5x Rerun: Fire Within (1) 81-85

– 81 –

The Array Synthesis room was clean and empty for her when she arrived, all consoles running as she requested. Soleil knew where she wanted to look, a set of coordinates based on her impression of its whereabouts.

She stepped into the suspension chair and engaged the full harness. It lifted, giving her the 47-million-degree view. She opened out the banks of physical adjustors and eyepiece optics, calling them within reach. The picture in mind was like a child’s drawing – the fewer obfuscating details, the better.

The pre-Ricardian scopes featured many degrees of diffraction, and she took a moment to enjoy the antique view that was a revelation to the seekers. She twiddled it, and looked into the scatter dimension. She shook her head at the moment she felt like an ancestor, as though she were looking through someone else’s eyes back down the line. There was something nebulous that the micrometers wouldn’t pick up, something parallax that current technology ruled out.

Hints at details were aligning, and she moved on to fine tuning. There was a seam stretched far and wide, and she was finding the stitches. She had seen it all next to each other as though it were one thing that faced out in many directions. The directions that she recognized weren’t near each other at all, but she didn’t worry about it – just kept finding them when things looked right, as she’d seen them there one after the other. The picture wasn’t complete, but it should be enough.

She collected all the views, superimposing and shuffling till she saw it there. Not a hole. Maybe a bump. She stretched and collapsed them together like a deck of cards. Yeah, it was there. She paused at this.

The contact through her coma wasn’t just an introduction. There was a deep history arriving to be accounted for, and Soleil understood why it was she who’d been called to task. When she went to see the hated criminal by her own devices, he’d given her a glimpse of things happening now, all at once, many and strong, everywhere and incomprehensible. So she worked with every impression.

In her notebook were drawings from the symbols, images, views, and her deductions. She translated these into coordinates, locations, directions, distances. She looked at the notebook nearby, being read in midair. The room was orbit station quiet as she hovered two feet over the ground.

The Princess readdressed the set of astronomical pinpoints, and drew a connecting line. She reordered them by proximity, tiling them by their signal sightlines in a triangular mesh. She set mirrors, and sent a signal loop from the corner that would touch every point in turn before repeating, and waited.

The remaining presence in her thoughts, that was confirmed when she saw Sturlusson and made possible her glimpse into imminence, was still there. She’d gained some understanding of it, the cup on a string hanging in the corner. She picked it up and listened, hoping the dots were connected.

The mirrors began to miss. They didn’t hit their spot or return correctly. The signal returned stronger, and she realized she was the mirror.

A rectangular dark patch opened in the space before her, bright motes flashing across it. A murmur of speech infiltrated her hearing.

“We see you again. Now you’re awake.”

“I don’t fully understand what I’ve found here, but I want to know more. I have questions about the things I’ve seen. You seem very much like us, though your allies are stranger.”

“We recognize your desire for understanding. There is much to be explained, and we are willing to share education. But these are matters both heavy and delicate, and it would not be a short amount of time.”

“I will take all the time it requires. This is my priority.”

The dark patch deepened, the motes flashing brighter. “We can bring you through, if you are so prepared. We desire your presence.”

Soleil gestured for the program to set her notebook down on a panel. “I seek resolution from all this information. Where would you bring me?”

“Out of the world you know, that’s for certain.” The motes gathered themselves into a glowing ball, which floated towards her. “When you are ready, you can take the sphere.”

The Princess disengaged herself from the floating harness and loosened her joints. She took a soft look back at the view of Alisandre before lifting her hand to the glowing light. A bright net encased her, the dark patch enfolded her, and the Array Synthesis room was empty but for her few belongings.

81

– 82 –

“Then they got me involved, and I kind of told them that you exist. So they’re probably coming at you with a job offer. I hope I haven’t done anything too terrible and that you’ll forgive me. Maybe this will be fun.”

Derringer bit his lip and shook his head as he followed his guide, who had not once looked at him since he arrived. He laid one considering footstep after the other. From his years of experience, he was wary of official jobs – if you couldn’t fill the bill, they had a way of taking it out of you. But this seemed like a good way to get swept up, and besides he might be getting overfond of that lady. Must be mutual, if she put the big dogs on his tail. So here he was, walking straight into the Spear.

As the guard stopped in front of the office door, Derringer checked if there was anything he needed to remember before walking in. The door opened, and he went in remembering nothing.

