstated the live view. “This is why we’re convened. We don’t have anything like this on record. Not in all twenty-four generations.”

“What about the other two vortices we’re watching?” asked Lucay.

“They remain stable. Only the Photuris Vortex is evolving, thankfully.” Ionos cleared his throat. “Lucky us. At least the effects don’t reach as far as Photuris itself.”

Alisandre met the eyes of Iparia sidelong before suggesting, “The Loramer Institute may be our best resource for investigation.”

Lucay grunted. “What, those softnoggins?”

Iparia briefly closed his eyes. “Those softnoggins have made great strides recently, if you haven’t been paying attention. Theoreticians are most useful when dealing with the unknown.”

Ionos nodded. “If you can debrief them, Alisandre, and have them send someone, the sooner the better. Someone with steel nerves. I won’t deny the shadows have everyone on edge.” The younger General nodded.

“Isn’t your son an officer on this ship?” Lucay asked Ionos over his whisky.

“He is, in fact. Lietenant Corporal Tyson Sorens. His office is on third deck if you have any questions regarding the crew.”

52

– 53 –

“Down this way. We’re headed towards Drift 9,” directed the pilot, calling her ship by name. Toller tailed at her inconspicuous yet rapid pace. They ducked into an intravessel transit. No one had tried to stop them. She fixed her mind on Leiv – where might they have brought him? If he knew what was going on and wasn’t captive, he should be at their rendezvous.

Toller kept his head down beneath his hood. He eyed people’s movements, seeing no one familiar, and nothing particularly strange. He assumed they were going straight to the ship bay, so he nearly missed Wendel exiting at the residential floors.

“I thought we were leaving,” Toller said as he caught up to her.

“We are, but I have to get something first.”

“Really?” asked the boy with some distress. He recalled the memory of Cheli’s face, still looking up at him as tides of fire and ash rushed to engulf Anzi.

“Absolutely. Head back to the Drift if you want, I’ll see you there.”

“Oh, no.” Toller paced her grimly. “Besides, it’s not going anywhere without you.”

Maybe, thought Wendel. She focused on the room up ahead. He would be there. Him, or what she needed to find him.

From paces away, the door burst open, Leiv emerging full speed carrying a pack. Wendel gasped as they practically ran into each other, and Leiv leaned in to kiss her on the mouth. Without a word, they turned and sped to the ship bay.

53

– 54 –

“So, how goes the hunt for our elusive rabbit?”

General Alisandre snorted as he keyed his remote data to the small projection table. A display opened of a feral-looking man with long, straight dark hair. His grin mocked them as it rotated around, facing every corner of the room. “General Iparia, Sturlusson is no rabbit.”

“No, he is lower. I honor him with the title of rabbit, because when we capture him, I will dine well.” Alisandre looked at the senior General’s slender face, set in stone. He knew of the death of Iparia’s sister on the day Sturlusson collapsed the Freshwater Consulate. The man hadn’t been connected to the incident till days later, when they found his signature in the rubble: the trisected triangle with a crosscut on each arm, stamped on a phronium coin.

General Iparia was now the strongest proponent of the intergalactic effort to apprehend the man whose mysterious agenda had wreaked destruction and chaos in nearly every federet.

It had been a long hunt. General Alisandre followed it as the news crossed his desk. Agency squads for intergalactic criminals fell in his jurisdiction as the capital planet General, and Sturlusson was already on the enemy roster when Claymore took the post.

Raev Sturlusson was known for maneuvers that crippled operations, and he didn’t shy from taking lives. He announced himself often. They were still tracking the full extent of his network. This one man had made so many enemies, caused so many personal vendettas, that it was only a matter of time.

“We have word of two separate cells, one in the Vertris Federet, concentrated on Lurin-”

“-of course,” muttered General Iparia.

“-and one in the Libran Federet, focused on planet Ionos.”

“I assume General Ionos knows about this?”

“Yes, but it concerns him little. This group hasn’t directly acted on any of his planets, and the forces to pursue it are mine.”

“Then he is practically harboring them.”

“Hardly. He’s put every resource at my disposal and opened every pathway I’ve requested. He knows it can’t be long before they make a point of their presence, but you can’t blame him for being currently preoccupied here.” They both turned their heads briefly to the blank wall in the direction of the Photuris Vortex.

“Even so. The magnitude of Sturlusson’s crimes makes him a top priority.”

“That, he is. We’re very close now.”

Alisandre watched Iparia’s jaw work for a moment before he spoke. “I depart for Freshwater shortly. I intend to supply aid for Ionos. Another Alpha base here at the Vortex, and I think a team or two to help take care of the vermin problem on his home planet.”

“No doubt he will appreciate those offers. If you wish to send special ops, please have them report to my mission chief, Commander Georg Hertez.”

Iparia nodded and went to the door. He paused before it to salute. “I would like every update, General Alisandre.”

Returning the salute, he sighed inwardly. “General Iparia. You will have it.”

54

– 55 –

Cross-legged, he perched on a rippling plane of light in a room of vibrating azure walls. His hands were raised, contacting midair frequency terminals. Words and lines of light under tattoos and scars glowed in synch with the programs around him.

He’d been expecting the call that he tapped to project before him. A woman’s face displayed in 3D monochrome, the covert connection offering but a weak signal. He examined her hair in grayscale.

“Where is Leanders?”

She made a face. “Busy. Otherwise occupied. We’re switching to plan b.”

“So be it. How’s that going?”

“They’re doing their job perfectly, which is to say badly.”

“Excellent.” He drew a long breath. “You know what you’re doing from here.”

She nodded. “We’ll both be out of communique for some time, is that right?”

“Excepting anything through the media.” He tilted the camera downward, but the view was blocked by a shipboard control unit. “It’ll happen in stages, and you’ll be in a position to watch it all and keep up.”

“If anyone can do it, it’s me.” She kissed her fingertips and waved to him. “See you on the other side, boss.” Another call alert flashed as her image disappeared.

