Norwescon Schedule

Here is my schedule for Norwescon Seattle, April 18-21! I’m enthused to be included in programming all weekend long. Come find me, or I just might find you.

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Supporting Our Writing Community
Cascade 7 & 8
Thursday 2–3 p.m.
The writing world can feel small and vast all at once. As a community, we can help one another grow as authors, connect to others in the industry, and lift each other up during trying times. As a team, we are much stronger. Take part in this panelist/audience discussion to come up with new ways we can support our fellow authors, agents, and editors.
Jasmine Silvera (M), Chimedum Ohaegbu, Jon Lasser, Eva L. Elasigue

Check your Writer Privilege
Cascade 7 & 8
Thursday 4–5 p.m.
Writers have been wrong before, and they’ll be wrong again. A bad blog post, a great tweet—it’s part of the job to take risks. Even if you’re writing well, you’ll make mistakes. Join us as we discuss potential appropriation issues and how to handle these writing and professional snafus, both within yourself and your audience, and how to grow from the experience.
J. F. High (M), Eva L. Elasigue, Ren Cummins

Storing the Harvest
Cascade 10
Thursday 6–7 p.m.
How did people escape the endless cycle of feast or famine? We will review techniques to prepare and preserve meats and vegetables and see if any of these techniques are still appropriate today. Samples may be available for the brave.
Alan Andrist (M), Dr. Ricky, Ann Shilling, Eva L. Elasigue

Superhero Yoga
Grand 2
Friday 9:30–10 a.m.
Start off your super day! Gain strength and confidence from power poses, which sometimes correlate to traditional yoga or martial arts, straight from the panels or scenes. Breathe deeply. Relax and loosen those muscles like the hero you are. Go boldly into your Norwescon Friday energized for the day’s activities! Wear comfortable clothes. This is a low-impact physical activity.
Eva L. Elasigue (M)

Science Builds!
Cascade 5 & 6
Friday 11–noon
Could science build the animals of fantasy? Could a dragon exist? Breath fire? Fly? Talk?
Jake McKinzie (M), Eva L. Elasigue, Charlotte Lewis Brown, Dr. Ricky

Superhero Yoga
Grand 2
Saturday 9:30–10 a.m.
Start off your super day! Gain strength and confidence from power poses, which sometimes correlate to traditional yoga or martial arts, straight from the panels or scenes. Breathe deeply. Relax and loosen those muscles like the hero you are. Go boldly into your Norwescon Friday energized for the day’s activities! Wear comfortable clothes. This is a low-impact physical activity.
Eva L. Elasigue (M)

I Love Your Work, I Promise: Support Tips for Busy Geeks
Cascade 11
Saturday 11–noon
We’ve all been there. An artist we like is doing something cool, and we want to support them, but we don’t have the money, the time, or the spoons. How can we still show our support? Come find answers direct from our pros (who are fans too!). They’ll share tips on ways to show fannish gratitude, even when you’re strapped for resources.
Jonny Nero Action Hero (M), Eva L. Elasigue, Shubzilla, LEX the Lexicon Artist

Creativity Toolbox For Young Writers and Artists
Olympic 1
Saturday noon–1 p.m.
Come to Olympic 1 to join a variety of fun games and activities that will build a toolbox of skills for young creators of all kinds.
Kari Ann Ramadorai (M), Eva L. Elasigue

Anime, Anime, Anime!
Cascade 5 & 6
Saturday 9–10 p.m.
For all of you who wish you could be at Sakura Con as well as Norwescon, this panel is for you! We’ll be diving into the wonderful world of anime and covering the basics for those of you who are sticking your toes in for the first time, as well as exploring the latest and the greatest for those of you who have been swimming around for a while now.
Mimi Noyes (M), Gabriel de los Angeles, Eva L. Elasigue

Reading: Eva L. Elasigue
Cascade 3
Sunday 10:30–11 a.m.
Bones of Starlight 2: Abyss Surrounding, the newly-released second volume of Bones of Starlight, the fantasy space opera trilogy! When few can cross the growing divide, those who do become the fulcrum in the turn of events. Vedani, the Hirylien Remainder, Kao-Sidhe, and exile Dragons, together exert their concerted resentments upon the Pan-Galactic Imperium, which begins to waver with uncertainty. Chains of connection break and form as critical elements rearrange. Rated PG.
Eva L. Elasigue (M)

Writer AND Publisher – What Were You Thinking?
Cascade 11
Sunday 11–noon
Science fiction writers who are also publishers talk about the different skills of a writer versus a publisher, and why they ended up doing both.
Tod McCoy (M), Eva L. Elasigue, Sienna Saint-Cyr

5x Rerun: Abyss Surrounding (2) 86-90

– 86 –

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.”

– 87 –

Two blue-skinned, silver-haired humanoids sat on the floor facing each other with eyes closed. They were in a rounded corner nook not much taller than they could sit in. Others walked past their space, noticing but unconcerned. Their hands lay upturned, fingers waving gently; hair glowing slightly, one shade closer to their skin. They were interfacing in the aetherscape.

There, in the conceptual space that exists between people who call themselves Vedani, the two were negotiating entry into the private worklab of the woman Aelrn. She had taken the role of a botanist, and this was now a garden.

When the final access barriers were lifted, their wire-frame figures translated to a new setting. They were surrounded by many strong living presences, which existed here as distinctly-formed treelike structures pulsing with light. Treelike, because they were trees, as surely as any living – here, alive, in the aetherscape.

This was still a strange and puzzling idea to Uixtr, and most Vedani. Yet it was also the basis on which they had co-engineered a destabilizing attack on an empire that had exhibited increasing callous aggression toward their appearances, even doing horrific things to its own people in preventing possible liaisons. Wherever the power lay in the Pan-Galactic Imperium, the Vedani had finally concluded it to be in the wrong hands, which put them in danger as well.

These trees… they were the first other living beings ever found that naturally inhabited the aetherscape, which Vedani had believed unique to them. A significant and recent surprise. Some including Aelrn, began studying them. They learned that, like them, the trees had bodies in physical locations which were not necessarily propinquitous. They also became aware that these were connected to people who made intergalactic travel commonly possible – for the empire that continued to shun their contact, suppressing knowledge of theirs and others’ existence while disrupting their presence.

Vedani also discovered that these trees had life phases. There were individuals that existed solely in the aetherscape without a physical correlate, until they experienced a particular set of triggers that would create a body somewhere.

So it was that Aelrn was keeping a secret garden of thriving Symbias trees in the aetherscape. These trees had no physical bodies, yet. But they were alive, and she was one of a number of Vedani learning from them, about them.

