5x Rerun: Fire Within (1) 73-74, 8th Sequence, 75-76

– 73 –

The panoramic door drew upward, revealing row after row of hard gazes landing squarely on the prisoner and his two keepers. The clamoring hiss fell silent. The three traveled up the center aisle toward the hearing platform ahead. From within the green-tinted keeper’s field, Sturlusson received their suppressed snarls. He looked up at the ceiling full of recording lights, the fixated heads around him, and the arbiter’s tiers beyond the rest. Passing the front row of assembly seats was like breaking a runner’s tape.

At the pause before the platform, he was greeted by the three judges, and the King and Queen Ascendant above them. They all went through the requisite gestures. He eyed the empty witness’ stand, and opposite that, to the right of the arbiter’s tiers, the large screen where the Queen’s face watched the proceedings.

As he stepped to the platform and the keepers attached the field to it, he felt nudges at the tip of either shoulder over his burn scars. Sturlusson glanced up again, and behind his field of vision he pinpointed two watching presences. Their communication with him was more or less clear.

“I loathe them, and watch this only under duress.”

“I sort of know what you mean.” He looked to the medallion above the tiers, which read Justice Is Served In Many Ways.

“Over the next few days, we will hear from witnesses who will present accounts of your doings. There are many in this hall who have waited some time for the opportunity, though their statements must remain brief, as must your rebuttals. You’ve opted against the presence of a legal interpreter, so you are responsible for adhering to the guidelines of reply.” He received a veiled stare from King Ascendant Vario in his red arbiter’s garb.

“From the witnesses’ statements and your replies, we will build and subsequently examine the case to determine your sentence. For all that you yourself have taken credit for, you can expect no less than a great period of suffering.” At this, Raev Sturlusson blinked slowly. He heard a hissing chuckle of irony.

73

– 74 –

It was like flipping through a yearbook, or being at a royal roast, or attending his own funeral. A little like all three. It was serious – every one would draw blood if allowed, but Raev remembered them more clearly than suspected. His past decisions were walking up to greet him, and he knew them very well.

The critical ones, everybody knew about. It started a long time ago, and he learned quickly how to use notoriety to his advantage. Some in particular created a lot of requisite damage, that he wished weren’t so even as he made it happen. It was pointless telling them he didn’t have horns – after all, he wore them so well. True, for some time his thirst for retribution could hardly be slaked. But it had taken him all those years to figure out why.

When he acquired that first gargantuan sum of funds off the Oligarchy of Tamakopa, it was enough to shut down companies and end towns. He’d known who would greet the citizens beyond the town borders, and now he learned how life had treated them. Ultimately well, he thought, but he must be held accountable.

There was the one he hated to hear, even though he reminded himself of it all the time. When he didn’t keep her – lost her and everything in one fell swoop, all involved. People had never been more angry with him, and he with himself. Here he paid probably his greatest price.

After that was a lot of boat rocking, and sinkholing. And of course, the disappearance at the prestige. His return still had people fuming, most especially because he had won sympathy, and families divided over it.

Certain attributed tidbits, he did not recognize. He didn’t bother making contest, only took in the news as it came to him. The source of his privately connected counsel noted the new information as well.

“They have added to your reputation.”

“Clearly. Though I don’t mind, as the time for setting things straight is not now. The tall tales are an added layer of distraction, which is fine with me. The truth overshadows them regardless, which is why they slip right in.”

“How will they hang you for your current move?”

“They can’t yet. However this centershow works out, they still need me to get them out of the corner. The King Ascendant and Queen haven’t released a reverse agent. We got it from them after all, though we improved on it. I suspect what final option they’re narrowing down to as far as handling this. I don’t think I’m prepared to play lab rat to satisfy the cameras. They have days before a toll begins to mount, as far as they know.” This final indictment was difficult, as its inconclusive nature brought everyone to edge.

Raev Sturlusson heard it all again in the Queen Ascendant’s voice as she announced the collected statements.

74

– 8TH SEQUENCE –

Eighth Sequence

– 75 –

The sphere image was frozen steady, drawn lines within reading as chaos. At one side of the table, the two Alpha Captains and General Ionos leaned forward. The General lifted a hand to the display. “Explain how the surrounding technicians are supposed to align and co-triangulate.”

“My Loramer co-fellow can answer that,” said Dr. Hydraia, turning to look at her colleague to the left.

“This is an unusual problem,” said Arys Steinman, laying out a few notes. “We can create a system that will co-map a series of points, call them mirrors. For the interruption sequence we want to enact, each point needs to be an intersection of the signal figures we reviewed.”

Steinman laid out the factor maps, pointing things out. “A technology pattern found in our Zerite-based inventions. The energy signature of an Iljen Engine at pre-critical burst. Here’s the map of microhole readings, and shadow radius sectors.

“Each mirror spins at a live rate responding to the weather of the vortex, tethering to each technician ship along designated connection paths. Setting a mirror takes more energy input from the initiating technician until it can tether down multiple paths. You’re tethering the mirrors, not the other way around.

“At a designated level of synergy, the energy to maintain the mirrornet will drop greatly. At this point, co-triangulation can run automatically, and we can move on to the next phase, precise insertion of chain reactives.”

General Ionos sat back, looking partially satisfied. “You’ve said we do this rarely in application. What makes you confident that this maneuver will work at this scale, with live pilots instead of robotics?”

“We’re keeping in mind that pre-critical burst phase of an Iljen Engine is only inwardly unstable. So while ships must remain in place to enact the interruption, they remain outside the boundary of collapse. In recorded failures, backlash occurred in the programming, preventing recurrence of the process without damaging equipment. The program you’ll be using is contained separately from ship operations.”

