80.1 \ 272

DephnV768: I’m bringing our building’s extra supplies over to you, but not with the escort group. Just be sure someone’s there to answer the door.

Navann smiled again at the neighborly resourcefulness that she saw on the screen, but she was also wondering about government suppression. Everything they were discussing about current events, and the way they were discussing it over an infiltrated program, felt more real than official news. If this was all as true as it felt, would authorities start harassing people with access if they knew? The tacit agreement of the chat room was that they could keep this network functioning for each other as long as they didn’t alert the wrong people. This Pan-Galactic administration may even have killed a planetful of people who had begun creating an unauthorized relationship of exchange with the Strangers. Those who were handling this new connection, however, were not just from one planet, but on many planets and federet capitals across the Pan-Galaxy, and they were interspersed among every other kind of citizen.

There were also presences in the chat who spoke differently, and though they didn’t announce themselves, they also weren’t hiding. They spoke in short info leak confirmations when people were throwing out questions about this circumstance. Their quips were knowledgeable and reserved.

Aubrt: No, this sort of measure has never before been attempted.

The language of these responding voices was basic and clear. There was a certain thrill when they spoke; what if these were the Strangers themselves? Navann considered whether someone might understand the story, and be in the chat network, but still side with authoritarian suppression, and may somehow subvert the collective access. That was as far as she could stretch in that direction of thought, and she didn’t bother trying to apply it to anyone specific. It just wasn’t her natural way of thinking.

79 \ 271

There were some nice blends that could be formulated from the array of food powders readily available among the Vedani. These thick drinking meals were generally very digestible once she got the hang of them; Arcta’s condition didn’t suffer, and perhaps thrived. Sometimes she wished she had the Vedani constitution that didn’t require toilets, but there was a point where she decided to value her humanity. She had that amenity, as a courtesy. Some of her neighbors offered her occasional experimental human-style foods, though she didn’t much bother to request it. She was still laying low and keeping mostly to herself on purpose, anyway. There was a lot happening out there at this moment, and she was keeping her thoughts on that.

Arcta had herself a cushy spot facing one of those strange portholes. The thing she found unusual about them was the way they looked out onto non-continuous starscapes. They didn’t line up. There was an explanation, though bizarre enough that Arcta preferred just to savor the oddity for what it was. Whatever they were talking about with the porthole mechanics was not her field at all.

She had wondered where Vedani planets were, and what they look like. They did come from some, they had said, but with the sensitivity of the current times she was careful not to pry. Arcta was grateful for this much acceptance. She maintained her tenuous contentment, dead to her world, her love disappearing if not totally gone. Yeah, she did actually love him, when she’d been able. Maybe she’d reinvent herself, and maybe she was, depending on what this new world would allow. For now, this poem in her hand.

they know,
and I know that they know!
it is the sweetest victory
from our deepest hopes.
they seek their own
victory now, and to this
the response is
my innermost battle cry.
they can’t hear it
but they feel it already
much greater than I

({clinging to this dream moment, no body, no hands. hardly any self to hold a thought. most of this time without time not even sure who i am. except for these moments that feel like memories})

She stared through the porthole as though it would show her a picture. Right now, she gets her news by talking to somebody. Since even if they could pirate an Imperial channel for her, she didn’t want to watch that by herself, the news she got was all Vedani-filtered. Vedani news with human sidenotes by inference, on a basic inquisitive level. This was her world now, and life was not too bad, not bad.

Arcta still played with sphere dynamics on paper – she did get paper, of a sort – and had a room for it now in the aetherscape. She could use their powerful suite of virtual tools if she didn’t mind that the work would be instantly public in process. Seemed dangerously tricky to her ingrained habits of concealment – but it was honestly refreshing to release her notes immediately to casually receptive interaction, free from the teeth of workplace commercialism. The game of sides, she was over it, on a personal level.

78 \ 260

On occasion, the Please Wait ellipsis in the voidtext window on Navann’s computer screen flashed more rapidly, like it was responding to something. Then it would return back to blinking dot-by-dot. Letting that window remain open, Navann layered more polygon-centric condensed tiles as she continued to go through the leftovers of the large pot of soup. She created two more that would scan, one with the hexagon and one with the square. When she scanned them, the ellipsis responded with its rapid-fire flash, which it still did by itself seemingly at random. Within a day or two it was doing this more often; then more and more often, until not a minute went by without a rapid-flash registering.