“I can show you how I learned to hear them,” Aelrn said to her friend, stirring the leaf patterns extending from branch patterns.

“Hear them,” mused Uixtr in quiet awe, “…do they talk?”

“Actually,” she replied, “they sing. I laid down like this.” She sat at the base of one, extending her figure along the floorplane and nestling her head between two gnarling root projections. She gestured for Uixtr to do the same. “You don’t have to believe me. Connect yourself as I’m doing, your crown betwixt a fork, and ravel a thread of your form to theirs.”

He entwined one of his glowing lines with one from the tree, and at that moment, Uixtr began to hear things. “Whoah, wow, what?” he exclaimed. “Where am I? I mean, where is this tree? That is…” He let go in mild alarm, then reconnected and listened further. “Aelrn, are we hearing the same thing?”

She smiled, in connection with the same tree. “Well, I can’t really pronounce it. It goes kind of like…” and she made a set of chimey tinkling noises, indicating their scale differences with an upraised hand.

Holding with his connection, Uixtr approximated the sounds he was receiving and made a set of awkward but similar chimey tinkles. The sounds from the two of them differed slightly, but they differed with a particular degree of harmony. Uixtr felt responses from his physical body. “Who are they?”

“You’re hearing their version of the Aquari native language.”

After a while of simply listening, Uixtr said, “I think I’m beginning to understand.” Whether that meant he understood Aelrn’s fascination with these trees, or was starting to understand the meaning of the sounds, or the relationship between the trees and their people, Aelrn didn’t ask him to clarify; it could mean a little of all of those, as it did for her.

“It feels like knowing something already. You can just… drift out with them until you stir.” She smiled at the thought of her own suggestion.

Where the two Vedani sat in the nook, they shifted their torsos and opened their eyes at the same time. Uixtr brushed himself off, giving Aelrn a deep gesture of acknowledgment, and said, “Thank you for showing me your garden.”

– 88 –

Somehow, again, the ship behind them had come even closer. It wasn’t an equipment malfunction, or paranoid trick of the mind. They approached at an inconceivable rate – not within ten years of development, possibly not humanly allowable. Might someone be hacking their system to deceive them, and why? A thought that made more sense to Wendel, in context, was that someone might be trying to kill them with never-before-seen weapons and equipment. That wasn’t the first thing she’d never seen before, today, signifying different waters; a new ocean of possibility. The leaps forward defied velocity, killing the rear longview pathing. The ship never fell back or changed track. Ship database info wasn’t available yet at this distance, but Wendel was guessing it wouldn’t be helpful.

What could be bigger than the trouble that’s after me? Maybe the trouble that’s after her.

Wendel Harper freed her chair to swing around, and engaged Princess Soleil in a staring contest. She had to try not to ask about Zero-Clearance particulars, though it was hard to wrangle a question away from that topic. She tried her best with a little readiness testing, a good idea in situations involving untried adults. “Without inquiring into your situation, can you tell me if this might probably be something that involves you? I ask for the sake of decision making with regards to our welfare.”

Wearing the same face as when she’d first noticed the pursuant craft’s maneuvers, the Princess replied, “Perhaps. Without inquiring into your situation, do you think that this might have something to do with your affairs?”

“Possibly,” replied the captain. “How dangerous is your situation?”

Princess Soleil cleared her throat and indicated the rear longview screen. “How dangerous does that look? At the current moment, this is our situation.”

Even if splitting up would make a difference, Wendel wasn’t sure that she would want to. The captain didn’t necessarily think of herself as an authoritarian or one of great fealty, but there was something inspiring about this young woman. Wendel felt honored to have her aboard; she wanted to help her, somehow. “Yes, as of now we are in this together.” She was unaware that the Princess felt the same way.

They both turned their heads back to the screen in time to observe another disturbing leap in pursuit. “Do you think I should say something?” Toller asked, looking at the screen but pointing to the CD band unit. Oh – he did already understand that they were in danger. That saved Wendel an awkward pep talk. Now they were a team.

“No, don’t bother,” Captain Harper replied. “Do not extend the situation. You can keep talking, in case we can catch anything pertinent – and that way someone might remember when you stopped.” Toller handled the morbid suggestion of that statement very well.

“Lowercase T, the lightweight terror, with another shot to the gut – and by that I mean a morsel of wisdom that feels real inside when it lands. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do but your best. Try to hide it, try to deny it, and forces might drive you all the way to the edge till that best comes right out of you, by golly it will. So do your best, or they’ll make you. Another square hit from Lowercase T, fightin for ya till the knockout.”

Seeing another positional jump in the rear longview, Wendel and Soleil groaned. The readings would lose their senses for a moment, then regain them with a shrug as though there were nothing strange about the ship simply being much, much closer. Wendel abruptly left her seat to put her own hands on the peripheral device and check it herself. Toller’s hands darted up towards the copilot control yoke, but stopped, hovering innocently two inches from it. Princess Soleil, having put the pieces of that particular puzzle together, looked directly at the boy and said, “It’s fine, you can go ahead.”

Speaking out of her side awareness, Wendel backed them up. “She says it’s fine, Toller. Special case right now.” Wendel resignedly patted the peripheral screen, still faithfully transmitting. “This thing is fine, too. But that -“ she jabbed her finger toward the icon now resolving into parts of an image, “- is not fine.”

Toller let his hands rest lightly on the controller for just a moment before peacefully withdrawing them to his lap as the captain took her seat again. Harper rambled as she reported her moment-to-moment cogitation. “I’ll run this last time period through the onboard path analyst, see if it sees what we see.” Nobody asked her to elaborate as she made commands and read output. “So, it reads correctly – that is, the unusual data translates between machines, visual and formula.” She flashed the chart onto the central screen, if anyone should so desire to corroborate her assessment. “The ship is approaching. They’re not entirely close enough to bounce off of, but they soon could be. It’s like they scoot up with a sort of cloaked leap. The period appears to decreasing.”

“You have very good longview devices equipped,” remarked Princess Soleil. “Standard anticipation measures?”

“A kind of professional’s insurance,” Wendel stated calmly, “cuts down likelihood of avoidable accidents. And hey, there it goes again. Yeah, both the time between leaps is decreasing, and the amount of space covered. By the rate of decrease, we could determine their target along this road, but I don’t think we need to bother. There’s nothing else out here. It’s probably us. What do you think, Princess?”

“Infinite approach. They’re utilizing an infinite approach formula.” Aside from this bit of insight, Soleil just gave a serious affirmative nod.

“Did you say Princess? Princess of what?” This time it was Toller’s turn to rotate his seat to face her. “THE Princess? Like, all the Princesses ever?”