He faced a desk with a placard that read General Alisandre, Draig Claymore. The man behind it had a stack of papers on either side, signing them as they moved from one end to the other. “Welcome,” he said, “and thank you for never having been here.”

“It’s an honor.” He took the other seat at the General’s gesture.

“I value your credentials, and those who gave them to me.” General Alisandre signed another paper carefully. “It’s my duty to explore every possible avenue in my search, and I hope you can help me. Do you have any idea what I’m asking you to find?”

“An important person may be missing.”

The General nodded. “Official channels are already engaged, and we have scant days before it becomes a matter of public knowledge. Can you work under that kind of scrutiny?”

“Sure, especially if that’s not really what I’m doing.”

“No, of course not. Your actual employment would of course be your own business. And you would have all means at your disposal to accomplish it.”

“Means are helpful, so long as they’re not under supervision.”

“Why would they be? You’re not connected to anyone in this building.”

“Sounds like business as usual.”

“You will remain completely independent. We simply wish for the goal to be accomplished.”

“I think I can set myself to business as usual with a goal in mind.”

“Remember, we have no idea what it is you’re supposed to be doing.”

“Who does?”

The General signed one more paper, and put away his pen. “I’m having beef and beer for lunch. Perhaps you’d like to join me on the terrace?”

“There’s a terrace?”

“Oh yes, it’s lovely. And there’s more than one.” They stood, and exited to an empty hallway.

82

– 83 –

Queen Ascendant Charlotte stood facing the green-haired researcher in a chamber to themselves.

“Thank you for being willing to speak with me so directly, Your Grace.”

“Not at all. My priorities are clear, as parent and Ascendant. So, tell me about the surprise findings. I am up to date on the rest of the information regarding the Photuris Anomaly.”

Hydraia nodded. “I first noticed it while idly searching the shadow visual classifications. Patterns or formations will pop out variously, as this did. It struck me as both eerie and timely. I even sent it to Loramer for a second opinion, and they agreed. It looks like a picture of your daughter.”

The news had already been broken to the elder woman, so she took it well, reaching out to accept a copy of the data report. A pieced together image played above it: Soleil, looking over her shoulder.

The Queen Ascendant breathed deeply, looking intensely at the woman. “I realize your waking hours may be fully occupied, but I have need of some of them.”

Arcta acknowledged this with a nod. “I sent the matter to your attention thinking you might act on it.”

“My intentions are already forming, but I will need some dedicated, available guidance.”

“There is currently no one who can fill my role on Alphas 1 and 2 in the Photuris Sector. But I can be interrupted under prominent need.”

“Then I shall supply you with a communication line. I will not aim to make any interruptions. Just for burning questions.”

“Your Grace, I extend my correct sympathy, and I wish to offer as much of my time as you require.”

“You’ve already given us our first real discovery in the matter. We have four days before you are to enact a collapse interruption, right?” Queen Ascendant Charlotte finally offered her visitor a seat.

83

– 84 –

“Hey, what’s shaking you guys.” The redheaded dulcet tone spoke from disembodied audio. “How’s the office working out for you?”

“Good. We’ve been making cash credit under our new company name: Substitute Security & Systems. We’ll jack you up and make sure you don’t get jacked.”

“Sounds like a niche. Have you heard from Derringer lately?”

“Actually, just yesterday. He said he was going dark into Transnet Archipelago.”

“That’s a lot of gateway cruising. Well, it must mean he took the job. And I had just thought of something for him. Now I’ll have to run into him, how annoying.”

“We could pass on a message for you, next time he’s in touch.”

“No, I can take care of my own. But go ahead and tell him that we talked.”

84

– 85 –

The Lieutenant Corporal stood next to the researcher in the Alpha 1 core, with everything in place to interrupt the Photuris Vortex Anomaly. Statuses incoming.

Lt. Corporal Sorens, Technician Lead, called in over his channels. “Rotating longitudinal arc, torsion 1, four strong, unison report.”

“Ghost’s Embrace.
Fallen Fledgling.
Overarching Edge.
Bloody Reflection.”

“Counter-rotating longitudinal arc, torsion -1, four strong, unison report.”

“Family Intention.
Backwards Connection.
Glowing Core.
Heroic Tailspin.”

“Buffer Zone 1, Buffer Zone 2, unison report.”

“Man At The Bar.
Shadowed Flare.”

