4 \ 186

They all stood in the hallway corner, talking excitedly: representatives of every research discipline currently involved at the Arch, a place with the subaquatic capacity of half an Alpha orbit station and the curiosity of an interstellar species or two. Researchers threaded through the social knot they formed, turning back and forth between each other, talking. Some were leaning back on the wall with deep sighs and wide eyes, or clutching their heads and laughing. There were serious hushes, hands in front of mouths. The Hoopoe was there, Buckminster and Arjun Woollibee were there, Arys Steinman was there, Maryan Waters was there – anyone who wasn’t there didn’t hold a leading research position, but they most certainly did hear the building-wide broadcast of the classic tune, ‘Major Breakthrough’ by Silken Tongue.

In the past forty-eight hours (during which some had not slept), they’d been able to interpret the data they were receiving, then they’d translated it to human-range audio and listened to it, then they confirmed its origins, and now everyone here needed to know.

Leading up to this, they’d translated layers of patterns from their readings, which had been gaining in depth and texture of reception through their advancements. Their compartmentalized projects seemed to have co-evolved into sudden cooperation. ME & TH discerned and sorted timing signatures. EG & MW discovered and quantified tonalities. AL monitored and analyzed conditional factors. PM measured recurrence and reverberative derivatives. PR recorded particle arrangements as wave shapes. MC made amplitude comparisons. RH worked on recognizing nesting while RS & AS interpreted shapes. PA identified conjoining characters. RS calculated radiance and decay. KU wrote data-interlocking equations. RL sussed out source coordination. BW & AM kept up and kept ahead with instrument reception tuning. JM spearheaded creation of gap algorithms. Out of every 1-6 person team, some of them were here. Someone produced a camera and got them all to look at it, incredulous faces filling a hallway, five and more people deep.

They were all discussing the audio track they’d been listening to, which was not the song called ‘Major Breakthrough’. The implications of its evidence broke the rules of this world open to reveal another, real yet other. They’d suspected enough to get that far, but this told them so much more in a stunning fashion. What did they believe should be done about it?

Pointing to the papers in his hand, Arys Steinman turned to The Hoopoe asking, “Can we make a composition like this?”

“I’m going to say yes,” replied the lad, “but it will only be like it in certain ways, with our specific dimensional fingerprint, the way it contains its dimensional fingerprint. But I think I can make it fit like two halves of a locket, and please don’t ask for more explanation at this point. I’m pretty sure what I need is a specialty 6/15 Live Selector MatrixCube.”

Steinman received multiple key points from this reply one after the other for the first time. “Guessing from your context, that sounds like an item for music production.”

“Yeah. I’d want to order it custom, which I wouldn’t consider cheap, and will take a little more time than instant acquisition. Like the Charged Filter. And I need the premium software, and I’m going to mod it, which will void support and might mean legal fees. You can tell I’ve already thought about this.”

“If it’s mass market, then it costs no more than our toilet paper, even at custom rates. I second your request. We’ll have it sooner than anyone else can get it, and you can order the gold trim. We might even get them to work for us.”

“I think all we need to do is order one. We have to wait for a surfacing until we can send for it, right?”

“We’ll be coming up really soon. Priority.”

3 \ 185

Chrysanthe Renaud, 7

Alisandre Capital

– How have you felt since returning home?
It’s weird. Sometimes I think about the people on the H planet that didn’t get better, and how lucky I am that I did. Everything’s a little brighter, or maybe I’m just thankful.

– How are your friends and family treating you?
A little like a hero, or someone famous. Like I survived because I was strong. We were in the news, on tv. Everybody cares, but some kids are more interested in what it was like meeting the royal children. I’m glad my daddy survived too, and we’re even closer now.

– Would you say that readjusting has been easy, or difficult?
Easy. They forgave my homework, but I’ll still have to pass the tests.

– Do your affected senses feel better, worse, or the same as before?
Maybe I just pay better attention, so it’s like I hear and see more now.