“A bit like all of the Princesses in my line, that of the Magus Dynasty.” She nodded kindly. “Do you not take in the news very often?”

“Almost never,” he said, looking down at his clothes as though they should tell her something; though, this was a fairly new set. The Princess just smiled, and he smoothly rotated his seat back around to the controls.

“Okay, that was another slide forward just now,” announced Wendel. “Now they’re in bounce range for visual. Gripes, but that’s a fast ship. Littler than us, but definitely faster. From there, they could catch up with us the old-fashioned way in about twenty minutes. Also I apologize, I truly thought I had mentioned your grace – I probably had a hard time registering that someone could not know. Then again, you introduced yourself to him as Soleil, and maybe I just didn’t want to give any more information than you gave… even though I thought your grace was obvious and easily known. Zero-Clearance is weird and scary.”

“Darnit, the CD bands are going wonky. They’re still there, it’s just wonkytown.” The boy’s twiddling took on the dire focus of last-minute testing.

“Right now our pathway is full forward, nothing blocking…” The captain swiveled to face the others. “There’s a defense system on this ship, and currently I’m the only one who can engage it. Are you prepared for the possibilities of me using it?” This last question was directed mainly toward the Princess.

Soleil felt concern for Moonshadow. “Do I need to move my vehicle?”

“No, it’s not in the way,” replied Wendel.

“Yes, I’m prepared,” stated Soleil convincingly. Then, an unusual sensation returned in her thoughts. A funny feeling she’d almost forgotten but which had a name: Raev Sturlusson. Wasn’t he imprisoned? It didn’t feel like he was in prison. He felt nearly as close as during her approach to the hospice room in the Spear where she’d snuck a word with him before his sentencing. With the same approaching feeling. “Someone very dangerous could be on board that ship,” she warned.

Captain Harper spoke as she rose up. “We already have some idea. We’ll do what we need to do. Toller, take the chair and maintain full forward along the speedway line.”

He finally pushed something through his broadcasting struggle. “Good night, and good luck. Lowercase T wishes you peace, out.” Then he let go, making it clear there was nothing more worth trying with it. He then transferred chairs immediately. Toller wiped and patted his palms on his lap, then turned to give Princess Soleil a bravado wink as the captain disappeared. “Want to sit co-chair?” he asked. “Maybe you’ll get to push a button.”

Giving the lad her best huntress smile, Soleil dashed up and strapped in. “I’m not familiar with these controls,” she admitted, “but I’ll take commands.”

“Okay!” announced Toller with convicted readiness.

Wendel’s voice chimed in over the com. “No point trying to contact them when we’re cut off. Skyfather warming up, ready in 3. I hope you are, too.”

“Okay!” Toller repeated his confidence back to the captain.

Soleil reported in, using the current operating term. “Okay!” She then addressed Toller. “What’s the Skyfather?”

“It’s a giant, excuse me, gigantic beam cannon.”

Soleil had only seen diagram documents, but she was aware of their capabilities. “Well, then. I suppose we’ll see what they’ve got, and what they want.”

– 89 –

The spaceship pursuing Drift 9 took another jump – tiny in comparison to previous distances crossed, but giant in that this one finally overtook them. Young Toller in the pilot’s chair brought Drift 9 to an emergency halt, now faced with a ship directly in front of them. He looked at the dash clock and tried to remember exactly when Wendel said their cannon was three minutes to ready. It felt like two and half minutes ago. As seconds passed, he was able to see two figures in the front of their ship, as well as signs that they were also probably charging a weapon. His alarm reflex rose, and to Soleil he yelled, “Get down and hold on!”

There was a cross of blinding flashes. The two of them felt a bad shudder, though their compartment was intact. After a couple breaths under cover, Captain Wendel Harper clambered in from the back. “Our propulsion engine is slashed. Pinpoint beam. They were just a little faster, it was so close!” Her fury of failure under duress emerged in those last two words as she obscured Toller at his controls, reaching in to test other systems. “They’ve got us. Their ship is the only way out of here.” For a moment, she melted onto the control board and kissed the CD band unit. “I love you,” she whispered, unclear whether to her ship or to someone else, possibly Leiv.

Drift 9 shuddered again as their attacker grab-connected the hold entrance. The captain picked herself up again and aimed a camera to inspect the other craft. “HA!” she yelled, pointing to the image of one of their antennas, slashed in half. She snapped her jaws together, teeth bared.

They heard the resonant pong of the hold door’s locking mechanisms unlatching. Harper abruptly left the cockpit and disappeared. Toller and Soleil got up, readying for hostilities. Soleil did not attempt to alter her appearance. The ship was quiet as steps approached unhurriedly.

Two men appeared in the corridor, and Harper dropped down onto the one in front, a glinting bowie knife in her fist. The large man moved with surprising grace, dancing her into an arm lock that resembled a dramatic dip. Extended, the knife fell from Harper’s squeezed grip. They remained in this embrace while the one behind stepped around them.

“Hello, everybody,” said Raev Sturlusson with a note of cool surprise.

“Hello,” replied Princess Soleil with an expectant undertone. She and Toller remained crouched in ready stances.

“You’re going to come with us.” Sturlusson lifted his one hand, a crackling ball of bronze lightning appearing above his palm. A thread-slim bolt precisely struck the cockpit’s lighting fixture, leaving the chamber dark but for the energy still crackling in the invader’s hand. “Don’t resist.” Drift 9’s original occupants respectfully relaxed.

All went from the hold door through the tube chute with Sturlusson escorting from behind. The three captured were brought to seats in a passenger niche and fitted with captivity harnesses. “Fancy meeting you here,” Sturlusson said to Soleil as he carefully set her straps. “This is certainly making the most of a visit. Verne doesn’t even have to report on his objective. Which was you,” he said turning to Wendel where she sat securely. She bared her teeth at him. “After your little tango, I think you get to know his first name. The notoriously curious Captain Wendel Harper, of the Starweavers. And…” he narrowed his eyes at the boy, “is that Lowercase T?”

“I know who you are,” said Toller with defiant nonchalance.

“You know who he is?” Soleil asked, sounding slightly offended.

“Just so that everyone is certain,” said the dark-haired man as he exited to join his pilot, “my name is Raev Sturlusson, of Hirylien.”

The captives listened silently to the conversation up front. “What to do with this?” Trosper asked Sturlusson.

“We have to leave it.”

“I’m going to make it look natural. It’ll be simple enough.” Wendel let out a rising growl of frustrated hostility. They felt a weapon charge and release. “What a shame,” called Trosper back to his captive, “it looks like your engine exploded. That’s a rare type of failure, but it happens. At least someone must have come to pick you up. That’s very lucky.” Wendel lowered her head to hang down as far as it could.