“Tech Reader, how long till equipment is ready?”

“The passing charge will reach desired level pulse at a quarter hour from now.”

“Appropriate, with leeway.” Tyson Sorens turned to Arcta Hydraia on his right to meet her eyes and nod. She flickered her notes on the air in front of her and gazed at the room unfocused, hand to her mouth.

“Alpha base 2 reporting.” The solid voice of General Ionos, Ehrenson Sorens transmitted to the main line. “We’ve bundled our frequencies to feed into Buffer Zones 1 and 2 as well as satellites D and E. Ionos base reads and reports. Planetary contingencies are in line. This is the big day.”

“Technicians, it’s time to compare and align your formulas. Coordinate trajectories with your squadron.” The Lt. Cpl. craned his neck around as he listened to pieces of channel chatter, mainly in the direction of various spec prints.

“‘Scuse me there’s, uh,” this rose in volume precedent, “We have an extra ship in formation.”

“As do we.”

“It just entered our logs officially.”

“There are two more of our own ships, not shadows. Both in five strong position.”

A visual transmission appeared of Queen Ascendant Charlotte in flight uniform in the technician’s seat. “It is my responsibility to be a part of this mission. I have sent record of my full qualifications.” The juxtaposed image of General Ionos nodded an extended affirmative to this. “The rudeness of my intrusion requires your tolerant pardon.

“I have also sent you a data point schematic, doubly approved at Loramer, confirming the viability of an extra pair in your formation without any path alteration. This qualified crew, including myself, will now be a part of this maneuver.”

The vortex anomaly heaved before her gaze. She turned to her pilot and looked back at the massive anomaly. “That looks really complex.” Her lips held back bile.

Lieutenant Corporal Sorens stood still as he scanned the new information. He turned slowly toward Ms. Hydraia to find her already facing him.

She gestured to him with her pointer. “We didn’t include the last pair because we wanted to minimize the roster – not because of any dynamics issue. We even practiced five strong formation.”

“Your Grace, it can be as you wish. From your position you will report to me as Technician Lead.”

A message flashed in from the General on Alpha 2. The Lt. Cpl. uttered a small, “Uh oh.”

“I’ve examined the additional crew roster, and I deem it necessary to make a substitution. I will take the place of counter-rotating pilot CR5. The Queen Ascendant and I have flown together before, and I have experience in heroics.”

“I find this a comfort,” spoke Charlotte from her ship.

Hydraia’s posture expressed alarm. “Can we just let a General go pilot one of these?”

Sorens nodded. “They keep fairly current with vehicular training, they won’t jump into chairs they can’t handle. It happens.”

“So he’ll just taxi out to the counter-arc? Tech Reader, how long till equipment is at level?”

“It will be another ten minutes. Leeway diminishing but still present.”

“So he’ll have the time to get out there.” Arcta closed her hand into a fist to rest in front of her face.

From Alpha 2, “Sir, Buffer Zone and Ionos Base calls are now routed to you.”

“Yes, I would be the next person they want to talk to.”

“There is a medical emergency aboard Buffer Zone 2, Shadowed Flare. The signal reader has lost consciousness.”

“Get me the pilot’s report.”

“She was keeping quiet over there until just a minute ago when she blacked out over her controls. I settled her safe in the back, but that leaves me to manage this by myself.”

Arcta Hydraia raised both arms widely into the air and brought them down. “Okay before you bring up any qualifications, ” she paused in the space between her hands, “I’m a co-inventor of this energy and placement technology. I issued the first ten certifications along with twenty other experts. I’m the best person here, now, to read and understand that position.”

He looked first down at his chest, then up at her, the people around and behind them, then back at the transmission.

“I can do all our coordination from Buffer Zone 2. I might even beat your dad aboard.”

“What’s your call sign?”

“Brightening Watcher.”

He spoke over transmission. “Okay we’re sending in a replacement for Flare, the unit is now Shadowed Watcher.” Tyson Sorens turned back to her. “Go be the other half.” He let her abandon him, and viewed the progress of intermediate craft.

85

5x Rerun: Fire Within (1) 60-63

– 60 –

The light streamed through the holes in the cave ceiling as it bounced off the pool of water and onto the walls. Past where her toes dabbled, Karma Ilacqua watched gold and white fish nibble larva from the surface.

