51 – 2 \ 139

Soleil recalled her lessons in the voice of her dragon teacher, Arkuda:

There is a common trait in new dragons – they are curious. They grant more boons in order to learn about the world. As hungry for knowledge as they are for food, they effect their part in this natural exchange by enabling capabilities. It makes them vulnerable, but they must learn humility in order to gain their maturity. New dragons have to learn their reality and become known in it. This means meeting life forms halfway. Older dragons grant fewer boons than the newly hatched, because they understand the consequences. New dragons make more mistakes with greater extravagance, and they have to make up for it. They have the ignorance of those newly born into power, which they must endeavor to grow beyond. Granting a boon is like giving away a scale, leaving a vulnerable patch. One doesn’t see scales missing, but the vulnerabilities remain, and add up. Some humans say we have that in common with regards to getting older.  If we appear to you somewhat like lizards, to lizards we appear somewhat like you. We are sufficiently alien, to everyone including ourselves. We are sovereign, and clearly so. Even to each other.

Soleil realizes this is only the second dragon she’s truly met. She’s not entirely believing what ‘e said about her mother. Is ‘e trying to twist her mind? She’s been out of touch with other humans. Just trying to get to her, maybe? There is something so familiar in er voice, but dragons are both strange and familiar.

The dragon asked:
What do you want to do?
We are inside one of your confusing doorways.
I won’t keep you here.
Is there something you’re going to teach me?

Looking into the dragon’s eyes was like looking into all the eyes that those had ever met. By choice or consequence, er gaze was thusly open to the Princess, completely surrounded by the movement of scales. With a wave of her hand, the fielded sled approached Acamar’s face.

The face grew defensively enormous as she appeared. The sled’s field flickered away, and Soleil, surprised, stood her ground for a full two breaths. Moving to perch on the edge of her platform, Soleil faced a black tooth her size. Forgiveness, she decided. Before you destroy any more of us, I want you to know we’re capable of forgiveness.

She leaned forward and kissed the tooth. It seared her lips like an acid caress, soaking through the heat of her skin. In the gigantic tooth’s black polish, she saw Acamar in a humanoid form, holding scale-clad hands to er face as though ‘e had lost a tooth. Stepping back, Soleil reached up to touch her lips. Under her fingers, they felt as smooth as the dragon’s tooth.

I’m giving you something that will protect you,
blackbird,
and you can fly free.
What you’re feeling, where you…
kissed me,
is a barrier of still nothingness.
It’s the kind of blank the mind reflexively fills
with something that makes sense,
to your degree of suggestion.
You can move among the planets as anything or anyone you’d rather,
Princess Soleil,
Magus.
Or you can show yourself.
See the barrier,
or not see it;
feel it,
or not feel it.
You won’t ever need to be rid of it.
You can never use it,
and always have it.
Just as I now keep what you gave to me,
our gifts to each other now given.
I will put you back on your way.
Can you remember your stars?

Though tired, she replied that of course she could…
Like she knows her mother’s face.

Remember your stars then,
and hold onto that.
There are people there to meet you.
Don’t be afraid.

The scales parted, receding and shrinking, to reveal the most familiar of skies. Alisandre was before her, small enough yet near enough to cup inside her two hands. It was moonrise over the edge.

51 \ 139

There’s an edge. Every time I gear up, I hit a slowdown, so I know that an edge lays beyond. A sword slowing as it nears its mark. Seems it’s working on me more than I’m working on it. Like I imagine watching my own sun go nova: details sharpening in the final moment’s arrival, beautiful, beautiful always. Amazing steps of amazing effort in this hyperbolic downward frontline towards nothing-not-nothing. Seconds protract, the transmission of time condensed into a line, fiber into thread. The stun of conclusion when the line’s end appears.

Listening for a change, she hears nothing. Soleil is running without stopping, but there’s nothing. Then something arrives, and she can see nothing but the writhing scales, seamlessly enfolded within their grasp.

Stoically standing, she knows there is nowhere to hide. Eyes emerge in a draconid face, fresh and delicate, fascinating and fascinated. Then, the rumble of a strangely familiar-sounding voice beginning to communicate.

I noticed you, moving around.
I caught wind of you…
recognized you.
I ate your mother,
when I was born.
I ate a lot of people,
right away,
and grew.
It was emerge or die.
They were waiting for me.
They would have killed me.
I chose to live.
Yours is not the only mother I ate,
doubtfully the last,
with so many mothered beings in existence.
Now we meet.
I am Acamar.

Without thinking of the significance of her words, Soleil asked, “Did you seek me?”

The dragon admitted, “Yes.” This revealed to them a new understanding of their positions in the nature of their meeting. The dragon wanted to give her something.