“How many times did you run this in simulation, and on how many levels? And did you do your utmost to minimize the number of technicians required?”

Arcta took in a slow breath. “We forwarded the ultimate simulations to you and your captains. If you want the complete logs, I can request them from Loramer Ultra sim rooms, but they were combed deeply and to do so again would be a great waste of time.”

The General leaned on the table. “If we determine this course of action, when will we need to mobilize?”

“In about twelve days, we’ll get our next likely shot in the vortex activity cycles.”

75

– 76 –

The King Ascendant with his two armed guards filled the room when they entered. “Now that the verdict is being processed, we can attend to other pressing matters. The HA235 patients on Alisandre are nearing critical status, and thousands of people on three other planets are close behind them. Tell us everything now, because if they die, you will die with them.”

“Wasn’t I supposed to in the first place, with my family and home? Your stance and bluster don’t convince me. You’ve held out far longer than I have with the truth of the matter, and not even the impending death of thousands will change your tune. If you want to keep all these people from dying, that’s within your power. These deaths will dig your grave if you allow them.”

“How are you carrying the disease and not suffering symptoms?” At his gesture, the guards flanked the prisoner.

“Have your doctors not figured that out, with the samples they took?”

Looking him in the eye, the King Ascendant stepped close. “They have not. But I believe the answer is in you, somewhere.”

“It would have to be.” Raev bowed his head for a moment before looking up at the three surrounding him. “You might be surprised how simple it is. Since the verdict is being processed, and I’m facing my fate, perhaps you deserve a farewell letter after all. Bring the doctor.” He turned his right side to Vario and lifted his sleeve, revealing designs on his skin. “It’s here. Beneath the winged horse in the lightning.”

“Take off his arm.” A guard drew a hot sword and it was gone. Raev Sturlusson sank to one knee. The King Ascendant picked up the limb, lifting the tattoo to his eyes. “Make sure he doesn’t die.” He exited, leaving the door open, blood decorating the hallway floor.

76

5X Rerun: Fire Within (1) 68-72

– 68 –

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.

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.

68

– 69 –

From her perspective in darkness, the occasional sound reached her ears. Chrysanthe was thinking of her pillow and blanket forts – the way everything became dark and hot, smelling of her own breath, and she listened to her father in the house. She couldn’t hear much more, so she stayed in that cozy place.

Her dad hadn’t said anything since she’d last slept, but he was nearby. When she reached for him, he played with her hand a little. The occasional squeeze was enough to reassure her, since she didn’t know if he couldn’t speak, or she just couldn’t hear him.

People approached, talking. Just the rise and fall of their voices, through many layers. She jiggled his hand and he wiggled back.

“We’ve sent so many nurses to other planets. Thank you for volunteering.”

“This seemed an appropriate time to step back in. Yet, I’ve never done triage. What am I looking for?”

“This is our first sweep. We’re reaction testing. This device measures muscular nerve response and blood flow to extremities. There’s a threshold.” She showed the readout to the volunteer. “During high rush, patients below that will have lowest priority as instructed. I’ll show you.” She gestured to the man holding his daughter’s hand. “He’s awake, we’ll start with him.” She cradled his other hand in hers and he flexed it. He did the same for Chrysanthe on the other side. The voices were louder going wah wahh wahhh.

The nurse put the holding device in his hand and wrapped his fingers around it, squeezing them. She released and cradled it for a moment until the device light turned color. She checked it, and glanced at the other patients around the room before showing it to the volunteer aide. “This is a significant reading, below threshold by a margin. Input the command here, and his bracelet will carry the tag. And that’s it.”

The aide nodded. “I’ll watch while you check the next patient over here.”

69

– 70 –

“Due to energy pattern expansion rates, we need to widen flight paths beyond the C sphere, here.” With her laser pen she colored the zone orange.

“Except for you people,” Arcta indicated the technical instrument pilots, “because you’re carrying the Dyson probes and photon sounders. You’re in two teams, each covering a hemisphere. There is a set rotation plan, in case communication equipment is affected. We already have some signal bandwidth workarounds.”

The door opened, and General Iparia stepped in. Dr. Hydraia straightened.

“Now for those of you shadow marking – priority observations are signal strength, signal length, placement, and finally type.”

“Don’t you think the subject of what we see might be more important than the quantified signatures?”

Arcta looked down and let half a smile emerge. “Those of you who’ve examined the list of signal types have found, I’m sure, that the list keeps growing longer and is already too long to memorize. Type recognition is last priority because attempting it would keep attention from every other reading. The data is being pored over at Loramer. If they find a useful pattern in it, then we might shift our focus there. Until then, let’s concern ourselves with the possible effects and direction of the energy output, and how to handle and defend ourselves from it.”

Iparia leaned against the wall, arms crossed.

“And we’ll detach one team – that’s you – to array themselves between here and Photuris. You’ll have a more sensitive set of instruments. We want you to sit there, and read. I’m sorry we can’t just deploy satellites for this – we want people there live reading, and able to respond.”

“That’s all you need to hear from me. Your officers will give you the nitty gritty.” She watched the pilots exit, saluting the General as they passed. Hydraia cleared her data display.

The General took a step forward. “We’re going to assign two shadow markers to type cataloguing.”

“That would leave holes in our coverage. We’ve already thinned out in order to create a buffer zone.”

“I think the greater hole in our knowledge would be to ignore this information. We can spare that much, so that’s what we’ll do.”

“Do you realize that the energy dynamic in that sphere is over twenty times that of any known anomaly? And we still have no reason, or insight other than confusion. Diverting resources from safety on something practically pointless is reckless. I hope you understand that.”

