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) 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

5x Rerun: Fire Within (1), 51-55

– 51 –

As she came to, Wendel calmly opened her eyes. She was sitting on the floor, her hands secured to a fixture behind her. Looking to either side, she saw a darkened bunk. Across the room, someone was chained to a wall pipe. “Toller,” she whispered.

Conscious, Toller nodded to her and jutted his chin to the door. Then he jerked his head to one side, indicating something behind him. He wiggled his shoulders and gave her a slow nod.

Wendel smirked and curled her fingers up to examine her bonds. Locking strongfiber loops. He had something that would open these? She watched him shift and work, both of them listening through the quiet.

Bootsteps approached, followed by discussion, then the sound of a key. In came two men wearing grey coveralls off the loading bay. They shut the door behind them and turned on the light.

One walked to Wendel and tilted her face up. Meeting his eyes, she felt a rush of recognition. She had been right about the undercover shipping network. Poke a web at enough points, and the spider comes out to investigate. She only regretted the boy’s involvement.

“This is she. Wendel Harper.” He sucked his teeth. His rough black countenance showed him to be some years older than his associate, and his posture was military. “We’re going to have words about your presence in our doings. Possibly you made an honest mistake or two at the beginning. But now you’re meddling. And we won’t have it, not from you or your group.” Her group.

Wendel’s voice stayed light. “Leanders Aynsdotr. It was your patterns that tipped me off. Pirates and thieves.”

“Call us what you want, we’re not petty.”

“You’re building an interesting stock of materials. What is it you want here at Genesee disaster? You didn’t come all this way for little old me.”

“You know much less than you think you do. Don’t worry, we’ll teach you more about us before the day is over.” He turned to the other man. “Well done. Let’s get them all on board, and we can go.”

She watched Toller in her peripheral vision. Aynsdotr’s lackey stooped to reach the restraints. With unexpected grace, the boy slithered from where he sat, trapping the man’s feet. Toller grabbed his shirt collar, using his arm as leverage to bring him down. The boy kicked him in the head hard enough to knock him out.

Wendel saw Aynsdotr draw his weapon as Toller grabbed the electric baton from the downed man’s belt. The boy flung it across the room into Aynsdotr’s face. In the time it took for him to scream and drop his aim, Toller closed the distance, wielding his broken cuffs like a sap. Rooting his feet, he swung it straight across Aynsdotr’s temple, dropping him to the ground.

Wendel watched Toller pause for the next couple breaths. He blinked and began to search pockets. He withdrew a rectangle key. “Here, this is it.” As he leaned toward her, she caught his gaze with a piercing look. He let her search his eyes, appearing slightly embarassed. Satisfied, she relaxed, leaning away so he could unlock the cuffs.

She stood, rubbing her wrists. “We have to find Leiv, and the others. We have to get off this ship.” Looking at Toller’s puzzled face, she realized she was grinning. She raised her eyebrows and started to laugh.

51

– 52 –

The four Generals looked from the observation window onto a large patch of space that billowed inward and out. It was defined by a minute fringe of light that only instruments could clearly magnify. The four of them stood transfixed. It caused the mind to chatter in every possible direction.

“You see why it’s been difficult to study, then.” General Ionos of the Libran Federet took a sip of whisky and turned to face the projection dais in the center of the room. The others followed suit, though General Alisandre let his gaze linger on the vortex for another moment. It felt like a familiar puzzle. Just as he turned away, he saw a flash of blue-green aurora.

“We know what you mean now about the ghost ships, the random images.” General Lucay gestured with his glass to the projections, live relays of skewed shipboard readings. “In the course of our approach, instruments reported five bogeys, then twenty-five, then two, then a small fleet. Scout ships found nada while all this occurred. The placemap read the bogeys as asteroids, and the network read them as com points.” He rubbed his forehead with a bewildered smirk. “Then they started wheeling around like a flock of damn birds.”

Ionos nodded. “Yup. Just like that. Though it’s never the same twice. The false echoes, we call them shadows. We’ve been watching for patterns, set some programs to scan, but so far the only trend is an activity increase with no physical correlate.” He played back the original recording. “The shadows started early yesterday.”

“Around the time of the fires in Aquari Home?” General Iparia swished a sip of whisky.