“We’ve been lucky twice already.” She sipped her fizzy beverage and looked sidelong at the mustached detective. “With finding the system taproot, and unearthing the Hoopoe in that tent. Blasted kid, sending us on a goose chase.”

Derringer aimed a level gaze at her from where he sat in his shorts under a ray of sunlight. “What do you expect, he’s from here.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry you didn’t learn that sooner. We got a little worried, but he’s going to hold up his end after all.”

“You think so?”

“Oh yeah, he wouldn’t have boarded the jet at all otherwise.”

“You know – I helped this happen, but I still don’t really know what it was all about.”

“You wouldn’t want to. The clearance levels aren’t worth your trouble.”

Derringer leaned back against the knobbly-smooth cave wall and sipped his liquor. “I guessed that.”

“You’re not bad at doing the dirty work, Derringer.”

“My specialty, madame.” He raised his glass in a toast.

Karma cupped water in a hand and poured it over her legs. The computer projected a message to her right. “Our intrepid backup.” She keyed a sequence to show the incoming images without displaying their own. “Greetings, gentlemen. Do you find the compensation satisfactory?”

“Shit yes, Ms. Ilacqua. Shit yes.” Fred DeWalt’s reply piped in with satisfaction.

“Enjoy your new office. My associates and I may be in touch further down the line.”

Chad Dremel nudged his partner out of the screen space. “We’ll look forward to hearing from you. How’s Derringer down there on Lurin?”

Karma raised her eyebrow at the hint of envy, smirking at the detective. “He’s in tip-top shape, we’ve got it wrapped out here. I’ll let him know you were concerned.”

A suspicious pause from the security team. “Are you two just living the lush Lurin dream, or what?”

Derringer leaned over to speak. “We’re hiding in a dank little hole in the ground, Dremel. I’ll be sure and bring you pictures if we make it out of this trench alive.” He reached over and tapped the call closed.

Karma leaned towards him. “I’ll do my best to make sure that happens.”

“You can do your worst.”

60

– 61 –

Though their passenger insisted she didn’t require special consideration, they picked the finest pub in Dalmeera – plenty of chairs, intact windows, no fleas, full meal service. Toller looked across the table at her, indifferently curious.

Arcta Hydraia’s long green hair was braided, and she gazed through spectacles at the menu, a mess of chalk writing on the opposing wall. She murmured and nodded, then blinked and looked elsewhere as she noticed the boy’s attention on her.

“So you’re a scientist?” he asked again.

“Yes, in massive sphere dynamics.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“A relatively new discipline. We’ve only really been able to explore sphere dynamics since the appearance of non-solid anomalies.” She paused. “And from there it gets complicated.”

“Why are you going to the capital?”

She drew her breath in slowly. “Sorry, classified. It’s important enough that I don’t want to look for a different ship. Not here in Dalmeera, anyway.”

A blond figure detached from the crowd to stand square in front of their booth. “What do you guys want? I’m going to fetch it from the bar.” Wendel’s short hair was in disarray, a lingering smile on her face.

“Did Leiv go?” Toller asked, using his first name as requested.

“Yeah, we found a buddy headed out to join the second round of the refugee shuffle. They left, he’s going to look to his ship. Did you want anything to eat or drink?”

“How about a fried honklizard steak?”

Wendel raised her eyebrows. “Hungry boy. I’ll finish it if you don’t. What about you, Ms. Hydraia?”

“Arcta, please,” she replied, her eyes glancing at distant corners. “I’m not hungry right now, thanks.”

Wendel peered at her. “How about some hot silver?”

“Hot silver?”

“You can’t leave Dalmeera without trying hot silver, no ma’am.” She patted the table. “Back in a minute. Don’t leave, don’t get in trouble.” She turned to weave through the thick crowd toward the counters. Toller shrugged across the table.

The pilot was back shortly with food. She unburdened herself of the steak and kept a mug for herself, handing the other to Arcta, who looked curiously at the iridescence in her cup. Harper took a hearty sip. “Moonlighty caffeinated nourishment. They don’t make it properly outside Dalmeera, they really don’t.” Harper watched the passenger’s tentative reaction.

“How long are we to wait here, do you think?” Arcta asked her pilot without impatience. “I trust your reasoning is good, I am just curious.”

