94.4 \ 182

As they negotiated the transitions of Vedani passageways in this ship connected to different starscapes, Sturlusson addressed Derringer next. “You, I believe, wish to travel with the Princess.”

Pleased that this option was proferred, Derringer replied, “Yes.”

“Good. You shall.” He turned to Captain Harper. “We interrupted your endeavor of aiding the Princess to her next destination. You are allowed to continue doing that, to her intended destination.”

Wendel’s expression was distrustful and confused, not knowing how or why she was of use to that. She again accounted quickly for Toller. “And him, he’s coming with me.”

The lad confirmed. “I’ll go with her.”

Raev nodded at this expectation. “Fine.” They covered more distance until they reached a closed bay door. He stopped them, and pointed to each in turn. “Okay: group.” They all examined each other, and he opened the door.

“My darling, O valiant!” exclaimed Wendel. The Drift 9 was in. Next to it, little Moonshadow blinked its light at them three times, making Soleil smile despite the situation’s gravity. Drift 9 was being repaired where the ship was injured, with some advanced modifications. “What are you doing to it?” the captain asked.

“Vedani engineering has some amazing applications for human technologies, including and especially transportation. The Imperium actually already has a fair amount of integrated Vedani tech, which has been part of the brewing of this conflict. This ship will have some things the Imperium does not.”

“If you’re bringing me to my ship, I’m assuming you’re willing to have me captain it,” said Wendel with an edge that suggested trouble if this were not so, “but how am I to use these modifications? It would take me some time and practice to discover.”

“I will help with that as I accompany you,” said Uixtr Xkcd, appearing from the doorway to join them. The rest of the group quietly regarded this development. Soleil inclined her chin with a complicated respect.

“Rosy Glow and I will continue to lead you along the way, as we were before this fortunate interruption. We’ll be much better prepared.” Becoming visible from behind Uixtr, their large person-sized forms still appeared made of projection light.

“Well, there’s room for everybody,” spoke Wendel, then glancing at the sections being rebuilt and modified, and added, “I think.”

“You can also bring your mount,” elaborated Sturlusson to the Princess, “who is permitted to leave and appears willing to go with the one who most recently named it.” Moonshadow’s front light blinked on five times.

Soleil cleared her throat and asked Wendel, “Room for everybody?” Her outstretched hand indicated Moonshadow as though introducing them for the first time.

Nodding ponderingly and receiving this information with eye contact, Wendel replied, “Everybody, yes.”

Princess Soleil turned to Raev Sturlusson. “Can you tell me the current Imperial Synchrony?”

He faced her directly. “Four-fifths Sigma Nine.” In her head, the Princess reckoned Alisandrian days since she departed from the calendar, counting ahead to the day that fell inside this synchrony. Yes… it was her birthday. She was now of twenty-five Alisandrian years. She decided not to bring any attention to that at this time.

“At the start of the trail,” said Derringer with a pause, to no one in particular, “I looked ahead.”

“I looked ahead,” said Soleil, recognizing a Duo.

“At the start of the trail,” confirmed Derringer, his expression warming. This erudite form of poetry was not known or appreciated by all. It was nice to find someone who would exchange lines. It gave Soleil a small smile as well. She used to exchange Duos with Arkuda. Draig found them annoying, and Mireille let them slip right past.

Despite the immense situation, Wendel chuckled. Duos were one of the maneuvering calls she used with Leiv when they went ship dancing out in the crisp edge. She hoped he was moving in tandem with her, somehow. In the quiet moment following a poem, they all looked ahead.

94.3 \ 182

Uixtr addressed Soleil in his well-spoken interlingua. “I want to introduce someone, and we’d like to speak with you on a serious matter.” Without Uixtr changing focus, a second Vedani joined them at his side. Dragon Food remained, and looked on with interest. “This is Aelrn.” Ay-lur-en. She was as elongated and slender as Uixtr, a slightly different shade of blue-green.

Aelrn gazed directly into Soleil’s face in the manner that Vedani consider formally polite. “While you were on your excursion, after your training, you met someone, who told you about something that happened. ‘E has since spoken with us.”

