This neighborhood had front gardens, running rampant with this planet’s successors to civilization. The wildlife population was nonplussed by their human guests. Doors, windows, and vehicles lay in unnatural positions, absent of citizenry. The breeze was fresh and light.
“So the Vedani…” Raev was massaging both his shoulders with his left hand as they walked, “they’d been trying to achieve contact for a couple generations, since before Celeste was Queen. Results ranged from discouraging to horrific – talk to them about it sometime. Many incidents of theft and murder convince them they were being treated as harvestable. They were left with little choice but to create a channel before they were further aggressed. This allied action was a matter of defense to them, particularly after understanding the more recent experience of the Aureny.”
[Note: this lengthy chapter being released in many small pieces has turned an unprecedented corner, and so shall I by using numeral decimals.]
The trail was reasonably long by the reckoning of a child, easy switchbacks descending the face of the hill. The trees thinned against the edge of a cul de sac. The two stepped out into a semicircle of modest yet comfortable dwellings. “Like most of us with a miracle resistance, I lost my entire family.” He hung his head for half a beat and led them down the center of the street. “The Affliction created its own vengeance that way.”
“Once I was old enough, I dug it out. I gouged the secrets out of hiding, with unparalleled resources via my allies. The blood costs I incurred were… small in comparison. Yet, I bereaved myself again, through my own actions. I know very well what I’ve done.” Raev walked with floating steps as through the mists of time. Soleil glided with him, focused, letting the block roll slowly by. “Many agree the regime must fall. While you are almost convincing enough to make people believe there exists something redeemable.”
“Not all Hirylien survivors wanted to pursue vengeance. Pliskin for one, he was content to bring advances to market… in clever silence regarding the Vedani. The Pan-Galactic Imperium benefitted as they had before, scavenging under denial.”
Raev brought them along the path into the trees riding up toward a short crest. Branch tips curled in vibrant tender spirals. “They made a lot of claims to innocence, lies that we’ve proven. I already knew it because I watched the chain of discoveries here on Hirylien. I had a deep grasp of the social dynamics, with solid knowledge of all the changes taking place. It’s what I did with all my time in that year, with the unbiased absorption of a preteen with full linguistics. I observed when and where everything fell apart. I knew.”
They reached the crest at the end of the copse, which revealed a promontory overlook of the nearby neighborhood. Houses were aswim in greenery, collapsed rooflines and choked roadways blocked with immobile wreckage. A sagging bench was set near a trail that wound down the steep hillside, the local shortcut. Raev stood still in the clear space by the bench, facing the view. Soleil drew level.
“The Hirylien Affliction is an advanced mutation that came from a lab. They were confident they could contain it because they had a counter-agent ready when they released it – though they scrambled conspicuously along expectable timelines, which were too long to save most of our planet given the pace of the disease. Vedani are incredible information trackers, beyond our concepts of safeguards and destruction. They already possessed clarity into most of our systems at that time, and more so now.” Devoid of solicitous gestures, he walked over and started down the trail, making it clear this was not the end and that she should follow.
“Advance intelligence reached Queen Celeste and her Ascendants. You had probably just begun your own schooling. They already had awareness of the Vedani. They had a dark policy of shutout and information suppression. The rapidly evolving possibility of a politically independent-minded planet gaining the sudden edge of an outright alliance with what they’d treated as an exploitable danger caused them to react with violence. Maybe facing full fragmentation and with too many shameful secrets they wished to contain, they decided they could continue their control of the Pan-Galactic Imperium by creating one more.”
The Princess’ eyes were narrowed, gaze turned inward examining scenes in her memory as though on a tiny screen. They paced each other evenly. Lips pressed tightly together, at his pauses she met Sturlusson’s look sidelong to confirm that she was following keenly.
As they passed the end of the oblong school building, it appeared as on some holiday, but the big double doors that would have been at the end were missing. The other shore of this little lake – a reservoir – was easier to examine from here. There was an outlet that flowed for some way toward a ledge. This path would soon depart from the shore, into trees.
Raev continued. “They didn’t have time, or they didn’t act like they examined branches of reasonable strategy. They reached into their arsenal to come up with something efficacious and brutal. How often do the leaders of entrenched governments retain power by acting against the founding principles? Occasional accounting is performed.”
Soleil nodded her agreement to the requested conversation, and the others dispersed thoughtfully, leaving her at the playground with Raev. He massaged his right arm stump, still with no prosthesis, and turned to face her directly, in the Vedani manner. “I have a lot to communicate upon this occasion. Are you ready to listen?”
The tragedy of this planet seeping in at the corners of her eyes, Soleil carefully laced her fingers into a mudra she called the Recording Device, a reminder to keep her thoughts receptive and perception clear. “I’m here, and I can hear you. Speak.”
”Walk with me.” They went along the lake, in the direction past the playground and toward the school. “I graduated from crayons at this school. My father was a Magistrate, and brilliant with systems. I heard from the Vedani, about how you gleaned mirror coordinates to their ship from our contact session with you. My father, Rence Sturlusson, did something similar with system interruption data that translated out to intentional messages. His discoveries were inspiring and invigorating. They hadn’t been able to establish recognition from any other Imperium contacts, but were ready to share technology and make exchanges. We were beginning to create infrastructure for interaction and inclusion, proud to be the bringers of a paradigm shift. I was about ten.”
Large butterflies occupied the shoreline, flapping lackadaisically between spaced out bunchgrasses. Soleil did not try to make out any unusual shapes on the ground, but appreciated the moment’s clement weather. Her hands still held each other, interlaced.