24.2 \ 205

“After much adventure, these are the friends we requested that you meet, when you asked on your home planet what service you might be able to do for us after we relieved your stranded state. If you perceive any imbalance of effort, feel assured that will be corrected. We Kao-Sidhe live or perish by the transactions of our innate currency.”

“Right now, I’m not deeply concerned with balancing the books. For how long have your peoples known each other?”

“Though Aureny have only inhabited their home planet, Kao-Sidhe are in a great many places. Our familiarity springs as though from the dawn of time. They had little trouble recognizing those of us who had some connection in their affairs. We make our way around, as certain things create for us a calling. In fact we are, at this time, yourself and company included, receiving a calling – being summoned, if you will.”

“To where?”

“A place you know of, where you have never been but is a part of your home. With people you know, but not very well, who you will have a chance to know better. This is my most succinct and accurate summation.”

Soleil resisted the immediate pull towards an available action. She hadn’t had time to her own thoughts regarding the new situation in the royal family. Though her feelings had become complicated and she suspected the greater truth was even more so, she loved Celeste; she would have to deal with that loss on her own time. She sensed that some hours for reflection rested just around the corner. The functioning shift in rulership would mean instant changes for everyone, with herself a factor of increased importance. Soleil felt alerted to the impending possibility of when she should call a halt or take an exit in order to do what was necessary when a point of departure should arrive. In some version of events, they could be keeping her entertained and occupied at playing diplomatic head of state while everything fell apart and her seat was dismantled. In this case, the directed action still seemed appropriate. Perhaps just this one more.

24.1 \ 206

Drift X occupied a serene spot in orbit near the planet it just left. This was called Ombd, a sound similar to that for the gestational rock, the omba – how the people of this planet, the Aureny, begin their lives. Every human aboard Drift X felt themselves profoundly changed after their encounters here. The ship was drenched in a serious, solid quiet as each person reshaped their world to include what they’d just seen. The knowledge of this place was rare, which made it also heavy. Princess Ascendant Soleil, Magus, occupied the circular gunnery with only the returned Kao-Sidhe liaison Dragon Food. Their discussion was as subdued as Dragon Food could ever really be.

23.4 \ 205

A change occurred in the air, the kind that happens when musical instruments reach the same key. An accord of acknowledgment. They took a moment to reach emotional balance before continuing. From the center of the sledge seated in her bubble of serenity, Rosy Glow continued to focus the channels of communication. She altered hand positions like directing flows of energy, but otherwise remained in stillness.

DOES THIS HAPPEN A LOT?

Soleil reflexively covered some of her face with her hand. “It is an occasional bad behavior that may be done to other people or one’s own. The majority find it to be as reprehensible and shocking as you do.”

IF WE ARE MET WITH ACTIONS OF GENUINE RESPECT, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE WE MAY EXPECT?

The Princess turned to look at Wendel, Toller, and Derringer as though they were her council. They didn’t require her partially upraised gesture to know they needn’t speak, that this was a consultation of silent support. She just needed to look at the faces of other humans to collect these thoughts. “If you were to become citizens of the Pan-Galactic Imperium, you would possess all the participatory rights. I understand if that isn’t very appealing at this time. Bans on exploitation and a modicum of diplomatic negotiation seem baseline, at a time of due recognition.”

YOU BELIEVE THESE WOULD BE ADEQUATE DETERRENT FOR SUCH OCCURRENCES?

“In honesty, you have incredible riches that would be difficult for strong enterprise to resist. Any effective commerce you might conduct could allay the pressure to appropriate, while strengthening your status in negotiations. I am beyond grateful that you’ve given me the opportunity to appreciate the treasures of the Aureny for the importance and beauty they contain, than for the commerce they may attain.”

WE ARE JUSTIFIED THAT YOU HAVE FELT EVEN ONE SUCH MOMENT OF APPRECIATION.

One stomp of a limb traveled from one member of the Aureny assembly to another until all had made the gesture.

WE DO NOT AIM TO ALTER OUR COURSES OF ACTION. THIS IS WELL FOR YOU – EVEN AS WE MAKE CERTAIN THAT OUR VOICES REACH CONSIDERATION, WE HAVE PLANNED TO SHOW YOUR PEOPLES SOME RESPECT. YOU AFFIRM THAT IT IS RIGHT FOR US TO DO SO.

“Ominous, yet forgiving. I certainly have a lot to consider from this. We have now met. You know people who can find me, and I say that you may find me, best if anyone, regarding matters of organizational liaison.”

There came a moment of troubled conference that went untranslated between the nearest emissaries, then it was Mystvall who clearly addressed Soleil. IT IS POSSIBLE THAT YOU HAVE NOT RECEIVED THIS INFORMATION, WHICH MAY COME AS A SHOCK. The focus she received from Mystvall felt like a direct gaze, though it was given without the visual affirmation of pupils. YOUR GRANDMOTHER, QUEEN CELESTE, MAGUS THE 24TH, DIED PEACEFULLY.

