75 \ 257

The Human adults had been given one of the soft meeting rooms to discuss their part of strategy. They had strong feelings about their young activists going into a threatening situation, and they decided to express their desire to protect by brainstorming additional sources of social support. It may be that a mass of citizens with the right amount of political protection could create targeting hesitation. Somehow, if there were enough willing. Vedani strategists accepted their initiative, remaining open to request, providing space, and being communicative with relevancies.

It was a large room with a plush floor, suited to the Vedani manner of collaboration where they could sit or lay down while working together in the aetherscape. The Human adults here also gained the habit of laying down to think.

Mirya Ayo was the one who had been collecting ideas on how best to talk to other humans about their motivations and situation. How to explain that children in giant mek suits might need an additional level of citizen protection from Pan-Galactic forces? What would people want to know and need to know? Many felt certain that people would be ready to join them. “What I have here isn’t a dialogue script,” she said, standing to address the room, “but a collection of things you’ve all said that you’d like to say to people. Oibhn was telling me we may have a chance to communicate with some who are more motivated, sympathetic, curious, and understanding, and also uneasy with the current state of government control. People who may be willing to take a risk.”

One of them accepted a chip from her, which contained a key code that would give them access to this document at an aetherscape terminal. “We don’t yet know who we’ll be talking to, though.”

“No,” replied Mirya, “but they might be better than who we would choose.”

“So we might really be able to have a volunteer buffer. How desperate is Vario? Is he ready to shed civilian blood to keep covering his ass?”

“He already nearly did, remember. Ours and our kids’. They could have had the counteragent out right away, but they delayed precious days until they had a cover story, which Sturlusson generously offered.”

“Well Sturlusson actually did have a backup ampoule stashed in his arm. And they could have just taken it out, but either Vario thought bloody vengeance was a good look – and at the time, I might have agreed – or, he was that unhinged under pressure. So, that’s who we’re dealing with.”

“The way I’ve heard it explained by Hirylienites, in this edition of the Affliction, the terminal point was changed into a turnaround point, which we registered as a vision which could bring people to face the truth of what happened on Hirylien. It was never going to kill us in the first place, it was supposed to communicate the survivors’ viewpoint and make the dynasty cough up the counteragent and confess that they had it and chose to let a planet die. But they didn’t and still haven’t given up their dirty secret, so here we are, ready to right some of their wrongs. Led here by our kids.” This was from Daniel, Chrysanthe’s father.

“But just in case, Sturlusson had a real failsafe. And lost his arm delivering it.”

“He’s not guiltless, his own people admit.”

“No.”

“But our kids are.”

“Mostly,” Mirya said with a small smile, “Like you said, they got us here. So figure out what you want to say to someone halfway ready, and let’s hope some people come through.”

74.4 \ 256

This time, Navann decided to apply fractal recursivity, by recombining the borders of the recombined border pictures. Border edges appeared to be there, in the grain of the image repeat reshufflings. She used her computer’s scope to peer at them closely with magnification. She printed up some copies of Isten’s interpretations and clipped off the borders where she saw their clipping lines in the images. Gazing between the magnified images and her new border strips, she was jogging something in her mind, a resemblance or connection that must be in there somewhere.

This was all in the spirit of idleness, a comfortable retired woman’s puzzle obsession. Navann did something with them that she did as a child, folding them around each other. That was a form of recombination. There was a little bit of random matching. She waved the accordioned strips around in the air a little, and went to sleep with them in a gathered pile on her bedside table.

There were some ways to align sections of these secondarily-nested borders that created regular polygons, matching sides and matching angles: hexagons, squares, triangles. She noticed this over her warm mug of the morning. She tried scope-scanning sections she matched up with a polygon in the center. Nope. She tried the areas made up by the corners between matching polygons. Nope. This didn’t exactly match any systems she knew, but there were always systems she didn’t know about, as a rule. Navann had a quixotic insight that would involve jamming on some software. She prepared a large pot of soup, and surrounded her desk with comforts.

74.3 \ 256

This community decryption puzzle was the main programming people had these days for enjoyment, coming out of the invasive transmission signal windows hanging in the air throughout densely populated federet and planetary capital neighborhoods. People could ignore it, and some tried; it did have the urgency of a matter of survival, and it was also just incredibly intriguing. Navann lifted out a folded sheaf of five papers, each with a new reconstruction. She and young Isten had been playing an evolving game of cut-and-paste with the frame scrap, what they called the stuff around the sides. They tried different things with different images out of curiosity, boredom, frustration or the desire for humor.

