53.7 \ 235

“That’s…” King Vario paused and sighed, “…quite the development. We’ll take your report, plus any data you have Hayze, and that’s all we need from you for now. Other matters follow closely, and now I need to speak exclusively with General Claymore. Thank you for bringing your local and procedural expertise to this office.” Responding to the tense urgency in the proxem’s voice, the two officials got up and made bowed salutes, then hastened through the hatches to summon their awaiting transports.

The remaining two shuffled around a little to adjust their momentary comforts. Water cups were refilled, communications connected or closed. Recent days had them accustomed to each other’s presence, an evolution of longtime family friend status – managing wartime together. Not that they were calling it war, exactly. They again sat, angled toward each other at the bell of the curved desk.

King Proxem Vario opened without ceremony. “We need to start uncovering hidden information directly from sources. I’ve already looked into reserving rooms for questionings in strategic locations, and restaffing an unused complex.”

“How long unused?” It seemed like trivial errata, but Claymore knew enough history, including that of his family.

Thinking about security and scope of possible involvement, the King informed the General, “Since about a couple generations ago.” Then that was probably one of those, from that time. Draig held his peace and let the King continue. “You’re already in charge of a heavy campaign. I only require your assistance in staffing, and possible emergency supervision. It’s a scattered operation.”

Draig Claymore sank into his chair, continuing to sit strong. “I understand, sir.” This was something he said to register receipt when he might not necessarily agree, but it didn’t matter.

“I’ll get you into the communication. You may go.” Draig drifted through his exit, glancing at Vario’s seat back silhouetted against the view, just before the hatches shut – getting onto his transport – feeling himself in motion before releasing the last of some long-held breath.

53.5 \ 235

“With the dragonslayer victory against Ignivus, are we seeing increased involvement and interest in the discipline?” King Vario’s hands were pinned to the desk as he asked.

“The old kind of anti-Dragon sentiment is running higher than usual, so I believe the answer to be yes, though that activity is likely to remain mostly clandestine. The degree to which our Dragon liaisons have weakened is actually depressing a lot of people and industries, so there are still solid emotional barriers against showing interest in dragonslaying, despite the widely known example of its continued relevance.” A tilt of the General’s head, as he paused in speaking, reflected the many headaches actually entailed in the aftermath of killing of a Dragon. “Fairly enough, Dragons become unwilling to work in hostile climates – partly in that they lack their best effectiveness, and partly that there are a lot of other things they can do instead. An elemental consciousness can always embody elsewhere.”

Roznmyk jumped into the ensuing space with something she deemed important to add. “There’s a rumor about a new shadownet.”

53.4 \ 235

“I have my update on dragonslayers.” General Claymore took the opening with his top item. “Alisandre Capital has Gerund Aley, the one resident proven. Upon your prompting, Your Eminence, the council decided that it might be wise for each Federet to have a short roster at the ready. A simple request, but tricky to fulfill, since this particular martial art had nearly disappeared under disapproval. Not a lot of people in this generation have dedicated even a portion of their lives to this pursuit; dragonslayers are scarce now, and difficult to find.

“That’s partly due to the mood of distrust they create which hinders our draconid relations, intrinsic to the lives of so many. Where we’ve instated more sanctioned dragonslayer positions, the Dragons become obviously more removed from interaction, where they might otherwise be busy. Those many who agreed to uphold the Viridian Phasing continue to do so on a priority basis.” Claymore drew breath to continue, then just slowly let it out.

53.3 \ 235

“The emergent cultural wave I’ve been observing might frame these occurrences within an interesting perspective,” said the other city official.

“Go ahead, Roznmyk,” said the King Proxem.

“Viewing the portal images in deadzone neighborhoods has understandably become an obsession. I’m aware, on all the obvious levels, of what’s going on, though my viewpoint is restricted to my position. I’m sharing anything from the wildest and most furtive speculation that has crossed my awareness, after making it my particular interest. I really feel like this would spill out better if I could pace around in front of you – may I?”

“That sounds fine,” said the General. The King Proxem nodded.

She straightened her sensible ensemble as she got up and moved to block the view. “This is just more like the posture I use when connecting items on wallboards, and I may ramble because that’s what it’s like coming up with these things. So excuse the fervor, it accompanies the thought pattern.”

“People believe that the Strangers – this is the popular name for the nonhuman figures in the grainy images – that they’ve made contact with humans several times.” Roznmyk paced gently and ordered her thoughts from behind an internal gaze. “It’s been posited that the reason many technologies were shut down on the advent of intrusive communications is because they were invented at least partially by, or originated from, the Strangers, who apparently retain superior command of them.”

“A number of conclusions are being bandied around. There is a theory with strong supporters that we are related to the Strangers, somehow. This is in contrast with those discussing specific times in recent history when there may have been contacts which precipitated captive experimentations akin to xenophobic torture, which gave them projections of intolerable aggression if that were allowed to continue, which set them on a course toward these events.” Roznmyk took a deep breath with a couple blinks, gathering her thoughts to continue. “Some say the Strangers were in contact with people of Hirylien just before HA235 decimated the planet.” She glanced at King Vario, who was holding a fist in front of his set mouth. “That this may have been a reason for using a bioweapon to suppress the populace.” She shook her head to continue. “They know we can hurt them. They’re not working alone.” Her hand lifted, sketching out a few more thoughts. “There’s more, of course, but that’s probably enough for now.” The city official drifted back toward her seat.

53.2 \ 235

“Curfew control is incomplete. There’s a low but definite likelihood of civilian presence on the nighttime streets, if you’re chaos factoring.”

“That’s my department,” said the General, “and thank you for corroborating my expectation.”

“Certainly,” replied Hayze, nodding. “On another note that may or may not seem relevant, we’ve been noticing some neighborhood resource theft. Stores missing part of their inventory, luckily with low amounts of property damage. I don’t think it’s as simple as increasing chaperoned shopping runs; it could be a matter of boredom and lowered incomes, combined with fraying nerves.”