Sturlusson called back to them as well, echoing words from a happy time. “Road trip, everyone!”

– 90 –

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.

5x Rerun: Abyss Surrounding (2) 82-84, 20th Sequence, 85

– 82 –

“Easy cruisin, constant movin.” Derringer coined this phrase a while ago for certain recurring job phases – times when he was supposed to come up with something out of thin air with no clue. Well, the air gets thinner when he leans into the wind. Inspiration was free to arrive, so long as he kept attention on his main motivation.

He chose the Brave Crossing to pass his time, one of the longest and least traveled interplanetary causeways. Few went that way anymore since gates became an option on that route, and it was no less risky than ever. Hence, the name. One has to really enjoy the wilderness to go that way. Derringer did occasionally enjoy a little time in the wild.

He knew this way well already. Getting lost wouldn’t be a distraction. He could meditate, and let things percolate. He had supplies. He knew how long it would take, and where he could stop and drift.

Speaking of drifts, he was passing one now on the opposite directional path. A Bluebird Mark 7! Those were so useful. This one came from the years they were built with maximum function and pride, rather than the subsequent popularity. Derringer slowed enough to grab a capture so he could admire it. Yup – personal battleship, industrial enough for deliveries. As he scooted around in an undesignated premium government vehicle, he allowed himself a moment of envy for the owner of that fine model, kept fairly classic.

– 83 –

Princess Soleil stepped forward off the platform, one hand held up for credential activation with a genteel smile.

Wendel Harper, the ship’s captain, instantly understood what she was looking at, from the possible credential encounters section of her training. Zero-Clearance means that no one has authorization to question this matter. There was a film named Zero-Clearance. She’d never seen it in person before, but nothing else looked like it. The instant display was sharp and high-definition. The captain clearly recognized the Princess, with a special-model ship. “Greetings, Princess Soleil. I understand that you are on undisclosable matters. My name is Wendel Harper, captain of this ship. May we be of assistance?” The Princess nodded, looking relieved. She put away her credential, standing at ease to face the captain.

Before anything evolved, Wendel divulged. “I have one other shipmate. Would you like to meet him up front? He’s temporarily keeping my seat.” Her arms gestured toward their causeway. She had no idea about proper forms of address, so she just cut the crap. Whatever needed to happen, she wanted Toller’s presence to be accounted for.

“Yes, okay,” was the young woman’s reply. Wendel led her to the cockpit, where the teenaged boy appeared patient and passive in the pilot’s chair. The whole happenstance felt more weighty than a quibble over having someone young minding the controls, so Wendel made no issue over presentation. “Toller, our passenger wants to meet you.”

“Hello, my name is Soleil.” She didn’t bother with title or credential, allowing a simple encounter.

To the boy she was strangely familiar, though he was unsure how. He replied with frank and open glibness. “Okay. I’m Toller. Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you,” she said with an easy nod.

The captain instructed him. “Hold the seat while I help her out, alright?”

“Sure.” As he assumed the responsibility, Soleil connected her previous maneuvering observation with the boy in the chair, novice pilot recognizing novice pilot. She inwardly approved more of this captain, having been a learning prodigy allowed exception to age restrictions. It made sense that they were on one of the longest and least populated thruways of the Pan-Galaxy. Wanting no inquiry, she too inquired as little as possible, following the captain back toward Moonshadow.

Wendel addressed her in the hold. “Your message read that you need fuels and charges?”

“Exactly,” said Soleil. Though they had not been parked in totally dire circumstance, she’d asked Moonshadow what it might need if they could get it. She was given some manageable requests, and decided that if it were possible to use authority loyalty or service in lieu of currency, she should obtain things at soonest opportunity. “I’d also like to fill my drinking reservoir,” she said as it additionally occurred to her; vapor collection had been reliable, but this was the time for wise considerations to surface. “I’ll show you the details on my display so you can see what you might be able to spare me. I appreciate your time and effort.”

As they walked toward the vehicle, Wendel zipped up any questions, just letting herself behold this never-before-seen tiny marvel. This alone might be one of the reasons the Princess was wearing Zero-Clearance. She wondered if there were any more of these out there. Was the Princess still reported missing? And, as she hadn’t used her title, did Toller even know who he’d just talked to?

Soleil brought Wendel to face the outer front display, showing a clear language-and-symbol list. “I can use any of these seven reagent powders, some deionized water, and perhaps drinking water.”

“I have both kinds of water to share. Will it help if I can supply a handful of each of these three?” Wendel touched the screen to indicate, and each item highlighted itself, the combination registering a positive sign in an upper corner.

“Yes. Is your mixer working?”

“It is, I’ll get them mixed up for you. I only have a standard spouted feeder bowl…”

Soleil nodded that this would be fine. “While you do that, can I use your air brush?”

“Sure. It’s a little big for that.” The smallest spacecraft anyone expected to service was at least twice the size of this funny sled.

“That’s okay,” replied the Princess. Harper went to detach the airbrushing unit from the hold’s inner wall, and rolled it over.

“Enjoy. There’s a com over there you can use if you need to call someone in the next ten minutes,” said the captain, pointing toward the corner by the entry bay.

The airbrushing unit was the size and weight of a large greatsword, nearly the length of Moonshadow itself with nozzles along one side. Soleil gained her balance with it, orienting toward the field curvature, and turned on the machine. Legs braced wide, she hosed the activated field with high-pressure streams. The field bubble sparkled under the airflow. Moonshadow played a little light around its platform, expressing enjoyment. Though it hadn’t made a sound, Soleil hissed, “shhhh.” She wasn’t sure how people would react to evidence of its consciousness. Moonshadow went back to being surreptitiously unresponsive.

Wendel returned, feeder bowl in hands, containing mixed fuel powders. She approached once Princess Soleil finished the last of the airbrushing. Soleil extended a finger-width retractable hose that initiated intake when brought close enough to the powders. Wendel pointed to the spout, which would fit the hose inside, and Soleil nodded. Placing the hose through the spout, Soleil let Wendel steadily shake the powders toward the intake, while she gestured that she would be checking around the rest of the vehicle.

After peering at a reading and looking under a flap, Soleil overcame a hesitation. “I don’t want to hold you up here any longer than I should. May I know where it is you’re going?”

“Sure, no issue. The planet we’re heading towards at the other end of the Brave Crossing is Primatris.”

Soleil attempted approximation. “That’s about a day from here?”

“A day and a half, in this ship.”

