100.1 \ 292

Navann, ever the content homebody, looked searchingly out the window to the normal sky. It was a contradictory matter. She loved the peace of the restored natural skyline, just air and weather above; while a little part of her missed the excitement of the windows, and the puzzling mystery they produced. She’d been part of a great collective discovery. Navann knew, from what she’d been hearing and reading, that something about it further addressed the shared trauma she’d experienced in the hospital, treating and reversing HA235. She could only do so much, and she’d hardly glimpsed the firebrands rallying the passionate to action. She’d stopped concerning herself with it; when something’s going down, it isn’t always good to have knowledge floating around. If she wasn’t going to be involved, she didn’t know enough to make it her business. Still, she understood a lot of what was going on, and now the windows in the air were gone. They’d disintegrated like pixels in the breeze, the power broadcasting them there released to dissipate. Maybe the Strangers wouldn’t be just in windows anymore. She didn’t think it meant they were gone – just that something had gone right. The unevacuated zone civilians were unharmed, and something was over.

But Isten, who was sixteen, had been gone for nearly a week, and his mother Leyga’s crisis had been increasing after day three of what had started as a friend stay. Navann withstood her questions and told her what she could, guesses as to whether it had anything to do with the puzzles and the darkweb. Navann was managing to help Leyga hold onto her job and place a while longer. He might be fine, considering.

That was Leyga’s knock at the door. It was about dinnertime. As intense as she could be while distraught, she still brought food. “Hi, Navann. I brought us some kitchen sink rice.” She was a little abrupt, and quieter today. There was a change, maybe she was getting ready to do something.

“That sounds just fine,” said Navann, ushering her in to the table where they’d been eating dinners together while Leyga worried about her son.

“No more escorting parties, as of today,” said the mother while unpacking the warm food containers. “We’re all allowed to walk to work, or wherever. It’s only been a few days since the portals stopped, but there must be orders for something else. We’re either no longer important, or in as much danger. A lot of equipment has been moved.”

“Perhaps the danger has passed.” Navann brought silverware from the kitchen.

“I’d like that. I wonder how long till we have all our systems up, again.”

99 \ 291

…pppppp…
– dark – light – here –
…wwwwee…
– place – me – mind –
…eeeeee…
– know – see – why –
…eeuuoo…
I am myself in Akralnar
but I may not be
…oooooo…
me out there
it’s like looking through
a different water
I don’t belong here, I know,
but being in the being of this great one,
I can ride through it seems
Something else I feel in me
of home, other, like me,
…uuwwuupp…
a harmony I am a part of,
a rhythm
keeping me
me
…oooouu…
Hi Akralnar
you know I’m in here
and that I’m not you
…wweeee…
isn’t this fabulous?
are you learning from me?
…uuuuww…
I’m learning from you –
your home, so bizarre,
so exquisite, alike and
dreamlike, is it always
so partially hospitable,
so much
…oopppp…
that I can sense
just by being and seeing
it’s a part of me now,
this impossible thing,
realm of existence
…eeuuoo…
realm
land
plane
feel
sing
breathe
fly
grow
behold
begin
…pppppp…

98.1 \ 290

Drift X’s hold was filled to capacity for the first time since the advance rescue from Anzi on Genesee. That was when Toller had first set foot on this magic carpet that’s since taken him to planets across the stars, the way he used to get to the next town. Though he was only about a year older, he’d breached the threshold of a new age. He was a real teenager now, and the entire actual world had changed, besides finding the surfaces of other planets. He’d met people in it that not even the King, or the Queen before him knew, like the Aureny, and these scientists including the Hoopoe, another new bro; he’d discovered new sentience along its own road to self revealing. Is this always what puberty is like?

Toller was in possession of two lists – one to check, with the names, nicknames, or pseudonyms of their passengers, and the other was the one he was helping them make right now. They needed to think of small vacation towns, with a bar or hangout with a calling line. They were allowed to pick places they really liked, even expensive places, but the choice wouldn’t ultimately be theirs. They wanted people to think of as many as they could, so the right locations and routes could be chosen.

It was the original incoming group with the addition of thirty-some head researchers and assistants – the ones most likely to be targeted by enemies or scalpers, first and second names on soon-to-be-released papers. They may be getting out of this particular mess, but the root of the danger they were in was still at work out there. In the hold here, they’d improvised cargo crate furnishings, and had also deployed everything comfortable and soft in their possession for this transitional intergalactic road trip campout.