“That’s what we’ll do until or unless we can bring out another Alpha base.”

At this point Hydraia nodded, turning around to put things in her bag. “I’m heading to Alpha 1, and back in three days.” On her way out she stopped to salute. “General.”

She crossed the corridors of the Alpha base to where the Drift 9 was docked. Arcta entered straight to the cockpit where Wendel Harper lounged in the captain’s chair. She chucked her stuff into a bin and flopped down next to her, heaving a sigh. “Fools. They really have no idea.”

Wendel straightened and began powering the ship. “That kind of day today?”

70

img_5200

– 71 –

“I’m being transferred to Ionos. They’ll put me on show shortly. There’s nothing you wouldn’t already know.”

“Your sham trial is not a concern. We can feel them meddling with the relay amplifier. Are you ensuring they are properly misdirected?”

“Someone’s making sure they’re properly misdirecting themselves. They wouldn’t recognize the technology for some time anyhow, given their own devices. The Imperium may have picked up some Vedani trash, but the cutting edge, combined with your additions, is outside their scope. The best researchers on the subject are currently occupied with other things. Is the power accrual going smoothly?”

“Certainly. Nothing is interfering with the core, which will soon be drained.”

“Which is… devastating. I hear the survival rate has been very good.”

“We’ve given them plenty of time where we could. But forces operate as they must.”

“That’s good to know.”

71

– 72 –

Mireille loaded her bowl with greens as Margeaux took her seat.

“Glad you could join us, dear,” Charlotte intoned, leaning forward to fill Margeaux’s glass.

“My pleasure. Where is Queen Celeste?” she asked, looking around.

“The Queen pardoned herself for other matters,” replied Vario. Mireille rotated the greens to Margeaux’s place and dipped into the capers and onions.

Charlotte smiled, and asked “Have you spoken with Soleil in the last couple days?”

“Yeah!” Margeaux flashed a grin and laughed. “What a relief it is. I expected her to sound croaky, but it’s her very same voice, only a little quiet.” Charlotte nodded.

Mireille sampled her melange. “She hasn’t been eating with us,” she shrugged, “so.”

“Oh, I know. It makes sense she’s withdrawn, considering. It’s strange as to when Soleil started speaking again, isn’t it.” Margeaux sipped on her drink. “At least that’s all there was to it, and he’s off to get what he deserves.”

Charlotte pressed her lips shut and looked at her husband. “It was a surprise, yes,” said Vario. “One that I was glad to see. I was only expecting she would learn from the encounter as necessary, but her speech at that moment was revelatory.”

“Can’t argue with that,” said Mireille. She tipped a ramekin of honeygrub dressing over her bowl and cracked pepper over it. Everyone continued to help themselves.

“It had been a while since we two caught a sunset together.” Margeaux smiled as she nibbled.

“Here’s to many more,” toasted Charlotte, raising her glass. Vario returned the gesture, and the girls followed suit.

72

5x Rerun: Fire Within (1) 64-67, 7th Sequence

– 64 –

“We have to wait. They’re running emergency traffic signals, limiting in and out-bound. There’s a newscast about it.” Wendel Harper reached up to tune in the overhead speakers. The boy sitting copilot and the passenger hushed up to listen.

“The Pyrean Midsummer Vision was interrupted today by Raev Sturlusson, who descended from the skies on the capital during the final moments of the intergalactic solstice celebration. The capsule he descended in was emitting an agent bearing HA235, the disease that decimated the planet Hirylien twenty-five years ago. Many attendees are already experiencing symptoms. The Verdant Plateau of Alisandre Capital is under quarantine, and vision attendants are being held there and at Eldea Hospital.” As this narrated, they silently turned to meet each other’s eyes.

Hydraia rose from the fold-down seat to stand behind the pilot’s chairs. “We’re waiting to be let in to the main transport arena, correct?”

Harper nodded. “That’s right. They’ve paged us with a wait time of a couple hours, but there’s no telling how long we’ll be in line.” She pointed to a timer on the air traffic display.

The passenger pulled a piece of paper from her pocket. “Here. Establish a link with this frequency.” Harper checked it and nodded.

After a short moment, someone answered. “Spear Traffic Control, how can I assist you?” At mention of the capital’s towering military building, the captain faced her passenger in mute surprise.

“This is Dr. Arcta Hydraia of the Loramer Institute, requesting entry to the Helianth Airlot.”

“Acknowledged Dr. Hydraia, do you have a clearance code?”

“2-10-6-P-Night-C3W.”

“Thank you, Doctor. Drift 9, new traffic directions have been sent. You may proceed.”

64

– 65 –

King Ascendant Grant Vario raised the mask to his face and activated it. The hairs on his arm lifted as the ion barrier activated around him, effecting a blue glow. He nodded to the Dragon Councillor, and they exited the transport onto the grounds of Eldea Hospital, accompanied by a security escort.

The quarantine guards opened the door for them. Inside, the halls were filled with people reacting to their symptoms, rubbing their faces and blinking. Back when the sickness appeared on the planet Hirylien, there had been no knowledgeable measures. By the time they recognized the epidemic, the majority of the planet had been infected. The symptoms had been difficult to distinguish until they were too serious for recovery. This time, they’d recognized it almost immediately.

From the room she shared with her father and two other patients, Chrysanthe watched the hallway. The retinue walked past, and she saw the second dragon she’d ever seen in her life. Arkuda’s scaly form gleamed next to the King Ascendant’s grave face, and they passed in a quick moment before she could mention it. She wasn’t sure if her sight had already gotten fuzzy, like they told her it would, or if they were really glowing. She turned her head and succumbed to drowsiness, closing her eyes on the sight of her sleeping father.