“Acamar.” A momentary hush seemed to follow Soleil’s utterance of the name. “Yes.” Looking at the two, she felt on the brink of something she didn’t want to hear.

“This dragon knows the Vedani people through our workings, with er egg from before ‘e hatched.” Acamar’s moment of hatching had been the death of Soleil’s mother, Queen Ascendant Charlotte. Soleil pieced things together as Aelrn continued. “It’s hard to explain to someone who was not a part of it, but you have met Acamar, and we are giving you this knowledge now while you still face us.” This was happening in the midst of many discussions not a part of it, but Soleil knew that these folk all around her were habitually a part of multiple discussions.

“The formation of Acamar’s egg, and the nature of it, became known to us amidst a chain of critical juncture decisions regarding our own growing bad relationship with the Pan-Galactic Imperium. There was a new, yet already true, energy function of spacefield. The stillness which transmits and transforms, a transition so complex yet essential that it is everywhere as itself in a variety as deep as only a living being can possess… that’s one way to describe a dragon, this dragon. And while this description was as yet unembodied, we were one of the forces called to this egg, a part of the universe that told it what it was becoming.”

“We used the egg,” said Uixtr, “in agreement with its nature, and its first eight.” Soleil understood this phrase meant the dragons that nurtured a new dragon into existence via something called an egg.

“In this way, our means accomplished enough that we have moved our plans forward. As have they,” said Aelrn, referring to those first eight. “The Signalman has aligned us well.” Soleil also observed Dragon Food, solidly listening as though none of this was a surprise.

“This is the war,” said the Princess. The war that they had told her was coming. They had contacted her. She was recognizing them, though there were some as yet unknown. The Kao-Sidhe had spoken of friends they wished her to meet, unlike those she knew. Those who could manage war were at home. She was here. “Already, there are losses.”

“Already, there have been. But people agree,” continued Aelrn, “that the hatching event was unsettling. Even though many have been furiously incensed by the Magus regime – and human behavior in general – we do not see ourselves as being tolerant of cooperative egregious mass murder.” Aelrn mastered a struggle. “We have actually been concerned that was more a trait of your kind. This was the way before us that could accomplish everything. If you want to know why, you will have to wait for that explanation. That will take more time.”

Uixtr picked up the thread. “We were a part of Acamar’s formative phase, and now you know we were causative in the Photuris Vortex Slaughter. Only the most necessary mandates of existence, the truest requirements of the universe result in dragons. This was the way it all happened. While the event was strictly military, we’re still not entirely happy about it. You should know that as well. Retaliative anger is expected, and that does not make anything easier.”

Aelrn resumed. “We have not been entirely pleased to know you humans, and not all of us are convinced of your sapience.” A short distance away, Raev Sturlusson was speaking with the host in Vedani language. “But because we believe we are related, we do what we can in order not to simply kill. Though some of our friends would like to, and still may.”

Scion Princess Soleil had seen her grandmother, the Queen, receive unfavorable news with little more disturbance than a cool breeze, and then from the power of her office create inarguable change. The court of an Imperium was no fencer’s brawl, even when it was. The creation and maintenance of a stable reality was mainly a matter of underpinnings, regardless of any dramatic redecoration. Soleil breathed it all in like a scent on the wind, and as she’d seen the Queen do, moved onto a more favorable topic for the moment, briefly closing discussion on the previous. “Would you like to know what I thought of the Sea Voice?” Uixtr and Aelrn adjusted their postures to listen, and Dragon Food remained intent upon their exchange.

“Do you believe in mer people?” Toller asked Yykth and the other two Vedani youngsters speaking with him. Captain Wendel Harper remained at the lad’s side. He explained to their curiosity. “They look like me, or maybe like you, at the top. But instead of legs they have fins, and they live underwater, and they sing. That’s how I think they would sound.” He made finny motions with his hands as he told this. The Vedani youngsters, taller than him but not heavier, made finny motions as well.

