75 \ 163

Wendel and Leiv were lying together on the inflated-sponge bed from underneath the Skyfather cannon. The custom-fit mattress took up half the gunnery, big enough for them to spoon. “You’re letting Toller sit in the captain’s chair alone?” His hands traveled over her front, with hers on top of them.

“Yes. He’s staying there till I get back, except for trips to the toilet. He’s learning how to wait sitting. He can also study the controls, which he can name all of while I’m watching, and just after I pointed them out. We’ll see how many he remembers when I get back.” Wendel spoke in a dreamy, amused tone. “He knows how to call us for emergencies.”

“I think you’re a good teacher with a good student, and this is a great idea.”

“Just like it’s a great idea to spoon first,” Wendel said as she turned over to kiss him.

“You never know what might happen,” they said together.

74 \ 162

She cupped the sight of the planet in her two hands and kissed it. Though she didn’t know what difficulties might be hers to overcome in the moments after this, she simply blew a double handful of heart-shaped wishes towards Alisandre. As they fluttered fondly towards the atmosphere, her vehicle platform adjusted slightly as though someone else had stepped onto it.

Soleil hadn’t felt that since before being enfolded in deep space; since before she learned she was without a mother, making her the missing Princess Ascendant; since before she’d been changed forever by her split-second choice to forgive the killer. The platform motion was subtle, but she still noticed it. This trusty vehicle had read her motions clearly, and seemingly without parallax, the whole time – no misreadings had jarred or interrupted her hyper-tuned mindstate. When the jumps occurred, they were distinctly a result of her actions, whatever they’d been. So it was with some suspicion that Soleil reached out her gloved arms to comb the field of motion for an errant response.

A somewhat familiar image flickered and disappeared as her hand passed through it. Moving again through that space, it reappeared. The image took on a greater degree of realism: a smallish and incredibly strange person hovering at the height of her shoulder. He smiled and said, “Do you recognize me?”

The previous woodcut version of Dragon Food hadn’t quite communicated his posture of dashing bravado and mischievous derring-do. “That certainly sounds like Dragon Food,” she replied. His physicality was more colorful and detailed, including a dragonish set of horns. “And you look even more like yourself now, in some ways. Tell me, please, what was on that piece of paper you gave me?”

“It was something with the word ‘movements’ in the title, like you asked. That was the thing we could find that seemed most like what you needed.”

“Was there a program or code in it?”

Dragon Food subtly bobbed and jigged around in midair as he addressed the Princess. “Was there a program in the way you drove this ship? You must mean the special ingredient! We Kao-Sidhe don’t generally know what that actually is. Kao-Sidhe interact with a lot of different people, and at times we are helpful. If we bring something to someone, people find it in there, so they think we put it there. But, no. We have a sense of when something is relevant without specifically knowing why, something about our relationship with the nature of ‘time’, as you refer to it, and ‘matter’. It’s just more special, especially special. So, you found it then? The key, the special ingredient.”

“Time and again. There were these clusters of invisible vibrating windowpanes, as I was able to record on instruments while examining them with the Vedani. The new movements I learned seemed to fit some spatial arcs in the clusters, so I used them. Combined with this sled, it must have triggered a spatial loophole programming combination that sent me jumping farther through the cluster system, whatever was generating that. Each jump was like an instant gateway transfer. I don’t think any Vedani can even do that, though it’s their vehicle – none of them learned the moves with me, and you said they don’t dance.”

“What a unique set of circumstances! I suppose that explains how you got here, along with the dragon who you somehow ran into on the way. Probability leveraging via the dragon, working with the inertia of your jump procedure, abetting your favorable chances according to its own mechanics, signature matching and vector averaging to your most reachable and situationally capable ally – me, who is also a Kao-Sidhe, possessing particular likelihood modifiers. Yes, if ‘e brought you to me, then ‘e was helping you.” This last part Dragon Food murmured partly to himself.

Suddenly feeling her legs, Soleil sat down gracefully on the sled platform. Dragon Food hovered down to likewise sit, in a companionable space, midair at shoulder level. He continued his rambling assessment. “Do you know, I just happened to be taking in the view when a roiling spiral of mystically dark scales deposited you here? I thought ‘e was there for me, actually. I am so desirable that at times, dragons pop out of nowhere to ingest me. What can I say? It’s like they can smell me two dimensions over… Rosy Glow claims that’s occasionally true.