They met with the head of the hospital, who debriefed them on the patient population. Those furthest along were beginning to lose their eyesight to nerve degeneration. Vario took this in, but refrained comment.

They passed through layers of security till Arkuda and the King Ascendant were outside Sturlusson’s room. The guard coded them in.

Inside, the quarantine prisoner sat shirtless in the bedside chair. Hospital equipment had all been moved to the corner. At the sight of visitors, he rose to his feet. “I am honored. The King Ascendant, and his dragon.” Arkuda gazed at him in silence.

Vario faced him squarely, hands behind his back. “You declined treatment, even though you tested positive for HA235.”

“Yes.”

“So is this, then, your farewell note to the Imperium?”

Framed by his dark hair, a smile crossed his face. “No.” He locked gaze on the King Ascendant as he sat down again.

Arkuda eyed Raev Sturlusson sidelong. Over the man’s collection of tattoos, he glimpsed disruption patterns. Residue of communication with others. The dragon studied him intently.

Vario clasped his hands tightly. “We have reports now of cases on Ionos and Lurin. How many more outbreaks are we to expect?”

“How many more do you need in order to put an end to them?” Arkuda watched his surrounding disruption evaporate.

The King Ascendant drew himself up. “We are now enacting the same quarantines that we did on your home planet. You were lucky to have survived.”

“I really was.” The communicative traces reappeared as Sturlusson joined together different faces of his fingers. He looked at them through half-closed eyes. Arkuda stirred the air toward the prisoner with his breath, observing the patterns react.

King Ascendant Vario made a prompt and wordless exit. Sturlusson angled his hand sign to the dragon Councillor, who curled his lip before exiting in turn.

65

– 66 –

The airlot manager stood with Arcta Hydraia and Wendel Harper by the Drift 9, surrounded by military and council vehicles. The wind was high, and they raised their voices to speak over it.

“Ms. Harper. I’m required to use private transport during my consult here at the Spear. I’ll be traveling between here and the Libran Federet. Are you available exclusively for the short term?”

Wendel tilted her head and nodded. She’d been half expecting the offer. Setting herself on an appointed route might be a good way to let trouble blow over. She jerked her elbow toward the ship. “What about the boy?”

The airlot manager considered. “We may be able to offer him clearance.”

“I’ll be here for the night,” said Hydraia. “I’ll get in touch with you soon, if you want to talk it over with him.” The captain shook hands with Hydraia, waving as she re-entered the ship.

She set herself back down in her chair. From where he remained in his seat, Toller looked past the airlot shadows toward the Royal Court. “Dr. Hydraia is hiring me up for a shuttle route. You can stay with me so long as you’ll be handy.”

Toller lifted a hand at the view. “We’re at the capital now.”

Wendel smiled, remembering he’d never seen this before. “Yeah. Old Alisandre.” Her gaze traveled up the dark octagonal obelisk to the sky.

Toller tapped his teeth together in consideration.

“Tell you what,” said Wendel, powering her ship. “We’ll decide over dinner.”

66

– 67 –

In a waiting chamber in a middle floor of the Spear, the dragon Councillor and his protege sat kneeling against one wall. She searched the patterned tapestry facing them. The dragon opened his eyes.

“The man you’re going to see – I observed points of contact on him. Communication disturbance, perhaps. I recognized patterns there, and I feel troubled about it. So be aware, in every way.” She breathed deeply, returning his look. He nodded and rose to exit the room.

The Princess rested alone until the door opened once more, and her father stepped inside. “If you’re ready, Soleil.” She stood and straightened herself, inclining her chin before joining him.

They walked down the hallway past two corner turns. The walls of the octagonal tower turned gently around them, regularly giving way to heavy framed windows.

“You’ve been made aware of the state of things at the Verdant Plateau and in the quarantine areas, and of the other new outbreaks. You’ve heard what he’s done over the last twenty years, so you have some idea of who we’re encountering.

“We’re fortunate in not having contracted the affliction. Though tests show that Sturlusson has HA235, he’s not developing symptoms. We’re not taking chances, so,” he passed her a barrier field mask, “here you are. Observe him well, Soleil. He’ll soon be on trial.” They donned their masks outside the guarded door, engaging the minute blue glow before they went in.

The prisoner sat on the floor, his back against a wall bench. At their entry, he rose to this feet. Soleil walked in behind her father. The man before her was not as he looked in projections. The air around him roiled with energy, and she stayed on guard.

The King Ascendant gestured to the wall benches, and they all sat; the Princess and her father on one side, Sturlusson on the other. “Ionos,” began Vario. “We found your agent there, one Teryj Lakos. From Hirylien, like you. He’s told us enough to find the rest. But we know there’s more. Where?”

A grin spread across Raev Sturlusson’s face. For a moment, the Princess’ vision grew dark, and her temples felt warm.

“Waiting, aren’t they.” Her voice sounded thunderous hearing it for the first time since she woke. Sturlusson raised his eyebrows. King Ascendant Vario turned to regard her.

67

– 7TH SEQUENCE –

Seventh Sequence

 

5x Rerun: Fire Within (1) 60-63

– 60 –

The light streamed through the holes in the cave ceiling as it bounced off the pool of water and onto the walls. Past where her toes dabbled, Karma Ilacqua watched gold and white fish nibble larva from the surface.

“We’ve been lucky twice already.” She sipped her fizzy beverage and looked sidelong at the mustached detective. “With finding the system taproot, and unearthing the Hoopoe in that tent. Blasted kid, sending us on a goose chase.”

