90 \ 178

OIBHN CLNR: They’ve started to find and dismantle our tuning polygons.

AELRN LKCD: The polygons are cheap enough, right? Essentially an office machine and some of that spool material?

OIBHN: Fairly disposable, yes. The main benefit is gained from initialization. The longer they stay up, the deeper we can harvest and the stronger our relationals will grow. Surveying and point establishment starts sufficient, and gains to maximal facility. But the moment they’re placed, they can be sacrificed. No one’s been quite that fast – they’re well located.

AELRN: What do you think the Imperium will make of them?

OIBHN: They won’t trace back to us. The Imperium doesn’t have the logics to ascertain how we gained our locations, or to extrapolate further. It may be just an office machine, but we already know they can’t figure those out. If they do somehow manage to turn it on, they certainly don’t have aetherscape interfacing.

AELRN: What do you think of the resale potential in their markets, whole or part?

OIBHN: Middling. The spool scrap could be reformed. The inert junk of an unusable office machine contains nothing they don’t already have – though it does contain a tiny amount of a rare resource for them, moreso now: namely, Zerite.

AELRN: That should cause the usual unpredictable behavior around restricted material that we’ve seen them exhibit. Either coverup and illicit use or trade, or investigatory curiosity.

OIBHN: It would serve well to have them spend resources on this puzzle and clear the polygons away for us themselves.

AELRN: Do you think this could be enough basis to stimulate a government information contract?

OIBHN: If it registers as anything more than a curiosity of their private sector, it would still fall far below many other priorities we’ve helped to create. Attempts at getting value from the information would probably be misleading – other than the question of the Zerite’s source, which may create additional beneficial internal turmoil. They don’t know we have an abundance of that particular scarcity, though very select individuals are aware that we use it. Their customary limitations on sharing information will work to our timing advantage.

AELRN: Then they can raid the crops all they like, whilst we reap riches.

OIBHN: The yield has indeed been fruitful. There is so much detail! Have you witnessed the culture wave of human poetry?

AELRN: It was mentioned, and since then I’ve occasionally joined in on the search to broadcast the obscure. It’s such an unusual volume of low-exposure information going to rot – but not now that we’ve found it! Everything everywhere. I just picked one that I could share with you right now, if you like.

OIBHN: Certainly, let’s take a moment for it.

AELRN: This is titled, “Star Matter Scarabs”.

scarabs cycling star matter from the abyssal ceiling
light from beneath recognized from above
a finely spread spectrum, stewarded into continuance
by appointed go-betweens of above below around outside

To arch, overarch, and cross every path, one can orient
by trajectory, windspread, ruffles, and currential sweeps.
The feeling approaches at times, suddenly into your clothes,
changing temperatures, opening channels in floods.

reaching sideways on convivial levels
stacking layers of warmth in joyous combustion
a population’s voices ever arising, staying
with each other, unfading

OIBHN: Compelling and unique, though I don’t completely understand…

AELRN: I don’t either! But I want to. Which is how I feel about them!

OIBHN: Humans have been dastardly, Aelrn. Untrustworthy. Vicious. Horrifying.

AELRN: I know, which is what makes their cultural discoveries the more intriguing. Their minds have an ability to transition between boundaries, a quality they’ve described as liminality. Fascinating in a way unique from our kind.

OIBHN: It’s true that these delectable bonbons of poetry have generated some excellent power torrents. I’m still not sure it’s safe to want to understand them.

AELRN: Signalman – he’s earned our understanding. He found us on his own, after his father did, even exhibiting etiquette, which he’d taken care to study.

OIBHN: We have formed a firm alliance with that one and his kinfolk, we’ve gone that far. On the topic of understanding, I heard from a Sea Voice.

AELRN: Oh, are you going to throw a party?

OIBHN: Yes – there’s a good opportunity in three days.

AELRN: I will come.

OIBHN: Good! We can open the invitation. I got a toilet too, and plumbing. Wasn’t that fun?

AELRN: From the explanations, I don’t think doing plumbing will ever be as fun as the first time. I wonder how gross it can get.

OIBHN: Let’s not think about that.

AELRN: Maybe we can hire a ‘plumb-er’.