“Not long before.” Ionos swept his finger along the arc of the barely visible formation. “This Alpha’s captain thought he saw the arrival of completely unknown ships. He raised alarms, but recon was barely out before displays changed again, showing nothing as before. They confirmed the false readings, and that was our first sighting.” He reinstated the live view. “This is why we’re convened. We don’t have anything like this on record. Not in all twenty-four generations.”

“What about the other two vortices we’re watching?” asked Lucay.

“They remain stable. Only the Photuris Vortex is evolving, thankfully.” Ionos cleared his throat. “Lucky us. At least the effects don’t reach as far as Photuris itself.”

Alisandre met the eyes of Iparia sidelong before suggesting, “The Loramer Institute may be our best resource for investigation.”

Lucay grunted. “What, those softnoggins?”

Iparia briefly closed his eyes. “Those softnoggins have made great strides recently, if you haven’t been paying attention. Theoreticians are most useful when dealing with the unknown.”

Ionos nodded. “If you can debrief them, Alisandre, and have them send someone, the sooner the better. Someone with steel nerves. I won’t deny the shadows have everyone on edge.” The younger General nodded.

“Isn’t your son an officer on this ship?” Lucay asked Ionos over his whisky.

“He is, in fact. Lietenant Corporal Tyson Sorens. His office is on third deck if you have any questions regarding the crew.”

52

– 53 –

“Down this way. We’re headed towards Drift 9,” directed the pilot, calling her ship by name. Toller tailed at her inconspicuous yet rapid pace. They ducked into an intravessel transit. No one had tried to stop them. She fixed her mind on Leiv – where might they have brought him? If he knew what was going on and wasn’t captive, he should be at their rendezvous.

Toller kept his head down beneath his hood. He eyed people’s movements, seeing no one familiar, and nothing particularly strange. He assumed they were going straight to the ship bay, so he nearly missed Wendel exiting at the residential floors.

“I thought we were leaving,” Toller said as he caught up to her.

“We are, but I have to get something first.”

“Really?” asked the boy with some distress. He recalled the memory of Cheli’s face, still looking up at him as tides of fire and ash rushed to engulf Anzi.

“Absolutely. Head back to the Drift if you want, I’ll see you there.”

“Oh, no.” Toller paced her grimly. “Besides, it’s not going anywhere without you.”

Maybe, thought Wendel. She focused on the room up ahead. He would be there. Him, or what she needed to find him.

From paces away, the door burst open, Leiv emerging full speed carrying a pack. Wendel gasped as they practically ran into each other, and Leiv leaned in to kiss her on the mouth. Without a word, they turned and sped to the ship bay.

53

– 54 –

“So, how goes the hunt for our elusive rabbit?”

General Alisandre snorted as he keyed his remote data to the small projection table. A display opened of a feral-looking man with long, straight dark hair. His grin mocked them as it rotated around, facing every corner of the room. “General Iparia, Sturlusson is no rabbit.”

“No, he is lower. I honor him with the title of rabbit, because when we capture him, I will dine well.” Alisandre looked at the senior General’s slender face, set in stone. He knew of the death of Iparia’s sister on the day Sturlusson collapsed the Freshwater Consulate. The man hadn’t been connected to the incident till days later, when they found his signature in the rubble: the trisected triangle with a crosscut on each arm, stamped on a phronium coin.

General Iparia was now the strongest proponent of the intergalactic effort to apprehend the man whose mysterious agenda had wreaked destruction and chaos in nearly every federet.

It had been a long hunt. General Alisandre followed it as the news crossed his desk. Agency squads for intergalactic criminals fell in his jurisdiction as the capital planet General, and Sturlusson was already on the enemy roster when Claymore took the post.

Raev Sturlusson was known for maneuvers that crippled operations, and he didn’t shy from taking lives. He announced himself often. They were still tracking the full extent of his network. This one man had made so many enemies, caused so many personal vendettas, that it was only a matter of time.

“We have word of two separate cells, one in the Vertris Federet, concentrated on Lurin-”

“-of course,” muttered General Iparia.

“-and one in the Libran Federet, focused on planet Ionos.”

“I assume General Ionos knows about this?”

“Yes, but it concerns him little. This group hasn’t directly acted on any of his planets, and the forces to pursue it are mine.”