“There are lots of people I haven’t seen here, which is good,” said Wendel, continuing to sip. “It means parts of the world are in working order. I just sense a simmer in the direction of the capital, and I’m waiting for it to die down. It’s so central a place, and also a busy time. I’m not too apprehensive to go there, that’s our next wise step fare aside. I’m aiming for a completely uneventful trip.” Harper was draining her cup quickly, almost as fast as Toller was demolishing his steak. Arcta noticed their pace and followed suit.

“It’s fair to tell you now that we’re hiding in plain sight. We’re likely surrounded by people who would aid in our capture if they knew who they were looking at. But they don’t, which helps me find the safe route.” Harper put out a hand. “I wasn’t placing you at any great risk. This town is dangerous, but also safe.”

The three finished their food and drink without much extra talk. Murmurs rose and fell, deals, meetings, uproar and upset – the place as usual.

When at the sound of a shot, chaos erupted. Wendel pulled the other two under the table, and dragging them by their shirts like ducklings, crawled along the wall below people’s legs, shielding the three of them with well aimed blows. The other two kept quiet and stayed close. They squeezed out of a door into a less crowded chamber.

Harper yelled briefly to the others. “This,” she pointed, “has nothing to do with us. Not our problem. We’re going now.” Her words were clearly enunciated. Toller and Arcta looked at each other, and both nodded tersely, agreeing that they would just like to get out.

Outside the bar, the noise was surprisingly minimal. It was a localized event. Harper put a hand on their backs and walked them away briskly. “Nothing to worry about,” were her only words until they boarded the Drift 9 at the airlot.

61

– 62/1 –

The floating stage platform shimmered behind a curving geometric field. Where they began in the transport arena, Princessa Mireille Magus took the speaker’s dais in the center, between her older sister and younger brother below.

The procession aisle was lined with people. The main group of platforms started forward. Performers from both sides of the path joined them to enact the Lay of Sakhana & Zoe, the capital’s traditional Pyrean play narrated by the Princessa.

Now we retell the tale,
as we do every Pyrean Midsummer.
The story of old Babylon Magus,
when this place was Babylon,
before it was Alisandre,
in the times of the Magus Emperors.

When walls, the ground, lights, the world,
breathed and grew at human whim,
miraculous machinery lost to ancient thought.
Before even the pergola on the plateau was raised,
when water reached to the walls of the city,
there was an only son, only child of the Magus.
His name was Marius Nikolai, also called Sakhana,
for he embodied the gentle warrior’s way,
young but already wise, formidable in reason.

The actor playing Marius Nikolai leaped to the main stage preceding the royal family. He bore a shock of blond hair, wearing black and grey leather armor blazoned with old crests. Aquari scene artists following to either side displayed a vast city fortress with lights, smoke and high stone walls.

Clever enough was he to discover the great evil
in old Babylon, in the walls themselves,
forces that held his dear land in secret thrall.
Cousins. Advisors. The Builders. His Father.
Old Babylon Magus was dying a slow death
at the hands of its keepers, bargains they’d made
with forces beyond their ken.

He would witness the end of it.
Clever Sakhana, he made sure of it.
He took action, performing rites for those
he hoped he would save, and wept
for the fall of this place, as he knew it must.

The actor’s stage morphed into a network of evolving paths along which he ran, defeating enemies who fell back in acrobatic tumbles to melt into the crowd.

By his engines, by his doing,
Babylon fell in one night.
His Father. Advisors. Cousins. The walls.
Many wonders and arts, now gone.
Sakhana cast himself from a keyhole parapet
to the waves far below,
his last desperate measure.

Old Babylon Magus had different creatures then,
and these saved the young man, bearing him far.
Sakhana only heard their ocean music.

He was carried on a billowing construct of dark blue and white silk, as operatic singers mimicked portisfish calls. When he returned to it, the stage platform was set as a seaside cove.

He awoke on a shore at the base of a cliff,
as a woman was climbing down.
He hailed her, and though hesitant,
she went to help the stranger.
This was Zoe, fleeing from capture.

Sakhana was sorely weak. Zoe gave him water,
and brought him up the long approach
to the entrance of a cave.
Within were rooms hewn from the rough stone cliff.
In one of these they hid,
and as he regained his health,
she told Marius Nikolai her tale.

Zoe lived her whole life by this cliff,
but was now pursued for reasons unknown.
She could defend herself with her bow in hand, and that was all.
Her pursuers were relentless –
they threatened her family to find her.