“It would serve me well to stay on board with you, if you feel comfortable continuing involvement for no assured reward. I could then also use a flushing canister, some Mist 5, and your power radiator for a while.”

Wendel took in a breath. “During your occupancy, would we be under aegis of your Zero-Clearance?”

If this credential were legitimate, the answer would be yes, so Soleil replied, “Yes.”

The captain nodded with consideration. “Can I bring Toller in here to give you our decision?”

“Certainly,” replied the Princess. “Can I have half a bucket of DI water to feed up while you deliberate and return?” Wendel agreed, and carried that over before exiting.

In the time it took for Moonshadow to drain the bucket, Captain Harper returned with young Toller. With a shy smirk and the same no-nonsense attitude as his captain, the boy asked, “Before I give my decision, can I look at that?” His eyes were pointed toward the curious vehicle in the corner.

From a closed smile, the Princess said, “Yes, but I’m not answering any questions about it.”

With an assumed scholar’s air led by glittering eyes, Toller approached with hands clasped behind him, bending his benign scrutiny towards Moonshadow. “Hmmmm… Hmm.” After twice around, he nodded soberly to Wendel.

“We’ll help you,” she said to Soleil.

– 84 –

This stash-dump of overstock toilets quietly occupied half a small valley of construction site ruins. Toledo Vadr addressed them. “There’s something bodily about a toilet that makes it seem like a personal extension. Each of those could be up against someone’s ass, and excretion passes through it like another organ, which it resembles. This looks like a very large assembly of individual organs.”

“We’re taking as many as we can carry.” Random Arriba turned to scrutinize the cargo trailer that their little-but-mighty tech ship would tow to a location they hadn’t yet received. “I wonder if these are for the aliens we just met.”

“Aliens?” Toledo asked. That was an archaic word that had fallen out of favor. Other sentient people hadn’t been commonly called aliens since longer than fifteen generations ago, but that was also the last time that the Imperium had met and integrated another sentient, the Aquarii.

“You know… sentients we don’t know yet. We’ve only just met, and wisdom is a deep lesson to demonstrate. Okay, they’re obviously people, who look astoundingly similar to us Humans. And they were actually as easy to work with as anybody who doesn’t say a word to you.” They had a tread-sled, which went with them from loading point to loading point. It wasn’t the fastest work, but they made a difference as time passed.

“Do you think they use toilets?” Toledo wondered aloud.

Random half-smirked. “If they did, they wouldn’t need to lift some from us, would they? They could get their own.”

“I really hope we’re not furnishing our own prison cells.” Toledo continued peppering this conversation through the gradual filling of the cargo load.

“And… what if we are?” Random selected the next toilet she hoisted with a little more care.

“Then, maybe we’d have to do something about it. For now, second life ain’t too bad. Besides – apparently they’d have enough courtesy to provide toilets. Even though this is a lot of toilets to people like us, I think we’re only taking about as much capacity as a middle school or a medium hotel. Prisons are either smaller or bigger.”

Random snickered. “Maybe they’ve just now discovered our amazing technology, and it’s the new art fashion sensation. Just to have one. Could be. They’re like push-to-operate fountains.” The link module Arriba was carrying brought up a transmission. “We’ve got our location,” she announced. “It’s totally different, and also nowhere near anything.”

“Alright,” said Vadr, opening his hands wide towards their unusual carry load, “Big delivery on its way.”

– 20TH SEQUENCE –

– 85 –

“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.”

 

Recently

These two great events eluded mention on this website at the time of their occurrence: Resonate 1/31 Oakland, where I sold books at a mini-table for this party promoting the feminine in electronic music culture, and Two-Hour Transport 3/27 Seattle, where I delivered a featured book reading to the seasoned writers’ gathering & open mic.

RESONATE

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Above, I can be seen in profile to the right of the brightly lit corner of art to the upper right of the crowd, discussing my books with someone during Naughty Princess‘ excellent set. Following are a few other highlights:

While I’m late mentioning this event, I’m doing so just in time to let you know about Resonate’s next workshop for women making music:

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TWO-HOUR TRANSPORT

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I read from Abyss Surrounding as a featured author, along with Patrick Hurley, for my second participation in this great group of Seattle-area sci-fi writers and appreciators! I also moved a small house that day, and wore my dirt boots to the reading.

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Pictured below, author K.G. Anderson & publisher Tom Whitmore were my gracious Ballard hosts.

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5x Rerun: Abyss Surrounding (2) 78, 19th Sequence, 79-81

– 78 –

They discovered themselves in a mountain meadow that the Princess had visited once before, on a solo backpacking trip after some time learning from a wilderness instructor. The skypilot flowers she remembered here were underground now; it was cold, and snow would be arriving here any day. The Vedani gearsuit she wore matched its panel tones to the surroundings and maintained her body temperature. Stepping down to the ground from her platform, she turned to face her vehicle, and spoke to those who accompanied her. “You said I have to address it properly. How do I do that?”

Here, the Kao-Sidhe looked particularly like themselves, with no end of fine detail; while they were also even smaller, the size of a figurine rather than a doll statue. Garlic was there with them now. Rosy Glow went once more to lie upon the handlebar podium, putting her ear to its surface. She then propped herself up on an elbow. “After listening to some of the Vedani protocols, I think the best approximation would be: try talking to it like a person.”

“Okay.” The Princess positioned herself to directly address the vehicle’s central processing, and gestured with her gloved hands to engage the system. “Hello, locomotive. Will …you… be okay here? Are you adaptable to this atmosphere?” She spoke steadily and clearly, wondering how well it would understand.

The display switched mannerisms, addressing her in the alphabet of her language.

YES: OKAY

Princess Soleil asked, “Do I refer to you as it, or he or she?”

IT

“Do you have a name?”

YOU MAY NAME ME

Soleil blinked and examined the interface a little closer. “What are you?”

I AM YOUR MOUNT

The trail beckoned to Soleil. “Alright. Wait here, please.” To the Kao-Sidhe, she expressed the need for a private moment, which they granted with simple acknowledgment. She went to find the almost fully-masked trail to the viewing precipice. She wasn’t the first to seek it, but she was one of very few, as the footpath barely existed. It took a couple corners to the mountain’s shoulder.

The sheer rock ridge was so acute she could bend her fingers over it at a point where the edge rested at chin height. There, she was a tiny creature peering over into a great expanse. She showed her face in view of the city where she was born and had always lived – though she no longer completely understood it, as she had once believed.

To one side of the city in the center, across the dial of the valley, the Mt. Kairas viewing plateau could be seen. The visibility of the naked divot made her feel equally exposed. Upon the cue of a glancing glint in her field of vision, Soleil instinctively ducked. She sat with her back to the ridge, facing the mountain forest. She took two loamy breaths and then returned to the others along the trail.