“Then he is practically harboring them.”

“Hardly. He’s put every resource at my disposal and opened every pathway I’ve requested. He knows it can’t be long before they make a point of their presence, but you can’t blame him for being currently preoccupied here.” They both turned their heads briefly to the blank wall in the direction of the Photuris Vortex.

“Even so. The magnitude of Sturlusson’s crimes makes him a top priority.”

“That, he is. We’re very close now.”

Alisandre watched Iparia’s jaw work for a moment before he spoke. “I depart for Freshwater shortly. I intend to supply aid for Ionos. Another Alpha base here at the Vortex, and I think a team or two to help take care of the vermin problem on his home planet.”

“No doubt he will appreciate those offers. If you wish to send special ops, please have them report to my mission chief, Commander Georg Hertez.”

Iparia nodded and went to the door. He paused before it to salute. “I would like every update, General Alisandre.”

Returning the salute, he sighed inwardly. “General Iparia. You will have it.”

54

– 55 –

Cross-legged, he perched on a rippling plane of light in a room of vibrating azure walls. His hands were raised, contacting midair frequency terminals. Words and lines of light under tattoos and scars glowed in synch with the programs around him.

He’d been expecting the call that he tapped to project before him. A woman’s face displayed in 3D monochrome, the covert connection offering but a weak signal. He examined her hair in grayscale.

“Where is Leanders?”

She made a face. “Busy. Otherwise occupied. We’re switching to plan b.”

“So be it. How’s that going?”

“They’re doing their job perfectly, which is to say badly.”

“Excellent.” He drew a long breath. “You know what you’re doing from here.”

She nodded. “We’ll both be out of communique for some time, is that right?”

“Excepting anything through the media.” He tilted the camera downward, but the view was blocked by a shipboard control unit. “It’ll happen in stages, and you’ll be in a position to watch it all and keep up.”

“If anyone can do it, it’s me.” She kissed her fingertips and waved to him. “See you on the other side, boss.” Another call alert flashed as her image disappeared.

He took the incoming signal, which was a sending-throughport. From a spark wobbling at chest level entered five gently glowing wire frame avatars. He dispersed his frequency terminals and stood to greet them.

“You’re all here, so I take it our trials have been thorougly successful.”

The last wire frame to emerge nodded her head. “We’ve reached certainty rates on all auric testflesh programs. The mechanical side is functioning at 92%.”

“That will do. And you’re all willing to do this yourselves?”

“We are. It will work similarly on us, if not entirely the same. Our end of the signal is strong, only we five need carry the connection.”

“Then we’re ready.” Sturlusson stood and stretched. One figure handed him a green sphere. It gloved his hand in light, which spread to cover his body with a framenet like those around him. “Bring me through.”

The six of them joined hands in a horseshoe, and the murmuring hum arose. The two open ends touched the sending-throughport. The body frames, Sturlusson included, together folded rapidly into the spark, which winked out behind them.

He was released by the electric net on the other side, standing before the five who had sent their avatars. He opened his arms and bowed, lifting his eyes to speak with them from there. “That you five accept this responsibility, when it’s not even your cause-”

One raised his hand. “Our aims have become intertwined. Signalman.”

Raev lowered his bow even further. “And for that the living and the dead for whom I stand are deeply grateful to the Vedani.”

They nodded to him, some smiling. “The vector group is ready in the next chamber when you are.”

“This has been a work of long years, friends. I walk lighter knowing the blood of my father and home shall have its vindication.” The five parted to let him pass, and he strode forward to open the door.

In the adjoining hall stood twenty people in two facing rows. Upon his entrance, they took a knee and planted their fists on the floor, eyes glowing. They rose and all stood before each other, the five Vedani behind Sturlusson.

“You last remnants of Hirylien. All the years I searched for you, that we searched for each other, precipitated this moment. You know the truth now as I discovered it, and we are bringing it to them. So that finally, the rage burning in our hearts for our lost families and futures can be shown as the grave injustice being perpetrated on all peoples of the Imperium. We are their warriors. This is our first step.”

