85.4 \ 277

“Is there a possibility that this Dragon could be acting as a double agent?” The question came from within the knot of researchers.

Arkuda, former Councillor, answered this. “Though the Pan-Galactic Imperium is currently in conflict with some Dragons, we Dragons don’t and can’t fully operate along lines of human politics. In this age, I’m the one who’s practiced the most political involvement, for our continued mutually beneficial cooperation. Dragons on the whole are concerned with their own matters, of which the Imperium may be a part, and our individual responsibilities rest above our answerability to each other. We have demands according to our elements. It’s the way of our existence, or our nonexistence.

“Acamar’s interest with us will serve Acamar, and what you ask is more a question of whether Acamar’s interest in this case also serves anyone else. Whether or not these nuances of motivation will be accounted for by authority as it will stand for us, possibly without my voice – for that I can’t speak. As critical as matters are, I had to tend to myself after this injury – my worst in twenty human generations – and I couldn’t do that while promising to act in an increasingly fraught political role. The healing scar you see is my own evidence of fondness toward humanity.

“I do grieve for some that died in Acamar’s emergence; I worked with the Queen Ascendant for some time. I also haven’t met this one, and the curiosity of first meetings between Dragons can be powerful. I’m interested in collaborating despite complications, and we may not need to worry overmuch about direct factional motives – if perhaps consequences of interrelation.”

“If they decide to view us as traitors, couldn’t they jail us, rob us for our work, and get it all for free?”

“The companies protecting us wouldn’t like that. They might not be able to get what they want through other hands, and not the way they want it. There’s some reality-bending stuff that happens when this much interest leans hard in its favor.” This was the moment when Bux Woollibee actually said something.

“Plus,” Wendel Harper pointed out, “don’t we have the Princess, a Councillor, and General Alisandre, top official of the armed forces aboard – when it comes to clout in favor of the leniency of understanding?”

“Ehhhm, dubious current status of these titles if I understand correctly,” trailed in Rosy Glow.

“Not the Scion Princess,” quipped Draig Claymore.

“Even me, ultimately.” This was followed by a small silence.

“We do have the most powerful parent company possible, which created this place and put us in it,” Arjun mused with a finger to his temple. “Just building the Arch may have been more difficult, let me tell you, than protecting it, its participants, and its products. Maybe. Hopefully.”

“It sounds like our greatest voices of reason are ready to throw caution to the wind.” The conversation popcorned around a tense room, tones wavering from wary to excited.

“Such case being that on the wind lays the greatest measure of caution.” Draig with the classic strategic perspective, from deep in the books.

It seemed that opinions had been weighed. “For my part,” began Soleil, “I carry a weighty grievance in this matter – the loss of my mother – over all the wide-scale events pertinent to this. And, I have already faced Acamar, the details of which belong to no one else. I taught er something about humanity, and ‘e taught me something about emself. You see me here before you now. If I faced er, maybe you can, in order to do what needs to be done. Does ‘e know I’m here?” To this last question, Rosy Glow didn’t answer.

“It sounds like we know what we want to do,” said Arjun, “but we’ll give this an additional moment of grace. I’m going to the Peak. Finish your thinking or have any discussion necessary, and bring it to me if need be.”

“I’ll go with him,” said Rosy Glow, “and remain ready to bring your word to Acamar. Do be aware that er presence is nigh because you’re the ones broaching the Dragon’s own element. It’s not like I can make er do anything ‘e doesn’t want to do.”

85.3 / 277

“Speaking as a research team lead, the project staff has prerogatives both contractual and career oriented.” Arys Steinman was among the researchers gathered who had ties to the Incident. “Not only are we hired to do this thing… some of us have been looking forward to it, for our own part, in some way for possibly our entire lives. I lost a brilliant colleague to the event of the Dragon’s hatching. I didn’t do a lot of work with Hydraia, but the work we did was sound. So I understand the presence of hidden struggles.

“I believe that I’m willing to work with this Dragon, for what I and we can achieve with our collective interests in mind – with very little if any mean-mugging. Yeah, some of us are quite eager to exit a political deathtrap, but many of us are certain that the best way out is through. This has been a topic of discussion the entire time we’ve been under threat. People haven’t wanted to leave when weighing against the cost of failure. A possible traitorous designation might be different than noble injury or death at the hands of ideological nutjobs, but from here it’s a fine distinction.”

Marian Waters, marine biologist, stepped up. “I lost my military boyfriend in the catastrophe. You’d think we couldn’t recognize the Elemagnetic Generational Gyre of a dragon we’d never seen before, when we’d never even seen one before. Apparently they’re probably never the same. I ended up learning a lot about the biological side of what happened, mostly how much we didn’t know and still don’t. We were tampering with the EGG. I have more sympathy for eggs than most, despite my grief.

“With him gone, what I have is my work. This is the most important that my work has ever been – we have the Cup of Mystery within arm’s reach, and these are the kinds of things seekers of the Cup face at the point when they’re looking right at it. My babe would tell me to get it, and get it big. If we do every last thing we can do on our experiments here this time – I mean, Make It Happen – we’ll all be ready to leave the crossfire. I’ve seen it work that way, when a joint project wraps up. Suddenly, we all know we’re done. We’re almost there. From the start, we each of us decided to go under the Immeasurable Oceans for this. I’ll take all the dragons we can get.”