OIBHN: We might already know one among the Hirylienites. They could continue to perform other duties.

86 \ 174

The three inhabitants of the spaceship Drift 9 all sat up front, each according to station – Wendel Harper in the pilot’s chair, Toller riding co-pilot, and Princess Soleil in the passenger fold-down. The passively engaged CD band registered an inclusive address, piping into the momentary quiet. “Advice request for Lowercase T, this is Buzzer Squad 1 calling Lowercase T, calling the great lightweight Lowercase T.”

Toller cleared his throat soberly. “Uh, Captain Wendel? That’s actually for me.”

The captain looked over at the young man warily. “You cooked up a handle? And people know it?”

“It’s mostly what I’ve been doing when I’m up here by myself.” Minding the presence of their passenger, he added, “You know, when we’re parked.”

“Do they know I let you sit pilot?” Slight emphasis on ‘sit’.

“No, and to them I sound like a giant burly man, which lends some comedy to the persona. I found the voice screening utility, and modded my own version of the Night Vigilante preset.”

“Buzzer Squad 1, still asking for Lowercase T to sock it to me.”

Despite his red-handedness, Toller was grinning a little. “Can I answer?”

Eye-checking their passenger, the captain gave a cagey affirmative. “I’d like to hear. Go ahead.”

The boy donned an earpiece microphone and twiddled to open and link his channel. “You’ve found the mighty but tiny Lowercase T, what do you got for me?” At the unexpected resonant gravelly timbre of Toller’s transmission voice, Wendel dissolved into subdued chortles. The Princess’ face wiggled with amusement.

“Hey-O, we lucked out! You gotta help us, Lowercase T. Buzzer Squad was en route to the big Palookatown Bash carrying their exhibition showpieces. We got inspected before getting there, and one of the showpieces, which we only picked up for the bash, held a squirrel stash of Zerite. Regulations have gone wacko on that, so now Squad 7 ship’s locked up, and we’re arguing with P-Town over who can pay to get it out. It’s been a really sucky day, Lowercase T. Can you give us some perspective?” The Princess was listening carefully to the grains of Pan-Galactic news that reached her ears.

“First, I want to tell you that everything is going to be okay! If you’ve done this for them every year, then they can help you with half to make sure you stay with the family. Remind them that there’s no squad like Buzzer Squad, and if they hire anyone else, the price hike and the hassle will cost more than the entire lock-up fee, which I’m surprised they didn’t pony up right away. But since you’ve been arguing, half will do fine. Just show them the way, like I’m showing you the way.” Toller’s offhand matter-of-fact way-of-wisdom voice had Wendel hovering in appreciative surprise.

“You’re the lightweight terror, Lowercase T. Tellin it like it is.”

“You know the truth when you feel it inside of you. Pulling no punches, getting the message across – Lowercase T on standby.”

Wendel broke the silence that followed his CD address. “I think I’m okay with… Lowercase T… being on particle. I’m only surprised I hadn’t found out till now.”

“I think I am too,” said Toller, “it just didn’t bear mentioning, I guess.” His focus remained on the rear longview screen for some time while they traveled. He turned to Wendel with an unconcerned remark. “I think there might be someone behind us.”

Wendel looked over to see what could be seen. “Yeah, there is somebody there. And I don’t recall them being there before. That’s weird.” She remained nonchalant, as she began to consider likelihoods. Sometimes, ships appear behind from nowhere if they were hanging out off-path. Out here though, off-path meant nearly lost and gone from civilization, away from easy safety. “Just coming in from the crisp edge.”

“What’s that?” asked Soleil, aware when new terminology was passing before her.

Captain Wendel and Toller shared a little smile as she began to explain. “It’s the area on the edge of nothing, past the reach of civilization’s tether. Not much of anything exists there, and if there is something, then the crisp edge is just beyond that. It’s odd running into other people out there, because it seems unlikely unless we have the same reasons.” Wendel was aware of the lurking presence in her life of uncertain dangerous elements, and so was Toller; if the film Zero-Clearance was an indicator, the Princess could currently be in similar territory as well. So an appearance on their tail from an unlikely area was a cue for conscientiousness.

