14.1 \ 196

All were waiting in the hold. Drift X was parked. Captain Wendel had just explained that this was no longer Drift 9, and the ship had graduated a number – but it would use the Auld Numeral, and would also be pronounced like the letter x, because that was the cool way: Drift X. She added that if a star road had ten or more drifts along it, someone might find her in the tenth drift from any given direction.

They were parked on a planet where none of these humans had ever been, though Dragon Food and Rosy Glow, the Kao-Sidhe, and Uixtr, the Vedani, stated some level of familiarity with the people of this place, who they said hadn’t left their planet. The space scooter named Moonshadow was excited to be here for the first time. Captain Wendel Harper, Toller, Derringer, and Ascendant Princess Soleil were preparing themselves for the unexpected with a likely possibility of hostility.

Getting here, Uixtr had communicated with Moonshadow, while Rosy Glow communicated with Moonshadow & Drift X, who communicated with Wendel. After the recent modifications, Drift X was now a little more like the person Wendel had always treated it. They’d flown into a rocky hole. Inside there was a plateau, near which there were more holes going further down into another stratum.

The Kao-Sidhe held a pep talk now that everyone was gathered. “These are the friends we mentioned, Soleil,” said Dragon Food, looking adventurous today.

“Humans can’t hear most of their speech. They talk on a different wavelength.”

“Another frequency.”

“I can help with translation,” stated Rosy Glow in a soothing tone.

“I hope you are prepared to be unready for the experience of meeting them.” That was approximately accurate. “They are more ready than you know.”

With a nod, Wendel punched a big button with her fist to open the hold door. Lowering, it revealed giant smooth charcoal trees with gnarled roots like claws. Or, gnarled claws like roots. These massive front limbs extended up past the lintel of the doorway. Natural light was present, but dim. A large wet bundle fell to the ground in front of the lowered hatch.

Uixtr walked out and picked up the bundle, bringing it back to them and opening it on the floor. He pulled out two wet cloth bandanas for every humanoid. “Tie both of these around your breathing orifices. It’s just water. This will protect you from an atmospheric corrosion to which we are susceptible, myself included. We won’t need to wear them for very long.” He folded his pair diagonally and tied the corners behind his head, above the silver plait at the nape of his neck. The rest did likewise, eyeing the trunklike limbs as they parted in giant steps to leave a small clearing outside the hatch.

“I’m going to go somewhere else now. Bye.” Dragon Food bowed splendorously with a finishing flourish to his love. Rosy Glow blew him a kiss as his form disappeared in place into some unglimpsed dimensional distance. With a bloom of color, she then gestured the others toward the outside of the ship. They went.

12 \ 194

Almost overnight, the city of Alisandre Capital had been plunged into martial law. Some said it was no surprise, with her father King Proxem Vario’s military background. Ideas had since arrived to Mireille regarding how she might respond as an authority in this situation – but firstly, situations are unique and do not replicate under changed factors. Secondly, she was not at this juncture supposing that she had a more capable or knowledgable mind to lead than her father. Thirdly, while her older sister Soleil may still be missing, Mireille was not really yet harboring any claimant feeling toward her position. That would mean giving her sister up for lost. She was, however, beginning to think that she should prepare her mind, so her mind went there more often.

These new restrictions meant that the royal family was living a little less connected than they were accustomed. Though influx and outreach wasn’t necessarily the predominating theme in the children’s lives, the shift into a state of fear brought with it an instant sense of claustrophobia. Mireille’s younger brothers were more restive, and she spent more time with them. She added in some interim education. She herself was currently studying a cross-sectional history focused on initiatory contacts, which she paraphrased for them. The degree of mystery in this current conflict reflected an element of these occurrences. Something distinguished it from Sturlusson’s – Hirylienites really, though emphatically not all Hirylienites – Phronium Triangle doings, even though that was a leading popular opinion. People leaped to patriotic defense upon the rumor of an accustomed foe, even if many doubted he would even be mentally viable after the stillfreeze. As the story began to change, people retained most of their defensive motivation.

News was now being mainly delivered via furtive disclosures of gathered intelligence inside small rooms, and not really for the children. Mireille had recently seen one of her mentors, Councillor Lysander whose partner was a retired Vanguard officer. His time was spent mostly elsewhere now, but when he did speak with Mireille, he would sigh and often seem to hesitate as though he couldn’t figure out how to tell her something. Oddly selected factoids from different periods in the lives of her mother, grandmother, and father began drifting into the topic focus without any particular segue or reason. Mireille wasn’t exactly sure what she was picking up from that.