Derringer aimed a level gaze at her from where he sat in his shorts under a ray of sunlight. “What do you expect, he’s from here.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry you didn’t learn that sooner. We got a little worried, but he’s going to hold up his end after all.”

“You think so?”

“Oh yeah, he wouldn’t have boarded the jet at all otherwise.”

“You know – I helped this happen, but I still don’t really know what it was all about.”

“You wouldn’t want to. The clearance levels aren’t worth your trouble.”

Derringer leaned back against the knobbly-smooth cave wall and sipped his liquor. “I guessed that.”

“You’re not bad at doing the dirty work, Derringer.”

“My specialty, madame.” He raised his glass in a toast.

Karma cupped water in a hand and poured it over her legs. The computer projected a message to her right. “Our intrepid backup.” She keyed a sequence to show the incoming images without displaying their own. “Greetings, gentlemen. Do you find the compensation satisfactory?”

“Shit yes, Ms. Ilacqua. Shit yes.” Fred DeWalt’s reply piped in with satisfaction.

“Enjoy your new office. My associates and I may be in touch further down the line.”

Chad Dremel nudged his partner out of the screen space. “We’ll look forward to hearing from you. How’s Derringer down there on Lurin?”

Karma raised her eyebrow at the hint of envy, smirking at the detective. “He’s in tip-top shape, we’ve got it wrapped out here. I’ll let him know you were concerned.”

A suspicious pause from the security team. “Are you two just living the lush Lurin dream, or what?”

Derringer leaned over to speak. “We’re hiding in a dank little hole in the ground, Dremel. I’ll be sure and bring you pictures if we make it out of this trench alive.” He reached over and tapped the call closed.

Karma leaned towards him. “I’ll do my best to make sure that happens.”

“You can do your worst.”

60

– 61 –

Though their passenger insisted she didn’t require special consideration, they picked the finest pub in Dalmeera – plenty of chairs, intact windows, no fleas, full meal service. Toller looked across the table at her, indifferently curious.

Arcta Hydraia’s long green hair was braided, and she gazed through spectacles at the menu, a mess of chalk writing on the opposing wall. She murmured and nodded, then blinked and looked elsewhere as she noticed the boy’s attention on her.

“So you’re a scientist?” he asked again.

“Yes, in massive sphere dynamics.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“A relatively new discipline. We’ve only really been able to explore sphere dynamics since the appearance of non-solid anomalies.” She paused. “And from there it gets complicated.”

“Why are you going to the capital?”

She drew her breath in slowly. “Sorry, classified. It’s important enough that I don’t want to look for a different ship. Not here in Dalmeera, anyway.”

A blond figure detached from the crowd to stand square in front of their booth. “What do you guys want? I’m going to fetch it from the bar.” Wendel’s short hair was in disarray, a lingering smile on her face.

“Did Leiv go?” Toller asked, using his first name as requested.

“Yeah, we found a buddy headed out to join the second round of the refugee shuffle. They left, he’s going to look to his ship. Did you want anything to eat or drink?”

“How about a fried honklizard steak?”

Wendel raised her eyebrows. “Hungry boy. I’ll finish it if you don’t. What about you, Ms. Hydraia?”

“Arcta, please,” she replied, her eyes glancing at distant corners. “I’m not hungry right now, thanks.”

Wendel peered at her. “How about some hot silver?”

“Hot silver?”

“You can’t leave Dalmeera without trying hot silver, no ma’am.” She patted the table. “Back in a minute. Don’t leave, don’t get in trouble.” She turned to weave through the thick crowd toward the counters. Toller shrugged across the table.

The pilot was back shortly with food. She unburdened herself of the steak and kept a mug for herself, handing the other to Arcta, who looked curiously at the iridescence in her cup. Harper took a hearty sip. “Moonlighty caffeinated nourishment. They don’t make it properly outside Dalmeera, they really don’t.” Harper watched the passenger’s tentative reaction.

“How long are we to wait here, do you think?” Arcta asked her pilot without impatience. “I trust your reasoning is good, I am just curious.”

“There are lots of people I haven’t seen here, which is good,” said Wendel, continuing to sip. “It means parts of the world are in working order. I just sense a simmer in the direction of the capital, and I’m waiting for it to die down. It’s so central a place, and also a busy time. I’m not too apprehensive to go there, that’s our next wise step fare aside. I’m aiming for a completely uneventful trip.” Harper was draining her cup quickly, almost as fast as Toller was demolishing his steak. Arcta noticed their pace and followed suit.

“It’s fair to tell you now that we’re hiding in plain sight. We’re likely surrounded by people who would aid in our capture if they knew who they were looking at. But they don’t, which helps me find the safe route.” Harper put out a hand. “I wasn’t placing you at any great risk. This town is dangerous, but also safe.”

The three finished their food and drink without much extra talk. Murmurs rose and fell, deals, meetings, uproar and upset – the place as usual.

When at the sound of a shot, chaos erupted. Wendel pulled the other two under the table, and dragging them by their shirts like ducklings, crawled along the wall below people’s legs, shielding the three of them with well aimed blows. The other two kept quiet and stayed close. They squeezed out of a door into a less crowded chamber.

Harper yelled briefly to the others. “This,” she pointed, “has nothing to do with us. Not our problem. We’re going now.” Her words were clearly enunciated. Toller and Arcta looked at each other, and both nodded tersely, agreeing that they would just like to get out.

Outside the bar, the noise was surprisingly minimal. It was a localized event. Harper put a hand on their backs and walked them away briskly. “Nothing to worry about,” were her only words until they boarded the Drift 9 at the airlot.

61

– 62/1 –

The floating stage platform shimmered behind a curving geometric field. Where they began in the transport arena, Princessa Mireille Magus took the speaker’s dais in the center, between her older sister and younger brother below.