Just before she reached them, something snapped within, like a tether from the edge she had just visited. With her first step into the clearing, Soleil could see her vehicle (which she hadn’t named yet) and the three Kao-Sidhe. “Leave my sight,” she said, feeling like this had been said by many of her own before her, though she’d never said it yet herself. “I am going to grieve. Leave my sight.” It felt like the urge to vomit, immediately present and violently unavoidable.

Realizing that this was a moment of dangerous vulnerability for any human, the aliens shot up into the sky, clearly going far, far away. The Princess wondered slightly how she could then call them back, but she also didn’t care at that moment.

Looking down, Soleil pulled off her gloves one at a time, and stuffed them into a suit compartment. She stared at her hands, sinking down to her knees. Clutching earth between her fingers, she closed her fists. She touched some of the dirt on her hands to her tongue, and began to shudder at a taste from a time past, feeling the part of her that was now missing. Her throat let loose a yell of rage – that this was so much bigger than her, that the lies of her life felt bigger than the truths, and even those matters were not in her hands.

From the edge of the clearing where she crouched on the ground, she turned, half-consciously reaching until she found the root of a tree beneath her hands. She clung to it solidly, noises of anger and sadness subsiding… until she held the root silently for a time, patting it as though it were special and dear. Then she let go.

Standing quietly once more to view the clearing, Soleil noticed a wild garlic plant. Had that always been there? Going into her recollections, the answer was yes. She had even eaten some here, that time long ago. Bemused, she was making her guess about calling the ambassadors, as she privately referred to the three. She also thought for a time about what she might be ready to do. Her fingertips went to her temples and she felt warmth between them, with recollections in her mind’s eye. She focused to remember what she’d learned, and why, in that dream.

Soleil crouched towards the garlic’s tender leaves, soon to wither. She tugged a garlic leaf as though arranging a shirt lapel, and said quietly but clearly, “You may return to me now. I request the counsel of the Kao-Sidhe.”

With a quick motion of arrival, the Kao-Sidhe were again present. Their gazes were intent and expectant, appearance sharp and bright. Dragon Food’s skin shimmered purple, and he wore a changing-hide garment that trailed to a wisp beneath his floating form. Garlic was a hardnecked varietal, roots waving, white papery skin purple-toned. Rosy Glow’s sweet face was framed by her dresslike patch of brilliant sunset.

Surprised by the ease of connection, Soleil felt humbled. “You are very courteous to me, for a people so angry with my people.” She could recall the presence of the Kao-Sidhe as expressed through flame, in her vision.

“And you are very courteous to us, for a people who have so injured our people.” Rosy Glow’s voice was ethereal and warm.

“I know not of the injury others have done.”

“And we know little of the anger that others feel. So we, out of all our peoples, are in positions to aid each other. And so we have, or done our best.”

“You have. I could walk home from here, and you’ve made no effort to prevent me.” Soleil studied them, and the surrounding trees. “How might I aid you in turn?” The three Kao-Sidhe appeared to savor this question.

After they regarded each other for a moment, Dragon Food spoke. “We would like you to meet our friends.”

“Are they like yourselves?”

“No, they’re entirely different. They know of the Imperium, and in a way, you have seen them. We know that they would like to meet you, Princess Soleil. But we would have to go to them first.”

Soleil reflected again on the destinies of the scions in her line, those lost and those ascended. She would be one or the other. “I will go,” she said. “If they would like to meet me, then I would like to meet them as well.”

The Kao-Sidhe aligned their flight in an equilateral triangle and bowed together, then all moved toward the quiescent vehicle. “Then let’s determine our method of travel, with you and your trusty mount…”

“Moonshadow,” said the Princess, donning a glove and touching a handlebar to awaken the system. “I name you Moonshadow.”

– 19TH SEQUENCE –

– 79 –

A Vedani woman relaxed, cradled in a conductive therapy hammock. The faintly luminescent walls radiated pearly moonlight. The occupational therapist walked in through the angled doorless archway.

OUSRK FNSD: Hello Eivnr, it’s good to see you. What do you need today?

EIVNR KFNT: I’m glad to see you as well, Ousrk. Open me up and reconnect everything, please.

The therapist activated the sling hammock’s transduction, causing all of Eivnr’s medium-length silver hair to lift into the air.

OUSRK: How and why do things feel disconnected?

Her hair bobbing with the differentiating current cycles, Eivnr sighed.

EIVNR: Imagine what it feels like to have five hundred different fingers that disappear abruptly. The connection pathways are strongest and easiest through the hand’s dense neural maps, so that’s also where the wear and tear accumulate. Including phantom effects, feeling things that aren’t there.

OUSRK: Then I’ll start by isolating and singularizing your manual sensations.

Ousrk’s longer silver hair was plaited down her back, but the ends waved a little when she made contact with the part of the hammock sling supporting Eivnr’s arms. She gently pressed each limb into its sling with holds that enhanced the field’s effects on her patient. She also folded the sling around the limb using various modes of wrapping, including strips around each long finger.

OUSRK: What’s your emotional valence?

EIVNR: Oh, that’s another thing. My primus, the most significant individual in my connective, has really strong emotions – there’s been a lot of anger and confusion, which can turn into determination mixed with helplessness. Though it is also driven by love, that serves to make things more intense.

The therapist chose a cycling pattern to run down the sling supporting Eivnr’s torso. The patient closed her eyes and breathed more deeply.

OUSRK: I have a funny question for you.

Her patient made a receptive facial expression.

OUSRK: Why are the messages from the connectives formulated in awkward archaic semi-prose?

EIVNR: Aside from the nebulous nature of collective transmissions focused with a primus, we discovered a type of human communicative medium that they themselves largely ignore: amateur poetry. If the humans in our connectives are to share a message amongst themselves with unrestricted initiative, it is still likely to go unnoticed and disregarded even by the attentive. It’s very easy to translate these effects from their interlingua to our speech and vice-versa. It’s become an entire craze among the youngsters!

OUSRK: I have not yet encountered that.

EIVNR: Dear hearts, they’re digging up all the least-read human poetry and forming a new culture around it – which is so incredibly Vedani. As we know, nothing exists to remain unlooked-upon. So much curiously beautiful work, and the transitive iterations get even better. Without any need for organization or instruction, they’re serving our purposes in a number of ways. One, that the messages reach as many as possible; another is that should the humans somehow learn to tap our signals, the messages will be surrounded with clouds of similar-but-different noise, being transmitted in the manner of idle entertainment. Furthermore the young are also using it to earn their autodidactic education levels. Thus, our people’s knowledge of humans will continue to outpace their general knowledge of us.