“For all you’ve suffered, you have agreed to suffer more to bring, if not ultimately justice, then some retribution. To put an end to one of their great poisons. You all have what you need to survive the time of onslaught, and let us draw each other through this fire to the other side victorious.” All twenty dropped a knee and knuckle pounded the floor. Sturlusson did the same, bringing down both fists at once. The pounding subsided.

“Remember, this is only the beginning.” A smile stretched wide on his face, growing into a full grin. He turned to the five behind him standing respectfully in salute. He gestured toward one, her Vedani hair silver against blue-white skin. She nodded slightly, and all five murmured subtonally, making microgestures.

A door on one side of the hall opened, and in came a cart bearing capped tubes and dosers with three doctors. It stopped at one end of the double line, and the doctors started inoculating them with the brassy serum. Raev Sturlusson and the Vedani joined them at the far end.

Through the door followed a rack carrying necessity packs for twenty-one Hirylienites, and behind that a rolling freezer billowing cool air. The entire vector group had been injected, and a pack was set behind each of them. The chest freezer took the place of the med cart, and from it came racks of flasks to distribute. Each flask was a secure carrycase for a smaller set of tubes, filled with liquids and some powders.

Sturlusson paced between the two lines. “Familiarize yourselves with these. This carries our mission, as well as your individual salvation and assurance. Be able to use them as needed, without thinking, under any duress you may encounter. Put it where you can immediately access it. These will save much more than just yourselves.” He zippered his into a pocket. “Assemble things and get in groups.”

55 sketch

 

5x Rerun: Fire Within (1) 42, 5th Sequence, 43-45

– 42 –

The sky was turning pale with the first light of dawn. The General and Princessa were reading by lamplight in a corner. A ghostly light shone over Princess Soleil’s face, reflecting off the wall and displays around her head.

A display brightened before making the urgent chime they knew as the change of state alert. Mireille Magus dropped her book to her lap and looked over at General Claymore. In a moment she was by her sister’s bed reading the display. To Draig, Soleil looked no different, except for perhaps a change around her eyes.

“She’s in regular REM sleep.” Mireille searched his face. “She might wake up.” General Claymore was on his feet instantly, quietly. Still reading the display, Mireille spoke just above a whisper. “I will contact my family. Please inform the Doctor, Arkuda, Bright Wave, and the medical staff. In that order. Thank you, General.” He stepped closer to see Soleil breathing easily before striking a salute and exiting.

People arrived shortly. Aided by the dragon and Aquari, the doctor advised that the Princess would likely be awake within the day. Queen Celeste would wait.

It was two deep breaths before Soleil realized she was conscious in her waking mind, in the world again. The room was quiet. No pain, other than heaviness in her limbs.

Trying to clear her throat, she managed to make a noisy breath. Swallowing was easy. She adjusted to the dim light. It was a deep relief to be looking out through her eyes again. Someone familiar sat to her left. Her grandmother, the Queen.

“Don’t speak, Soleil.” The Queen placed two fingers on her granddaughter’s lips before holding her face between her hands.

A surge of panic woke Soleil more fully. Did the Queen know what had been revealed to her? She welcomed the presence, but her mind recoiled with mistrust. Ugly things she’d learned in her sleep came rushing back. Paranoia took the helm before giving over to cool analysis, as she’d learned to do. Still, she could only bring herself to meet her grandmother’s eyes for so long.

The Queen hummed a long, entrancing tune. It brought her comfort, yet when Soleil realized she was being lulled, she fought back. She felt warmth at her temples, and was reminded of the seven symbols she tucked away. They would remind her, and they were safe. She would not forget.

42

– 5TH SEQUENCE –

Fifth Sequence

– 43 –

“We are in touch. We are linked.” The large man serviced the one-person vehicle, readying it for travel. He looked up at what he was speaking to. “I can feel her extreme emotions. I may even understand, and respond. That said, you-” he yanked a strap to tighten, “-have a ways to go in your part of this scenario.”

The reply shimmered warmly through the air around him. “Do not worry yourself on our behalf. We are under no constraints to show you our work.” The snarl was evident, if not visible. “If forces continue to operate correctly, events will occur with proper timing. Human.”