– Have you changed activities since your illness? If so, what has changed?
I watch more news now, because it feels like something I’ve been a part of. I had to get slowly more active after all the time in bed, but I get to go back to gymnastics soon.

– When you think of Pyrean Midsummer, how do you feel?
My dad said it was lucky to be born so near Pyrean Midsummer. This is the first one I remember seeing. It was beautiful, but now I wonder if luck can go either way.

– What do you think of the care provided by the Imperium?
I’m still alive because of them.

2 \ 184

The room server found Celeste when she returned for the tea tray – Magus the 24th, slumped over her desk as though arrow-struck from behind. The server contacted emergency, who contacted the family. Before anyone moved her, the King Ascendant arrived, then Mireille with Cristobal and Carlo. So, they were able to witness the death scene.

The dead Queen’s family sat in the room with her, and talked immediately about the succession. From the small plate of madeleines, Mireille took a cookie, Carlo took a cookie, Cristobal took a cookie, and Mireille put one extra into a pocket. Vario did not take a cookie. Soleil, the Princess Ascendant, was still missing – yet even if she were there, she wasn’t the rulership age of thirty. There was no Queen Ascendant now. The children looked at their father. “Does this mean you’ll be King?” asked the next-oldest daughter.

“Yes,” replied Grant Vario, “but only for a little while, until the Scion is ready of age.” He looked into the eyes of Mireille, eldest child present, next-oldest daughter.

They emerged from the room after their personal grieving. Grant Vario signed the succession document held in front of him, and the arrangements began.

The Teachings took place over a full week. In the Teachings, traditional to the Magus, the works of the previous monarch were biographically presented so that all who survived her could assess what to carry forward in her memory. At the end of these, King Proxem Vario delivered an address.

“Though tragedy and confusion have brought me to this position, with your help I will make better of it. We are more than equal to the demands of these times. We need look no further than our own resolution to move beyond our troubles. I mourn as you do, perhaps more grievously, but I hold firmly to hope that things will be set to rights. The Pan-Galactic Imperium can stay steady, secure, and strong – as it has remained with Magus rule.

Many generations throughout the span of the Imperium have seen greater strife than what we now endure. To all who have lost homes and loved ones in the disasters on Genesee; to the Aquarii still suffering from the destruction of the Symbias trees, and people separated from loved ones due to travel restrictions; to those who struggled to survive the biological warfare of a criminal who has escaped justice yet again; to those who lost relations in the Photuris Attack, which freed the Imperium’s deadliest enemies and took the Queen Ascendant, my wife Charlotte; to those who await the return of our beloved Scion Princess, Soleil; I say that you can place your trust in me, Grant Vario, as King Proxem.

I will of course steward the best of futures to pass to my Ascendant child, and so will every one of you receive it. The Pan-Galactic Imperium is my heart and soul and family. To me, it is all. That our peoples should flourish, that we should rise to greater expanses and grasp the glories we seek, to this my life is already dedicated.”

1 \ 183

Queen Celeste had donned the Old Armor. Two score nights ago, after her successor daughter was dead and her scion granddaughter missing, she’d begun adding the armor, one piece at a time, over the plain grey shift. She now wore all the heritage pieces, each made with some of the original metal worn by the entire Magus line – rulers of the Pan-Galactic Imperium.

The smoothly clacking kilt of plates shone from her lap beneath the desk before her. The granular deckle edge of document paper slid beneath her fingerpads as she waved them across the horizontal announcement of a founding charter. A new library in the capital, with an archaeological catalog including items previously unreleased or unorganized. It would be a public-entry portion of the Imperial Grounds. The perimeter would change in that spot, but the style transition would be graceful.

Against the rounded upper curve of her office wall, two timelines and three pictures were displayed. Swiping her hand in the air, she’d cycle and rearrange items while assessing proposals. The sun would be setting soon.