She was leaving to hide when she found Sakhana at the shore.

Trusting Zoe in turn,
Sakhana told her his tale of flight.
He recovered, and they ventured further into the cave.
They continued until they reached an iron gate;
beyond it lay sky.

Aquari projection made the sky around the stage seem brighter, sparkling and clear. Rays shone down on the evolving stage floor shaping a path. They were now in the midst of the University Quarter, surrounded by buildings of the old institutions.

Light fell over expanses of mosaic-tiled streets.
Sakhana saw before him a kingdom
more beautiful than Babylon.
Gardens, fountains, a palace in the distance,
bathed in sunny silence.
Zoe found the gate key nearby where it was hid,
and they walked to the palace,
eating fruit from the trees.

Inside were further splendors, all deserted.
A series of statues led them to a chamber below,
where a powerful light pulsed and glowed.

The light poured forth from an enormous jewel,
size of an eagle, crystalline and blue.
It rested on a pedestal in the center
of the great underground chamber.
Without a thought, they drew close to this
starry warmth, but as they touched it
the earth and the foundations began to shake.
Sakhana went to flee, but Zoe cried out
that they mustn’t abandon the jewel.
She toppled it from the pedestal,
but it was too heavy for her to lift.
So Sakhana carried it with her, though
they could hear the castle crumbling above them.
Through grave danger they emerged
to the mosaic-tiled streets.

The castle collapsed behind them in a cloud of dust.
From this cloud issued a furious roar;
a flaming beast with hooves, wings and talons
came charging with a voice like a host of warriors.

The costume of the beast was manipulated by athletic dancers, who moved to make the stride of its limbs. It trailed flames and smoke. As they passed through the hospitals, troops of singers from the Imperial Army joined to march alongside.

Sakhana made himself a match for the beast.
As bright as the beast burned,
it was no brighter than the flame in his heart.
As high as it flew, it never escaped his eye.
When it closed the distance, Marius Nikolai
leaped to meet it with bare hands of iron.

The male lead showed his ferocity in hand to hand martial display. Princess Soleil watched his leaps and twists, lifting her eyes to scan the crowds. They rested again on the female lead in her travel dress.

Zoe stood guard with her bow over the jewel
as Marius Nikolai and the beast wrestled
once, twice, thrice, and each time
his burns were healed with its light.
The next time the beast broke free,
it wheeled to face the girl, and dove.
She struck the beast with her arrows,
but they burned, and she threw herself out of its path.
With its talons, the beast seized the jewel.
As it flew away, Zoe loosed more arrows
until one struck the jewel,
breaking a piece of it free.

Sakhana found it where it fell, and offered it
back to Zoe. They knew the beast would return soon,
so they fled back across the deserted city
to the tunnel cave.

62.1

62.1.2

– 62/2 –

Exiting the cave, they encountered a ship
anchored off the coast, and rowboats on the beach.
Zoe retreated, but Marius Nikolai stopped her.
He knew them – pirate traders who visited Babylon Magus.
Zoe stayed hid, and Sakhana moved closer to investigate.

The ship and boats were festooned hover vehicles, eliciting cheers from the crowd when they joined the scene. The salty crew were popular in this rough neighborhood.

He overheard them speak of his home:
a city in ruins, but a people awakened and free.
They struggled to survive the harsh time,
but still they sang of that day as a good one.
They celebrated the fall as a victory,
and so Marius Nikolai knew that he could return home.

Sakhana showed himself to the nearby captain,
who recognized and moved to embrace him.
Sakhana asked after Zoe’s pursuers.
They had been here, the captain said,
and gone hence some time ago.
They had seen no one else.

Marius Nikolai brought word back to Zoe in the cave.
At once, she determined to see what became of her family.
Sakhana accompanied her to the top of the cliff.
Inside, the house was empty but for a message.

They had left in haste, their duty discharged:
to care for the changeling princess until
her identity should be discovered.
Zoe held the gem shard,
and knew what her pursuers were seeking.
Her kingdom was dead, not of this world,
so it was said by the dying man
who brought her as an infant to this cliffside.
He had given them her true name, Viridis Merida.
It was said that should she ever go to her old home,
it would be her doom. Zoe wept.
She knew she had seen it,
and that she could not go back there, nor stay.
Sakhana asked her to come with him
where he would rebuild his country.
Though grieving, she agreed to the journey.