It was at this point of frequency that her computer started downloading, noisy after a seeming eternity of download absence. When it finished, it sang a happy little machine song, which surprised Navann while she sat reading in the other corner. She came over to watch what was happening.

The voidtext window turned into a basic chat client. It prompted her to choose a handle, and she went with something boring and easily decipherable, her first name plus her apartment number. If there was anything truly unfortunate about this, she wanted her identity to be clear. Someone could figure out where to find her body, haha. With her handle registered, she learned she wasn’t the only one. There were others in this chat who clearly had gone through the same process, and others who made apparent their actual names and addresses, not missing the chance to make a real-world connection for however long this might last. There were even others from her apartment building, and it appeared that the population of this chat was localized, at least to planet if not city and neighborhood. All were inside of signal lockdown territory.

Another thing they had in common: the chat had only people who had solved multiple tesselation scan tiles. People who had pondered deeply over the images in the signal windows outside, and had begun to understand what they depicted. This was a primary topic of discussion. Their guesses on the story were very similar at this point. They’d all been watching closely enough to create context for the stills and moving clips, grainy as they were.

It was a horror story about a series of failed first contacts, from the Strangers to Humans, and this signal attack must be a phase of defense strategy from further violence. The story was so seamlessly recomposed by the collective that some surmised how this would make a great film promotion – though the life-changing nature of events was too serious for this to be the ultimate point. Maybe that thought helped people treat it like a storyline, making it more approachable and less traumatic.

77.2 \ 259

Soon, in the spacious and flexibly-appointed room, a few of the kids with the majority of their guardians sat with small cups of frozen treat on the inside of a donut couch. It looked like a classroom model of hemoglobin. One kid sat on the floor against the responsively malleable bottom ledge. Conrah by name, mentioned, “We got fluffier blankets. Did you?”

“Yeah,” responded Vanessa, “we did. They’re nice. The Vedani are really trying. I even like this ice cream. It’s textured.”

“Do you feel like you’re being brainwashed?”

“No, not really. And I’ve known manipulative.” Vanessa took a giant spoon bite after this.

Conrah went to Oibhn at the mobile freezer unit to get another serving, and came back with a question. “Have you thought about what they’re getting out of this?” Sizing up a bargain was something Conrah could do.

“I’ve thought about it,” said Uncle Bo, sitting with an empty cup and spoon beside him in a couch depression he’d molded with a hand. “Maybe they’re making themselves known in a way that they want to be known – as people who respect life. Whatever else they might be responsible for, they’re offering to do something for humans here. It does also send a message on their behalf, since we’re destroying the weapon that was used against their earlier alliance with a group of humans. It shouldn’t have happened. It shouldn’t happen. It won’t happen again, at least not this way. That’s what we want. That’s what we’re trying to do.” He leaned forward to squeeze his hamstring.

Conrah’s much-older sister chimed in to say, “It’s a complex but important message, that comes from us as well. We could scarcely get a better shot at this fight, ourselves.”

“The greater benefit being that we’re freed from a form of tyranny,” Uncle Bo said with a pointing hand.

“That is one meaning of tyranny, isn’t it,” Vanessa said, finishing her ice cream.

“Why is it kids that figured this out?” her uncle ruminated aloud with a slight shake of the head.

“Kids hate tyranny,” grinned Conrah.

77.1 \ 259

Vanessa and her Uncle Bo had a corner block bench to themselves after a practice run in the mek suits. The action was seamless now for the entire team, even though they were only planning to launch three. She was doing some post-stretching in her suit. Uncle Bo was still wearing his knee brace. “You’re amazing at this. Too bad it won’t go towards your sporting record in track.”

“No… but it might go on some other record that’ll count for me or against me,” Vanessa joked, grinning lopsidedly.

“Hey, it works for you in our books. The rest of the world will know someday.”

“Or they won’t know, but they’ll still be safer.”

“Damn, kid.” Uncle Bo laughed helplessly.

Bassel, the puzzle engineer kid, drifted over to the two. He’d been watching the practice from the bridges. “There’s going to be another ice cream social in Oven Cleaner’s living room.”

“Oh, I would love that,” said Uncle Bo.

“Yeah, let’s go,” Vanessa seconded. They joined the loose straggle of kids and guardians leaving the locker room chamber.