At the first hint of the sky turning, Celeste began to put away her work. She collapsed page images into the 3D model. She contacted the responsible executives and the construction company. She signed it in.

The age of stone. There was a philosopher who discussed generational ages long ago, in terms of the longevity of their works of intention, as analogized with building materials afforded to each. The age of paper spanned decades. The age of wood spanned centuries. The age of stone spanned millennia. Daughter, mother, grandmother. Fathers and grandfathers. Celeste was in her age of stone. She thought through the consequences of her actions beyond a thousand years, what the future looks like when there are generations to follow. Stone agers laid those careful and heavy foundations.

Who amidst the ages was thinking to this year? Around a thousand years ago, the Magus line was just beginning on Alisandre with Marialain, dragon speaker. Now the worlds were full of dragon speakers, but she was the first to speak so well to them that they decided to collaborate with humanity in creating interstellar civilization: that which Celeste’s own hands now steered.

Celeste, Magus the 24th of the Pan-Galactic Imperium, called in tea and a plate of madeleine cookies. It arrived while she was putting her work away, tidy, as though anyone might come in and use her desk. Thinking of the stones she has laid. Would they crumble, like the stone in her dream? Would light shine out of them?

She spilled her glass of cold herb infusion onto the cleared desk. That elixir tasted so good, she hated to waste it. Perhaps it was her age or her illness that made it taste so fine. In the next moment, her head had fallen to lay next to it, and she watched the liquid approach her lips, all by itself. Celeste hadn’t been told it would feel like this, but she might be dying. So much yet unknown.

The sound of her last breaths grew longer, and vision turned dim. She became the growing shadow, but against it was a light. This opposition was the greatest of hopes, and in a final glimpse it overtook everything.

5x Rerun: Abyss Surrounding (2) 94.3-94.4, FIN

– 94.3 –

Uixtr addressed Soleil in his well-spoken interlingua. “I want to introduce someone, and we’d like to speak with you on a serious matter.” Without Uixtr changing focus, a second Vedani joined them at his side. Dragon Food remained, and looked on with interest. “This is Aelrn.” Ay-lur-en. She was as elongated and slender as Uixtr, a slightly different shade of blue-green.

Aelrn gazed directly into Soleil’s face in the manner that Vedani consider formally polite. “While you were on your excursion, after your training, you met someone, who told you about something that happened. ‘E has since spoken with us.”

“Acamar.” A momentary hush seemed to follow Soleil’s utterance of the name. “Yes.” Looking at the two, she felt on the brink of something she didn’t want to hear.

“This dragon knows the Vedani people through our workings, with er egg from before ‘e hatched.” Acamar’s moment of hatching had been the death of Soleil’s mother, Queen Ascendant Charlotte. Soleil pieced things together as Aelrn continued. “It’s hard to explain to someone who was not a part of it, but you have met Acamar, and we are giving you this knowledge now while you still face us.” This was happening in the midst of many discussions not a part of it, but Soleil knew that these folk all around her were habitually a part of multiple discussions.

“The formation of Acamar’s egg, and the nature of it, became known to us amidst a chain of critical juncture decisions regarding our own growing bad relationship with the Pan-Galactic Imperium. There was a new, yet already true, energy function of spacefield. The stillness which transmits and transforms, a transition so complex yet essential that it is everywhere as itself in a variety as deep as only a living being can possess… that’s one way to describe a dragon, this dragon. And while this description was as yet unembodied, we were one of the forces called to this egg, a part of the universe that told it what it was becoming.”

“We used the egg,” said Uixtr, “in agreement with its nature, and its first eight.” Soleil understood this phrase meant the dragons that nurtured a new dragon into existence via something called an egg.

“In this way, our means accomplished enough that we have moved our plans forward. As have they,” said Aelrn, referring to those first eight. “The Signalman has aligned us well.” Soleil also observed Dragon Food, solidly listening as though none of this was a surprise.