97 \ 289

“Something’s different.” The change was subtle; there was less power in the radiated daylight, and the data they were working with felt like it was just data. Reality was otherwise consistent, besides the absence in mood. Draig Claymore said this and paused in his conversation with the First AIDD and his twin.

“I also noticed, just now,” followed materials scientist Bux Woollibee. He met Draig’s eyes with recognition. Raising a hand that indicated he would be right back, he drew away. “Just a moment brother, I’m going to speak with a couple people.” Their conversation took a comfortable rest in suspension. Sentence-by-sentence decision making was fast, but also energy intensive. As they looked around, things felt like they were going as they should at this stage, which made the professionals vigilant. Buckminster returned before matters arose. “…the Dragons..?” he said open-endedly with a posture inviting information. Both Draig and Arjun shrugged at each other. “Ah-hah, well. Hmm.”

“I feel like we’ve already just determined a few next actions for their specific junctures. We’ll be able to continue this as events develop. For now, let’s make the most of our time until our next moment arrives.”

“Agreed,” said Arjun.

Bux nodded. “Till then.”

Claymore decided that now was the time to go to his chamber, which was a portion of the one being shared on a rotating basis with the rest of the surprise caravan. He had the detachable briefcase from his vessel, which he’d taken onto Drift X. This marked his resting territory, along with his heavy undecorated coat, which he had thought to bring when they departed from his office. These moments of transition and decision.

There was a golden scale there on the briefcase, modestly-sized but significant, a portion of the size of his palm. Wow. A golden scale. That had to have come off Arkuda. Respectfully, he picked it up. It had a hole in the top, and there was something affixed to the underside. It was a hinged chip dongle that looked like it could come from Drift X. It was pen-labeled with a cruxgram, the heraldic mixing of two three-word mottos of the Indarian form. One combined letter in the center and four letters off that in opposing directions. A historical phenomenon and an old study group club language that Princess Soleil had been in on. The mottos indicated by the monograms were from their canonical lexicon – they translated to Fortune Favors the Bold, and Always Forward. All of this he took to mean that he didn’t need to break into the contents of this chip until the time when he needed fortune to favor his boldness, which should happen while he was making tracks and hustling right along. That last part, Draig had just been setting in motion.

96 \ 288

Soleil didn’t inform Rosy Glow of any intention. She just checked in to see if they should be doing anything about Dragon Food. Rosy’s response was, “We always hope he’s going to be okay!”

The Princess had let slip to Derringer that she was going to go her own way, just not when or how. She speedwalked through the halls to the isolated corner that the Dragons had agreed on in the mid-levels of the Arch. It was as quiet and deserted as they would like it, for the moment they had it. She rounded the edge of the space, finding Arkuda and Acamar each meditating in er own corner. The timeframes of their emanations were aligned, and Soleil synchronized her movements as she joined them.

“We have discussed what we are able to accomplish with the two of us, and yourself,” said Arkuda, opening one eye.

“Can we go?” Soleil asked, controlling her breathing. This was the kind of window in time that was more recognizable to people who’ve had Dragon contact, when sound dampens and attention is drawn towards what draws it. They had spoken of this and of that; whatever it was, it was time, and Soleil was ready.

“We can,” Acamar rumbled. “There is a way to bring you out with us both and then to a place of utility. You will become as light in the void, while remaining yourself. Neither of us has done exactly this before, but together and with you as our passenger, we know how. Are you feeling courageous?”

“There is hardly a moment with you that doesn’t demand it, but I could scarcely find you if I weren’t.” Dragons appreciate honesty.

Arkuda chortled. “I, at least, am a familiar element to which you are better accustomed.”

“The rarest of privileges.” Soleil dipped her head to them in courtly fashion. She was wearing the versatile Vedani control suit again, with its impact armor paneling and optional chameleon camouflaging. “So, what must I do, how shall we begin?”

In this corner there was a little bit of the sunstrip wiring that Arjun Woollibee had recently installed, throwing a soft midafternoon glow. “Touch the sunstrip,” Arkuda prompted, “relax, soften your vision, and breathe deeply.”

A smile crossed Soleil’s face as she prepared thusly, extending the open palm of her other hand into the space in front of her. Arkuda, brightness, and Acamar, darkness, both placed their large scaled hands into her Human one. The two Dragons then dissolved steadily into their elements, swirling around Soleil, lifting her loose hair in a soft wind. Her being transmuted into these forces, now a swirl of light and dark herself. The Princess vaporized into a translucent evanescence that was then gone with a surge of sunlight through the Arch’s system, as their linked atomic information shot upward through the channel.