He took the incoming signal, which was a sending-throughport. From a spark wobbling at chest level entered five gently glowing wire frame avatars. He dispersed his frequency terminals and stood to greet them.

“You’re all here, so I take it our trials have been thorougly successful.”

The last wire frame to emerge nodded her head. “We’ve reached certainty rates on all auric testflesh programs. The mechanical side is functioning at 92%.”

“That will do. And you’re all willing to do this yourselves?”

“We are. It will work similarly on us, if not entirely the same. Our end of the signal is strong, only we five need carry the connection.”

“Then we’re ready.” Sturlusson stood and stretched. One figure handed him a green sphere. It gloved his hand in light, which spread to cover his body with a framenet like those around him. “Bring me through.”

The six of them joined hands in a horseshoe, and the murmuring hum arose. The two open ends touched the sending-throughport. The body frames, Sturlusson included, together folded rapidly into the spark, which winked out behind them.

He was released by the electric net on the other side, standing before the five who had sent their avatars. He opened his arms and bowed, lifting his eyes to speak with them from there. “That you five accept this responsibility, when it’s not even your cause-”

One raised his hand. “Our aims have become intertwined. Signalman.”

Raev lowered his bow even further. “And for that the living and the dead for whom I stand are deeply grateful to the Vedani.”

They nodded to him, some smiling. “The vector group is ready in the next chamber when you are.”

“This has been a work of long years, friends. I walk lighter knowing the blood of my father and home shall have its vindication.” The five parted to let him pass, and he strode forward to open the door.

In the adjoining hall stood twenty people in two facing rows. Upon his entrance, they took a knee and planted their fists on the floor, eyes glowing. They rose and all stood before each other, the five Vedani behind Sturlusson.

“You last remnants of Hirylien. All the years I searched for you, that we searched for each other, precipitated this moment. You know the truth now as I discovered it, and we are bringing it to them. So that finally, the rage burning in our hearts for our lost families and futures can be shown as the grave injustice being perpetrated on all peoples of the Imperium. We are their warriors. This is our first step.”

“For all you’ve suffered, you have agreed to suffer more to bring, if not ultimately justice, then some retribution. To put an end to one of their great poisons. You all have what you need to survive the time of onslaught, and let us draw each other through this fire to the other side victorious.” All twenty dropped a knee and knuckle pounded the floor. Sturlusson did the same, bringing down both fists at once. The pounding subsided.

“Remember, this is only the beginning.” A smile stretched wide on his face, growing into a full grin. He turned to the five behind him standing respectfully in salute. He gestured toward one, her Vedani hair silver against blue-white skin. She nodded slightly, and all five murmured subtonally, making microgestures.

A door on one side of the hall opened, and in came a cart bearing capped tubes and dosers with three doctors. It stopped at one end of the double line, and the doctors started inoculating them with the brassy serum. Raev Sturlusson and the Vedani joined them at the far end.

Through the door followed a rack carrying necessity packs for twenty-one Hirylienites, and behind that a rolling freezer billowing cool air. The entire vector group had been injected, and a pack was set behind each of them. The chest freezer took the place of the med cart, and from it came racks of flasks to distribute. Each flask was a secure carrycase for a smaller set of tubes, filled with liquids and some powders.

Sturlusson paced between the two lines. “Familiarize yourselves with these. This carries our mission, as well as your individual salvation and assurance. Be able to use them as needed, without thinking, under any duress you may encounter. Put it where you can immediately access it. These will save much more than just yourselves.” He zippered his into a pocket. “Assemble things and get in groups.”

55 sketch

 

5x Rerun: Fire Within (1) 46-50

– 46 –

The military office was typically austere. The General had been able to give it some personal touches, like the blond hardwood from his home province, and his mother’s photography of the Capital city. Besides that, it embodied the position, not the person holding it. On the visitor’s side of the large desk sat the Princess’ cousin Margeaux Rienne.

“We want to thank you for managing the security and scheduling of my cousin’s recovery. No other could have been so expedient. Princessa Mireille also extends an invitation to the noon meal with herself and her brothers. They’re dining at the Globe.”

“An honor. I accept.”

“Glad you could make time for this visit, General.”

“You’re welcome by my office, Miss Rienne. Give your brother my regards – he did well at the engineering exposition.” She nodded and left.

Draig opened the refrigerated drawer of his desk and pulled out a cold juice. He popped the top and chugged it. From other drawers he compiled files and devices into a light case. He checked his reflection in the door of the armoire and exited without delay.

Hopping a couple routed transports, he crossed the Imperial neighborhood toward quarters where Bright Wave and her band were temporarily housed. He tried to forget the things filling his day before and after.

Draig felt giddy at the thought of a session with the renowned Bright Wave. She had extended an invitation on a day they stood by Soleil’s bedside, expressing concern and compassion. He felt warm on his way there.

Rasakarya is an expressed portrait made with one’s own thoughts and perspectives about their life. The offer of something this personal from a Pan-Galactically known artist made him feel swell. So he cast from his mind the rest of life’s moments when he worked like a slave and worried like an old man.

Eventually he reached the curved hall of the Aquari quarters. The quiet here gave him a sinking feeling, which was confirmed by a look from the guard as he approached. “General Claymore, Bright Wave offers her apologies – she and two of her group were called away to an emergency on the Home planets. The other two are currently in the city, if you wish to contact them.”

“Alright. That won’t be necessary. Thank you for relaying the message.” They saluted each other, and Draig headed back to the transports. He allowed himself a pout where no one could see him.

As he stepped into a private transport and set the flight path, he mentally thanked the Aquarii for the insight they’d given while the Princess had been comatose. He knew that somehow they’d put themselves at risk, remembering their harried look after leaving the hospice room.

He hadn’t been able to really speak to Soleil since she woke. Whether or not she was well, he couldn’t say for himself. He let the roles they played define their distance, for now. If that was the best he could do.

Claymore entered the main military tower at the base of the obelisk’s peak. Rounding a corner, he stopped short in front of the Dragon Councillor and Generals Lucay and Iparia.