Marius Nikolai and Viridis Merida
left with the trading vessel,
making many calls to port.
As they approached Old Babylon,
there was more rumor of what was lost
and gained in the fall of the city.
Some spoke of the Magus,
and how its last son was missing,
but Marius Nikolai kept his identity secret.

They arrived at the port of Babylon Magus
with an abundance of goods, carrying
timber, fiber, stone and food.
These he distributed among people,
still not revealing his identity.
Zoe went with him, healing and listening,
keeping the jewel concealed.
By its magic, she gained knowledge of ways to live
without the forces that corrupted the city
and brought its downfall. This she shared
with Sakhana and his people.
In time, they prospered.
The city as they knew it disappeared, brick by gear.

Boxes that looked like bricks and building debris were sent through the crowd, and opened to reveal gifts and treats. The well-dressed crowd between the Maray and the Diplomat’s District were appreciative.

As the old fortress was being cleared,
Marius Nikolai found a cellar door he hadn’t before seen,
blown askew on its hinges. A hallway led into the earth.
He journeyed in, bringing none but Viridis Merida,
who would not leave his side.

The hallway went to a bank of empty storerooms.
In the last of these, Sakhana found
a hidden trapdoor with a ladder going further down.
Here he entreated Zoe to turn back,
but she would not, so they went on together.
So absorbed were they in the mystery of this place,
they didn’t see the torch running low
until it began to gutter.

They were enveloped by darkness, and fear arose.
Sakhana banished the angry spirits that crowded his mind.
As they made to turn back in trepidation,
Viridis Merida saw a glow in her pocket.
She withdrew the gem, and it lit the hall.
So they continued.

Before long, the passageway ended.
They examined the dusty end, uncertain.
As Zoe held the gem to the wall,
a light answered forth, describing a door
with its hidden mechanism.

The door was represented by a mechanical gate with lights along its moving parts. Counterweights and pulleys opened it for the actors behind.

Marius Nikolai and Viridis Merida
entered a vast library chamber.
The walls bearing volumes were flanked by
massive statues that glowed as though living.
These took many forms, that Sakhana recognized
as his people’s ancient teachers of myth.
He bent a knee before them, and at the sight of this place.

Zoe held the jewel aloft, and
the library responded with its own illumination.
In wonder, they explored and examined the trove.
Many of the finest volumes were empty,
by myriad items of unknown but powerful magic.

A wall of books opened before Zoe
as she approached it holding the gem.
It revealed a stairway of masterful craft.
Upon the stone steps were carved tales of great heroes.
Sakhana asked Zoe if she would stay behind,
and again she refused.
So they took the long, winding stair.

Here they passed the great military obelisk as the actors climbed illusory stairs. The projectionists displayed carved story reliefs in the surrounding space.

When at last they reached light,
they found themselves atop Mt. Kairas.
Marius Nikolai had not known the place.
He found there a slender stone standing to chest height,
in the top of it a small window. The solstice sun set,
and the gem of Viridis Merida glowed again
with a piercing light that fell directly on the stone.
So she brought it close, placing it within the window.
The jewel pulsed, growing brighter each time.
Then with a deafening silence,
the light enveloped the entire city.

The parade arrived in the Royal Court. The bright display played off the walls of the city’s most fantastical architecture, setting a backdrop for the arrival of Her Vast Eminence, Queen Celeste. She was brought to the royal platform, where she boarded and below and in front of her second oldest granddaughter. They continued to the Verdant Plateau nearby. In the Pergola waited representatives from neighboring planets, and a Dragon.

All across the land could see it, near and far.
Within the encompassing veil of light shone visions,
sharp and clear, of a realm with more grace and triumph
than any they had seen.
Every detail of it etched into every looking eye.

Nor could any eye miss the man and woman
atop the mountain, revealed in majesty.
Though distant, their faces became known to all in that moment.
Marius Nikolai and Viridis Merida were recognized thus.
They stewarded the beginning of the next age of marvels,
and the new city that became Alisandre Capital.

So at Pyrean Midsummer we conjure forth our visions,
bright and clear as the light of Zoe’s gem,
great and certain enough to lay the foundation
for our futures in the spirit of new hope.

To Marius Nikolai!
To Viridis Merida!
To Alisandre!
And to the Great Pan-Galactic Imperium!