The procession aisle was lined with people. The main group of platforms started forward. Performers from both sides of the path joined them to enact the Lay of Sakhana & Zoe, the capital’s traditional Pyrean play narrated by the Princessa.

Now we retell the tale,
as we do every Pyrean Midsummer.
The story of old Babylon Magus,
when this place was Babylon,
before it was Alisandre,
in the times of the Magus Emperors.

When walls, the ground, lights, the world,
breathed and grew at human whim,
miraculous machinery lost to ancient thought.
Before even the pergola on the plateau was raised,
when water reached to the walls of the city,
there was an only son, only child of the Magus.
His name was Marius Nikolai, also called Sakhana,
for he embodied the gentle warrior’s way,
young but already wise, formidable in reason.

The actor playing Marius Nikolai leaped to the main stage preceding the royal family. He bore a shock of blond hair, wearing black and grey leather armor blazoned with old crests. Aquari scene artists following to either side displayed a vast city fortress with lights, smoke and high stone walls.

Clever enough was he to discover the great evil
in old Babylon, in the walls themselves,
forces that held his dear land in secret thrall.
Cousins. Advisors. The Builders. His Father.
Old Babylon Magus was dying a slow death
at the hands of its keepers, bargains they’d made
with forces beyond their ken.

He would witness the end of it.
Clever Sakhana, he made sure of it.
He took action, performing rites for those
he hoped he would save, and wept
for the fall of this place, as he knew it must.

The actor’s stage morphed into a network of evolving paths along which he ran, defeating enemies who fell back in acrobatic tumbles to melt into the crowd.

By his engines, by his doing,
Babylon fell in one night.
His Father. Advisors. Cousins. The walls.
Many wonders and arts, now gone.
Sakhana cast himself from a keyhole parapet
to the waves far below,
his last desperate measure.

Old Babylon Magus had different creatures then,
and these saved the young man, bearing him far.
Sakhana only heard their ocean music.

He was carried on a billowing construct of dark blue and white silk, as operatic singers mimicked portisfish calls. When he returned to it, the stage platform was set as a seaside cove.

He awoke on a shore at the base of a cliff,
as a woman was climbing down.
He hailed her, and though hesitant,
she went to help the stranger.
This was Zoe, fleeing from capture.

Sakhana was sorely weak. Zoe gave him water,
and brought him up the long approach
to the entrance of a cave.
Within were rooms hewn from the rough stone cliff.
In one of these they hid,
and as he regained his health,
she told Marius Nikolai her tale.

Zoe lived her whole life by this cliff,
but was now pursued for reasons unknown.
She could defend herself with her bow in hand, and that was all.
Her pursuers were relentless –
they threatened her family to find her.

She was leaving to hide when she found Sakhana at the shore.

Trusting Zoe in turn,
Sakhana told her his tale of flight.
He recovered, and they ventured further into the cave.
They continued until they reached an iron gate;
beyond it lay sky.

Aquari projection made the sky around the stage seem brighter, sparkling and clear. Rays shone down on the evolving stage floor shaping a path. They were now in the midst of the University Quarter, surrounded by buildings of the old institutions.

Light fell over expanses of mosaic-tiled streets.
Sakhana saw before him a kingdom
more beautiful than Babylon.
Gardens, fountains, a palace in the distance,
bathed in sunny silence.
Zoe found the gate key nearby where it was hid,
and they walked to the palace,
eating fruit from the trees.

Inside were further splendors, all deserted.
A series of statues led them to a chamber below,
where a powerful light pulsed and glowed.

The light poured forth from an enormous jewel,
size of an eagle, crystalline and blue.
It rested on a pedestal in the center
of the great underground chamber.
Without a thought, they drew close to this
starry warmth, but as they touched it
the earth and the foundations began to shake.
Sakhana went to flee, but Zoe cried out
that they mustn’t abandon the jewel.
She toppled it from the pedestal,
but it was too heavy for her to lift.
So Sakhana carried it with her, though
they could hear the castle crumbling above them.
Through grave danger they emerged
to the mosaic-tiled streets.

The castle collapsed behind them in a cloud of dust.
From this cloud issued a furious roar;
a flaming beast with hooves, wings and talons
came charging with a voice like a host of warriors.

The costume of the beast was manipulated by athletic dancers, who moved to make the stride of its limbs. It trailed flames and smoke. As they passed through the hospitals, troops of singers from the Imperial Army joined to march alongside.

Sakhana made himself a match for the beast.
As bright as the beast burned,
it was no brighter than the flame in his heart.
As high as it flew, it never escaped his eye.
When it closed the distance, Marius Nikolai
leaped to meet it with bare hands of iron.

The male lead showed his ferocity in hand to hand martial display. Princess Soleil watched his leaps and twists, lifting her eyes to scan the crowds. They rested again on the female lead in her travel dress.

Zoe stood guard with her bow over the jewel
as Marius Nikolai and the beast wrestled
once, twice, thrice, and each time
his burns were healed with its light.
The next time the beast broke free,
it wheeled to face the girl, and dove.
She struck the beast with her arrows,
but they burned, and she threw herself out of its path.
With its talons, the beast seized the jewel.
As it flew away, Zoe loosed more arrows
until one struck the jewel,
breaking a piece of it free.

Sakhana found it where it fell, and offered it
back to Zoe. They knew the beast would return soon,
so they fled back across the deserted city
to the tunnel cave.

62.1

62.1.2

– 62/2 –

Exiting the cave, they encountered a ship
anchored off the coast, and rowboats on the beach.
Zoe retreated, but Marius Nikolai stopped her.
He knew them – pirate traders who visited Babylon Magus.
Zoe stayed hid, and Sakhana moved closer to investigate.