“General Alisandre.” In this building and off the planet of his station, Claymore was called by his greater title. The dragon spoke it with respect, yet as always caused Draig to feel like a boy of three rather than thirty. Though as the youngest General in command, he was regardless accustomed to feeling the junior. “We are meeting with General Ionia and fleet admirals on the Alpha base in the Photuris sector of the Libran Federet. The vortex anomaly there is undergoing disturbing developments.”

“This, we need to see.” General Lucay twitched his gray mustache. “Ionos sounded out of his hull trying to explain over the com.”

General Iparia took Claymore’s briefcase from his hand. “I checked your schedule. You’ve got nothing more pressing, so,” he clapped his hand on the young man’s back, “I’m glad you made it to our appointment early.”

46

– 47 –

Wendel and Toller stood with laden plates looking around the banquet hall-now-cafeteria. The wide banquet tables had been reassigned to infirmary use, so the furniture here was a mishmash of refugee belongings. The two migrated over to bar stools at a round table facing most of the room.

From there they could see the kitchen, crewed with staff and volunteers. They were filling pans with breakfast for the growing stream of arrivals. Toller took a moment to appreciate his full plate before diving into the chicken and rice.

Wendel was more leisurely about her ink gravy and biscuits. “Tell me about where you’re from.”

A couple more spoonfuls entered his maw before he stopped speak. “I’m not really from anywhere anymore. What I remember of home is just my mother’s house. When she died, I left.” He shrugged with a rueful smirk.

“What was your mother’s house like?” The hum of conversation grew as more people sat to their meal. Wendel kept her gaze up, while the boy remained focused on his food.

“It was small, with hardstone walls.” He chewed, his mouth half full. “She had plants, and posters from around the neighborhood. We had enough. It seemed like there were a million other apartments around us, lotta walking stairs and riding elevators. It was warm in Meriada. I mostly remember playing with blocks, and her reading books with me. Then it ended, and I’ve been going ever since. Guess I’m going farther than I thought.”

She looked him in the eye and smiled. “Many of us do.”

“Hey, can I set this down here?” The blond man’s voice boomed from where he appeared at Wendel’s shoulder. Without waiting for her answer he put down his mug, turning to lean against the edge of the table.

“Leiv. How was your supply run?”

“It went fine. Genesee’s running low on its own produce, though. After another week or two these ships will be depending on delivery from Freshwater. Might be some reshuffling of people then.” The scent wafted from the steaming cup of joe. He kissed his hand and touched Wendel’s shoulder. “I’ll be back.” They watched him exit the hall from the side door behind them.

The boy next to her polished off his portion with a quickness, and gesturing to the cup said, “I’ll get some of that for myself. Any for you?”

“No, thanks. I’ll be here.” He brought his plate to the kitchen, leaving his kerchief on the chair. Wendel reached over to Leiv’s cup and sipped on it.

47

– 48 –

Soleil laid back on a divan in the media salon. In the center of the room ran a hologram of her brother Cristobal’s recent classroom broadcast.

“Primatris: the old ways live on today.
Jennian: labor of the living earth.
Libran: the grand structures of community.
Pioneer: the spirit of adventure.
Aquari Home: cradle of the rainsingers.”

The motto of each federet was accompanied by scenes and pictures reflecting its character. A porch swing next to a green field. The great halls of justice. A rugged mountain trail. With each scene, things she’d just learned came forth in every word that was and wasn’t spoken.

“Expansion 6: building on a bedrock foundation.
Archipelago: vast connections across distance.
Freshwater: creation, the fruit of the land.
Vertris: beauty, culture and prosperity.
Ferris: the comfort and peace of the country.”

Cristobal’s projected face was dutiful, innocent and mildly enthusiastic. Soleil knew the expression well. Earlier she had studied herself in the mirror to see if she could still make it. She thought she looked more or less the same; however, her silence remained unbroken. Not currently an issue for media, but those who knew her were watching and waiting.

48

– 49 –

The hall was full now; Wendel had watched most everyone take their seats. She continued sipping on Leiv’s cup. She sat back, thinking of old times with these friends.

Back then, she was driving citizen transport on the intergalactic routes. Gretz became a familiar face at the airship lots. He never seemed to run the same cargo twice. His ship was an old model, but from its sound she knew it ran in top condition. He’d sit with her for a cup and talk piloting, talk news.

The first time she saw Leiv, he was one of her passengers. Wearing fine business attire, so she thought him an executive. But she saw him again, on a different route, one in a pack of rough travelers. It wasn’t until the hostage crisis at the Iparia spacehub that they’d meet. Wendel’s full transport of a hundred was stuck waiting in orbit, and Leiv captained the ship that came to take her passengers planetside. After the shortest of conversations, Wendel gave the transport over to her copilot, and went with Leiv to fly another ship with his team.

Later, he explained to her about the existence of an autonomous network that observed events and trends, and were present to aid in times of trouble. With their combined skills, they saved asses and threw away receipts.

She’d basically already quit her job, anyway.

The mug in her hand was empty. Wasn’t the boy just going to get coffee? She picked his kerchief off the chair and laid it on the table. Also didn’t Leiv say he was coming right back?

Suddenly there was a hotel security guard standing at Toller’s stool. “Are you Wendel Harper, ma’am?”

She turned to face him. “Yes, why do you ask?”

“Your young friend was caught lifting merchandise from a sundries store. He asked us to come find you.”

“You mean Toller?” she asked, knitting her eyebrows.

“Yes, him. Come with me, please.” Blinking, she rose and followed him through the exit Leiv had taken. The guard led her quickly through crowded hallways to the nearest security passage, opening the door with a palm scanner. She followed him around a sharp corner, where she ran up against the guard, who stood there with his arms crossed. She looked up at a sound above her, and everything went dark.

49

– 50 –

Bright Wave could feel the distress in the air with her tendrils. They suggested that she numb her senses in order to approach the burning Grove. She spent time in a dampening chamber designed to minimize echoic sensitivity. Many warned her how terrible it was going anywhere near, nevertheless she had to. With her particular abilities, perhaps she could effect something. Her Grove was on fire.