“For a long time, my mental faculties have been dedicated to keeping us alive down here,” smiled Arjun Woollibee, First AIDD, “since before we were down here. The tendency continues even when the topic crosses outside of my field. We just hit the pressure point where we had to make our findings publicly tradeable. The benefit and danger of that, is that we’re being protected by a collection of companies invested in results. We may inwardly defy the profit motive and yet still decide in its favor, because our lives are at stake. Not that results matter if we can’t deliver them, but right now science may be moving faster than politics, somewhere on the upward curve of an exponential function. If we can manage it, our science might even change the politics, perhaps those that would condemn us. Would that the light of our torch may dispel the shadow of danger.”

85.2 \ 277

“This Dragon is considered an enemy of the Pan-Galactic Imperium, unless other subsequent decisions are made,” said Draig Claymore. “I’m not speaking for myself – I just know the current stance and that it hasn’t yet changed. The official word from an unofficial source, as I do not believe that I currently hold my office.”

“We talked about the probability of enemies,” replied Rosy Glow, “and I can at least say that the Dragon Acamar is unclear on any offensive status – you may consider ‘er your enemy, but ‘e does not necessarily regard you as such.”

“That’s somewhat comforting,” chimed Soleil, as she recalled the meeting with Acamar when they made an unusual trade, a pardon for a protection while escaping the wilderness of deep space. Some of the people assembled in the mess hall were taking nearby seats while they mulled things over.

85.1 \ 277

Acamar was somewhere in the atmosphere of this ocean planet, looking way down over scattered tiny islands, and the expanses of ocean between. Dragon Food hung onto some part of er where ‘e wavered, awaiting. At the time when they’d reached this point, a fact was remembered – relations here would be in some ways tense or complex. Rosy Glow, sort of a connector or diplomat at heart, took it upon herself to go in advance and determine an avenue of agreement.

Rosy Glow appeared in a mess hall, where some people were feeling hale and hearty, with hot beverages. She finagled the attendance of any concerned parties by specifying her general matters of import, in certain ways. Those who came to speak with her were selected by their peers for their position of relevance to such matters. The humans found the right words to use to find the people who should be found, and then they came. There were: Princess Ascendant Soleil (AWOL), General Alisandre Draig Claymore (AWOL, possibly removed), Dragon Councillor Arkuda (resigned & secluded), any people with a relation to the Ionian Vortex Anomaly/EGG Incident (such as Captain Wendel Harper), and people with ancillary military allegiance at the Arch.

There was going to have to be some talking and soul searching over the conflicted presence of someone she was sure they would need: the new Dragon. There was history here already, and she would try not to lead this being into a trap. These three new visitors were in somewhat closer relation to the ancient memories of the Red Nexus on how people of this civilization could betray with extreme prejudice. Arkuda, though, knew this era firsthand as well.

Once the group was absorbing the nature of the adjacent presence, and the permission or invitation being sought, the Princess Ascendant turned to the others present and opened the discussion through the caught-breath tension with, “Tell me how you feel.”

84.2 \ 276

The protest volunteers had come from many places, through their contact with Vedani networks. There was an unreachable but not inhospitable meadowy plateau where they rested up, in comfort and secrecy. They were both provided for and prepared. Each group took a throughporting to the aerial river island to do some run-through training, simple, not too taxing. With them went a few organizers who could answer questions, and an Aquari Aegis to prepare them.

Soft Sand, wearing her aegis pendant, rose from where she sat watching the run practice. She went over to Mirya, standing with a Hirylienite observer and a Vedani wireform presence. “They look confident,” said Soft Sand, “and ready.”

They moved on to practicing the flattened group run with increasing surrounding levels of intense Aquariid vibrational manipulation. At practice peak, the rapids seemed to change character entirely, sound whooshing as though raising one mighty voice, light waves glistening off the water in blinding rainbows. This of course would be almost nothing like what they were anticipating – those moments would be situational – but it was a solid check to see if the buffer volunteers could withstand amounts of intentional distortion within a chaotic atmosphere of unstoppable forces. Some found their limits, while many others confirmed their willingness and capability.

Wrapping things up for this session, Mirya found the two in the group who were her actual cousins. She’d been able to identify and communicate with them over the local secret network in their locked-down area. They’d involved other willing relatives, and the bunch made it through the cooperation and readiness checkpoints to serve as backup for their little guy Bassel. He wasn’t going to be in a meka, but this massive situation involved him, and they decided to be supportively present. “How are you feeling?” she asked them.

“Whooo!” said elder cousin Qribu. “I’m going to want to process that later with a nap. When I wake up, it’ll be in a normal world where things like this happen.”

“There are things about this that I hope don’t become normal, but I support you holding onto your remaining sanity with whatever coping mechanisms you can safely employ. You’re my new coping mechanism. I’m just so thankful for your strength, my family. Our boy is amazing. He cares so much, and he’s so good. Thank you for letting the child lead the way.”

“It was time. We were ready to understand the things he wants to teach us. Blood harmony.”

“Sweat symphony.”