OUSRK: It sounds fun. I’ve been examining totally different areas lately, but now I’m piqued. Maybe I’ll participate.

EIVNR: I’m a default main participant through my role. I have another request… my neck, please? It’s the balancing hourglass multimolecular coilhat I’m using – piles on the neck stress while ensuring that I remain in optimal connective posture. The vocal chords are also similar to the fingers with significant active multiplicative connections there, that suddenly disappear. The sadness pockets could also use your attention…

Ousrk squeezed her patient at the junctures between neck and shoulder, in addition to the neck and vocal muscle groups and structures.

EIVNR: I absorb a lot of that from my particular connective. Even though my role in the beloved-aspect is the friendliest out of all of them, it’s also the most numerously populated at the moment. They all just personally experienced a hidden means of mass slaughter, that they now recognize as such. Along with their motivational fury, which nearly matches that of the surviving Hirylienites, they carry a lot of grief and guilt. That’s where I feel it, even though it isn’t mine, though I understand.

OUSRK: Are you having any numbness due to your own experience of the Affliction?

EIVNR: A little, a nearly imaginary amount – maybe having more to do with recovering straight into the connective as conductor. Could you trace me back out to finish the session? Wires feeling frayed, you know?

The therapist gently ran her fingertips along key nervous pathways toward out-points on her patient’s body, where she grasped the invisible-but-perceivable energetic bundle there, and drew it out into the air and aetherscape. Vedani must maintain their aetherscape connections, or languish. She did this around Eivnr’s entire body, including her floating tresses. After a full addressing, Ousrk switched the hammock cycles to move towards the heart.

OUSRK: I’ll shift the light to full spectrum now. I recommend that you photosynthesize here for at least three thousand beats without a coverlet.

EIVNR: I will, yes thank you.

The therapist walked out of the room and altered the wall settings to a blinding shine. Not exactly natural sunshine with all the combined elements, but still delectable. Eivnr closed her eyes and relaxed in order to gain a deeper shade of blue.

– 80 –

“This is disheartening,” said Soleil finally, with none but Garlic to listen. Dragon Food and Rosy Glow had departed on their own matters, possibly helpful to the situation. From where she sat on Moonshadow’s platform, she looked around the designated sidespace where she’d ceased arguing with a machine being that didn’t seem to entirely understand. It hadn’t been so hard in the midst of their trial of deep space survival. Now they sat parked in a place where they could officially or unofficially be found. At this level of frustration the novice pilot barely cared, though their potential visibility made it urgent that she learn how to use the new trick up her sleeve. Returning to that realization, she addressed Garlic again where it floated next to her at the level of her head.

“I need to ask you how I look,” said Soleil. “I’m trying something, though I don’t want to explain completely. Will you just watch me?” Garlic turned another side toward her, which she took to mean that she had its attention.

She looked down at her reflection in the mirror-shiny floor of the platform. “Okay, now I’m doing something.” She felt an aural rush flow outward through her. “And, now I’m not.” The rush dissipated. Throughout this, her reflection as she saw it in the floor mirror hadn’t changed. She knew what it was she was doing; she was changing how she looked, how she was perceived. She knew her chosen parameters, but she couldn’t see the results, so she kept it simple. Maybe Garlic would be able to tell her.

“I can understand it like it’s always been a part of me, but I still need to figure out how it works.” Soleil touched her lips as she concentrated on this puzzle, remembering the way the dragon’s gift had sunk into her skin. She accustomed herself to turning the glammer (‘glamr’) on and off by engaging it with her intentions of appearance. To herself, she looked the same. But what did someone else see? How deeply could she trust it, how extreme would the illusion go, with what nature would it manifest?

This matter of concentration safeguarded her from the disappointment that their next travel effort had gone awry almost instantly. She and Moonshadow just couldn’t seem to understand each other right now, or Moonshadow couldn’t figure out how to get there with the information it was being given. Soleil had ridden equinax when she was younger, and the psychology of this mount (as it had referred to itself) felt somewhat similar; but this being was also verbal, could understand code, mathematics, signals and power, and she didn’t know how many other differences there might be to this type of mind.

“If you would please hold up with me and observe – tell me, if you can, how I’m doing or what you see. On… off. …on… off.” She was looking between her reflection and Garlic, which was doing something strange. There was now another garlic next to Garlic. At this moment, when not engaging the glammer (‘glamr’), the garlic next to Garlic looked exactly the same.

With thought, Soleil consciously shifted some traits to those of a different person; and the garlic next to Garlic looked like a different kind of garlic! The second garlic was about as different from Garlic as the intended personage was different from Soleil. She examined different extremes of alteration, and Garlic demonstrated the effectiveness back to her. All the while, the reflection in the floor remained the same to her.

When she inquired, Garlic demonstrated to her that her apparent reflection also matched the given illusion, with a head of garlic under the different garlic that matched the different garlic, not today’s original Garlic.

A new thought occurred to her while she held an unusual glammer, one of an easily welcomed ally that should soon go on their own business. “Garlic, if you touch me, do you feel that you touch the form that you see, or my usual form?”

The two different garlics hovered before her. Gently, they both approached to touch either of her cheeks. One drifted back, while remaining was the garlic of altered appearance. So then, Garlic felt that it was touching what it could see. The altered garlic then moved back, and floated in again to gently bop her on the nose, then rested once more against the tip of her nose. So, the illusion was thorough.

Soleil wondered if the camouflaging panels of her Vedani gearsuit were superfluous, then figured it didn’t hurt to have extra layers of reliance, in case holding a glammer was tiring. Her dragon gift whispered about itself in a specifically coded inner language; any question about it, she could check and be informed. But she had to ask correctly or at all, except for those times it would volunteer itself to a specific demand. It was like using a new, yet innate sense.

There is an abyss, infinitesimal or gulflike, between any two understandings in the communication of an impression. What one is, and what the other perceives. Now, she could intentionally influence this space. Now she could decide how she was perceived. Though in a sense duplicitous, there was an honesty to it; she could honestly effect what she honestly decided. She must hone her intention in order to use it well.

“Tell me how this goes. Can I appear as something other than a different person?” With a little difficulty, as she wasn’t entirely sure how to project the right set of traits, she attempted something like a pard cat. The second garlic flickered rapidly between looking like Garlic and looking like some kind of large pod. So it may be successful but she wasn’t good at it yet, or garlic wasn’t good at imitating anything other than garlic, or it was only semi-successful. Okay.