She jumped from the hovercraft to the head of the trail, wearing an engineered suit that could withstand the heat. This trail was eons old, and required mature senses to follow – the very senses Aquarii had learned long ago in these places. And so they were self protected by a living echoic labyrinth. The elders brought in the young.

In those groves, Bright Wave had learned the land, and her histories. One Symbias that she remembered had a poetic personality, and was her closest teacher. Meditating with this one, Bright Wave had been able to open new meanings in their language, bringing her to the forefront of Aquari culture and technology. This Grove, in her home river valley, housed her first teachers. Later, she herself had helped cultivate it, furthering the work of over nine thousand years.

Fire technology wasn’t native to Aquarii. They were an agile carapid-molluscid people of watery climate, whose voices could connect across stars. Their methods of adaptation didn’t include external fuel combustion. They understood it now, but rarely applied it to much extent other than participating in the Pan-Galactic civilization. No one imagined bringing fire to a Symbias Grove, as only Aquarii could enter those guarded places, and ordinary fire would have inflicted little harm.

Now major Groves across Aquari Home planets were burning in entirety. Neither Aquari nor Imperial forces were able to douse them, and no one had been able to overcome the pain enough to understand the cause.

Meanwhile the wails and tumult of a burning Grove drove those nearby out of their homes, or their minds. The audible pain of a burning Symbias was said to be unbearable, the knowledge living inside them releasing in torrential explosions. They were being consumed at an achingly slow rate, drawing out the loss of their living history. Bright Wave had met with survivors to better understand what she was going into.

She felt practically deaf as she approached, following the path by the inner magnetic sense, humming in requisite time signatures. Near the edge of the valley, a wave of heat brought her to one knee. The suit protected her well, but she knew that without it the temperatures would be fearsome. She picked herself up and continued.

Here the trail began to fray. The singer must maintain the connection in order to stay on the trail, and it was constantly slipping out of grasp. Not just slipping, but twisting in ways not its wont. She felt along, touch and go.

After some progress, she started feeling it. Pain like a shock across her tentacles and tendrils. At different places on the trail it came through more and more, as she captured each frayed end, trying to follow the rope of it. She sped along faster, worried she might lose the thread and be locked out altogether. No one had been able to enter a Grove for hours already, while they burned with no knowledge of why, or how to stop it.

Bright Wave ran up against a wall of heat that knocked her flat. She lost her senses for a moment, facedown on the ground, tentacles covering the back of her head. The suit was holding up. Her skin could stand it. She raised her head to look up.

She could see and interpret the patterns in the searing wall of danger projected by the dying Symbias. It was formed with their escaping commingled forces, eons of lives and ancestral story shredding in waves of chaos. The remaining life in them contained the disaster, forbidding entry.

She steeled herself, reaching out to touch the barrier. She let the heat pass through her, knowing it was a projection. It took all her effort to hold herself in place. She chanted a melody, drawing like fragments to her from the disembodied pieces in howling maelstrom. As an adolescent, kneeling by her Symbias companion, she had made words for it.

Into the ground, all the way to the upper air,
weave your garden in. Your thorns, your spreading leaves.
Bring them forth to touch our living skins.
All the forms that you remember, carried down
and raised in the flowering of our voices.
Here every secret goes and lives it secret life.
We laugh as though it’s ours, all ours,
and always return it back. Build the braid,
pour the waters, and sing to remember.

Pieces of that memory joined with her song. Some were gone, and she patched them through the wracking pain that came with their contact. She was sweating, and trembling. She rose on one knee, then onto both jointed legs, and brought her other tentacle against the wall. Firework explosions of color emanated around her as she braced, leaning as though to push open a door.

The chant amplified in the pool of coherent tranquility gathering in front of her. Though clear, it was just a tiny voice under a great storm. Bright Wave could hear herself; it was enough to carry the tune. The pain coursing through her lessened. The coalescing pool grew wide enough to give, and she stumbled through.

50

5x Rerun: Fire Within (1) 42, 5th Sequence, 43-45

– 42 –

The sky was turning pale with the first light of dawn. The General and Princessa were reading by lamplight in a corner. A ghostly light shone over Princess Soleil’s face, reflecting off the wall and displays around her head.

A display brightened before making the urgent chime they knew as the change of state alert. Mireille Magus dropped her book to her lap and looked over at General Claymore. In a moment she was by her sister’s bed reading the display. To Draig, Soleil looked no different, except for perhaps a change around her eyes.

“She’s in regular REM sleep.” Mireille searched his face. “She might wake up.” General Claymore was on his feet instantly, quietly. Still reading the display, Mireille spoke just above a whisper. “I will contact my family. Please inform the Doctor, Arkuda, Bright Wave, and the medical staff. In that order. Thank you, General.” He stepped closer to see Soleil breathing easily before striking a salute and exiting.

People arrived shortly. Aided by the dragon and Aquari, the doctor advised that the Princess would likely be awake within the day. Queen Celeste would wait.

It was two deep breaths before Soleil realized she was conscious in her waking mind, in the world again. The room was quiet. No pain, other than heaviness in her limbs.

Trying to clear her throat, she managed to make a noisy breath. Swallowing was easy. She adjusted to the dim light. It was a deep relief to be looking out through her eyes again. Someone familiar sat to her left. Her grandmother, the Queen.

“Don’t speak, Soleil.” The Queen placed two fingers on her granddaughter’s lips before holding her face between her hands.

A surge of panic woke Soleil more fully. Did the Queen know what had been revealed to her? She welcomed the presence, but her mind recoiled with mistrust. Ugly things she’d learned in her sleep came rushing back. Paranoia took the helm before giving over to cool analysis, as she’d learned to do. Still, she could only bring herself to meet her grandmother’s eyes for so long.

The Queen hummed a long, entrancing tune. It brought her comfort, yet when Soleil realized she was being lulled, she fought back. She felt warmth at her temples, and was reminded of the seven symbols she tucked away. They would remind her, and they were safe. She would not forget.

