31

Bright Wave’s tentacle lay on Princess Soleil’s forehead. Her suedelike skin was a pearly lavender, and the carapace below it was a brilliant blue with a gray sheen. Even for her immediate tribe, who shared a like carapace, her color and vibrational sensitivity were exceptional.

31

Her deep black eyes were half closed. She emitted a frostlike color radiance around her head. This shimmered out of sight, and a simplistic percussion came into hearing – like fingers tapping a simple drum line. This permutated until all her delicate hair and face tentacles had lifted. The hearts of those next to her beat a little faster in response.

Bright Wave opened her eyes wide once more. With her tentacle she smoothed back Soleil’s stray hairs. She turned to face both Councillor Arkuda and Her Vast Eminence Celeste, Magus the 24th.

“I humbly request the aid of three to five of our most insightful patternmakers. I know who to contact.” Bright Wave gestured urbanely through the tips of her tentacles. “Together, we would be able to sing you some perceptions. Her mind is well guarded; however, we need not intrude to interpret. Alone, I am insufficient. This task requires synergy.” Her voice was a conglomerate vibration from the tentacles waving around her head, like a human speaking from a generalized source.

“How soon can you bring in your company?” asked the Queen.

“In haste, we can be convened and prepared by tomorrow afternoon.”

“Then let it be so,” replied Queen Celeste with a nod. “Present their identities to the head of Royal Security when you have them.”

29

The dragon towered over the doctor, even in the form he wore for human interaction. He had a torso, hands, a head, eyes, and a mouth – all features that made cross-species communication easier. These aspects of his physicality were up to conscious choice, while other details sorted themselves out according to the mandates of his being. The white-golden scales, the outcurving ridges around his head, and the saurid tail were unavoidable draconid assertions.

Despite being dwarfed, Dr. Basa spoke with calm authority. He had no idea what was wrong with his patient. All his disease tests had come up negative, which was a relief in some ways. It was time to consult other sources and practice proper medical science. The dragon Councillor agreed to do his version of diagnosis.

29

Arkuda held his hands over the Princess’ bed. His palms appeared to shimmer and steam. Though his eyes were fully present, looking from her face to the doctor’s, his focus was clearly on some complex, invisible mass of information.

The dragon sighed, breaking his posture by waving his hands as though he were clearing a space on a table. Dr. Basa looked at him inquiringly.

“I’m sorry. It seems as though every contact I could possibly make with her experience is closed to me. I don’t think you can appreciate how unusual this is. All the points of connection we have established are blocked, even ones that should hold through any mind state.”

The doctor was pensive, hand on his chin. “Who else could possibly give us insight?”

“Bright Wave, perhaps.”

“The Aquari artist?”

“Yes. She is very skilled, and their art can do much more than colors and sounds. They have their own means of mental interpretation.” Both of them gazed on the Princess in her unreachable slumber. It had been a week, the threshold of a more serious situation. Her even breathing was deceptively peaceful. Though either of them could touch her hand from where they stood, she felt far away, and drifting further.

27

From within the comfort of the known, her gaze is drawn outward by the insistent presence of the surrounding watchers.

Strange stars shine through the pervasive medium of fire. She knows the charts, and this multitude of skies is wholly unfamiliar. Unknown populations push forth just beyond comprehension.

27

An individual coalesces in the forefront. Not visible, just the feel of someone human – a mental handshake reminiscent of moondust, engine grit, and distance. Cold but firm. It stretches wide into a smile, indicating much to be told.

The touch leads her to someone nearby. An introduction of sorts. This one is a swell of magma, a wave of heat assuming form. This is the communicator, the conduit. The fire in her mind. It gives her a glimpse of those it represents, possibly draconid. She’s never met a dragon in this aspect, the trilling, echoing vibration of its spiraling form.

The trill unfolds, volume expanding to include many strange and emotional voices. They reach, expressing eagerness, a desire to be known. Beneath that, suppressed anger driving the reason for contact, a clamoring for amends to be made. For what?

Back to the grinning soul, placing her again amongst her dynasty. They all look outward. They know why they’re here.

26

As though the four of them were at lunch around the table, the Princess’ mother, sister, and cousin sat around her bed. They discussed recent alliance changes in the Council, trade shifts, and diplomatic appointments. Queen Ascendant Charlotte seemed unwilling to touch on the subject of her daughter’s comatose condition; the most she could do was include Soleil in state affairs as she normally did. She sat upright in spotless white and gold robes, looking much as she did at the head of Council.

Section 26

In contrast, Mireille sat upright in pajamas, her hair undone, though she looked pleased to be talking with her mother. Her last visit had been four days ago already, the night Soleil had fallen ill. The Queen Ascendant had been required on emergency matters in the Expansion 6 Federet. She brought them news, and more than that, the presence of her monumental stiff upper lip.

Margeaux had brought a favorite dress obi of Soleil’s; it was draped across the bed so she would see it when she woke. Soleil’s long black hair lay neatly plaited down her chest.

“… About fifteen percent of the refugees are choosing to relocate to underpopulated worlds in the Archipelago Federet. There are plenty of agricultural and industrial opportunities there.” Charlotte pursed her lips. “While the rest remain in orbit for now.”

“What about Zerite production?” Mireille looked to her mother. “Genesee is still our sole source, correct?”

“Correct. Production has halted completely. The Aquarii sendsingers will have to make do with the Zerite that’s already in the market. There’s plenty there. But the fact of a finite quantity will raise the price of Inter-Fed travel.” Charlotte patted and stroked Soleil’s limp hand. “Zerite isn’t strictly necessary to enable the TransNet, but without it the sendsingers would be taxed to their limits. It’s a good thing we don’t need much, and it’s one of the longest-lasting on the phronium spectrum.” As soon as he finished her sentence, a patterned knock sounded at the door.

“It’s time for me to go.” The Queen Ascendant rose, and the two younger ladies stood with her. She smoothed a hand over Soleil’s forehead before leaning in to give it a kiss. “My strong daughter.” She gave warm farewells to the other two girls before making her exit.

Mireille crossed her arms over her chest and looked over at Margeaux, who seemed a bit overwhelmed. Her lips twisted into a wry smile. “Mother’s milk, Cousin. Mother’s milk.”

Margeaux gave her head a shake as if to clear it. She curtseyed to her cousin. “I must be going as well, Mireille. May the light of the Pan-Galactic suns shine on you both.”

24

Every visual detail is made of living fire. Twenty-four people stand, arrayed as though in ceremonial reception. Waves of heat blur their faces. Most are female, some male. All connected with ties like the bones of starlight.

She sees them from every angle, through the vantage of an invisible surrounding mob. Eyes seething with condemnation, demanding testimony.

Section 24

A face comes into focus. Though she barely recognizes it, it is one of her ancestors. The likeness bears little resemblance to the historical paintings or projections. It looks wrong. As she looks on the rest, so they return her gaze. She feels herself drawing strength from a belonging that always fostered her, while the surrounding forces swell into a roar held barely at bay.

Everything she knows about her family begins to illustrate itself in fiery lines around their forms. Flourishes of their proudest accomplishments multiply into a great mass. She draws herself into it, a comforting blanket to shield her from those other eyes.