They needed a catalyst. She decided to activate the sidespace flag for assistance signaling, and filled out the list of possibly helpful things. Soleil continued to focus on practicing her new ability while bothering Garlic as little as possible. She could keep on doing this for the rest of the time in her active day.

There was a passerby ship, the first in this out-of-the-way location. Soleil watched it reappear as it doubled back around, lucky day. The maneuvering looked inexpert but careful. It was returning her flag with a wave.

Looking at Garlic, she remembered she was hungry. On a slim hope, she asked, “Hey can you make food, something I can eat?”

A clove of garlic fell to the floor, and upon hitting it turned into a garlic chicken wing. “I guess it’s a good thing I like garlic,” she said as she picked it up. Garlic rolled around in midair. Soleil scarfed the food before she had to face the incomer, placing the bones in an ejection vesicle. She watched the vesicle pop its contents out of the field, releasing them to the vacuum. She turned her concentration inward to identify what she needed to be in this situation, and she answered the ship’s reply.

– 81 –

“I’m lining up our next paid gigs,” said the short-haired blond woman in the co-pilot’s chair. She was scanning messages displayed on the infosheet statically attached to the wall next to her.

“Cool,” said Toller as he concentrated on being a successful student driver. Pilot. Driver-pilot. Wendel called it driving as often as she called it flying, something about being in the profession.

She laid it down bluntly. “Having you along means a different kind of picking and choosing – but it narrows things toward my preference, anyway. I still consider you an asset onboard.”

“I believe that I can be,” the boy said with equal bluntness. “If I’m not, you just boot me right away.”

“I would, and I hope you wouldn’t take it personally.” She smiled fondly. “But you’ve already turned things around for me once. After that it’s just about anything you need, friend – I’ll stick up for you. Your limits are my limits, which are honestly good for me.”

She propped up her feet on the corner of the controls and continued musing aloud. “No official contracts that don’t include personal appointment or come from close enough to allow clauses. We’ll only accept under-the-table work for a while. I’m fine with those clients and that shift in the balance now, after my stint as a big-scene chauffeur.” Wendel covered her face with both hands, something she would do in reference to that time. For a quiet moment of driving they both stared straight ahead.

The captain turned and flattened a wrinkle in the kerchief-weight infosheet against the wall. She tapped through and wrote some replies. The lad held his silence while she expounded. “Everything can take as long as it needs to. Partly because I want to keep teaching you, but also because I don’t want some of the patchwork on here fraying untimely.” Her eyes pointed around the ship. “No hurry jobs.”

As he kept even progress, Toller noticed her assess him sidelong. “So… there’s under-the-table, which you know about, and there’s hidden, which you shouldn’t. Hidden jobs often aren’t planned for. They’re bonus. I may not let you know they’re happening, though you may suspect. I may not even actually know, myself. One of the cautionaries of being an independent contractor. Hidden should stay hidden, more or less, if you know what I mean. We’re not in the business of judging.”

“I know I’m not.”

Wendel snapped a finger in front of her face to break her focus from the infosheet, and she relaxed back into the co-pilot’s chair. “We’ve got one probable, which is enough forward thinking for now.” She nodded to the boy. “We’re already on course. You’re doing very well! Oh hey, wait…” Toller kept his cool and kept his course, letting her explain. “There’s an assistance flag for this occupied sidespace. We’re about to pass it, but don’t alter too quickly. Just start removing top speed factors, and we’ll see if we can get a good look.”

As they passed, Wendel captured a direct view. “Weird, it looks like a life raft. We can come back around. I’ll let you do this – take a side lane, keep slowing down, and listen as I talk you through.” The student pilot did so.

“Add three planes and take an outer tangent. Then a reverse reverse-acceleration parabolic, RRAP, which spells Wrap, which is not done in reverse -“

“- I remember -“

“- And then we have to overshoot to use the correct traffic entry for the sidespace – remember, in space there are no roads, only rules – then minus a plane, take a minor tangent, then Wrap, and we’ll descend in. We call that a cloverleaf.”

Toller nodded as he assembled these directions in his mental picture. “I can technically do each of those things.”

“Now do them one after the other. I believe in you,” said the captain, shooting her protege an adventurously reassuring smile. She supplied reasoning for the detour: “I’ve got most of the tools, and I’ve practically stitched two halves of a ship together, so I stop for people in the drifts when I can.”

“Drift 9?” he asked, referring to the ship’s name.

“Drift 9. Do you remember how I showed you to turn this on?” Toller looked over to where she was moving the spherical toggles of the photon-particle co-disruptor, the PPCD, the C-D bands.

“Uh huh,” he murmured, eyeing her actions. Wendel used a fold-out keyboard to send a symbol flag, which she dictated for his benefit: “Offer of Assistance.”

“Did you really total your ship nine times like you said to your friend?”

“Not exactly, but in manners of speaking.” She viewed another capture as they passed close visibility again in the opposite direction. “That is a weird thing to see in vacuum space. Someone’s just standing on it, looking comfy. Seems like they could use some help, though.”

A reply returned to them. “Assistance Offer Accepted. Wanted: Fuels, Charges.” Toller started executing his second Wrap. On the co-pilot monitor, Wendel scrutinized what she could see of the strange little ship. “I’m not sure what types of fuels that uses, but I’ve got some kinds. My charge modulator is a good one, anyhow.

“Stop in that zone ahead.” She pointed toward the indicator on his display. “I’ll take over from the descent. I’m not going to quiz you, but I want you to pay attention. I’ll tell you things as I do them.”

In the captain’s chair, she settled into her straps and rapidly readjusted her settings. She also received standard ship spec dimension readings and fed them to her specs. “Would you use that keyboard control to select spaces A5, E7, and B1 on that grid?” He deftly manipulated the PPCD. Stating the message, she recited, “Hold space adequate. Encapsulate? Confirm.” Drift 9 lowered gently into the wide field by the other vessel.

The simple reply bounced back: “Confirmed: Encapsulate,” Wendel read aloud.

Soleil watched the ship’s large door approach and open, like the maw of a fish to a floating tidbit. The craft was in good repair, with emphasis on repair. She could have been more nervous about the encounter, but she wasn’t. The boon felt effective as she used it, as surely as her hand could move. She engaged it with certain details: appearing as self, well-kept; wearing Zero-Clearance no-questions flash-display credentials, the signs of official covert business; with personal cam-jam. It would work because she could tell it was working.

As Moonshadow was about to be swallowed, she looked around to no sign of Garlic. “Garlic?” she called aloud. No Garlic. With that, they were inside the vessel. The door closed, and they settled into gravity.