42

– 5TH SEQUENCE –

Fifth Sequence

– 43 –

“We are in touch. We are linked.” The large man serviced the one-person vehicle, readying it for travel. He looked up at what he was speaking to. “I can feel her extreme emotions. I may even understand, and respond. That said, you-” he yanked a strap to tighten, “-have a ways to go in your part of this scenario.”

The reply shimmered warmly through the air around him. “Do not worry yourself on our behalf. We are under no constraints to show you our work.” The snarl was evident, if not visible. “If forces continue to operate correctly, events will occur with proper timing. Human.”

“If you insist on being obscure. So very draconic.” Despite being short of speech, he knew they’d be fully vocal about any issues. He hit a button and the small airlift hummed to life, picking itself up off the ground. He hopped onto the platform and gripped the handlebars. “I have people to be in touch with. My supply network, they’ve bungled something.” He yanked the straps securing his packs. “You know how to reach me.” The Vedani airsled’s field popped up around him, and he sped toward the southeastern horizon. The shimmering heat waves around him dissipated with a hiss. Only the dark plain remained, tossed by the breeze.

43

– 44 –

The window view from the recomissioned vacation resort-turned-refugee ship Odessia 6 beheld the northern curve of Genesee at morning. Ice caps were visible, marred with faults that could be picked out with sharp vision. Wendel Harper sat on the carpeted hallway floor looking out, her short blond hair coated with dust, face hovering between relief and regret.

Quiet footsteps announced the arrival of the teenage boy she’d rescued aboard her ship. He slowed as he neared her, stopping close by. He faced the planet sunrise, hands in his pockets. He looked as though he’d had sleep.

Toller allowed the quiet to stretch on. There’s a word to describe the common feeling to those whose destiny has become separate from their home planet, the new sense of oneself as extraterrestrial. He couldn’t state it, but there it was, encapsulated in the moments he watched the sun shine over it from space.

He remembered his mother, the last time he saw her before she died. Beautiful in his memory, surrounded by drab walls in their depressed city neighborhood. Her presence in his thoughts took him by surprise.

“You’re sure, then,” said Harper, breaking the silence. “You’re not going to stay here or go back.”

“No.” He looked at her sidelong. “I’ve reached escape velocity. I never actually thought it would happen.” He showed the sincerity in his eyes. “Thought I’d live my life planetbound. Took pride in it, even.” He looked to see if she knew what he meant. “But that’s over. I’m gone, and I think I’ll just keep going for a while.”

Harper nodded. Calmness surrounded his figure. There was energy in that poise of being, but little direction. “You’re still not sure where.”

“I never really bothered with astrography before. I could head to the capital, but I think I’d be lost there.” He shrugged, looking at his hands before putting them back in his coat pockets. “More lost than I am?”

She smiled a bit. “You’re not lost. You look like you know exactly where you are.”

He nodded. “It’s a habit I picked up.” They met each other’s eyes and smiled.

“Feel like getting the morning meal?”

“..Yeah. Are they just feeding us here?”

“More or less.” She uncrossed her legs and stood, shouldering a medium-sized pack. “Come with me.”

44

– 45 –

This wing of the Great Library of Alisandre was quiet, empty but for the two seated in a softly lit alcove. Dragon and human, they sat on the ground at a low table. Their faces were placid, eyes half-closed in the peach colored glow of the table top.

A conscious-subsconscious logic reordering program played between them midair. Its derivatives shifted and progressed according to the pattern Soleil had arranged herself, not long ago in the company of this teacher. Draconid recall techniques had ways of re-orienting parts of a being scattered far and wide across the planes. The human uses supported broader memory, meditation and acuity, methods available to some few since the dragons first offered to share them.

The images continued through their phases, points and shapes flashing in rhythmic connection. Eventually, it ran to an end, the table going dim as the light in the alcove brightened. The dragon looked at the Princess. She sent her unfocused stare out to the library, mouth shut tight. She would look at him, but never for long. It was better since they started the sequence three days ago.

“Would you like me to leave you in peace?” said golden-white Councillor Arkuda. Princess Soleil, hands on her knees, looked at him, then past him. Slowly she inclined her head and let it drop, her breathing light and still. It was strange to see her like this. People acted this way in grave peril. She was relaxed, focused on survival in tumult, though he couldn’t divine why. She was aware and able to maintain composure; still, she had not yet spoken.

The Princess folded her hands into a mudra on her knees, the one for keeping still and letting all else pass. Arkuda hadn’t determined whether she’d been doing these intentionally or not. Humans were capable of performing nuanced mudras without being aware of it. Regardless, he took the cue and rose from his seat.

“Until tomorrow, Princess. May the stars light your way.” Arkuda left, exiting into a side hall of the Library.

Hearing him leave, her pulse slowed. It wasn’t Arkuda she had met in her vision, but his essential similarity was unnerving. Was it a warning against him, or a sign that he was an ally? She watched to test her guesses, but none were proven nor discounted. She couldn’t let down her guard.

45

5x Rerun: Fire Within (1) 37-41

– 37 –

Soleil glazes over. Her emotions are beyond their extremes, deadening under the force of this litany of wrongs. Then, at last, a face she dreaded to see this way.

Her grandmother Celeste might know her better than any other, and Soleil holds her opinion highest. The Princess learned the world in hand with her grandmother since the dawn of time, and her wisdom helped Soleil build a shining future.

Now the girl sees that this future is built on bones, and worse. That her grandmother knew, even as she was building it, what it meant for her descendant. A castle of blood debt requiring death to enter, sin after sin against spirit.

Seeing this, Soleil feels that somehow, she’d known.

37

– 38 –

“What he meant, Mr. Dremel, is that Lurin has a masked planetwide network or three, and he wants you to connect to one of them. They connect and control all sorts of Can You Even Imagine. Either you’re more skilled than I gave you credit for, or he really is that desperate.”