Raev watched this exchange among youth from where he spoke with Oibhn Klnr. “I am actually a very good plumber. A talent I gained as an adolescent living in the Hirylien Remainder relocation blocks. I can switch things around – look as good as new – or even the same as before. And you are right, maintenance is not as fun as installation. I can do that here, and train a few to handle your basics. I can use the downtime. I thank you for integrating these human accommodations.”

“It continues to be an interesting learning experiment.”

“While I’m around for a moment, I’d like to have a tattoo adjusted.”

“I can get that started for you. Let me know what you want.”

“Do you have Node Frequency Vibration metal fluid available?”

“Ah – it will have to be the purest grade. Four day procurement.”

“I thank you, again. This time for indulging my own experiments.” Raev opened and dropped his hands, signaling his release of the conversation.

“It is of benefit to us as well. We make use of all learning.” Oibhn opened and dropped his hands as well, the gesture flowing through his long fingers. Raev had a few more discussions on his way around the room as people started to filter out. He kept tabs on individuals, nudging them to stay or regroup.

He came back around to join the group including the captain, the investigator, the Princess, and the boy. “Princess Soleil, Magus. I am informed by your sometime Kao-Sidhe associate, Dragon Food, that you have a quest toward an intended destination. I will not obstruct you in this, and I am giving you the means to accomplish it with sureness, including sufficient company. You four can come with me now.” Raev Sturlusson proceeded them to a nearby open passage.

94.2 \ 182

A humming sound began, one by one from the people in the room who knew what they were doing. Those Vedani who didn’t yet, listened carefully. After a time, Raev Sturlusson closed his eyes to listen. The collective hum rose and fell in susurrus, until the oscillation rested around a consistent central zone.

Quietly, a wailing overtone introduced itself to the sounds. This didn’t appear to come from anyone in the room. It existed somewhere between recognizable emotions and tones of conversation, thereof encompassing many. It possessed a pulsing rhythm, cadences holding suspense and release.

Light began to respond with diffraction patterns on the curved ceiling, seeking similar visual tones. This had its own language of artistry, such as could be transmitted by people who innately visualize information. The aggregate appearance expanded the dimensions of the ceiling to those of an intimate, small sky. There were counterpoints of transformation between vision and sound.

People relaxed into their parts in this ceremony of communication, and the contoured mountain slope furniture made more sense for this event. Eventually, after a long expression, the Sea Voice receded. People dropped out of the supporting hum one by one.

As the light show released the last few artful flickers, four figures formed from them, flickering in the air. They were surprising, yet familiar; and they were cheering. Oibhn arose to welcome the Kao-Sidhe, giving them a customary compliment on their timing. They chorused appreciation, particularly on the lightwork from which they appeared. The audience began to rise and make social discussion, as mentioned.

The luminous forms of the Kao-Sidhe, as though projected from the light show, were of a humanoid-sociable appearance and size. One of these departed from his companions and glided over to Scion Princess Soleil. Dragon Food made one of his bravo presentations. She nodded and smiled in recognition. He said, “You may be pleased to know that Moonshadow was rescued from the Brave Crossing.”

“I don’t know how you managed it, but I am very glad to hear that, yes.” Soleil’s path had taken her into some strange corridors, and she wondered where else she may soon be. There was Derringer over there, watching this encounter from an angle, and Soleil realized she’d lost track of him since before the Sea Voice had begun. It was a large room, but there weren’t that many humans present. They hadn’t discussed any details of his pursuit, but the Princess guessed he had power behind him, and guessed further where it could come from. He wasn’t as ragged and random as he was able to appear.

Dragon Food acknowledged the company of Uixtr, now joining them. Uixtr made a special motion of greeting to the Kao-Sidhe, splaying the fingers of one hand and passing them upwards over one eye. Dragon Food’s form pulsed once with brightness.

92 \ 180

Material gain reports of unusual interest had been the informative basis for the Vanguard’s presence at this nodal structure. Plexus Corporation had reported findings of untraceable materials of unusual but simple and innocuous assembly. These were marked down as material intake, a common occurrence distinguishable by its makeup. It had caught the notice of one especially inquisitive Vanguard agent with an assignment.