The ship and boats were festooned hover vehicles, eliciting cheers from the crowd when they joined the scene. The salty crew were popular in this rough neighborhood.

He overheard them speak of his home:
a city in ruins, but a people awakened and free.
They struggled to survive the harsh time,
but still they sang of that day as a good one.
They celebrated the fall as a victory,
and so Marius Nikolai knew that he could return home.

Sakhana showed himself to the nearby captain,
who recognized and moved to embrace him.
Sakhana asked after Zoe’s pursuers.
They had been here, the captain said,
and gone hence some time ago.
They had seen no one else.

Marius Nikolai brought word back to Zoe in the cave.
At once, she determined to see what became of her family.
Sakhana accompanied her to the top of the cliff.
Inside, the house was empty but for a message.

They had left in haste, their duty discharged:
to care for the changeling princess until
her identity should be discovered.
Zoe held the gem shard,
and knew what her pursuers were seeking.
Her kingdom was dead, not of this world,
so it was said by the dying man
who brought her as an infant to this cliffside.
He had given them her true name, Viridis Merida.
It was said that should she ever go to her old home,
it would be her doom. Zoe wept.
She knew she had seen it,
and that she could not go back there, nor stay.
Sakhana asked her to come with him
where he would rebuild his country.
Though grieving, she agreed to the journey.

Marius Nikolai and Viridis Merida
left with the trading vessel,
making many calls to port.
As they approached Old Babylon,
there was more rumor of what was lost
and gained in the fall of the city.
Some spoke of the Magus,
and how its last son was missing,
but Marius Nikolai kept his identity secret.

They arrived at the port of Babylon Magus
with an abundance of goods, carrying
timber, fiber, stone and food.
These he distributed among people,
still not revealing his identity.
Zoe went with him, healing and listening,
keeping the jewel concealed.
By its magic, she gained knowledge of ways to live
without the forces that corrupted the city
and brought its downfall. This she shared
with Sakhana and his people.
In time, they prospered.
The city as they knew it disappeared, brick by gear.

Boxes that looked like bricks and building debris were sent through the crowd, and opened to reveal gifts and treats. The well-dressed crowd between the Maray and the Diplomat’s District were appreciative.

As the old fortress was being cleared,
Marius Nikolai found a cellar door he hadn’t before seen,
blown askew on its hinges. A hallway led into the earth.
He journeyed in, bringing none but Viridis Merida,
who would not leave his side.

The hallway went to a bank of empty storerooms.
In the last of these, Sakhana found
a hidden trapdoor with a ladder going further down.
Here he entreated Zoe to turn back,
but she would not, so they went on together.
So absorbed were they in the mystery of this place,
they didn’t see the torch running low
until it began to gutter.

They were enveloped by darkness, and fear arose.
Sakhana banished the angry spirits that crowded his mind.
As they made to turn back in trepidation,
Viridis Merida saw a glow in her pocket.
She withdrew the gem, and it lit the hall.
So they continued.

Before long, the passageway ended.
They examined the dusty end, uncertain.
As Zoe held the gem to the wall,
a light answered forth, describing a door
with its hidden mechanism.

The door was represented by a mechanical gate with lights along its moving parts. Counterweights and pulleys opened it for the actors behind.

Marius Nikolai and Viridis Merida
entered a vast library chamber.
The walls bearing volumes were flanked by
massive statues that glowed as though living.
These took many forms, that Sakhana recognized
as his people’s ancient teachers of myth.
He bent a knee before them, and at the sight of this place.

Zoe held the jewel aloft, and
the library responded with its own illumination.
In wonder, they explored and examined the trove.
Many of the finest volumes were empty,
by myriad items of unknown but powerful magic.

A wall of books opened before Zoe
as she approached it holding the gem.
It revealed a stairway of masterful craft.
Upon the stone steps were carved tales of great heroes.
Sakhana asked Zoe if she would stay behind,
and again she refused.
So they took the long, winding stair.

Here they passed the great military obelisk as the actors climbed illusory stairs. The projectionists displayed carved story reliefs in the surrounding space.

When at last they reached light,
they found themselves atop Mt. Kairas.
Marius Nikolai had not known the place.
He found there a slender stone standing to chest height,
in the top of it a small window. The solstice sun set,
and the gem of Viridis Merida glowed again
with a piercing light that fell directly on the stone.
So she brought it close, placing it within the window.
The jewel pulsed, growing brighter each time.
Then with a deafening silence,
the light enveloped the entire city.

The parade arrived in the Royal Court. The bright display played off the walls of the city’s most fantastical architecture, setting a backdrop for the arrival of Her Vast Eminence, Queen Celeste. She was brought to the royal platform, where she boarded and below and in front of her second oldest granddaughter. They continued to the Verdant Plateau nearby. In the Pergola waited representatives from neighboring planets, and a Dragon.

All across the land could see it, near and far.
Within the encompassing veil of light shone visions,
sharp and clear, of a realm with more grace and triumph
than any they had seen.
Every detail of it etched into every looking eye.

Nor could any eye miss the man and woman
atop the mountain, revealed in majesty.
Though distant, their faces became known to all in that moment.
Marius Nikolai and Viridis Merida were recognized thus.
They stewarded the beginning of the next age of marvels,
and the new city that became Alisandre Capital.

So at Pyrean Midsummer we conjure forth our visions,
bright and clear as the light of Zoe’s gem,
great and certain enough to lay the foundation
for our futures in the spirit of new hope.

To Marius Nikolai!
To Viridis Merida!
To Alisandre!
And to the Great Pan-Galactic Imperium!