“Probably both, Ms. Ilacqua.” He typed as he spoke, the displays above him changing views. Karma Ilacqua’s face was on none of them – voice calls seemed to be a habit of hers. Considered rude, but she’d let you know it wasn’t personal.

“I’m disappointed to hear his contact was awol, though not surprised. Derringer, I figured, could improvise. How he got himself lost is what I want to know.” Her smirk was audible. “He said he knew what he was getting into.”

“Well, you’ve heard the stories, haven’t you?”

“About what?”

“Lurin.”

A sigh came over the channel. “Mr. Dremel, I’ve heard them. I even have a couple of my own.” The two men raised their eyebrows at each other. “I was simply hoping for the best.”

“Do you need someone on the ground? Do you want me to go? Because I’ll go.”

DeWalt lunged over from his seat on the couch. “We’ll both go. Dremel and DeWalt, I bet you’ll need us both there.”

“I don’t need either of you there.” DeWalt sat, disgruntled. “Just do what Derringer asked of you.”

“We started when he asked me an hour ago. I detect the presence of a network like you mentioned. You say it exists, right? Then that’s about where we’re at.”

She chuckled. “That’s actually pretty good, champ. Keep going.” The line beeped as she disconnected.

Dremel sat back and crossed his arms. He took off his shades and pressed the back of his hand to his eyes. “Keep going, huh.”

“Yeah.” DeWalt lifted his hands and looked at the office – empty when they’d arrived, now well littered with food boxes, snack wrappers, and bottles. “Keep going.”

38

– 39 –

And then, respite; an eminence of quietude overtakes.

Her energy collects itself, piece by piece, certain that she isn’t put together the same.

The fire surrounds, remaining. She breathes for an indefinite while. Soon she feels a current of expectation underlying the calm, and reaches out halfway to meet it.

She feels herself transforming. Gently, so as not to alarm. The transformation is a means of understanding.

She opens into the fire. Combustion becomes a means of existence, the world exploding in consumptive and radiant energy signatures connecting corners of the universe. As she grasps the torrential motions that form this structure, she feels herself approached by the people who live here. Their contact to her is like flame rushing up against a glass window. An invisible pane mutes the force into a warm touch, fingertips against fingertips.

The contact is cordially scrutinizing; unimpressed. She is in their house because they brought her here. This is their self communication. She is reminded of the Huntress’ Aria, again feels herself hearing it for the first time. She nods, acknowledging the initial contact. An emissary furls forward from the fire, and she looks it in the eyes. A wave of recognition putting her to mind of her dragon teacher, though she’d never seen dragons like this before. The tendrils of fire fold back on themselves, the emissary receding, and she returns to the familiar shape of humanity.

Another change commences, now unspooling into connected strands of idea. This form feels closer to her own. The strands of idea like connected pieces of knowledge about herself, a braid of lightning awareness.

The connection sucks her through into a room of sorts, completely herself and surrounded by people. They turn to her, strongly curious. She is stunned; they’re human. She skims her mental file of human peoples of the Imperium, and these are not any of those. Their likenesses flow via portals fueled by constant babble. An unheard language in laughs and whispers, from irrelevance to secret truths. All faces are unclear, and there are more voices than could possibly come from those around her. They are convivial, and critical.

One steps forward and lifts a staff, the top of it a shifting, spinning polyhedron. Looking into it, she is pulled again through those thought channels into the between.

39

– 40 –

“You’re from Aristyd – have you heard of the Pliskin Program?” The lean, pale man in hat and shades turned around to face his partner. He sat cross-legged in the office armchair.

“No.” His counterpart spoke from where he lay on the couch, studying an issue of Hover Life in his hands. It featured a Sibley Griffin on the cover.

“It’s a charity fund that builds and improves medical facilities on outer worlds, along with other small projects. Ilacqua, our boss, is employed by them as a Sites and Technology Researcher in the Project Development wing.”

DeWalt smirked without lifting his eyes from the magazine. “Which means she can go anywhere and get nosy.”

“I’m thinking she’s got bosses. There are a few above her in the funding scheme, though they’re not all in her department. It’s just one of Plexus Corp’s charity arms. Ravl Pliskin’s company.”

“Who’s he?”

“He set patents on the newer travelgate tech for the major inter-g routes. Made them as safe as they’ve ever been. Only one major accident since the Plexus modules were installed.” Dremel waited for acknowledgment of the achievement, but received none. “That was thirty-six years ago. Now, they’re the main equipment and tech supplier for all our transportation networks.”

DeWalt paused and looked up, furrowing his brow. “Wait, who did you say we were working for, Plixin?”

“Plexus.”

DeWalt cleared his throat. “What, PLEXUS?” He set the magazine aside. “You mean the name on every single drive archway, you see it flashing in and out like an optical illusion when it spins up into transmode?”

“Yeah, Fred. That’s who we’re working for.”

Fred DeWalt put his feet on the ground and leaned over his knees. He issued a chuckle. “Oh, no. No, we’re in deep shit now.”

Dremel put his hands in the air. “Now you understand?”

DeWalt kept laughing. “I don’t understand a damn thing, Dremel, and you know it.”

“I know, Fred. Dammit, I know.”

40

– 41 –

It dawns on Soleil that the mass of all she doesn’t know eclipses the little she does, even on a personal level.

She feels relief, and proximity to danger. Maintaining this-ness becomes a priority, a good portion of her energy going to that task. The quiet core exists like the eye of a storm as she undergoes further transformations.

People tribal and proud, barbaric and warlike, elegant and organized with unique senses of sophistication.

A chaotic court of creatures made mostly of spirit. Constantly changing shape, essence, and intention, while possessed of a complex integrity.

After these, a human with a particular signature – at once dark and ethereal, naturally powerful. A remarkable grin. Soleil is again reminded of the Huntresses’ Aria, the shaman’s dirge.

She meets them all part way, the world and themselves appearing to her as it does to them. She returns to the pupil in the eye. A dark, hot space where she sinks into her own breath.

The field of vision opens, revealing an array of objects, symbols. They are monadic, bearing layers of personal connection and universal meaning that unfold at a glance.

