7th Sequence, 68

Seventh Sequence

Bright Wave sat curled at the base of the tree growing from the platform over the valley below. With half-closed eyes, she moved a line of color across the sunset. Slowly, and with care – previous ambitious attempts at expression had made her faint.

Her reverie was interrupted by the big grey pietrobird, scattering rocks as it landed. She rose from her seat, and went to look the bird eye to eye where it stood. It hopped backward, pealing loudly, and dropped below the ledge before its eyes popped over again. Someone may be down in the mountain. She sent the bird a flash of color, which it spread its wings to absorb.

68

Bright Wave moved down the rock face. Halfway down, outside the cave, hovered a vehicle. With a tentacle she parted the vine curtain to see a mantled Fleeting Shade.

They stepped toward each other, tendrils lifting. They met partway, super and subsonic vibrations popping in the air. The leaves on the vines shook lightly.

Lead Composer Fleeting Shade gestured, and a stage floor shimmered in to surround them. Figures in red and white danced around the edges. The star image above reflected the sky in two weeks’ time.

Bright Wave cast her tentacles aside and whipped one around in a circle, marring the picture with scratches. She would have dispelled it entirely, but it remained. Her supersonics morphed to echo the burning Symbias, which made him flinch. She reached out to him again, and the dead silence of the groves fell around them. She sagged, her head hanging.

Fleeting Shade held her up, and the edges of the stage surrounded the silence. The figures in red and white appeared, drawing themselves into the dead space around them. They had eyes, and ears.

She straightened and looked up. Before her she created a candlepoint of light, which grew to the size of her head, then faded. She tried again to make it brighter, but couldn’t, tendrils shaking in frustration. He drew her in to hold her. The stage and people remained.

Save

58

58

They stood before the song-molded door of Bright Wave’s healing chamber. Through windowed crevices came flashes of light and bursts of music. “Though she made it back through the barrier alive, her spectral voice was practically destroyed. She’s no longer in critical condition, but she must remain here for some time.” Lead Composer Fleeting Shade shuddered his tendrils. “Some worried her injuries were permanent. The destruction of the Groves has already been a strike at our hearts. But there’s no need for despair.”

“Of course not. We anticipate Bright Wave back at her post when she’s once again able.”

“Be that as it may.” Before he continued, the Princess went to the door and laid her palm on it. “You’ve seen how these work, then?” She raised her eyebrows at the Lead Composer. “No? Hm.” He joined her, laying a tentacle on the door, to a responding shimmer. “Though we can’t enter the room without disturbing the mending field, we can communicate through here. The environment within is responsive; when we touch the door, we can hear it, it can hear us.” Color pulsed around his tentacle. “Human interface is limited, but if you send from your outer layer, your message will reach her in some way when possible.”

Without warning, the seven symbols Soleil had memorized floated to the forefront of her thoughts. She felt warmth at her temples, then fingertips as the thought flowed to the healing chamber. She felt surprised as it happened. Perhaps she should trust the Aquari artist.

The Lead Composer nodded. “If your Graces are ready, let us join the Octave at Glowing Eye Nest.” Soleil and her mother returned the nod. “You are prepared for the walk? With a sendsinger, it won’t take long.”

Queen Ascendant Charlotte smiled. “We are ready, Lead Composer.”

“Fleeting Shade will do, your Grace.” From the living wood and rock of the infirmary house, the two next in the Magus line followed the Aquari sendsinger down a soft, grippy natural rock trail. The surrounding trees fell away, revealing a wide scrub woodland vista under a periwinkle sky. In the center of the area, a rock tabletop stood raised over the trees. The distance to the rock closed quickly, as the sendsinger promised. Their steps glided to cover the distance, their breaths catching his tune.

The steep path up the mount, suited for an Aquari’s ease of climbing, went slowly and surely. Atop the rise, they moved through rings of large, stark trees to the meeting place within.

Eight Aquarii rose to greet them from around the oval rock table. The large stone in its middle caught tones of light, throwing them into the air above. They made courtesies, then launched into discussion.

At the Queen Ascendant’s behest, they outlined the extent of the disasters. The fires had touched the Groves of every home planet. “They are not just places. The Symbias Trees are part of how we gain our adult capabilities, our full range of communication. We have a connection with these that only grows stronger as we age. The Symbias keep and pass on much of our memory. Those of us connected to Groves that burned are variously debilitated. Scant few of us are unaffected.”

