17

The Alisandre Capital Diplomat’s Quarter had already been evacuated. For that and other tactical reasons, this was staged as the zone of experimental conflict against the portal invasion for the Capital city. Equipment was set up around the perimeter; larger physical weaponry blocked some streets, and various technological safeguards were set up in emptied buildings. The streets were quiet, though the viewing portals apparent here continued broadcasting, like the others throughout this city and multiple population centers in every federet.

Only King Proxem Vario and General Draig Claymore were physically present at their communication point, where they were planning the coordinated disruption effort. The face of each federet’s General occupied a screen panel, their files and schematics hovering in the surrounding airspace.

Upon initiating records for this session, they’d done their roll call. “All federets represented by top level, Iparia by Lieutenant Corporal,” stated General Alisandre-Claymore.

“Any message from General Iparia?” asked King Proxem Vario to the reporting officer, named by her federet in this current role.

She replied, “He said I would be understood if I reported that he was rabbit hunting, Sir.”

Vario turned to share a look with Claymore before his acknowledgment. “We’re familiar with his passion for this particular prey. At times his drive has become all-consuming, and we’ve never yet held that against him. We’re glad to have you, Lieutenant Corporal Iparia.” He brought forth a fresh communication. “I’ll share with you the most recent update on this situation from our analysts.

“People have identified certain forms in the images sent by the strangers as biometrically human, and distinct from the Strangers, who are non-human while possessing similarities of conformation. People are now reinterpreting some of the scenes with that in mind, though the images are made mainly of forms without details.

“There are shapes under debate in these scene captures, many claiming that they resemble some of our dated technology, which places some scenes within time frames. Some government databases are experiencing increased reference, including rejections of requests for classified information.”

Each portal shared its own sets of images in its own fashion, it had been determined. Though images were shared within the total pool, there appeared to be unique perspectives and sequences of presentation. This excited the puzzle workers of a populace bored for lack of its usual sources of entertainment.

“At this point, we have to demonstrate defensive capability, or at least willingness,” was Vario’s estimation. They continued synchronizing phases of the pre-emption. Each federet had slightly different sets of equipment, but they would use them all to similar effect in their experimental zones. They would activate shields and white/pink noise walls, then fire up sonic and signal storm generators. Multi-frequency focused beam arrays were aimed at the projection patches in both passthrough and stationary-stop patterns. These would be engaged beginning with one test patch, then in ascending sets throughout their areas. They planned an alternation of amplitudes and waveforms that could theoretically affect or create a reaction in the projections.

Plans were in place, and the time had come. Each commanding officer, Generals and Lieutenant Corporal, confirmed their plan sets and went from their respective chambers to their command centers, General Alisandre with King Proxem Vario apace.

Here in the Capital, the command center was staged in a meeting hall with a centrally-facing four story window. This building and its surrounding area housed one of each type of active equipment, performing with those staged in other buildings. They were running communications with old fashioned local area line connections, along with three kinds of early-prototype remote signals that worked around the widespread net interruption being experienced in projection portal areas. There were just enough operators with extant equipment to run that for these areas, but not for the wider populace, in signal darkness like they hadn’t known during this generation.

Emerging into the center, Draig was immediately flanked by four to seven in chain of command who began accepting their plan sets from him. Each at his side was replaced by another in efficacious rotation until all systems had worked through their startups and reached states of concerted readiness.

Soon, the people around him had no further actions and were waiting on his word. Draig rested his eyes on the Aquari outdoor murals within view, inherently active and displaying unusual mood patterns. Hard to know whether it was all personnel reflection, or whether any of it was reading from the portals. Tension and conflict were the apparent themes in jagged and ragged clashing color, interspersed with the flat calms of zero reading.

The quiet sound of the synchronizing timer began on General Alisandre’s fingerfall.

16.6 \ 198

All sounded a blaring phase transition, and began throwing to hit each other’s ornaments in midair. Like in the game of barricades with its angle science, they altered trajectories to find open pockets with amazing certainty. Deflected objects were deflected again by angled headplate, softening velocities till things coasted gracefully, zipping between spaces.

