100.2 \ 292

The ladies had taken their first few bites of Leyga’s hearty improvised dish, when an unfamiliar yet familiar knock landed on Navann’s door. Exchanging a concerned look with her guest, the retired nurse went to answer. Isten pushed in gently through the crack, looking and smelling like he’d been camping. There was a hint of rose perfume. Spoon in hand, Leyga screamed silently. Isten, smiling calmly, was ready to embrace his mother. Navann shut the front door.

“You’d just left our apartment when I got back, and this is the first other place I checked. I’m okay! I’ve just been through a lot, but it’s going to be okay. It was important, and I’m fine. I love you. I’m back.” Once emotions settled beneath his reassuring litany, Leyga figured out that her son had grown up. Her wonder overtook her alarm, and she let him talk.

The older women took a seat, and Isten stood hovering at the edge of the table while he aired his state of being. “Some of us went and met the Strangers, and we joined thousands of people to neutralize a bioweapon held in development by the government. The Strangers are called Vedani. They wanted to do that with us, and for us – I guess some kids came up with it, both kinds of kids, and there were Aquarii that joined us.

“They’re a lot like us, more like us than the Aquarii, and really different. There were also some Aquarii there. Anyway, I’m not trying to convince you, and you don’t have to convince anyone. Everybody’s going to know.” The two listening at the table were taken aback, and coming to terms. “It was a really good trip, actually. We did it. Being younger, me and my bros were chosen for an early group to get sent homeward. I took that offer because I didn’t want to make you wait.”

Leyga’s hands were fixed around her bowl. This sank in for half a beat, and she lifted the bowl toward her son. “Do you want to eat?” The food was still warm enough.

They both laughed, and all three laughed. “Yes. Thank you.” Isten began stuffing his face.

100.1 \ 292

Navann, ever the content homebody, looked searchingly out the window to the normal sky. It was a contradictory matter. She loved the peace of the restored natural skyline, just air and weather above; while a little part of her missed the excitement of the windows, and the puzzling mystery they produced. She’d been part of a great collective discovery. Navann knew, from what she’d been hearing and reading, that something about it further addressed the shared trauma she’d experienced in the hospital, treating and reversing HA235. She could only do so much, and she’d hardly glimpsed the firebrands rallying the passionate to action. She’d stopped concerning herself with it; when something’s going down, it isn’t always good to have knowledge floating around. If she wasn’t going to be involved, she didn’t know enough to make it her business. Still, she understood a lot of what was going on, and now the windows in the air were gone. They’d disintegrated like pixels in the breeze, the power broadcasting them there released to dissipate. Maybe the Strangers wouldn’t be just in windows anymore. She didn’t think it meant they were gone – just that something had gone right. The unevacuated zone civilians were unharmed, and something was over.

But Isten, who was sixteen, had been gone for nearly a week, and his mother Leyga’s crisis had been increasing after day three of what had started as a friend stay. Navann withstood her questions and told her what she could, guesses as to whether it had anything to do with the puzzles and the darkweb. Navann was managing to help Leyga hold onto her job and place a while longer. He might be fine, considering.

That was Leyga’s knock at the door. It was about dinnertime. As intense as she could be while distraught, she still brought food. “Hi, Navann. I brought us some kitchen sink rice.” She was a little abrupt, and quieter today. There was a change, maybe she was getting ready to do something.

“That sounds just fine,” said Navann, ushering her in to the table where they’d been eating dinners together while Leyga worried about her son.

“No more escorting parties, as of today,” said the mother while unpacking the warm food containers. “We’re all allowed to walk to work, or wherever. It’s only been a few days since the portals stopped, but there must be orders for something else. We’re either no longer important, or in as much danger. A lot of equipment has been moved.”

“Perhaps the danger has passed.” Navann brought silverware from the kitchen.

“I’d like that. I wonder how long till we have all our systems up, again.”

99 \ 291

– dark – light – here –
– place – me – mind –
– know – see – why –
I am myself in Akralnar
but I may not be
me out there
it’s like looking through
a different water
I don’t belong here, I know,
but being in the being of this great one,
I can ride through it seems
Something else I feel in me
of home, other, like me,
a harmony I am a part of,
a rhythm
keeping me
Hi Akralnar
you know I’m in here
and that I’m not you
isn’t this fabulous?
are you learning from me?
I’m learning from you –
your home, so bizarre,
so exquisite, alike and
dreamlike, is it always
so partially hospitable,
so much
that I can sense
just by being and seeing
it’s a part of me now,
this impossible thing,
realm of existence

98.2 \ 290

Marine biologist Marian Waters stood gazing through a porthole onto the oceanic planetrise from their spot in orbit, one hand resting over her heart. The boy teenager came around to her, after she’d listened to the explanation nearby. She wrote three places onto the list, feeling the matte surface of the clipboard. “And we’ll get our destinations after the ship’s crew go over this?”

“We’ll get going en route, then take the time to inform. Possibly at each step.”

“Thank you very much.”

After a moment, communications expert Zarae joined Marian in front of the view. Sometimes they would wear their dresses on the same day, while they’d been below. “So, I wonder how long this vacation will last, and what state the worlds will be in when it’s over.”

“I hope to relearn how not to count time. If only for a moment.”

“Thrilling. For myself, I have a sitting ensemble picked out. I have shades, and I’m going to find a hat.”

“Hats!” Marian hadn’t thought about hats in a long time, and thought a new style might be fun, while also a wise choice.

Zarae craned her head around a tiny bit to see if she could spot specific large islands. “Do you know the current section of the Synchrony?”

“I haven’t calculated yet today. I think we might have just passed the cusp.”

“Oh – I’m sorry, you already started not counting time. I don’t blame you, I obviously haven’t, either. A nap is the prize of the moment. We’re allowing, naps, now.” A welcoming hand showed Marian back towards islands of rumpled comforters from Captain Wendel’s deeper ship closets.

“Oh, that’s excellent news. I will get right up to the minute with that.”

98.1 \ 290

Drift X’s hold was filled to capacity for the first time since the advance rescue from Anzi on Genesee. That was when Toller had first set foot on this magic carpet that’s since taken him to planets across the stars, the way he used to get to the next town. Though he was only about a year older, he’d breached the threshold of a new age. He was a real teenager now, and the entire actual world had changed, besides finding the surfaces of other planets. He’d met people in it that not even the King, or the Queen before him knew, like the Aureny, and these scientists including the Hoopoe, another new bro; he’d discovered new sentience along its own road to self revealing. Is this always what puberty is like?

Toller was in possession of two lists – one to check, with the names, nicknames, or pseudonyms of their passengers, and the other was the one he was helping them make right now. They needed to think of small vacation towns, with a bar or hangout with a calling line. They were allowed to pick places they really liked, even expensive places, but the choice wouldn’t ultimately be theirs. They wanted people to think of as many as they could, so the right locations and routes could be chosen.

It was the original incoming group with the addition of thirty-some head researchers and assistants – the ones most likely to be targeted by enemies or scalpers, first and second names on soon-to-be-released papers. They may be getting out of this particular mess, but the root of the danger they were in was still at work out there. In the hold here, they’d improvised cargo crate furnishings, and had also deployed everything comfortable and soft in their possession for this transitional intergalactic road trip campout.