50 \ 138

Still lost. Soleil was sensing the infinite-approach feeling of something impossible that someone was doing anyway. She had hope – she knew what the word was, and she still knew how to spell it. It did feel as though she might be seeing less and less. Finding a forward-move pattern combination was becoming a longer process, at least perceptionally.

The doors, windows, walks, and passages of the Princess’ perimeter running route through the Imperial Court were flashing through her mind, as she swooped into her determined angles. Some of these windowpane clump-zones felt strangely familiar – as though they were places she’d visited before, though she knew that was untrue. Smells as well as songs floated through her thoughts, and while that might have been disconcerting, any sense of life she could hold onto was a sign she wasn’t dead yet. There was a whiff of Jennian magnolia.

She was watching for star patterns on the vehicle’s scanning scope when the gauge-size graphics display held onto something. She reverberated with a sudden shock of recognition on seeing the unmistakable keel fin of an official Pan-Galactic Imperial ship, close enough that it was here.

Soleil remembered throwing herself around her grandmother’s legs as a child, experiencing a similar impulse. But where there would have been a return of warmth, she felt a wave of sadness – like hitting a wall instead, with her grandmother on the other side. She didn’t feel comfort. She didn’t feel rescued, and she was one who knew well how to take her own counsel.

The Imperial ship turned on its patrol lights, and the greater part of her screamed alarm. Instantly she saw that her current freedom to act held keys to possibilities that would disappear once the ship recognized her. Perhaps it already had. Extrapolations quickly unfolded on bringing home her knowledge at present, and they all resulted in nothing but a higher death toll. Not like this, not like this.

The Princess’ eyes were crossing with confusion and admitted exhaustion. Instead of buckling, she screamed, throwing herself into finding the key maneuver that would take her someplace else. She actually wanted to get away from someone who would bring her home. Her will overpowered the sheer longing for comfort. Not like this, no!

Yes: everything in the tangled knot aligned once more, making sense for a brief flash. In that flash of time, she was gone.

49 \ 137

The private investigator was only five games into the poker table at Joe’s pub when he was handed a call from ‘Mr. G’. That was the first time he’d seen the dishes kid, who brought the phone out to Joe. Joe interrupted the deal at the table. “It’s a Mr. G, for you,” he said with a look that didn’t really want to know.

He stroked the grey felt on the card table as he listened. Derringer guessed that one of the other players was an eye for Mr. G, who this time turned out to be General Draig Claymore through a subtle scrambler. Derringer could recognize his thoughtful pause pattern through the bent vowels and inflections. Mr. G had an assignment for Derringer that he could do by himself, and was within his usual range of errands. He was essentially being asked to take an official vehicle out for a joyride to nearby hinterspace.

“I’d like to you to go to this coordinate; there shouldn’t be anything there, and nothing in particular should show on your shipboard. But according to reports, there might be something. If you register something, or anything, I’d like to you tell me. Go now.”

How did they know him so well? Besides being the government. Many’s the time he resisted taking one of their ships for a spin. This was like his reward for being a good boy, in that respect. The point he sought wasn’t that far away – Dalmeera-on-Florin was in nearest vicinity – yet it was sufficiently remote, in a strange direction. Derringer cranked it up and let it out, impressed by the standard specs on a government vehicle.

This zone was nice and clear, and Derringer took a soaring route, to widen his coverage, yes. Sometimes what you’re looking for is on the way to where you think you’ll find it – worth the fuel.

He neared the coordinate after about an hour, and switched from soaring to stalking: creeping paths alternating with observant pauses.

Weird… what is that? Something tiny, dancing in place right where there’s supposed to be nothing. Like a confused fly.

48 \ 136

There were pockets of restful pause in the beat of the Princess’ ongoing search for home space. Though fleeting, she pretended that they weren’t, and they would last until they were over. Along the way, she’d successfully maintained contact with the invisible window-cluster anomalies, and for that, she was very glad.

It was possible that she was getting tired. Someone might panic at this point, which reminded her that she mustn’t. Transforming the panic resulted in thoughts both morbid and comforting. So what if she did get lost and die this way? Utilizing the consideration of an historian. The possibility was nearing; if disappointing, it was also simple. Her learning with the Vedani would come to no benefit. Hanging onto the levity of academic curiosity, she theorized about unknown true history, thanking her teacher Arkuda for the fortitude in this reactionary decision. She was still moving, still achieving one always-surprising jump after another.

Soleil thought on the old advice about staying in one place in order to be found. After the first jump, she knew she’d done something her Vedani team had not, and maybe could not. There was no waiting for rescue.