Countercultures of surmise expressed argumentative divides regarding the portal transmissions. Over the antiquated and clandestine communication platforms still available, debate bounced around. Some were called dumb while others were called loony. Followers of either camp did research to confirm their pet theories, continually refining or contradicting. Mireille didn’t identify with dumb or loony, but she felt sufficiently alarmed and intrigued. She was aware that her viewpoints were necessarily constrained by her status.

The Princessa climbed out of her sleepless bed and stepped toward the window of her bedchamber, gazing into the nearest flickering window portal in the air. Some said that they were revealing state secrets. Some believed they’d been here all along. The image before her now resembled an old photograph in some way, a texture. She saw the recurring people shapes that were dubbed the Strangers, but also some people with more familiar human proportions. What were they doing? Images in the portals were gaining in clarity and correlation, but Mireille could discern little else to this right now. She was able to imagine the guesses already, unsure yet which were her own. It certainly held the fascination, under the current state of media starvation.

Princessa Mireille decided it would be worthwhile to start a unit for her brothers comparing portal theories to histories. She could already think of something they might want to ask their father. It was too bad they couldn’t also ask Grandmaria Celeste.

11 \ 193

Outside the window, there was a new window. It stared through to another place. Chrysanthe, seven and a quarter going on seven and a half, wasn’t afraid when she saw it. She’d had warning. In fact she thought it was pretty, though people were in states of panic about the appearance of inexplicable portals throughout the city – throughout many, many towns and cities everywhere, it was soon announced. The edges of these viewing portals rippled as though painted with brushstrokes of the magnetosphere, which itself shimmered strangely. Surrounding dimension had an uncertain plasticity.

Everything changed. School was temporarily canceled, to start again soon remotely. A network tree was distributed that linked student families, who would contact each other to share resources. Adults with critical jobs were escorted to work by new armed guard units present in every neighborhood. Basic supplies were distributed.

Some neighborhoods were evacuated for strategy zones. Following this, an alarming seventy-five percent of transmission signals were hijacked and stolen. That was how much current human technology already contained adapted Vedani developments. The resulting mayhem was barely handled. Main media channels had been seized, as well as high-grade communications (though some antiquated signals remained functioning). Even mapping was bad. Things were turning old-fashioned. The armed guard units were sending runners through the neighborhoods. Adults were speaking in whispers.

The images flickering through the portals were disjointed, though people began to solidify theories as to their meaning with a quickness. Groups formed around different interpretations. Those secretly aware of the true stories saw truth begin to appear from conjecture. They bided their time as cautioned, allowing people to work it out themselves as best they could.

We aren’t scared. We’ll be fine. We’re not going to do anything stupid. We are the beloved, and we know what’s happening.

10.2 \ 192

“In order to surface anywhere else, we need to take extra readings and change a number of vectors. Even then, I’m not sure our location will differ enough to avoid notice.” Arjun hesitated a moment. “Can you ask Arctyri to help us?”

Coiled Arkuda lifted er head then dangled it askance. “Your brother also knows Arctyri. He’d be a better person to initiate the request, and I can assist.”

“Are you doing this on behalf of the Imperium?”

“I’m currently acting independently.” Arkuda locked eyes with Arjun. “I was willing to come here because you’re someone I know who doesn’t let the government behind certain doors. I left in the good grace of one authority who is now gone. Demands could possibly be made of me, and I may not be able to comply. Also, congratulations on your new invention; it’s beautiful, and I knew it would work the moment I became aware of what you were doing.”

Arjun called his brother to the office. Buckminster Woollibee arrived quickly, and once fully apprised began brainstorming aloud. “We can try cycling a cold current through the air system – an actual cold current, not just cooling the place. We’ll need an appropriate oscillation… maybe an entire vat of liquid nitrogen. Arjun, can we find an intern who will ladle it into twenty transport receptacles?” This was a running joke regarding their research isolation, where there was no comfort of interns for expediency.

“Actually, let’s ask some research leads to help. Some of the ones we need to talk to about this next, anyhow.” They got Arys Steinman, The Hoopoe, and Danila Bautiste, all linked to priority operations. In addition to being the stodgy quantum physicist, Bautiste was a volunteer bartender at the parties, so they had the elite pouring skills. They distributed one large round in small ladlefuls, then went about setting them open at specific points that the brothers had worked out. Arjun left to set certain cycles into the system, but first he indicated a location beneath a venting point to Bux. The researchers agreed to remain for the sake of possible assistance.