There was lots of discussion about what the central images themselves depicted. Navann had taken her own notes, formed from what she saw when gazing out at it, and what others said it looked like. In the pictures were figures that belonged to the Strangers, and some that were obviously Human in proportion. Grainy and mostly in silhouette, it was still possible to discern an event, like in an illustration panel. On the list, there was:

Humans breaking into a room or ship of Strangers
a fight between the two
Strangers captured
Strangers held in bondage
shared pain between free and captive Strangers
Humans scavenging Stranger technology
more Human attacks
a peaceful meeting between Strangers and Humans
a handshake between the two peoples
death of many Human allies
more attacks from Humans

People constructed what they thought was the correct timeline for this sequence, which was transmitted with some slight inconsistency, the way events are recounted by different witnesses. Isten was the only one she knew remixing the frame scrap, a hobby reserved for people who had the energy for extreme levels of observation. Frame scrap referred to the staticky borders around the floating images, which had a seemingly logical way of translating onto 2D stills. Isten was cutting those apart and rearranging them to align some seemingly interlocking parts. Sometimes the static could even form pictures that recursively matched some of the images. This was a set of those static-form image replicas.

74.2 \ 256

A familiar quiet knock came from the edge of the front door. Even though lockdown monitoring didn’t affect the inside of their apartment building, people still had this feeling like seeing each other might get them in trouble, the atmosphere of control was so heavy. Then there were those who did break rules in order to take care of their own, and it was halfway accepted. All knocks had become quiet, so that the quieter ones weren’t so suspicious, and the louder ones were noticed. No one was sure when the tension would break, or how.

Navann opened the door and let Leyga in. She was carrying the usual grocery bag, customarily weighted with a container of food from the most recent meal she’d cooked for her and her son. They hugged. “Hey, I brought this for you. Braised dartleaf and mixed grains.”

Navann accepted the grocery bag warmly. “That’ll go perfectly with what I have in my kitchen.” She set it down in there and came out with a bundle. “Also here, I have the previous tub and bag that you gave me. Clean.”

“Great, that’s thoughtful of you.” The mother tucked those under her arm. “Oh, and Isten passed me some of his new puzzles to give you. They’re in the bag.” Navann looked toward the kitchen. “I love how you two share this cryptic game. It’s actually kind of popular, right? Other people seem to know what it is, I’ve seen them looking at this stuff. I don’t really have time for it, but I can sense a craze.”

“I would imagine that lots of people find interest in this. There’s not much else that’s new and hot right now, and this works from-one-hand-to-the-next. So that suits our current… system. But I don’t really know any others, myself. I’m just glad to have something interesting to do, and an intelligent young person like Isten to enjoy that with. He seems to know more about the social aspect than I do.”

“Well, it’s no trouble for me.” Leyga looked a little drawn and slightly sunless, but strong and decidedly optimistic. “Are you running low on anything? You know it’s easy for me to get things. Running a grocery store through the back end is a bizarrely difficult twist, and they don’t exactly pay me more – but I don’t actually have to wait my turn to purchase.”

“I was thinking of that, but I’m fine for now, Leyga dear.” Navann patted the younger woman on her arm. “I’m truly thankful for your neighborliness.” She was also excited to see what the lad had sent her.

“Okay well, I’ll be around and you know I’m right over there.”

“Of course, have yourself a good night, and rest well.” Navann closed the door softly behind Leyga. She looked around her apartment for a moment before going straight to the grocery bag.

74.1 \ 256

It had been a while now since Navann Ynam had finished her stint volunteering at the hospital as a retired nurse while the Affliction raged. It had wrenched her heart to use a device to determine who might get less lifesaving care, and then everyone survived. It was the most amazing thing when the reverse agent rolled out just in time, though many patients seemed to be recovering somewhat even before they had gotten any of the formulation. That hadn’t happened on Hirylien, some said. Navann remembered some of the faces in the back of her mind; sometimes, she was sure she saw them in the streets afterward, which put a tear in her eye. The signal takeover happened later, and she lived in an affected neighborhood. She remained in her single apartment on her own, not a whole lot different from her semi-retired life, while certainly more interesting.