Soleil decided to observe differences by heading to another balcony. Foolhardy danger-seeking perhaps, but she drew the distinction from seeking perspective despite the danger. She waiting in the tunnels when she heard traffic charging through. Shaking under her feet told her what was happening, how close, how fast. Keeping her feet was like riding Moonshadow – while everything’s moving, remember they’re still on the ground.

It occurred to her that they might hear her footsteps pattering through the weave of sound, just as well as their own. She tried tapping out a signature syncopation, and heard the sound repeated in response. She was heard. She traveled from one tunnel mouth to another, knowing she could be found at the close of festivities. Making her way to an entirely new side like many Aureny, she appreciated the differentiation of local frequencies around the geode’s natural shape. Rosy Glow kept up with her, more reassuring than necessary. Soleil was glad for her presence, and also glad she could forget the Kao-Sidhe was there.

Where ornaments lay in the openings, Soleil inspected them, testing them with a knock of her gloved knuckle. Some were broken and damaged, and she began recognizing the different ways that metals and stones were spliced in. They destroyed things and remade them. The Tempering, where things survived or didn’t, proved strong or made stronger. They brought things from other places and exchanged pieces. The worked stones looked fascinatingly precious, holding special life within. Many were surely collected from piles such as those they were making now.

The Princess Ascendant allowed her curiosity free reign, and stayed safe. Though tapping energy reserves, she kept lively and didn’t miss a moment. After the sound petered out and the chamber was disengaging, some cute little Aureny came in and began scooping gems into transport buckets. Mystvall found Soleil propped against a wall, panting and grinning from ear to ear.

16.5 \ 198

Caught up in the trance of this spectacle, Soleil rocked on her ready stance with extreme intensity. A unanimous soundblast took over the space, and several Aureny ran into the tunnels from their balcony ledges, including Mystvall.

In the suddenly vacated space, the Princess could hear their thundering steps recede and approach, echoing louder when they crossed a tunnel opening into the geode. There were muffled crashes as they met and collided, shearing their enduring hides against the crystal-coated walls, soft scrapes in the debris. The steady underlay of body syncopation and basso vocalization hinted like the peak of an iceberg at something far greater beneath perception.

Soleil stepped into the center of the reception cone. Details of the communal music leapt into clarity, any point of listening sounding forefront with the slightest adjustment. If she could place her head two stories higher the sound would no doubt be better, more so with their range of sensory perception. She looked up and saw Rosy Glow in that position. In this moment, to this human, there had never been anything like it. Her astonishment was complete without allowing it to overwhelm.

A careering sound of approach grew with alacrity. She whirled and, watching the incoming Aureny, slid into the most welcoming concavity. She’d guessed correctly that a large object was flying in behind her. The arrival grated to a pinpoint stop and caught an airborne set of pauldrons, which they donned rhythmically, dragging forelimbs in wide arcs around the mouth of the passageway. Soleil reflexively shielded her face from the glittering shower, letting a few fall into her palm and tipping them to the ground. Despite the mortal danger, she felt washes of glee at the creative destruction, the elation of collision, oneness of sound, elegance of cooperative sporting, detachment of personal property, and wondrous abundance.

16.4 / 198

A brassy trumpeting began to sound, spreading around the cavern until it seemed like it could shake the place apart. Stomping polyrhythms began again in earnest when this subsided, the bass wobble harmonics multiplying. Mystvall removed their large circular neck torc. Drawing Soleil’s attention with piercing focus, they let loose a melodic bellow.

OBSERVE.

With a great heave, the torc went spinning through the air until it ricocheted crashing against a far curved wall, sending crystalline gems sparkling down through the air. The torc rebounded directly toward someone across the chamber, who caught it and flung their own torc into other recesses. Crashes and catches syncopated, tinkling explosions in chorded pitches.

