94.3 / 286

There were the two Kao-Sidhe with them at the Peak. They had accompanied the elemental they guided to this invitation, and were occupying some upper wall space with a lot of apparent activation. Rosy Glow was raptly reflecting the extradimensional palette before her petal eyes. Dragon Food was looking especially well-put-together, zesty and sparkling with flair, glistening with sauciness and hot from the fire as he took in the dance of two dragons up ahead. He couldn’t resist his own irresistible nature, and he began to float forward.

Bux Woollibee’s head turned as Dragon Food drew level with where he was standing on the bridge. He reached out to try to catch what might be a foot or a trailing wisp of aroma, but the sidhe was at this moment incorporeal. Dragon Food continued onward, his look turning more determined and courageous. Bux waggled a pointing finger after him as the Kao-Sidhe approached the viewpane. Arjun noticed and understood; walking calmly over, he reached out a hand that passed right through Dragon Food’s currently diminutive form, which continued forward with stubbornly singular focus. Arjun looked at Soleil. Soleil looked at Rosy Glow, who was enraptured both by the otherworldly sunset and by her love flying into it. “Can you do anything about that?” Soleil asked her road friend. “What is he doing?”

“I don’t know,” murmured Rosy Glow, “and probably not. We, our kind, have to be what we are, or we wouldn’t exist. I believe right now, he’s going to be what he most truly is. I love him for exactly that. I don’t think I could stop him if I tried, and I’ve never tried.”

“But is he going to be okay? Are we going to be okay?”

“How could I be the one to answer that?” She looked back toward Dragon Food and the sunset, swooning helplessly.

“Can you blind him? Confuse him?”

“Me? No. Though he might argue differently. And trying might ruin this, first. Isn’t there more time left in the song?” At this moment, Dragon Food passed through the viewing pane and out into the aqueous area inside the permeable torrential slip field.

With one hand out toward what just happened, Arjun demanded of Rosy Glow, “Where are your limits? What are your limits? Could he always do that?”

“Always? No, I can’t imagine so. He’s doing it now.”

“Doing what?” asked Arjun.

“His thing.” Her hypnotized expression turned into an anticipatory grin.

Arjun’s thoughts raced. They’ve been working on this for academic ages. This wouldn’t exactly be happening right now without these two, or this one apparently determining his own role. This was now occurring on its own. They couldn’t have guessed or tried for this, and this has to be it. We’re already getting more than we ever have, and giving more than we ever have. We now have to pay attention, save everything we can of this moment. He looked around the room, checking the reactions of the research crew. Instrument reading techs in all their fields appeared to understand the gravity of these observations, doubling down on their focus, accuracy, and detail. No one had any idea what to expect when they started out, and not in the next phase, or this next. They knew how to handle not knowing. They were here for real science.

88.2 \ 280

Bare-headed and without their bluelight body shields on, a blond geneticist muttered back and forth with her dark-skinned labmate. They were reading the signs.

Biological Genocide
Hirylien Happened On Purpose
You Know It’s Wrong
Evil Empire Control
We Know What You Did
HA235 is a Designer Label
You Followed the Orders, Didn’t You
Did You Know What You Made?
You’re Not Why We Survived (You’re why we almost died)
Quit Your Jobs
Rise Up & Realize

“Are you recording this?” The labmate had a lapel pin camcom.

“Yeah, for later. We need express permission for anything depicting this facility, remember?”

“Oh, yeah. Will we be able to get the permission? How worried are we for our own safety right now?”

“These look like people who don’t take lives or have heavy weaponry. But, how did they get here? Maybe they have friends. Why today?”

A large member of security approached them quickly. “There are objects landing inside the fence. They have some kind of toy bow or launcher that can shoot high and far. We’re investigating, while initiating the next tier of procedure. Put all of your work away, long storage. Then get ready, and find your exit buddies.”

85.3 / 277

“Speaking as a research team lead, the project staff has prerogatives both contractual and career oriented.” Arys Steinman was among the researchers gathered who had ties to the Incident. “Not only are we hired to do this thing… some of us have been looking forward to it, for our own part, in some way for possibly our entire lives. I lost a brilliant colleague to the event of the Dragon’s hatching. I didn’t do a lot of work with Hydraia, but the work we did was sound. So I understand the presence of hidden struggles.

