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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.

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“Something’s different.” The change was subtle; there was less power in the radiated daylight, and the data they were working with felt like it was just data. Reality was otherwise consistent, besides the absence in mood. Draig Claymore said this and paused in his conversation with the First AIDD and his twin.

“I also noticed, just now,” followed materials scientist Bux Woollibee. He met Draig’s eyes with recognition. Raising a hand that indicated he would be right back, he drew away. “Just a moment brother, I’m going to speak with a couple people.” Their conversation took a comfortable rest in suspension. Sentence-by-sentence decision making was fast, but also energy intensive. As they looked around, things felt like they were going as they should at this stage, which made the professionals vigilant. Buckminster returned before matters arose. “…the Dragons..?” he said open-endedly with a posture inviting information. Both Draig and Arjun shrugged at each other. “Ah-hah, well. Hmm.”

“I feel like we’ve already just determined a few next actions for their specific junctures. We’ll be able to continue this as events develop. For now, let’s make the most of our time until our next moment arrives.”

“Agreed,” said Arjun.

Bux nodded. “Till then.”

Claymore decided that now was the time to go to his chamber, which was a portion of the one being shared on a rotating basis with the rest of the surprise caravan. He had the detachable briefcase from his vessel, which he’d taken onto Drift X. This marked his resting territory, along with his heavy undecorated coat, which he had thought to bring when they departed from his office. These moments of transition and decision.

There was a golden scale there on the briefcase, modestly-sized but significant, a portion of the size of his palm. Wow. A golden scale. That had to have come off Arkuda. Respectfully, he picked it up. It had a hole in the top, and there was something affixed to the underside. It was a hinged chip dongle that looked like it could come from Drift X. It was pen-labeled with a cruxgram, the heraldic mixing of two three-word mottos of the Indarian form. One combined letter in the center and four letters off that in opposing directions. A historical phenomenon and an old study group club language that Princess Soleil had been in on. The mottos indicated by the monograms were from their canonical lexicon – they translated to Fortune Favors the Bold, and Always Forward. All of this he took to mean that he didn’t need to break into the contents of this chip until the time when he needed fortune to favor his boldness, which should happen while he was making tracks and hustling right along. That last part, Draig had just been setting in motion.

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Soleil didn’t inform Rosy Glow of any intention. She just checked in to see if they should be doing anything about Dragon Food. Rosy’s response was, “We always hope he’s going to be okay!”

The Princess had let slip to Derringer that she was going to go her own way, just not when or how. She speedwalked through the halls to the isolated corner that the Dragons had agreed on in the mid-levels of the Arch. It was as quiet and deserted as they would like it, for the moment they had it. She rounded the edge of the space, finding Arkuda and Acamar each meditating in er own corner. The timeframes of their emanations were aligned, and Soleil synchronized her movements as she joined them.

“We have discussed what we are able to accomplish with the two of us, and yourself,” said Arkuda, opening one eye.

“Can we go?” Soleil asked, controlling her breathing. This was the kind of window in time that was more recognizable to people who’ve had Dragon contact, when sound dampens and attention is drawn towards what draws it. They had spoken of this and of that; whatever it was, it was time, and Soleil was ready.

“We can,” Acamar rumbled. “There is a way to bring you out with us both and then to a place of utility. You will become as light in the void, while remaining yourself. Neither of us has done exactly this before, but together and with you as our passenger, we know how. Are you feeling courageous?”

“There is hardly a moment with you that doesn’t demand it, but I could scarcely find you if I weren’t.” Dragons appreciate honesty.

Arkuda chortled. “I, at least, am a familiar element to which you are better accustomed.”

“The rarest of privileges.” Soleil dipped her head to them in courtly fashion. She was wearing the versatile Vedani control suit again, with its impact armor paneling and optional chameleon camouflaging. “So, what must I do, how shall we begin?”

In this corner there was a little bit of the sunstrip wiring that Arjun Woollibee had recently installed, throwing a soft midafternoon glow. “Touch the sunstrip,” Arkuda prompted, “relax, soften your vision, and breathe deeply.”

A smile crossed Soleil’s face as she prepared thusly, extending the open palm of her other hand into the space in front of her. Arkuda, brightness, and Acamar, darkness, both placed their large scaled hands into her Human one. The two Dragons then dissolved steadily into their elements, swirling around Soleil, lifting her loose hair in a soft wind. Her being transmuted into these forces, now a swirl of light and dark herself. The Princess vaporized into a translucent evanescence that was then gone with a surge of sunlight through the Arch’s system, as their linked atomic information shot upward through the channel.

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Preparations were underway for, what would be for many, their final ascent in The Arch. This felt much faster than the pace of the experiment leading up to now. That had taken aeons, relatively, and now they were done in a flash and disappearing in a puff of smoke. Many ultimate objectives for the materials of this project had been reached, if of course with indeterminate further speculations.

Karma Ilacqua and Arkuda walked across the spacious loading bay exchanging some closing remarks. “Arctyri has been a fascinating mystery to comprehend, one that I have barely known previously,” the Dragon mused. “I know ‘e will be pleased to be relieved of this duty, but this was a remarkable collaboration that will remain in our memories. Onward from here, I expect to face disputes of a different nature. Though we were in danger and secrecy, I feel now that I am leaving safety.”

“We did end up getting a little cozy in here.” Karma smiled. “I have actually never worked with Dragons before, and I would like you to know what a thrill and a joy it has been. Consider me open to your further contact.” Equipment was being dismantled around them, priceless never-before-achieved assemblages reduced again to parts in crates with notebook records.

From his out-of-the-way vantage point, Derringer watched the two of them approach leisurely. He’d been assessing his options and accepting his fate. The Princess is going to go where she has to go, and he’s going to let her go. The General’s going to do what he has to do, and he’s going to let him do it. He doesn’t like watching a paycheck walk away, but Karma’s got something for him to do for the team that’ll keep him involved and up his rake. Plus, he gets to ride with the pretty lady. He’s looking forward to this. He still has what he deems a decent chance of getting paid, and of getting by. He’s got a job because he keeps his job, sketchy as things are. What a loopy market these days. At least he’s got his team of specialists.

Arkuda shimmered a little at Derringer as they reached him, a sign of good humor. Karma looked him up and down, letting her smile grow a little as she reconnoitered, “Got your trousers firmly fastened? Pocket kerchief? Stick with me, I’m getting the nicest ride out of here.”

Drift X’s Wendel Harper reached them at that moment, and Karma turned to shake her hand. Wendel addressed Derringer. “So, you’ll be joining us?”

“Gladly,” he said with a tip of his hat. He’d gotten it back from Wendel’s ship.

“We’re going to be making a lot of stops, and you’re next to last. But it’ll be scenic.”