29 \ 211

“More of us have arrived,” reported the Medical Charity (& Other) Sites Research Coordinator, “and everyone’s surly.” Karma Ilacqua spoke from the passenger seat of a helicopter pointed toward the noses of a dozen others. The call was coming from her old friend, Arch contact Arys Steinman. “Your annoyers are stalemated against the strong presence of six competing companies who want to protect and acquire your information. None of us can overpower the rest of us, and none of us are willing to let anyone hurt you, either. But luckily for you, you’re not even where the Enemies of Progress think you’re supposed to be.”

“No. We’re somewhere else beautiful and quiet, just as we hoped. Thank you for taking the risk.”

“That’s my specialty. I may not be here personally the entire time. Most likely, others are on relief rotation, as we’ve planned. Tension could get ugly at any moment, but those of us who want you alive and well have a lot more ‘collective bargaining’ here than those who want to damage you. The long term risk is yours, allowing all these major players to negotiate over your IPs. Opening up is a big deal for any project, especially the top private mystery research unit housed inside of high-currency proprietary advancements. When it comes to risks, you also might want to wonder how the Foundationals got your triangulation in the first place.”

“That thought has occurred to many. Others refuse to worry about it. Active suspicion is just as likely a waste of time, and such is not the inclination of those who’ve been brought to work here. We’re not the department of spying. We are on the edge now, Karma. The absolute edge of the world, and peering off into something else.” Arys sounded haggard, and inspired.

“Please, do not tell me any more. But I’m proud of you. I hope you make it. Have your liaison inform us of any surprise positioning strategy. We’ll all play off each other in order to maintain the lowest possible threat. The Foundationals here won’t be going anywhere without an escort.” The helicopter pilot opened the console hot box and pulled out a mini burrito, scarfing it while projecting a steely stinkeye. “I hope you don’t run out of safe spots.”

“This goes a long way to ensuring that we won’t. We might have to be doing this for days and days while we… wait for something.”

Karma smiled softly. “Augh, what a week this is going to be. It’s okay. I’m here for you.”

28 \ 210

“Thanks for being okay with coming here to do this, Mom,” said Bassel, sitting with Mirya on the bed in their room. This was functionally similar to the apartment life to which they were accustomed, but outside this door the future had arrived.

“I lived through the affliction too, lil’ bub. I feel as strongly about it as you, but probably more because you didn’t have to pray for your sick child like I did. It seems like you may have done something here that could make a difference. I’m willing to see that, for the cost.”

Bassel lay his head above his mother’s elbow. “You have the connection too, right?”

“Yes, but I hadn’t really used it for anything since the introductory explanation at the turning point, when the affliction reached the stopcode in the pre-lethal phase. It might have been a good thing I was incapacitated when I got the information. I was enraged, at everything! Except that I also knew we were going to live. But you’ve been using it, right? How did you get that to happen, now that we have a calmer moment to talk about it?” Mirya looked down at her son’s face.

“If you decided to check if it was still there, you felt it, right? I think it tickles, but the way a thought tickles, not a person. And only when I try to find it. Well, a while after we got better, I felt a knocking like on a door, but on a thought. So I found the tickle, and when I had a hold of it I just knew that if I sort of pulled it, it would be like a zipper. Then I could just get what was in there. It was an invitation, like the one in the introduction, but a double-triangle instead of a single-triangle. It was a kid who wanted to talk, Kate actually! Her and her friends wanted to find us and figured out how to ask if we wanted to talk. Then a bunch of us kids started talking about all the stuff we’re going to show you, and then their adults decided it was really important. I guess some of the human kids snuck over to their house with light circles and figured out how this was going to work.”

“They call it a neuroelectrical quantum frequency channel.”

“That’s probably about right.”

“Does it ever bother you that it’s there?”

“No, it’s fun. And it’s not really even there unless I want it to be.”

“I hope it stays fun.”

“Yeah… but this is also really serious, Mom.”