62.2

– 63 –

A twenty-one person assembly waited atop the Verdant Plateau – one dragon, four Aquarii, and sixteen humans arrayed above, inside, and around the Pergola. The procession halted at the plateau’s edge, and alone the ruling family disembarked to join them.

“This is the big show, Chrysanthe. The Vision. You were a baby last time you saw this.” The young girl, still just small enough to ride atop her father’s shoulders, squished his cheeks between her palms. They had a distant view from amid the sea of people filling the valley south of the Plateau. He kept her hands off his face by holding them. “Of course, it’s never the same twice. But I remember you smiling.”

“I doubt I could really see it if I was just a baby.”

“Maybe so. It’s good luck for you to be born so near Pyrean Midsummer. Now that you’re seven you get to see why.”

The Queen’s voice rolled out over the surrounding valleys, transmitted into space beyond. “Now with all the peoples of the Imperium, we light the sky with the Pyrean Vision.” The Magus family turned to face the great Pergola, and together sat on their knees.

“Papa – why do they kneel?”

“A show of respect for the hopes and dreams we express in the Vision.”

The four Aquarii in their respective corners of the Pergola began to shimmer warmly. The four humans surrounding each Aquari raised their palms, and the light around the Aquarii grew. A deep, melodic thrumming pervaded the air as their spheres of light widened to intermingle, beaming through the open Pergola.

“See how the Aquarii channel the human representatives, mixing them all in one Rasakarya.”

“What’s a ross-corey again?”

“A synaesthetic, like multisensory, like living, portrait of emotion and thought. Something only Aquarii can do.”

“How come those people get to do it?”

Chrysanthe’s father took a deep breath, and laughed. “This event is unique, ‘Santhe. Them up there are the ones that start it, but actually we all get to take part.” At no response but silence, he checked to see his daughter’s face transfixed by the spectacle.

Aural melodies began to wail, soar and syncopate. Intricate brightness enveloped the entire Pergola, reaching the coiled body of the dragon perched in massive flying form on the roof. Its silver-blue scales flashed as it took to the air, gently spiraling to float high above.

The mass of light gained focus, a streaming latticework that converged on a pulsing point centered above the structure. “It’s all joined now, see, and they’re making sense of it.” Glowing geometry transformed through a series of iterations that became more concise and graceful. The central point grew brighter till it burst upward, illuminating the sky all the way to the dragon above.

“What dragon is that?”

“Let’s see, that’s not Arkuda…” He pulled the event program from his pocket. “That’s Arctyri, of Foshan. Saga, Kyridi, and Rhizoa are on the other three planets this Midsummer.” The young girl repeated the names quietly.

The light revealed the dragon’s greater spectral being, extending through the sky in whorls and spikes. Arctyri’s body navigated a toroidal pattern, bending and channeling the light in this shape. The color of the sky began to change.

“Now the dragons are uniting the Visions from across the universe, from four planets in four separate galaxies who share the same moment of summer solstice every seven years. Right now!”

“When do we get to join in?”

“You’ll see. You’ll know!” Chrysanthe held her father’s hands and craned her head to watch. The sun was setting to her left. Between the growing night and fading day, the sky did resemble a conduit reaching through the universe; though instead of being dark, it was varicolor luminescent. She untangled a hand to reach up to it.

The combined light of four sunsets filled the air overhead, breathed in by the motion of the dragons’ flight. The colors gained substance and weight, falling like mist until they reached upraised hands.

It wasn’t like rain or snow, but Chrysanthe felt it, an electric sparkle that raised the hairs on her skin. It reminded her of things: warm cereal in the morning, dancing to the music her parents played. She saw the colors respond around her hand, and she did know just what to do after all.

She tilted her head as the lines and figures issuing from her father’s hand rose to meet her own small pictures. The expressions were abstracted, but when they joined, it somehow made a little more sense. Chrysanthe turned to see it happening everywhere around her. The sunsets’ light was fading, and the grand picture grew brighter in turn. She could see lines now that didn’t come from around her, but from somewhere across the galaxies, and they too connect into the picture with meaning. It seemed miles wide.

Arctyri above released the energy from the glowing torus, sending it back to the central focus. As a point of static harmony was reached, the Aquarii sent the energy crackling back through the pattern, rays of light connecting disparate lines.

When the big egg came falling through the vision like a springtime surprise, Chrysanthe wondered what amazing thing would come from inside.

63