As the captain was watching the display, presence indicators disappeared. Well, maybe that was okay – back they go. Then, they reappeared closer. And that was probably not okay, because it was also incongruent with currently known travel physics. “Toller, can you make sure all the mountings are secure on that equipment?” Wendel didn’t think he’d interpreted the data as profoundly as she had, which was fine for the moment. He checked and firmed all connections, and the reading image remained consistent. The equipment was fine.

Wendel set their path for a moment, and turned around with enunciated posture to silently and seriously examine the Princess. This gaze was knowingly returned with an expression of stoic unease. She had seen and understood the odd jump in readings, but also had nothing more yet to say about it. Wendel didn’t think anything would be achieved by abandoning her now, just as the Princess didn’t look sure that any particular action would help the situation for either of them.

Toller was flexing his permission on the CD bands. “Lowercase T, talkin to empties again. Breaking the silence with experience, I’ve got a new one for ya. Let me tell you about this time, it was flitter versus gatorwing. I don’t know what they were fighting for, but that flitter was going to be snack for sure – till a town hunter snagged the gatorwing right there out of the air. I followed the end of the rainbow to the grill where that was getting cooked up, and I toasted the victor of the quarrel with a piece of its enemy. Goes to show, sometimes the one with the upper hand turns out to be tastier pickins.”

 

20th Sequence; 85 \ 173

“I see my objective through access views,” said the smartly dressed gentleman piloting the speedcraft, to his long-haired one-armed passenger. He was focusing on a peripheral photostrip display to one side of the frontwards view.

Sitting very still, Raev Sturlusson smirked and raised an eyebrow. “Your objective is ahead of us?” He looked up at the ceiling, and seemingly through it, for a moment of consideration. His brown skin had gained a shade of health. “Permission to capture with me onboard,” he declared, “Phi Protocol.”

Verne ‘Bobcat’ Trosper understood this indicated the golden opportunity escalating spiral for chase-capture-kill, each action attributed to a dependently sequential growing activation energy. “Permission wholeheartedly taken.” He wiggled himself further into the pilot’s seat. “I might bend disclosure rules.” They would have better chances if he used onboard ally technology in this uncontrolled area. “The last ship within observation range will pass us soon, going in the other direction. It’s an undercover, so I intend to take notice as we cross.”

“Your discretion is impeccable to the utmost. I might not even notice, smooth operator that you are.”

“It’s possible that no one of consequence will.” Trosper began turning dials, and unusual harmonics filled the sonic spaces between words. “As to who might, woe betide thee.”

63

A twenty-one person assembly waited atop the Verdant Plateau – one dragon, four Aquarii, and sixteen humans arrayed above, inside, and around the Pergola. The procession halted at the plateau’s edge, and alone the ruling family disembarked to join them.

“This is the big show, Chrysanthe. The Vision. You were a baby last time you saw this.” The young girl, still just small enough to ride atop her father’s shoulders, squished his cheeks between her palms. They had a distant view from amid the sea of people filling the valley south of the Plateau. He kept her hands off his face by holding them. “Of course, it’s never the same twice. But I remember you smiling.”

“I doubt I could really see it if I was just a baby.”

“Maybe so. It’s good luck for you to be born so near Pyrean Midsummer. Now that you’re seven you get to see why.”

The Queen’s voice rolled out over the surrounding valleys, transmitted into space beyond. “Now with all the peoples of the Imperium, we light the sky with the Pyrean Vision.” The Magus family turned to face the great Pergola, and together sat on their knees.

“Papa – why do they kneel?”

“A show of respect for the hopes and dreams we express in the Vision.”

The four Aquarii in their respective corners of the Pergola began to shimmer warmly. The four humans surrounding each Aquari raised their palms, and the light around the Aquarii grew. A deep, melodic thrumming pervaded the air as their spheres of light widened to intermingle, beaming through the open Pergola.

“See how the Aquarii channel the human representatives, mixing them all in one Rasakarya.”

“What’s a ross-corey again?”

“A synaesthetic, like multisensory, like living, portrait of emotion and thought. Something only Aquarii can do.”

“How come those people get to do it?”

