34.3 \ 216

Lockdown area transportation managers reported their budgets for hiring vehicles that were unaffected by the signal outages; the Federet Generals compared their crisis areas to see how they could optimize their own. They discussed the in-progress development of a voluntary escort monitor bracelet system, which would allow oriented civilian guides to move packs of people around in coordination with their protection force. This seemed dicey to Claymore in more than one way, yet it was in demand and would free more skilled personnel. They shared their city planner reports of potential routes for roving packs. An Aquari artist and an EduNet representative had given them a proposal for possible transmission upgrades.

These were all heavy-oversight initiatives. Surveillance elements continued to increase, and hadn’t yet plateaued. General Draig Claymore’s feeling on the matter was that the more closely one watches, the easier it is to get distracted. Obsession beyond necessity is an energy drain. The trend was not actually reassuring to him, even at full efficacy.

34.1 \ 216

This was the first nose-to-nose meeting called since the one after Draig’s induction. Utilization of this extreme-security linkage was a sign of the times. The guided-random location choice combined with time-sync en-route procedure was an expensive huddle, but one which may be necessary in utmost emergency. The current state of affairs had yet to approach that level, but now is the time to make sure the system is in place for this maneuver.

They’d been addressing individual action items for a while, with a few shifts in support focus. There was a rapid-fire efficacy to this form of high-pressure proximity. Discussions at a nose-to-nose resulted in immediate implementation, with personnel at attention and each General’s effective circles ready to mobilize.

Something about this instance was out of anyone’s control, and a little out of control. There was a current catching them all that General Claymore couldn’t fight, despite a mounting pile of internal objections.

24.4 \ 206

Dispelling her thought chatter, Soleil began working into the requested guidance actions to send the vessel to their destination. Captain Wendel Harper could be heard hooting over the com as her ship spun up in ways undreamed-of. When asked what it was like working with higher-level awareness in Drift X, she smiled and said its personality hadn’t changed; it was just better at expressing itself, now.

The wavering dislocation of the jump settled into the feeling of normal presence, and people filtered up to the fore to get a view. Images of this planet haunted Soleil’s childhood. She was here for a very good reason, certainly. So many scenes, she could recall: mourning, the monument, ongoing refugee struggles. It was the birth planet of a major economic contributor, and of a notorious social enemy – an enemy who’d spent no energy on showing her personal malice, though she’d been well placed to receive it. Sturlusson was purposeful.

Next to Drift X in space was a familiar fighter ship, and she figured who was in it. Returning her gaze to the planet Hirylien, the Princess felt a rock in her gut.

24.2 \ 206

“After much adventure, these are the friends we requested that you meet, when you asked on your home planet what service you might be able to do for us after we relieved your stranded state. If you perceive any imbalance of effort, feel assured that will be corrected. We Kao-Sidhe live or perish by the transactions of our innate currency.”

“Right now, I’m not deeply concerned with balancing the books. For how long have your peoples known each other?”

“Though Aureny have only inhabited their home planet, Kao-Sidhe are in a great many places. Our familiarity springs as though from the dawn of time. They had little trouble recognizing those of us who had some connection in their affairs. We make our way around, as certain things create for us a calling. In fact we are, at this time, yourself and company included, receiving a calling – being summoned, if you will.”

“To where?”

“A place you know of, where you have never been but is a part of your home. With people you know, but not very well, who you will have a chance to know better. This is my most succinct and accurate summation.”

Soleil resisted the immediate pull towards an available action. She hadn’t had time to her own thoughts regarding the new situation in the royal family. Though her feelings had become complicated and she suspected the greater truth was even more so, she loved Celeste; she would have to deal with that loss on her own time. She sensed that some hours for reflection rested just around the corner. The functioning shift in rulership would mean instant changes for everyone, with herself a factor of increased importance. Soleil felt alerted to the impending possibility of when she should call a halt or take an exit in order to do what was necessary when a point of departure should arrive. In some version of events, they could be keeping her entertained and occupied at playing diplomatic head of state while everything fell apart and her seat was dismantled. In this case, the directed action still seemed appropriate. Perhaps just this one more.

23.4 \ 205

A change occurred in the air, the kind that happens when musical instruments reach the same key. An accord of acknowledgment. They took a moment to reach emotional balance before continuing. From the center of the sledge seated in her bubble of serenity, Rosy Glow continued to focus the channels of communication. She altered hand positions like directing flows of energy, but otherwise remained in stillness.

DOES THIS HAPPEN A LOT?

Soleil reflexively covered some of her face with her hand. “It is an occasional bad behavior that may be done to other people or one’s own. The majority find it to be as reprehensible and shocking as you do.”

IF WE ARE MET WITH ACTIONS OF GENUINE RESPECT, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE WE MAY EXPECT?

The Princess turned to look at Wendel, Toller, and Derringer as though they were her council. They didn’t require her partially upraised gesture to know they needn’t speak, that this was a consultation of silent support. She just needed to look at the faces of other humans to collect these thoughts. “If you were to become citizens of the Pan-Galactic Imperium, you would possess all the participatory rights. I understand if that isn’t very appealing at this time. Bans on exploitation and a modicum of diplomatic negotiation seem baseline, at a time of due recognition.”

YOU BELIEVE THESE WOULD BE ADEQUATE DETERRENT FOR SUCH OCCURRENCES?

“In honesty, you have incredible riches that would be difficult for strong enterprise to resist. Any effective commerce you might conduct could allay the pressure to appropriate, while strengthening your status in negotiations. I am beyond grateful that you’ve given me the opportunity to appreciate the treasures of the Aureny for the importance and beauty they contain, than for the commerce they may attain.”

WE ARE JUSTIFIED THAT YOU HAVE FELT EVEN ONE SUCH MOMENT OF APPRECIATION.

One stomp of a limb traveled from one member of the Aureny assembly to another until all had made the gesture.

WE DO NOT AIM TO ALTER OUR COURSES OF ACTION. THIS IS WELL FOR YOU – EVEN AS WE MAKE CERTAIN THAT OUR VOICES REACH CONSIDERATION, WE HAVE PLANNED TO SHOW YOUR PEOPLES SOME RESPECT. YOU AFFIRM THAT IT IS RIGHT FOR US TO DO SO.

“Ominous, yet forgiving. I certainly have a lot to consider from this. We have now met. You know people who can find me, and I say that you may find me, best if anyone, regarding matters of organizational liaison.”

There came a moment of troubled conference that went untranslated between the nearest emissaries, then it was Mystvall who clearly addressed Soleil. IT IS POSSIBLE THAT YOU HAVE NOT RECEIVED THIS INFORMATION, WHICH MAY COME AS A SHOCK. The focus she received from Mystvall felt like a direct gaze, though it was given without the visual affirmation of pupils. YOUR GRANDMOTHER, QUEEN CELESTE, MAGUS THE 24TH, DIED PEACEFULLY.

“My grandmother, the Queen,” Soleil reiterated, shaken, hand to her chest.