“My grandmother, the Queen,” Soleil reiterated, shaken, hand to her chest.

23.3 \ 205

In empathic overdrive somewhere between anguish and rage, Princess Ascendant Soleil controlled her breathing and held the moisture in her eyes. She broke an expectant silence.

“I had not previously known of all this. It sounds characteristic of the misfortunes of private enterprise, not necessarily with any direct involvement of the Pan-Galactic Imperial government or the Magus Dynasty. This could even have occurred without any other parties observing, though one could possibly indict our entire societal structure for creating the likelihood of this unscrupulous mentality.

“Blame will never salvage what was lost, aside from token scraps. I realize this. Alone, that the amazing people of this planet should exist to human knowledge without being celebrated or honored is a hideous mistake.

“You are likely aware that I, personally, can make you no guarantees. But I am listening now, and can aid your communication where possible. I am able to reach the ears of every level of our government, and they know that someday mine may be the hand of power.”

23.2 \ 205

They walked the platform sled into the barren crater, to the center of the devastation. The area was deep as a canyon and larger than a village. There was no discernible trace of what raw material might have been gleaned from here. As the guests neared the center, some Aureny split off to take up different positions around the bowl, indicating some evidence of features by their presence. With them remained Mystvall, Xhatter, and a rounded handful of others.

They took turns speaking as Rosy Glow translated, but it was difficult to discern the source unless they made a nominally visible courtesy gesture that would be unnecessary amongst themselves. The sensory pits beneath the capital platform might quiver with emotion or expression, and they would occasionally open mouths in a kind of sigh, or clash their dental ridges together in punctuation. A foot stamp might presage or conclude a statement.

THIS PLACE WAS ONCE CALLED GLITTERING TOWERS. WHAT DO YOU THINK IT WOULD BE CALLED AS IT IS NOW?

“I cannot even imagine,” replied Princess Ascendant Soleil. “Perhaps nothing.”

NOW WE REFER TO IT AS THE TRAVESTY.

I KNEW A YOUNGLING WHO DIED HERE ON THIS SPOT, said one. OUR CHILDREN BELONG TO ALL OF US. THOUGH COMING FROM TWO, IT IS NOT KNOWN WITH CERTAINTY WHICH TWO.

THEY FORMULATE AND GESTATE EACH INSIDE THEIR OWN STONE, WHICH GROWS AND THEN CRACKS, THAT WE CALL THE OMBA. ALL FROM OUR CAVERN ARE PRECIOUS TO US AS OUR OWN.

WE BRING THEM TO PLACES TO LEARN, AND BECOME WHO THEY WILL BE. IT IS A BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY, TO WHICH POINTS OF HERITAGE THEY WILL BE ATTRACTED.

HERE WAS A STELE IN BUBBLING BLUE, PURPLE, AND GOLD. GROWN BY VISITORS SINCE TIME BEYOND MEMORY, THIS FORMATION RECORDED, REFLECTED, AND TRANSMITTED THE SONGS AND TALES DIRECTED TOWARDS IT. THE YOUNG COULD CHOOSE THEIR WISDOM.

As this formation was described, Rosy Glow resonated into a powerful effulgence. Her usually personal aura of color cast an extended mist all the way to the location being described, and an image shimmered into being of an incredible tower of stone vibrating with the life of intention, each color like a brushstroke. Rosy Glow continued to channel the communication, unusually elevated and transfixed.

I REMEMBER THIS TOWER STELE HERE, said another. THIS RECORDED THOUGHTS OF MANY PLACES WE HAVE BUILT UNDER THE CRUST; THE WAYS WE CREATE OUR DWELLINGS IN THE DEEP, TRANSFORMATIONS OF AIR, EARTH, AND LIGHT. THE SHAPES THAT HOLD AND HOUSE.

The rosy effulgence wavered to there also, and a rigid, many-sided single point of clarity and stature shimmered into sight, one large side at its peak reflecting the sunlight of a different day.

Descriptions of remembered people who died here – memories of what existed that used to belong to all of them – recountings of the storehouses of knowledge that were taken as robbed wealth by aliens who couldn’t even grasp their full value, came one after another. As though each story were a song which sustained a single note as the others joined them, all the images being transmitted by Rosy Glow persisted as more were communicated until this great chasm was filled with a momentary dawning of memory. The Kao-Sidhe’s form had become almost entirely amorphous, her centrality indicated only by petal eyes in radiant trance.

The telling reached a pause, and for some long slow breaths, all basked in the gleaming shadows of what once was here. Something beyond achievement and history, a pinnacle of all that and more, dear beyond possession, and once full of life. A half-audible thundering came from the Aureny which shook the dust upon the ground, and the grand illusion shuddered out of existence. Rosy Glow floated down from the air to the platform like a feather, and no larger, humbled in form.