“You may ask what I was doing floating out here in the vacuum all by myself. Exactly what a hungry dragon would say. I always make them hungry. Good for you ‘e didn’t take full notice of me, or I’d be off and away.

“This place is not exactly random. We sit at the point between one thing, another thing, and yet a third thing, which you see in front of you.” With both tiny hands, he indicated the lovely planet. “And while I don’t know everything about where you just came from or how, I know that a dragon dropped you off. Which dragon was that?”

Soleil neither hid nor lied about a dragon. “Acamar,” she stated, trying out the sound of er name.

“Well, I don’t know that one. And I know more than many can claim, in what you could call an intimate fashion. Acamar, you say.” Dragon Food paused with a dreamy, wondering look. Soleil let her attention drift soberly to the planet facing her, and the distance between. “I have an idea!” declared Dragon Food. “Would you like to step foot on the planet you see before you?”

Mastering a surge of desire, the Princess faced her company with a silent look that demanded to know more. Dragon Food continued. “I believe there is a way we can talk with this standride. With help from Garlic on the ground, you can direct our location to somewhere familiar, yet sufficiently secluded. Our help means you will pick the right place, if you understand our inherent influential tendencies.”

“Garlic is already there?”

“Yes, somewhere. Garlic is emphatically positive about its presence on that planet. Myself and Rosy Glow have already been there as well.” This partially answered Soleil’s question as to whether she would be allowing them strategic entry. This was as the case may be. It would be a trusting, a trade. Did she want to set foot on the planet before her?

“What leads you to believe it’s possible for me to get there?” Soleil moved to the podium to tap through her main readings. “There’s no cluster here, which is how I was moving around. The distance may be too great for direct locomotion.”

Dragon Food sat his small figure atop the handlebar podium and considered the machine beneath him, patting it. “It may have learned the jump by now, and written it into capability.”

She looked at the vehicle for the first time as though looking into it, asking, “It may have learned?”

“Yes! Let’s ask it and see.” Dragon Food licked his finger and stuck it into an outlet. His image stuttered into static a couple times before he unplugged himself. “Well uh… Rosy Glow is better at this than I am. We should call her.”

“How?”

“Could you perhaps… exert yourself until you’re flushed?”

Assessing him carefully, Soleil asked, “Would push-ups be okay?” In response to his blank look, she explained, “Exercising.”

“Perfectly fine, I think. Have a good workout while I meditate, and thusly together we can summon her.”

“You don’t have to do anything?”

“I just have to think about her. I’m more practiced at that than anybody. I’m also going to watch for the witnessable phenomenon you create – indeed, I’m watching for Rosy Glow. Go ahead, whenever you’re ready.”

Game to try, the young woman shook her frame and dropped down to do push-ups. She didn’t bother counting, since number probably wouldn’t matter. Maybe she’d have to break her personal best, or just break a sweat. Push-ups till the lady shows up, or a new epiphany was achieved. The thought that Rosy Glow might show up just to view this amusement crossed her mind.

“Okay, she’s here.”

“I’m here, to what?” Rosy Glow shimmered warmly inside the bubble of the standride’s field.

“We want to talk to this,” Dragon Food said gesturing to the vehicle, “to try to help her reach terra firma.”

“You want to communicate? Well, I can certainly help. These, I know. They respond to me.” Rosy Glow lay fondly upon the controls, appearing ready to take a nap though she mumbled coherently through closed eyes. Her sunny complexion and rosy cheeks were framed with curly waves of copper hair, which along with streaming wings and dress of sunsets and nebulae, leaked its colors into the machine’s outlets. When she opened her eyes, they were as if made of flower petals. “What a good model, so new and strong. How, where… ah! Access to Vedani human language learning modules. Okay! So, it should understand you better the more you talk to it.”

“I’ve never needed to talk to it before.”

“Now, you can. And this one already likes you!”

The implications of this effort to communicate were dawning on the Princess. “They said I lacked certain degrees of interface… is this one of them?”

“Yes,” replied Rosy Glow from her laying-spot. “Though unlike a Vedani, you’ll actually need to speak to each other out loud, or visually. It should be addressed with proper syntax, as I understand.”

“How do I use the proper syntax?” asked Soleil, smoothing her hair and calming her heart rate.