Aureny began launching their regalia in groups via criss-crossing trajectories, rotating throws and catches. Pauldrons and other accessories went into the mix. Hardly accident nor error could Soleil notice as chunks of metal and stone greater than her size went hurtling. The body-fitting designs also possessed aerodynamic qualities. Crystals were falling constantly on every side, facets flashing as the glow inside dimmed, chiming as they tumbled into each other. These riches piled up on the floor far below.

16.3 \ 198

The Princess was now beginning to differentiate between the traits of the people and the traits of the person in their emissarial escort. Though there was a pervasive hostility about the way the Aureny addressed her presence, Mystvall didn’t direct that toward her in any pointed manner, and they exhibited persistent patience in not outpacing her as they progressed.

They finally stopped before a tunnel mouth, where the gemstone formations burst forth in a ring of stunning variety and intensity. They were perched upon a view of an enormous atrium, like looking into a heart at the edge of a blood vessel. Across this vast space were many more openings like theirs in the chamber wall, with an Aureny at each. Soleil observed that each opening was set in a funnel-like depression, and she recognized this as a shape employed to cast and receive sound. Inside this central chamber, the crystal growth was awe-inspiring, casting glow in a rainbow of pulsing hues. There could be a full phronium spectrum here, maybe beyond the spectrum, even power material of an entirely different kind. The distant floor of this geode-like atrium was flat stone, even and cleared.

In stillness, Mystvall had retreated into a quiet state of meditation. Rosy Glow came to settle at Soleil’s eye level, casting an excited carmine blush. “What they’re going to express, I can’t really translate for you. Though there will be a lot happening outside your range of hearing, you will still experience an incredible concerto. You should remain in total awareness in order to keep yourself safe. Don’t worry about me or let me distract you – unlike you, I’m able to not be injured by stray projectiles. They’re rarely, if ever, off mark; if they’re not trying to hit you, they probably won’t as long as you don’t jump in the way of their target. I’m staying nearby in case you require a verbal communication. I’ll try to locate myself in a place where you can safely stand if you’re suddenly confused, since it’s a little easier for me to view trajectories without having to worry about my personal safety. But you don’t have to just follow me! Stay in your own body and do what feels right for you! There may be more safe spots than the ones I notice, that might be easier for you to reach.” Rosy Glow appeared to fret a little, then fell silent.

Soleil took this in wordlessly, readying herself before further questions or events. She was wearing the Vedani gearsuit, which Uixtr and Moonshadow had cleaned and serviced. With a sharp knock, she engaged the suit’s armor shock sensitivity, feeling the localized hardening of the tensile fibers. She pulled the hood out of the collar, tucked her long hair underneath it, and tensed it to fit. Uixtr had shown her the visor, a little piece of sheer film which hardened to clear; she pulled that down over her brow and tapped it, then dragged her glove across her mouth and smacked both sides of her jaw. The suit might keep her from getting dinged, but not from being crushed, tossed around, or broken. “How long should I expect this to last?” she finally asked.

“Two, maybe four of your hours,” replied Rosy Glow, who quieted and turned to look at Mystvall, whose silence had intensified. The loaded hush filled with something outside her hearing spread throughout the cavern. Wobbling into her awareness was more than just a vibration and bigger than a sound, a mesh of transmission nearly visible throughout the air – low and full bodied, emanating from every balcony divot in the geode wall. The crystals in the resonating bowls were effulgent with frequencies. The phenomena were all tied together. Soleil boggled knowing that they were hearing a great deal more, if they even thought of it as hearing. Guessing by their sensory organs, hearing might be the same as seeing to them, and breathing a part of it. The headplate might also have a resonant chamber, she felt sure with the way some held it at an angle.

The basso wobble took on a polyrhythmic core. Various members of the assembly began to stomp in time, every sound carrying, not a footfall lost as they took conversational turns. Since she wasn’t yet fearing bodily injury, Soleil figured this must be the build-up. She relaxed loosely while she could.