They turned down the Queen’s offer of medical support. These kinds of injury, they explained, were only treatable by Aquari methods. Instead, they requested botanical researchers and investigators. “We want to know how this happened, and how to rebuild. We haven’t seen this kind of destruction to the Symbias since we became a people.”

The nine Aquarii exchanged the lead expressing their viewpoints to the Queen Ascendant. “Most may find it difficult to continue our occupations. I advise summoning a replacement force where possible. Many of us will have to return home, no question.”

“And what about professions with no non-Aquari equivalents?” He knew she meant specifically the sendsingers. These Aquarii, in concert with human technologies, enabled transit and trade throughout the Pan-Galaxy with their spacefaring voices. These specialists swore allegiance to no one planet. The Sendsinger’s Guild was represented as a planet unto itself at the Aquari Home Federet – the ninth member of an Octave.

Lead Composer Fleeting Shade rose from his seat. “I attest to the difficulty of singing across the stars without connection to the Symbias of one’s youth.” His crowning tendrils wavered with uncompressed grief, his two tentacles clasped before him. His emitted spectrum was deeply clouded with grey. “Not that we can’t do it. We’ll tire easily. With the support we can find amongst ourselves, there may be a quarter loss in service power until we recover more fully.”

Queen Ascendant Charlotte blinked, taken aback. “A quarter.”

Fleeting Shade bowed deeply. “Only one quarter, with the Guild doing all it can to mitigate widespread injury.” They went on to discuss adjusting travel regulations. The bright stone in the table threw strands and loops of light in the space around them. The others touched this stone without a thought, and Soleil reached out to do the same. It was warm, and like water, there were currents below the surface.

“If we are ready to conclude,” said the Lead Composer, “touch the shore stone, focus, and the session will construct itself.” Nine Aquarii and two humans placed their digits on the edge of the lit stone, and a full image blossomed above them. Their eleven perspectives shifted through various balances, moving thought elements to achieve relation. As greater patterns emerged, the stone emitted bright, warm pulses.

The Princess opened up to the Rasakarya, thinking something might float out to jar her speech. No such surprise, but her impression of the conversation became more detailed and true to memory, with added nuances from the thoughts of others. After the final harmonic burst, she disconnected.

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.

50

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.

33

Outside the hospice room door, two guards were posted in dressed-down black and white smocks. One read a paper stating the business of the five Aquarii awaiting entry. He bowed to the smallish one at the front. Bright Wave bowed back. The bipedal, tentacle-crowned Aquari body is eloquent at displays of courtesy. He opened the door, and the guests entered.

They were greeted by Queen Celeste, and the King and Queen Ascendants. By their differing sizes, and patterns on their thoraxes, it appeared none of these Aquarii were of the same tribe. Unusual for such a tribal people.

Soleil’s bed was at the center of the room. Her parents and grandmother stood at the foot of the bed, while the five Aquarii arrayed themselves around her. Two more Imperial guards were posted inside the door.

All discussed what had been agreed on. “We are not intruding on her mind in the least, not gaining any sort of access. Merely interpreting surface expressions,” said Sharp Talon, the brown-and-gold. His two main tentacles were clasped before him.

33

“All of us are versed in human-spectrum expression,” said Dark Zephyr, the one mostly black with a few green accents, “so we should be able to translate what we feel from her into something you can understand.” All five of them carried a barely audible harmonizing undertone.

“But we have no guarantees,” said Bright Wave, “about anything. We can do this for, perhaps–” Her octopuslike eyes narrowed, the fine tentacles around her face waving in thought. “–an hour. With some resting time in between.”

“You three are most able to understand the meaning of the song. You are all human. We will do our best to act as appropriate media.”

“Will it interfere with your work to have a camera recording?” asked the King Ascendant Vario.

“No. But your senses will give you the complete picture as it will never occur again. Your Graces, please pay attention. At best, cameras will provide you with a reminder of the song as it transpired. They are not good with subtlety.”

The family nodded to each other before again nodding to their guests. “Yes, we understand. Thank you,” said Queen Celeste on the left. She nodded to the guards inside the door, who brought chairs to the foot of the bed. The three sat.