“I believe that I’m willing to work with this Dragon, for what I and we can achieve with our collective interests in mind – with very little if any mean-mugging. Yeah, some of us are quite eager to exit a political deathtrap, but many of us are certain that the best way out is through. This has been a topic of discussion the entire time we’ve been under threat. People haven’t wanted to leave when weighing against the cost of failure. A possible traitorous designation might be different than noble injury or death at the hands of ideological nutjobs, but from here it’s a fine distinction.”

Marian Waters, marine biologist, stepped up. “I lost my military boyfriend in the catastrophe. You’d think we couldn’t recognize the Elemagnetic Generational Gyre of a dragon we’d never seen before, when we’d never even seen one before. Apparently they’re probably never the same. I ended up learning a lot about the biological side of what happened, mostly how much we didn’t know and still don’t. We were tampering with the EGG. I have more sympathy for eggs than most, despite my grief.

“With him gone, what I have is my work. This is the most important that my work has ever been – we have the Cup of Mystery within arm’s reach, and these are the kinds of things seekers of the Cup face at the point when they’re looking right at it. My babe would tell me to get it, and get it big. If we do every last thing we can do on our experiments here this time – I mean, Make It Happen – we’ll all be ready to leave the crossfire. I’ve seen it work that way, when a joint project wraps up. Suddenly, we all know we’re done. We’re almost there. From the start, we each of us decided to go under the Immeasurable Oceans for this. I’ll take all the dragons we can get.”

“For a long time, my mental faculties have been dedicated to keeping us alive down here,” smiled Arjun Woollibee, First AIDD, “since before we were down here. The tendency continues even when the topic crosses outside of my field. We just hit the pressure point where we had to make our findings publicly tradeable. The benefit and danger of that, is that we’re being protected by a collection of companies invested in results. We may inwardly defy the profit motive and yet still decide in its favor, because our lives are at stake. Not that results matter if we can’t deliver them, but right now science may be moving faster than politics, somewhere on the upward curve of an exponential function. If we can manage it, our science might even change the politics, perhaps those that would condemn us. Would that the light of our torch may dispel the shadow of danger.”

85.1 \ 277

Acamar was somewhere in the atmosphere of this ocean planet, looking way down over scattered tiny islands, and the expanses of ocean between. Dragon Food hung onto some part of er where ‘e wavered, awaiting. At the time when they’d reached this point, a fact was remembered – relations here would be in some ways tense or complex. Rosy Glow, sort of a connector or diplomat at heart, took it upon herself to go in advance and determine an avenue of agreement.

Rosy Glow appeared in a mess hall, where some people were feeling hale and hearty, with hot beverages. She finagled the attendance of any concerned parties by specifying her general matters of import, in certain ways. Those who came to speak with her were selected by their peers for their position of relevance to such matters. The humans found the right words to use to find the people who should be found, and then they came. There were: Princess Ascendant Soleil (AWOL), General Alisandre Draig Claymore (AWOL, possibly removed), Dragon Councillor Arkuda (resigned & secluded), any people with a relation to the Ionian Vortex Anomaly/EGG Incident (such as Captain Wendel Harper), and people with ancillary military allegiance at the Arch.

There was going to have to be some talking and soul searching over the conflicted presence of someone she was sure they would need: the new Dragon. There was history here already, and she would try not to lead this being into a trap. These three new visitors were in somewhat closer relation to the ancient memories of the Red Nexus on how people of this civilization could betray with extreme prejudice. Arkuda, though, knew this era firsthand as well.

Once the group was absorbing the nature of the adjacent presence, and the permission or invitation being sought, the Princess Ascendant turned to the others present and opened the discussion through the caught-breath tension with, “Tell me how you feel.”

84.1 \ 276

The mass of glassy rock tapped beneath their feet, as the humans who’d volunteered for the buffer zone practiced the run they would use to move in groups during entry and exit. Center point leaders would guide group direction toward intended placements. Everyone ran bent over, arms splayed behind them, to increase their aerial visibility. The position reduced the likelihood of becoming an unintended target by a friendly force. “From above, you’d look like a bee doing a bee dance, instead of just a body under a head,” is how Mirya Ayo put it to her group of buffer zone protesters. It was an unusual way to run, as if under low branches while holding weapons, but people figured it out.

They did this training inside of incredible scenery – a pocket floating island within an uncrossable branch of rapids in the off-season Oriya aerial river. Uncrossable, except by the schools of silvers, their leathery disclike bodies making twirling extended leaps. The island they stood on was made of the kind of stone with a unique planetary magnetogravitational relationship. Floating veins of this stone created the conditions for the aerial river. The configuration of other giant gems nearby caused the rapids to whoosh around them like a pocket with an opening, keeping them unseen.