“If you insist on being obscure. So very draconic.” Despite being short of speech, he knew they’d be fully vocal about any issues. He hit a button and the small airlift hummed to life, picking itself up off the ground. He hopped onto the platform and gripped the handlebars. “I have people to be in touch with. My supply network, they’ve bungled something.” He yanked the straps securing his packs. “You know how to reach me.” The Vedani airsled’s field popped up around him, and he sped toward the southeastern horizon. The shimmering heat waves around him dissipated with a hiss. Only the dark plain remained, tossed by the breeze.

43

– 44 –

The window view from the recomissioned vacation resort-turned-refugee ship Odessia 6 beheld the northern curve of Genesee at morning. Ice caps were visible, marred with faults that could be picked out with sharp vision. Wendel Harper sat on the carpeted hallway floor looking out, her short blond hair coated with dust, face hovering between relief and regret.

Quiet footsteps announced the arrival of the teenage boy she’d rescued aboard her ship. He slowed as he neared her, stopping close by. He faced the planet sunrise, hands in his pockets. He looked as though he’d had sleep.

Toller allowed the quiet to stretch on. There’s a word to describe the common feeling to those whose destiny has become separate from their home planet, the new sense of oneself as extraterrestrial. He couldn’t state it, but there it was, encapsulated in the moments he watched the sun shine over it from space.

He remembered his mother, the last time he saw her before she died. Beautiful in his memory, surrounded by drab walls in their depressed city neighborhood. Her presence in his thoughts took him by surprise.

“You’re sure, then,” said Harper, breaking the silence. “You’re not going to stay here or go back.”

“No.” He looked at her sidelong. “I’ve reached escape velocity. I never actually thought it would happen.” He showed the sincerity in his eyes. “Thought I’d live my life planetbound. Took pride in it, even.” He looked to see if she knew what he meant. “But that’s over. I’m gone, and I think I’ll just keep going for a while.”

Harper nodded. Calmness surrounded his figure. There was energy in that poise of being, but little direction. “You’re still not sure where.”

“I never really bothered with astrography before. I could head to the capital, but I think I’d be lost there.” He shrugged, looking at his hands before putting them back in his coat pockets. “More lost than I am?”

She smiled a bit. “You’re not lost. You look like you know exactly where you are.”

He nodded. “It’s a habit I picked up.” They met each other’s eyes and smiled.

“Feel like getting the morning meal?”

“..Yeah. Are they just feeding us here?”

“More or less.” She uncrossed her legs and stood, shouldering a medium-sized pack. “Come with me.”

44

– 45 –

This wing of the Great Library of Alisandre was quiet, empty but for the two seated in a softly lit alcove. Dragon and human, they sat on the ground at a low table. Their faces were placid, eyes half-closed in the peach colored glow of the table top.

A conscious-subsconscious logic reordering program played between them midair. Its derivatives shifted and progressed according to the pattern Soleil had arranged herself, not long ago in the company of this teacher. Draconid recall techniques had ways of re-orienting parts of a being scattered far and wide across the planes. The human uses supported broader memory, meditation and acuity, methods available to some few since the dragons first offered to share them.

The images continued through their phases, points and shapes flashing in rhythmic connection. Eventually, it ran to an end, the table going dim as the light in the alcove brightened. The dragon looked at the Princess. She sent her unfocused stare out to the library, mouth shut tight. She would look at him, but never for long. It was better since they started the sequence three days ago.

“Would you like me to leave you in peace?” said golden-white Councillor Arkuda. Princess Soleil, hands on her knees, looked at him, then past him. Slowly she inclined her head and let it drop, her breathing light and still. It was strange to see her like this. People acted this way in grave peril. She was relaxed, focused on survival in tumult, though he couldn’t divine why. She was aware and able to maintain composure; still, she had not yet spoken.

The Princess folded her hands into a mudra on her knees, the one for keeping still and letting all else pass. Arkuda hadn’t determined whether she’d been doing these intentionally or not. Humans were capable of performing nuanced mudras without being aware of it. Regardless, he took the cue and rose from his seat.

“Until tomorrow, Princess. May the stars light your way.” Arkuda left, exiting into a side hall of the Library.

Hearing him leave, her pulse slowed. It wasn’t Arkuda she had met in her vision, but his essential similarity was unnerving. Was it a warning against him, or a sign that he was an ally? She watched to test her guesses, but none were proven nor discounted. She couldn’t let down her guard.

45

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.