62.2

– 63 –

A twenty-one person assembly waited atop the Verdant Plateau – one dragon, four Aquarii, and sixteen humans arrayed above, inside, and around the Pergola. The procession halted at the plateau’s edge, and alone the ruling family disembarked to join them.

“This is the big show, Chrysanthe. The Vision. You were a baby last time you saw this.” The young girl, still just small enough to ride atop her father’s shoulders, squished his cheeks between her palms. They had a distant view from amid the sea of people filling the valley south of the Plateau. He kept her hands off his face by holding them. “Of course, it’s never the same twice. But I remember you smiling.”

“I doubt I could really see it if I was just a baby.”

“Maybe so. It’s good luck for you to be born so near Pyrean Midsummer. Now that you’re seven you get to see why.”

The Queen’s voice rolled out over the surrounding valleys, transmitted into space beyond. “Now with all the peoples of the Imperium, we light the sky with the Pyrean Vision.” The Magus family turned to face the great Pergola, and together sat on their knees.

“Papa – why do they kneel?”

“A show of respect for the hopes and dreams we express in the Vision.”

The four Aquarii in their respective corners of the Pergola began to shimmer warmly. The four humans surrounding each Aquari raised their palms, and the light around the Aquarii grew. A deep, melodic thrumming pervaded the air as their spheres of light widened to intermingle, beaming through the open Pergola.

“See how the Aquarii channel the human representatives, mixing them all in one Rasakarya.”

“What’s a ross-corey again?”

“A synaesthetic, like multisensory, like living, portrait of emotion and thought. Something only Aquarii can do.”

“How come those people get to do it?”

Chrysanthe’s father took a deep breath, and laughed. “This event is unique, ‘Santhe. Them up there are the ones that start it, but actually we all get to take part.” At no response but silence, he checked to see his daughter’s face transfixed by the spectacle.

Aural melodies began to wail, soar and syncopate. Intricate brightness enveloped the entire Pergola, reaching the coiled body of the dragon perched in massive flying form on the roof. Its silver-blue scales flashed as it took to the air, gently spiraling to float high above.

The mass of light gained focus, a streaming latticework that converged on a pulsing point centered above the structure. “It’s all joined now, see, and they’re making sense of it.” Glowing geometry transformed through a series of iterations that became more concise and graceful. The central point grew brighter till it burst upward, illuminating the sky all the way to the dragon above.

“What dragon is that?”

“Let’s see, that’s not Arkuda…” He pulled the event program from his pocket. “That’s Arctyri, of Foshan. Saga, Kyridi, and Rhizoa are on the other three planets this Midsummer.” The young girl repeated the names quietly.

The light revealed the dragon’s greater spectral being, extending through the sky in whorls and spikes. Arctyri’s body navigated a toroidal pattern, bending and channeling the light in this shape. The color of the sky began to change.

“Now the dragons are uniting the Visions from across the universe, from four planets in four separate galaxies who share the same moment of summer solstice every seven years. Right now!”

“When do we get to join in?”

“You’ll see. You’ll know!” Chrysanthe held her father’s hands and craned her head to watch. The sun was setting to her left. Between the growing night and fading day, the sky did resemble a conduit reaching through the universe; though instead of being dark, it was varicolor luminescent. She untangled a hand to reach up to it.

The combined light of four sunsets filled the air overhead, breathed in by the motion of the dragons’ flight. The colors gained substance and weight, falling like mist until they reached upraised hands.

It wasn’t like rain or snow, but Chrysanthe felt it, an electric sparkle that raised the hairs on her skin. It reminded her of things: warm cereal in the morning, dancing to the music her parents played. She saw the colors respond around her hand, and she did know just what to do after all.

She tilted her head as the lines and figures issuing from her father’s hand rose to meet her own small pictures. The expressions were abstracted, but when they joined, it somehow made a little more sense. Chrysanthe turned to see it happening everywhere around her. The sunsets’ light was fading, and the grand picture grew brighter in turn. She could see lines now that didn’t come from around her, but from somewhere across the galaxies, and they too connect into the picture with meaning. It seemed miles wide.

Arctyri above released the energy from the glowing torus, sending it back to the central focus. As a point of static harmony was reached, the Aquarii sent the energy crackling back through the pattern, rays of light connecting disparate lines.

When the big egg came falling through the vision like a springtime surprise, Chrysanthe wondered what amazing thing would come from inside.

63

Awards Eligibility Post 2018

[Novel, Debut] The first volume of the fantasy space opera trilogy Bones of Starlight: Fire Within, was re-issued in August 2018 with a new title and some adjusted linguistic details, including certain character pronouns. The course of the story remains intact from its 2016 release as Fire On All Sides. I’m unsure of this edition’s eligibility for the year, but if so, then so may it be. In all its iterations, I’ve been glad to receive reactions of enjoyment by various readers of respected opinion! By Eva L. Elasigue, via imprint Primal Spiral, first serialized on bonesofstarlight.com using CC-BY-NC 4.0 Creative Commons licensing. #HugoAward #NebulaAward #CampbellAward

[Novel] The next book of Bones of Starlight: Abyss Surrounding, was released in Nov/Dec 2018! This took the intergalactic saga to new frontiers, and is the second of a three-book story. I am glad and proud to bring this forth for consideration, the continuation of my deepening engagement with science fiction. By Eva L. Elasigue, via imprint Primal Spiral, first serialized on bonesofstarlight.com using CC-BY-NC 4.0 Creative Commons licensing. #HugoAward #NebulaAward

Also broadcasted on Twitter. Thanks for any and all consideration, and regardless please enjoy the story!