“Yeah.” A knock sounded on their actual room door.

Mirya answered it to find a girl just a little younger than Bassel. “Bassel, we’re making a blanket fort. Ma’am, can he bring a blanket?”

“Mom, this is ‘Santhe.”

“Hello, ‘Santhe.” She peered around the door into the common area, where said blanket fort was in progress. “Sure, go ahead Bassel. Can I watch?”

“Sure!” Chrysanthe called out as the two children ran on, blanket corner fluttering above the floor.

27 \ 209

Items were going missing. Old things were showing up, and then disappearing again. Wherever something showed up, people would remember stories about that thing, which they had forgotten until just then. World-altering remembrances were being retold in a storm of strange occurrences.

Amid all the chaos of the mysterious windows – whose displayed images were starting to stir apprehensive confessions from retired professionals – a lot of people were deciding to seek these lost things that were very precious to them. Objects of cultural and ancestral significance, each rediscovery was itself worth finding a way around house arrest, by the reasoning of those who fully understood the value.

Given the motivation, a stranglehold can be broken. They found ways through their own guards, uncovering the weaknesses of martial authority. By and by, people did find their lost things, which can have a way of calling for reunion. Inevitably, they were with everyone else’s lost things, in piles so tall that they formed towers. People found what they were looking for, but they couldn’t retrieve it, because nothing would come unstuck. The towers couldn’t be damaged, because people would not harm these objects. They couldn’t bear to do that. The towers grew, and confounded seekers continued to be drawn to this mystery.

25 \ 207

Nine-year-old Bassel Ayo looked around his home apartment. Everything using electric current was turned off, including the lights. The only person he lived with, his mother, came out of her bedroom. She tidied the recently-made empty floor space just a little more. They locked eyes and smiled, sitting down together on the open floor.

Mother and child linked hands and looked up. Just above their heads where they sat, a disk of light appeared. Both carefully raised their free hand up to touch it.

The sensation of transport felt like being pulled upward, though it was difficult to focus on any part of the body. One seemed there and not there, inside the light. Then like a mist, the brightness dissipated, and they were standing deposited inside a comfortably-sized curved chamber.

Once they felt collected, they exited through a walkway that bent to one side, so the next room was obscured. Beyond was a space where they found the other human arrivals. All seemed more or less like they were already familiar with each other.

“We were all calm, and we were also ready. Because we knew. We knew that it was time for all of this to happen now,” read a page of the journal that he later began.

24.XVI \ 206

Sturlusson drifted toward the house on the facing corner to the left, keeping a fixed gaze as though hypnotically impelled. “I replicated and re-engineered some of my father’s signal discoveries to regain communication with the Vedani. That was mostly after refugee block life, but I continually taught myself a lot of things. I got to know their old friends the Kao-Sidhe. From them I learned of the Aureny, and the Red Nexus Dragons found us all. One thing after another. Together, we could be more than Celeste, and Charlotte, and Vario could quell. Now, I myself cannot stop what I’ve set in motion. I’m not even at the center of it, and I never actually was.”

They’d arrived at the foot of a brick walkway leading up to the front door of this corner house. The roof sprouted plant life, and the facade peeled. “This change has taken my life to occur, and my entire lifetime has been this change. Yours as well. Here are remains of its beginning.” He hoisted a presentational hand, a gesture that said home sweet home. “I was born in this house.” His tone was pure nostalgia.

Soleil assessed the position of the sun in the sky, eyes sunk deep. It was about a hand’s breadth from the horizon, where before it had been two. Turning a neutral gaze to Raev, she said, “Leave me.” She gave him throne room demeanor, conveying that was the way she was processing this. It was the sort of statement that came along with critical matters on the verge of immediacy. There was no canny response, and no better one than action.

Seeming to understand, Raev unhitched a nod. She could find her way back to the ship by sunset like everyone else. He left her there, walking back the way they came. Soleil lay down in the walkway looking up, rooflines and treetops framing a dimmed sky.