Bux invited Arkuda to place emself there next to him. Still glowing softly, Arkuda crawled and slid er head into place, leaving the rest of er coils where they lay against the wall. Bux Woollibee readied himself to sit comfortably and explained what they’d be trying. “I’m going to hum a set of tones that I discovered and repeated throughout some meditations after I first met Arctyri, which brought clarity to some insights. I’ll try cycling them for a while. I’d like for you to harmonize with me using dragon frequencies. Your signature will be clear but secondary to mine, as befits the matter.”

“I’ll do my best to remain subtle.”

Flipping through a binder at her desk, Maryan didn’t at first notice the unusual frequency modulation tickling her eardums, but it registered when the cold whisper of a breeze brushed her leg. Finding it strange, she looked around for a moment but chalked it up to one of the many environmental oddities to living in the Arch. Someone may have opened a door somewhere causing systemic air movement; average motors can create persistent overtones that travel farther than their basic noises.

Architectural engineer Arjun Woollibee returned to the small party in his office to find that it had grown. “Oh! Aha!” Against the wall opposite to Arkuda, and in matching coiled form, another dragon radiated a coolness that swirled through the room. The presence of two courteously-sized dragons made the human office feel cramped. Diplomatic forms would be even more helpful, though still wouldn’t entirely erase the effect. They seemed more elemental when long. Arjun made an awkward gesture of respect.

“Will you allow me to explain the situation here to Arctyri in our own language?” Assent passed around the room. Arkuda’s daylight pulsed more vividly while an incredibly condensed audial impression tinkled and rumbled like a fleeting hallucination. “I’ve concluded. Give er a moment.”

Pondering, Arctyri gazed up, then down; closed er eyes, and retreated even further. The air went almost still before another swift shivery blast as ‘e opened er eyes. “I can help you. Carry you to safety at the surface, and then back to your base. But I’m not sure how long I can keep doing it.” Arjun stepped forward and bowed, as the primary person who would collaborate on details.

Arys, the ever-humble knot theoretician, rang a finger against the nearly empty liquid nitrogen tank, partially reminding everyone that it needed to go back to the cooler. “I believe I know who can help distract the threat – someone who is within our confidentiality and is partially-but-not-too familiar with situational details. It would possibly be of great benefit, if I may be allowed to use emergency priority outcall.”

“Yes,” replied Arjun with barely a hesitation, “use this authorization at the communications center.” From a top desk drawer, he handed Steinman a chip key on a lanyard. “Report to us only if it will make a difference.”

“We’re not going to lose our readings, will we?” asked the Hoopoe, glancing between all present while hiding a sudden minor panic. “I’d really prefer to keep up live monitoring.”

“Though your surface coordinates will be changing, I expect to return you to your usual base, where your operating conditions should remain consistent.” The Hoopoe mastered a little swoon over his first time being directly addressed by a dragon, and nodded his thanks. Steinman fled wordlessly to make his call.

10.1 / 192

Long-coiled and footed, a dragon glowing of sunlight was heaped against one wall of Arjun Woollibee’s control office. Manageably sized but not in true diplomatic form, ‘e was clearly injured where one side throbbed with darkness. Arkuda’s eyes were clear and fixed upon the engineer as ‘e spoke. “Your enemies have found you. They are here to attack you.” That sank in, and Arjun looked up through the cieling and several pressures of water. “There’s an unfriendly-looking reception awaiting you at the surface. Keep your new system activated, and I’ll bring you a live image.”

A flicker of appreciation for a visiting friend showed on Arjun’s face, as he acknowledged the serious situation with complete attention. The image flickered hazily into the room, beaming out from a sunstrip corner. A cluster of attack hovers were focused around some familiar-looking but nondescript open ocean, their usual surfacing point. “They look like mercenaries. I would like to think they’re Pliskin’s,” assessed Woollibee in reference to their umbrella company Plexus’ founding inventor, “but they don’t look defensively equipped, and we’ve had no notice. Did they see you?”

“They did not, I was a mere shimmer upon the water. Do you know who would want to attack you?” asked the dragon with a pained breath.

“I know who I would think of first. Given their timing, I’m almost sure,” nodded Woollibee. “Some of our research partners have disappeared, with involvement of people linked to Foundational groups. They believe humanity should stick to its foundations, and very often that means they oppose learning and discovery. They are a group only of humans… who apparently now have our surfacing coordinates.”