The Aquarii bowed. All their facial tendrils became busy with motion as they reached out to grasp each other’s left and right tentacles.

Instantly the air above Soleil turned luminous, as though sunlight were shining in from some forested place. A choirlike frequency emanated from the sides of the room. Columns of dark shadow appeared, and moved about as though marching in formation. Out of the choirlike humming, music began to rise.

True Aquari music is almost never like human instruments – instead, frequencies bend, sounding like one thing and then another, produced from the majority of their finer tentacles.

This song began with a sound like wind and travel, transforming into a rough beat. It permutated, volume rising and lowering. It put Celeste in mind of the musicians tuning before the opera, a week ago now.

A metallic melody began to weave itself over the picture, fierce and feral. Queen Ascendant Charlotte almost smiled. It sounded like her daughter when she was angry. Around the melody ran a cathedral echo of awe. The columns of shadow split and reformed, until suddenly they dwindled into the distance and vanished.

Layers of pearly haze drifted within the Aquari circle. This gave way, condensing into bright points of light. What does that spell out? thought Vario, King Ascendant, Soleil’s father. What picture do those dots draw? What constellation, in what voidy corner of the Pan-Galaxy? Where is her mind?

Then, a stillness with distinct presence. As though they had been spotted. The music stuttered to a stop and held its breath. The stillness seemed to smile as the corners of the room folded in. The Aquari humming resumed quietly, cautiously. Again the song clipped off as though muted. Something was wrong. The Aquari voices broke forcefully into a great, swooping finale in symphonic meter. Promptly they disentangled, and each sagged or sank to the floor.

Dark Zephyr spoke quickly, distractedly, her speech garbled as through a patchy radio signal. “Not like any Aquari we know. Not human, not dragon, and too alive to be a machine. Something or someone is interfacing with the Princess’ mind. Not resident, but more than just in contact.”

The brown-shelled Aquari Sharp Talon was on one knee. “Other than that, she is dreaming some orderly dream. We can’t say how much of her mind is affected, but she is mostly herself.”

“Can we locate or identify the intruder?” asked the Queen.

“In a short while, we can try again.” Bright Wave gestured soothingly. “No guarantee of learning anything new.”

“We understand. Whatever service you can render the Imperium will be rewarded,” replied King Ascendant Vario. “We can offer you quarters where you may rest until you are ready to return at the soonest opportunity.”

The five Aquarii rose from their weary positions while giving courtesy. “We accept,” they replied in a voice that projected from above their heads. The Queen nodded to a guard, who opened the door and led them out.

The remaining three stood looking at each other silently for many breaths. The King Ascendant bowed his head and said, “I am going to lay down for a spell.” He left without requiring assent.

The Queen and Queen Ascendant gazed down at the face of their scion.

31

Bright Wave’s tentacle lay on Princess Soleil’s forehead. Her suedelike skin was a pearly lavender, and the carapace below it was a brilliant blue with a gray sheen. Even for her immediate tribe, who shared a like carapace, her color and vibrational sensitivity were exceptional.

31

Her deep black eyes were half closed. She emitted a frostlike color radiance around her head. This shimmered out of sight, and a simplistic percussion came into hearing – like fingers tapping a simple drum line. This permutated until all her delicate hair and face tentacles had lifted. The hearts of those next to her beat a little faster in response.

Bright Wave opened her eyes wide once more. With her tentacle she smoothed back Soleil’s stray hairs. She turned to face both Councillor Arkuda and Her Vast Eminence Celeste, Magus the 24th.

“I humbly request the aid of three to five of our most insightful patternmakers. I know who to contact.” Bright Wave gestured urbanely through the tips of her tentacles. “Together, we would be able to sing you some perceptions. Her mind is well guarded; however, we need not intrude to interpret. Alone, I am insufficient. This task requires synergy.” Her voice was a conglomerate vibration from the tentacles waving around her head, like a human speaking from a generalized source.

“How soon can you bring in your company?” asked the Queen.

“In haste, we can be convened and prepared by tomorrow afternoon.”

“Then let it be so,” replied Queen Celeste with a nod. “Present their identities to the head of Royal Security when you have them.”