“It sounds like you should… speak to it like a person. You’ll be working through translation. It’s done some rapid acquisition, and is ready to speak to you now. I helped a little.” Rosy Glow’s voice was trancelike with just a touch of focus. “I gave it our variables…” And then she appeared to doze off.

“Hello?” said a brand new human-approximated voice. It was not Rosy Glow, but had a little bit of her accent.

“Hello?” replied Soleil quickly, as though surprised that would be the first thing it would say.

“Hello Hello Hell0 Hell0 Hello.” It examined a range of tones with each iteration of the word.

Rosy Glow sat up, saying, “It’s very pleased to speak with you! Seems it’s never had so much fun in its life.” Dragon Food sat down next to her and held her hand.

Greetings out of the way, the vehicle went directly to core matters, displaying words in Soleil’s language on the readout screen. [To achieve desired relocation, please perform the following.] At the bottom an additional line blinked: [Do you understand? Y/N]

Soleil tapped the Y to mean yes, and the display switched to a new motion diagram. It looked less like the usual Vedani control displays, and more like the movements that Soleil had been using while jumping between places in far space. Dragon Food followed her intent gaze to read the display, then shrugged and nodded to her.

Weighing her doubts and taking deep breaths, the Princess slowly read and practiced the patterns of motion on the screen. This was different from the reverse, where data was extrapolated from her errant (or intuitive) tries. After a little smoothing out, she gave it a spin.

The display image blinked twice and the vehicle said, “Almost. Adjusting.” The tone of its voice sounded character neutral and a tinge mechanical. Then the screen displayed the diagram again.

Crouching into her focus, Soleil slowed her breath, feeling the correct positioning of all her parts as she swung them through the field. She registered, launched, spun…

Winking out, they were gone.

73 \ 161

The thirteen-year-old boy had thought that sitting in the pilot’s seat of Drift 9 would feel less dramatic, but with the captain on his right, feeling the pedal sliders under his own feet gave him a case of the wide-eyes. For her part sitting co-pilot, Wendel Harper understood completely. “Go ahead,” she said.

He did. Drift 9 sailed toward and through the flotsam terrain ahead, which had enough space between for a fulfilling sense of dimension and speed. They promptly brushed a slowing factor.

“Okay,” said Wendel with a collected manner as she gestured toward his main navigational screen, “read your routes. Under our own impetus, even small gravitational fields engage atmospheric immersion controls, which I am not yet teaching you.”

Toller leaned in to focus on the navigation screen, which reminded him again of a multi-rotational sports diagram. “So, don’t bump the edges like that.”

“Correct. Move between the shapes.” Settling back in, Wendel raised her hand to offer him the road. He took a very conservative elongated sinusoid path through a wide, soft corridor into another vast ‘meadow’ (pilot lingo for a clear space). Once in the open, Toller whirled the ship around before stopping it, as he’d seen Wendel do a few times already.

Her laughs echoed beyond the stillpoint. He was good! He would not be baggage. “That was really well done. Since you’ve been reviewing your orientation calls, angles, degrees, and rates, I’d like to hear how you’d announce that maneuver to your crew and teammates.”

“You didn’t announce it…” Toller tried to pinpoint a specific instance.

“We can’t always, but do it now.”

“180-to-fullstop, tilt negative-60, minus rate 7.”

Wendel approved the boy’s announcement with a nod. “Everyone has different protocols. Learn how to be understood in as many or through as few protocols as possible. Sometimes Leiv and I will just use poetry to announce to each other.”

“How do you do that?” A little winded from his own boldness, Toller leaned back to relax in his chair with the ship at peace.

The captain-copilot also took a moment to relax. “Mostly, we understand each other’s language; we like each other’s taste; and we use embedded pointers from our years of horsing around together.”

Leiv appeared in the hatch. “I hear the call of poetry,” he smoldered to his lady love.

“You heard right,” she replied in an exaggerated purr.

He began. “D’Orann: Ask me where I dance, and I’ll say up.”

“Orak’x: Reaching a conclusion offers no conclusion.” Her reply was ready as soon as he completed his initiatory line.

“Srevz: Long winds carry scent of a treetop reaching toward me.”

Rotating from the co-chair and reaching over to Toller’s side to shift control command, Wendel remarked, “These are all Jennian poets.”