Chrysanthe’s father took a deep breath, and laughed. “This event is unique, ‘Santhe. Them up there are the ones that start it, but actually we all get to take part.” At no response but silence, he checked to see his daughter’s face transfixed by the spectacle.

63

Aural melodies began to wail, soar and syncopate. Intricate brightness enveloped the entire Pergola, reaching the coiled body of the dragon perched in massive flying form on the roof. Its silver-blue scales flashed as it took to the air, gently spiraling to float high above.

The mass of light gained focus, a streaming latticework that converged on a pulsing point centered above the structure. “It’s all joined now, see, and they’re making sense of it.” Glowing geometry transformed through a series of iterations that became more concise and graceful. The central point grew brighter till it burst upward, illuminating the sky all the way to the dragon above.

“What dragon is that?”

“Let’s see, that’s not Arkuda…” He pulled the event program from his pocket. “That’s Arctyri, of Foshan. Saga, Kyridi, and Rhizoa are on the other three planets this Midsummer.” The young girl repeated the names quietly.

The light revealed the dragon’s greater spectral being, extending through the sky in whorls and spikes. Arctyri’s body navigated a toroidal pattern, bending and channeling the light in this shape. The color of the sky began to change.

“Now the dragons are uniting the Visions from across the universe, from four planets in four separate galaxies who share the same moment of summer solstice every seven years. Right now!”

“When do we get to join in?”

“You’ll see. You’ll know!” Chrysanthe held her father’s hands and craned her head to watch. The sun was setting to her left. Between the growing night and fading day, the sky did resemble a conduit reaching through the universe; though instead of being dark, it was varicolor luminescent. She untangled a hand to reach up to it.

The combined light of four sunsets filled the air overhead, breathed in by the motion of the dragons’ flight. The colors gained substance and weight, falling like mist until they reached upraised hands.

It wasn’t like rain or snow, but Chrysanthe felt it, an electric sparkle that raised the hairs on her skin. It reminded her of things: warm cereal in the morning, dancing to the music her parents played. She saw the colors respond around her hand, and she did know just what to do after all.

She tilted her head as the lines and figures issuing from her father’s hand rose to meet her own small pictures. The expressions were abstracted, but when they joined, it somehow made a little more sense. Chrysanthe turned to see it happening everywhere around her. The sunsets’ light was fading, and the grand picture grew brighter in turn. She could see lines now that didn’t come from around her, but from somewhere across the galaxies, and they too connect into the picture with meaning. It seemed miles wide.

Arctyri above released the energy from the glowing torus, sending it back to the central focus. As a point of static harmony was reached, the Aquarii sent the energy crackling back through the pattern, rays of light connecting disparate lines.

When the big egg came falling through the vision like a springtime surprise, Chrysanthe wondered what amazing thing would come from inside.

41

It dawns on Soleil that the mass of all she doesn’t know eclipses the little she does, even on a personal level.

She feels relief, and proximity to danger. Maintaining this-ness becomes a priority, a good portion of her energy going to that task. The quiet core exists like the eye of a storm as she undergoes further transformations.

People tribal and proud, barbaric and warlike, elegant and organized with unique senses of sophistication.

A chaotic court of creatures made mostly of spirit. Constantly changing shape, essence, and intention, while possessed of a complex integrity.

After these, a human with a particular signature – at once dark and ethereal, naturally powerful. A remarkable grin. Soleil is again reminded of the Huntresses’ Aria, the shaman’s dirge.

She meets them all part way, the world and themselves appearing to her as it does to them. She returns to the pupil in the eye. A dark, hot space where she sinks into her own breath.

41

The field of vision opens, revealing an array of objects, symbols. They are monadic, bearing layers of personal connection and universal meaning that unfold at a glance.

She approaches them intuitively, selecting one at a time. Below is a box for them. The chosen objects go in one at a time, synergizing into a loaded construct. When the seventh and final object goes in, a brief superstructural flash sears itself against the surrounding space. She closes the box and collapses it between her hands as she brings them together.

The undersides of her hands glow gold. Bringing her fingertips to her temples, she feels the glow diffuse around her head like the soothing touch of sunlight. Finally, she is able to close her eyes.