She approaches them intuitively, selecting one at a time. Below is a box for them. The chosen objects go in one at a time, synergizing into a loaded construct. When the seventh and final object goes in, a brief superstructural flash sears itself against the surrounding space. She closes the box and collapses it between her hands as she brings them together.

The undersides of her hands glow gold. Bringing her fingertips to her temples, she feels the glow diffuse around her head like the soothing touch of sunlight. Finally, she is able to close her eyes.

41

5x Rerun: Fire Within (1) 33-35, 4th Sequence, 36

– 33 –

Outside the hospice room door, two guards were posted in dressed-down black and white smocks. One read a paper stating the business of the five Aquarii awaiting entry. He bowed to the smallish one at the front. Bright Wave bowed back. The bipedal, tentacle-crowned Aquari body is eloquent at displays of courtesy. He opened the door, and the guests entered.

They were greeted by Queen Celeste, and the King and Queen Ascendants. By their differing sizes, and patterns on their thoraxes, it appeared none of these Aquarii were of the same tribe. Unusual for such a tribal people.

Soleil’s bed was at the center of the room. Her parents and grandmother stood at the foot of the bed, while the five Aquarii arrayed themselves around her. Two more Imperial guards were posted inside the door.

All discussed what had been agreed on. “We are not intruding on her mind in the least, not gaining any sort of access. Merely interpreting surface expressions,” said Sharp Talon, the brown-and-gold. His two main tentacles were clasped before him.

“All of us are versed in human-spectrum expression,” said Dark Zephyr, the one mostly black with a few green accents, “so we should be able to translate what we feel from her into something you can understand.” All five of them carried a barely audible harmonizing undertone.

“But we have no guarantees,” said Bright Wave, “about anything. We can do this for, perhaps–” Her octopuslike eyes narrowed, the fine tentacles around her face waving in thought. “–an hour. With some resting time in between.”

“You three are most able to understand the meaning of the song. You are all human. We will do our best to act as appropriate media.”

“Will it interfere with your work to have a camera recording?” asked the King Ascendant Vario.

“No. But your senses will give you the complete picture as it will never occur again. Your Graces, please pay attention. At best, cameras will provide you with a reminder of the song as it transpired. They are not good with subtlety.”

The family nodded to each other before again nodding to their guests. “Yes, we understand. Thank you,” said Queen Celeste on the left. She nodded to the guards inside the door, who brought chairs to the foot of the bed. The three sat.

The Aquarii bowed. All their facial tendrils became busy with motion as they reached out to grasp each other’s left and right tentacles.

Instantly the air above Soleil turned luminous, as though sunlight were shining in from some forested place. A choirlike frequency emanated from the sides of the room. Columns of dark shadow appeared, and moved about as though marching in formation. Out of the choirlike humming, music began to rise.

True Aquari music is almost never like human instruments – instead, frequencies bend, sounding like one thing and then another, produced from the majority of their finer tentacles.

This song began with a sound like wind and travel, transforming into a rough beat. It permutated, volume rising and lowering. It put Celeste in mind of the musicians tuning before the opera, a week ago now.

A metallic melody began to weave itself over the picture, fierce and feral. Queen Ascendant Charlotte almost smiled. It sounded like her daughter when she was angry. Around the melody ran a cathedral echo of awe. The columns of shadow split and reformed, until suddenly they dwindled into the distance and vanished.

Layers of pearly haze drifted within the Aquari circle. This gave way, condensing into bright points of light. What does that spell out? thought Vario, King Ascendant, Soleil’s father. What picture do those dots draw? What constellation, in what voidy corner of the Pan-Galaxy? Where is her mind?

Then, a stillness with distinct presence. As though they had been spotted. The music stuttered to a stop and held its breath. The stillness seemed to smile as the corners of the room folded in. The Aquari humming resumed quietly, cautiously. Again the song clipped off as though muted. Something was wrong. The Aquari voices broke forcefully into a great, swooping finale in symphonic meter. Promptly they disentangled, and each sagged or sank to the floor.

Dark Zephyr spoke quickly, distractedly, her speech garbled as through a patchy radio signal. “Not like any Aquari we know. Not human, not dragon, and too alive to be a machine. Something or someone is interfacing with the Princess’ mind. Not resident, but more than just in contact.”

The brown-shelled Aquari Sharp Talon was on one knee. “Other than that, she is dreaming some orderly dream. We can’t say how much of her mind is affected, but she is mostly herself.”

“Can we locate or identify the intruder?” asked the Queen.

“In a short while, we can try again.” Bright Wave gestured soothingly. “No guarantee of learning anything new.”

“We understand. Whatever service you can render the Imperium will be rewarded,” replied King Ascendant Vario. “We can offer you quarters where you may rest until you are ready to return at the soonest opportunity.”

The five Aquarii rose from their weary positions while giving courtesy. “We accept,” they replied in a voice that projected from above their heads. The Queen nodded to a guard, who opened the door and led them out.

The remaining three stood looking at each other silently for many breaths. The King Ascendant bowed his head and said, “I am going to lay down for a spell.” He left without requiring assent.

The Queen and Queen Ascendant gazed down at the face of their scion.

33

– 34 –

The multi-tiered breakfast service was a series of concentric platters hovering over each other in a stack. On three sides of a square table sat Mireille, Cristobal, and Carlo, the younger Magus children, Princes and Princessa. The bottom plate had sardines, radishes, roasted peppers, and bread. Above that was cheese, jam, yogurt and toasted grains. The third plate held sausage and thin-sliced cured meat. The three of them were each pulling different platters toward them and sampling onto their plates, chatting.

“Maybe she was into something she shouldn’t have been, maybe she had secrets. We don’t even know who it could be.” Cristobal pulled down the sausage platter and helped himself to a sizable pile.

“Soleil’s too busy overachieving for deep dark secrets. That’s how I see it. Speaking of overachieving, how was your presentation the other day?” Mireille stuffed her mouth with a spoonful of yogurt and grains.

