– 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.”
– 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.
– 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.
– 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.
– 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.