“This is the war,” said the Princess. The war that they had told her was coming. They had contacted her. She was recognizing them, though there were some as yet unknown. The Kao-Sidhe had spoken of friends they wished her to meet, unlike those she knew. Those who could manage war were at home. She was here. “Already, there are losses.”

“Already, there have been. But people agree,” continued Aelrn, “that the hatching event was unsettling. Even though many have been furiously incensed by the Magus regime – and human behavior in general – we do not see ourselves as being tolerant of cooperative egregious mass murder.” Aelrn mastered a struggle. “We have actually been concerned that was more a trait of your kind. This was the way before us that could accomplish everything. If you want to know why, you will have to wait for that explanation. That will take more time.”

Uixtr picked up the thread. “We were a part of Acamar’s formative phase, and now you know we were causative in the Photuris Vortex Slaughter. Only the most necessary mandates of existence, the truest requirements of the universe result in dragons. This was the way it all happened. While the event was strictly military, we’re still not entirely happy about it. You should know that as well. Retaliative anger is expected, and that does not make anything easier.”

Aelrn resumed. “We have not been entirely pleased to know you humans, and not all of us are convinced of your sapience.” A short distance away, Raev Sturlusson was speaking with the host in Vedani language. “But because we believe we are related, we do what we can in order not to simply kill. Though some of our friends would like to, and still may.”

Scion Princess Soleil had seen her grandmother, the Queen, receive unfavorable news with little more disturbance than a cool breeze, and then from the power of her office create inarguable change. The court of an Imperium was no fencer’s brawl, even when it was. The creation and maintenance of a stable reality was mainly a matter of underpinnings, regardless of any dramatic redecoration. Soleil breathed it all in like a scent on the wind, and as she’d seen the Queen do, moved onto a more favorable topic for the moment, briefly closing discussion on the previous. “Would you like to know what I thought of the Sea Voice?” Uixtr and Aelrn adjusted their postures to listen, and Dragon Food remained intent upon their exchange.

“Do you believe in mer people?” Toller asked Yykth and the other two Vedani youngsters speaking with him. Captain Wendel Harper remained at the lad’s side. He explained to their curiosity. “They look like me, or maybe like you, at the top. But instead of legs they have fins, and they live underwater, and they sing. That’s how I think they would sound.” He made finny motions with his hands as he told this. The Vedani youngsters, taller than him but not heavier, made finny motions as well.

Raev watched this exchange among youth from where he spoke with Oibhn Klnr. “I am actually a very good plumber. A talent I gained as an adolescent living in the Hirylien Remainder relocation blocks. I can switch things around – look as good as new – or even the same as before. And you are right, maintenance is not as fun as installation. I can do that here, and train a few to handle your basics. I can use the downtime. I thank you for integrating these human accommodations.”

“It continues to be an interesting learning experiment.”

“While I’m around for a moment, I’d like to have a tattoo adjusted.”

“I can get that started for you. Let me know what you want.”

“Do you have Node Frequency Vibration metal fluid available?”

“Ah – it will have to be the purest grade. Four day procurement.”

“I thank you, again. This time for indulging my own experiments.” Raev opened and dropped his hands, signaling his release of the conversation.

“It is of benefit to us as well. We make use of all learning.” Oibhn also opened and dropped his hands, the gesture flowing through his long fingers. Raev had a few more discussions on his way around the room as people started to filter out. He kept tabs on individuals, nudging them to stay or regroup.

He came back around to join the group including the captain, the investigator, the Princess, and the boy. “Princess Soleil, Magus. I am informed by your sometime Kao-Sidhe associate, Dragon Food, that you have a quest toward an intended destination. I will not obstruct you in this, and I am giving you the means to accomplish it with sureness, including sufficient company. You four can come with me now.” Raev Sturlusson proceeded them to a nearby open passage.

– 94.4 –

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.

– FIN 2 –