Agent Weathers had been theorizing, and placing himself in the path of his theories. This one had to do with exploring possible avenues of collusion. If the Princess was alive, and still hidden, she may have someone hiding her with or without cooperation. Remaining hidden for this long meant expertly avoiding the gaze of innocent eyes. Among the best at that were corporations, including and especially the large ones with their labyrinths of departments, high acumen and familiarity with transport, and deep resource pools. Yesterday, Vanguard John Weathers scanned a few different kinds of corporate-government reports. He decided to take advantage of this timely location alert, which followed an untraceable materials lump that included Zerite. A suspect, a question, and a clue; indications of powerful players.

His ship was in correlative drift with this giant party decoration – some wide spacefoam ribbon held in an irregular shape, attached to what looked like a copier. Unlikely spot for an art installation. Doesn’t work like any known equipment, could easily be discarded research in this removed area. Corporations sniping each others’ secrets was nothing new, and they were happy to report their gains to reinforce their winning reputations. Delving into their mysteries was for the few, the brave. Agent Weathers was just dipping his toe in at this particular point, with his own aims in mind. He’d rest and formulate here until the next action took precedence.

91 \ 179

Just as Derringer was starting to think about reaching the outer boundaries of more populated space, he turned to go back the way he came. He had plenty of resources for more cruising, and felt whimsical after passing those last two nice ships. Wild card play – he didn’t feel like seeing anyone else, yet.

It didn’t seem like long again before approaching the sidespace where he’d seen the Bluebird Mark 7. And it was actually still there. Except that… oh no! Whoa, whoa, whoa.

Derringer looked closer at the new sidespace capture pic, where something looked wrong with the ship. It had suffered a combustion beneath on one side. But, it had already been parked there when he passed it. That kind of propulsion combustion happened when a ship was moving, not peacefully resting in place. Startup blowups didn’t tend to look that bad. If he hadn’t already seen it there in perfect shape as he was going the other direction, he would think it had been towed and abandoned. So, in the time between his crossings, they’d left, blown up, towed and abandoned? Hmmm.

He liked that ship. He was also in the business of people at each other’s throats, and he knew this was something that could be done by someone with ill intent. Oooh, right away it made him mad, because he liked that ship! And now look at it. No… look at it. Really look at it.

Derringer opened up some advanced analytics, which he’d made sure were onboard. There was also a laser pointer so good, it was illegal to have unless onboard a top-class government vehicle. So now he had one, legally. He employed it to a track-nearest and record program, with very small physical parameters, to track objects for a full second in the vicinity of the abandoned Bluebird. This very good program particularized the laser to as many simultaneous readings as possible, because simultaneity would give Derringer the truest reading.

There was always flotsam in space, trailing from one point to the next in the wake of moving objects. A well-taught program could highlight these motions, and finally the heuristic touch of an astute observer could yield directions of recent motion in a relatively uncluttered field. Many patterns of motion in a given space remained simple in a one-second span, though creating the full-second reading took longer than a second. More like five minutes for a really good one, once set to run. That could be five valuable minutes, but when that’s all he’s got to go on, it’ll have to happen.

Why did he immediately want to figure this one out? He examined his motivations while the video was building. This was the first trouble he’d run into in a while that was weird enough for him to notice. He was looking for trouble, special trouble. By now, he was a little hungry for it. He could depart from bored distraction and pursue a petty vendetta against a hypothetical someone who would harm his newly beloved someone else’s ship. If it were an innocuous event, he would encounter an innocuous resolution. If things got too interesting, he could uninvolve himself. Unless it did involve him, in which case, he should be there.

Derringer patched all the laser readings into the same one-second frame, and watched carefully. There was the trail, like a tunnel through spreading particles. That one looked like a chicken bone, which made him think of getting hungry. The trail went at a tangent to the path of the Brave Crossing. He’d follow it a little way and see if he could ascertain their navigation anchors. He was amazing at keeping his bearings, and he’d better be; Lurin, well, that had been an unusual case.