“It went alright. I’m not the greatest presenter, but the screen animators made up for it.” Cristobal ate piece after piece of sausage.

“You’re not great, but you’re not bad. You’re just young and you need more practice.”

“I like doing the research. The presentation part I can take it or leave it.”

“It doesn’t take much effort to improve on that. Something for your to-do list.”

Cristobal wrinkled his face. “Thanks, sister. I really have plenty to do, but at some point I will… I may as well. Carlo, what do you want?”

The younger brother, still small in his chair, was reaching across the table. “The cheese.” Cristobal brought the second plate down to Carlo, who picked up a white palm-sized wheel. “Thank you brother.”

Mireille bit into a radish. “Carlo, I heard you lost your temper at a student who was teaching you the other day.”

“Yes, but I only hit the table. I’m sorry and I said so.” He tore a morsel off the wheel and nibbled it.

“You’re given plenty of leniency because you’re still a child. What you did was forgivable. But you’re on camera now with your brother.”

“I know I know I know.” He stuck his fork in a radish before looking up at his sister with puppy eyes. “It’s fine, I won’t do that the next time I get frustrated.” Mireille kissed her hand and patted his cheek. He rolled his eyes and smiled.

“It’s Pyrean Midsummer soon,” said Cristobal, referring to the holiday on which Alisandre and four other far-flung planets shared the same solstice, once every seven years. “Soleil is supposed to lead the ceremonies.”

“That’s a long way from now, Cristobal.” Mireille was preparing to stand in, though she expected her sister to be awake by then. They ate without speaking for a minute.

A knock sounded. “Let’s get going,” said Cristobal to his younger brother. “Astrography today, with Lector Una Ixa in the projection dome,” this partially spoken to Mireille.

“That’ll be enjoyable. Carlo, you haven’t been yet, have you?”

“To the projection dome? No.”

“Well, you’re in for a treat. Just don’t get motion sickness.”

“I won’t,” he said sounding offended. “I don’t.”

“We’ll see.” His brown eyes glared into her grey-eyed smirk. “Go on, your brother’s leaving.” Carlo stuck his tongue out at her before following Cristobal out the door.

As it closed, Mireille slumped with her hands before her lips.

34

– 35 –

The planet’s atmosphere flashed pale light against a dark night sky. The magnetic aurora was strong as ever, at some points bright as daylight, or brighter. This lit the craggy mountainside. A peculiar fire was burning halfway up the slope.

A large stand of trees was aflame, but this was no uncontrolled wildfire. Rather, the flames buttressed from tree to tree in forms of energetic architecture. The fuel was barely consumed. Loud harmonic frequency distortions filled the air. In the center of these, untouched and protected, were eight beings, each marked in the darkness by a fiery halo interfacing with the greater structure.

One, appearing to be a human man, was ensconced in a temperamental blaze. Ripples of conversation moved through the thick, ornate flame, forming a filigree both friendly and aggressive. It acted like a separate entity, which it was.

The man floating within this sphere of tumult was large, well-muscled, bronze-skinned. His long dark hair crackled with heat and electricity, moving in Aquari-like gestures. Barefoot, in pants and a coat, he floated cross-legged, eyes closed, face tilted softly upwards.

The structure of the entire fire was massive. In the air high above it burned a piercing central beacon, tiny but star-bright. A light like that would be visible from orbit. Even the aurora couldn’t outshine it.

35

– 4TH SEQUENCE –

Fourth Sequence

– 36 –

“So, we’re not that smart; but we’re not dumb, either. They figured things out enough to get there, but not to get what they were after. I figure we’ve got even chances. That’s good odds, quit moaning.” The screens surrounding Chad Dremel were covered in pictures and files. The one he was working on showed a progress bar titled Unencrypt, which stood at just over sixty-five percent. To one side, Fred DeWalt slumped back on a bench, resting the back of his head against a desk.

“This just isn’t simple, Dremel. It isn’t simple. I’m not cut out for detective work. Devious people hiding everything. I just knew when Derringer called…”

Dremel adjusted his screen shades. “Relax. I’m taking care of the research. If we need to chase anybody down, you can drive the Griffin, you can hold the gun.”

“You can hold your own.”

“I do, but it’s not as big as yours.” One of the five com relays lit up and began to buzz. “Speaking of your mother.” DeWalt covered his face with his hands. Dremel sent the call to his lower right hand screen. “Big D. What’s happening.”

In the picture, people in all manner of bizarre dress were passing across, behind, and around him. They wore every color of the spectrum, and most sported feathers large and small, including the many Aquarii in the crowd. “–at the Ileus Peak festival on Lurin. I’m A) Lost, and B) Lost. Two different kinds of lost, maybe three. You gotta help me with at least one.”

DeWalt sat up at the mention of the notorious planet. “How, in all the galaxies, did you get to Lurin?”

“Same way you got yourselves a free Griffin. You know, I wonder who it is we’re really working for.”

“That occurred to me,” said Dremel. “And I want to look into it.”

“Kay. And back to our point.”

“You’re Lost, how can we help?”

Derringer looked around at the crowds passing through a wide, forested thoroughfare. “So, Lurin has no street signs, and I lost my landmarks. On top of that, I don’t speak Lurinese.” Dremel and DeWalt were already laughing at him. Derringer showed expression of aggrieved forbearance.

“Well – where are you trying to get to?” asked Dremel, getting things under control.

“That’s the other part. I’m looking for someone. They were not where they were supposed to be, and this is how I reached the current situation.” The screen picture started to change color. Dremel attempted to modulate, with no luck. The image was being captured with wavelength refraction via ambient moisture, transmitted from a pin on his lapel. There could be someone nearby emitting interference; you never knew who was under the aqua feathers and body paint.

The screen image was now fully tinted in gold and black. “Your signal’s bad,” said Dremel, chin in hand. “What are we supposed to do?”

Derringer started walking, the landscape behind him changing as he went his way. “Establish a connection with the planet.” He was looking around as the screen picture finally roughed out and cut off.

Dremel stared at the blank call screen. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

36