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.

76 \ 258

Taking a seat at this decked-out desk, Navann worked with all the static borders from the pictures that Isten had sent her via his mother. She hand-tesselated as many areas with regular central polygons as she could make from the set. She ended up with seven triangles, five hexagons, and three squares, spliced together with folded sections.

The idea she’d had was to use transparent layers instead to tesselate the areas with central polygons, which might combine more information. She got those images loaded onto her screen, and started manipulating them. It took some time, but she got the layers of static to line up again to form the polygons. This method yielded a richer field of information.

These new tile zones got printed, but they didn’t scan either. Heating the soup again, she saw the contents thickening, and had a moment’s realization. She could get a denser field of information by layering all the tiles with matching polygons. She went for the biggest set first, the triangles. When that was done, a while later, the image was starting to look orderly and purposeful. She produced a printout, and this one scanned.

At this, Navann’s computer did something as though it already knew how. Something popped up that looked like a simple program, though she grimaced with the sudden realization that she may have hacked herself. This was beyond interesting though, and part of her decided she was willing to possibly sacrifice this computer for the sake of intense curiosity. In the corner of a small voidtext window was a kind of micro-camera tile. The tiny sketch scenes in that corner matched the mystery signal window outside in real time. Navann checked to confirm, and yes, it sure looked like a live signal. An actual live signal!

The simple voidtext read: Please Wait… The ellipsis flashed one dot at a time. That was at least some effort to be polite; they must know how to use the human word please. This was exhilarating. It felt dangerous. Navann didn’t mess with the new live program, deciding, cooperatively, to watch and wait.