Striding across the cockpit with added flair, Leiv reached in to romantically cradle Wendel’s head. “Then let us tango in Jennian style.” She succumbed to a complementing swoon, then winked at Toller as she came out of it. “Straps,” was all she said next. Toller clipped himself in, Leiv scrambled into the fold-down, and Wendel proceeded to demonstrate their style of tango with her ship.

She mused to her companions while guiding them through a graceful corkscrew-vertical-bust-vertical. “Understandable to each other, unpredictable to others – inspired movement can be lifesaving. It somehow slices through chaos fractals; nature likes poetry too, it’s less likely to hit you with rocks. This kind of concerted unpredictability is our friend if for some reason something is out to get us.”

72 \ 160

The old pin-and-tumbler lock snapped open when they used the key they’d been given. Together, the two of them elevated the roll door with an upwards shove. One end of a roller conveyor met them at the front, and at the other end in the back stood stacks of wrapped spools. The soft, flat material beneath shone matte silver.

“How exciting,” said R. Arriba to T. Vadr.

“Just what we’ve always wanted,” he replied. He walked in and began loading the conveyor, spools dancing toward the entrance. Without damaging them, his partner chucked them through the entry lock, into the currently vacant tech room of their ship. They whistled while they worked. Soon, the room was crammed with silver rolls except for a squeezethrough passage.

A fraction of the spool stock remained. They closed the door and left the key in the lock as requested, and with no one else still in sight, they took off. “So Vadr, what’s next on the list for the Homeboy Shopping Network?”

Looking over from the pilot’s seat where he was taking his turn, he didn’t need to check a list. “First, we’re going to another planet. And, maybe we could start calling each other by first names now that we’re not in the military.”

“The words ‘not in the military’ give me a cringe from my military parents, who still might not kill me on sight. You know – I’d be dead, and they might prefer it.” Out of the copilot’s chair, she patted one of the soft spools as she paced around. She spoke towards the front, her amplified voice feeding to the pilot through the ship’s auditories. “Since you’re used to calling me something different anyway, forget about what the R used to stand for. Call me Random.”

“You’re Random, that you are. You can call me Toledo, same as it ever was.”

“Understood. So Toledo, what planet are we supposed to go to?”

“Doesn’t matter. Just any other planet.”

“Let’s go to Florin. We were never sent or allowed there. What follows?”

“More suprises.”

“I’m starting to like surprises.” Their masked priority codes meant they endured no delay going inter-federet. At Florin, they did a swoop-through for new coordinates. Both of them stepped out to plant feet on dirt. This was their resistance to a creeping feeling they discovered as newly dark agents: an inclination to stay aboard the ship, in safe haven, and only aboard the ship. Despite overcoming a barrier, it made them glad to step upon a planet. The time of day was morning. There were birds in this parking lot, and Toledo Vadr imitated their whistle very well.

Spools still aboard, they received a relay notice to some truly unremarkable, unforgiving corner. Random Arriba and Toledo Vadr went along their way with efficiency. As they neared range, they got flight control instructions through a strange signal with a scrambler codekey. They aligned to a specific plane with precise orientation, and moved forward through time at a certain rate. At a particular distance, a piece of space folded inward and widened panel by panel, revealing a landing room. They glibly negotiated the entrance with raised eyebrows.

The technology inside was impossible to read. The military technician duo had never flown into a room within a patch of empty space. Nor had they seen a ship interior, if a ship this was, that contained this many glowing and moving elements. Everything in sight emanated with vibration, including the beings approaching to greet them.

The pair kept their cool, though Random’s face looked as though she were fully encountering the afterlife. They were met by some humans, accompanying another kind of people they had never before seen! This much could be discerned in the moving light. The other kind were amazingly similar and amazingly different, assumably the architects of this space. The two ex-military personnel felt an unexplainable guilty nervousness upon encountering these non-humans – as if they may have known all along, or ought to have.

Random and Toledo were very open to whatever they were allowed to safely learn from this experience. They caught each other barely suppressing giggles of astonishment. This was all made easier by the presence of humans in the receiving group. All together, they transferred the shipment into a moving cube, which also appeared to move in many other dimensions. It was just a cube, yet so much more. Visual information seemed to come from sources that were everywhere.

Random dared to speak to her friend. “Toledo, have you ever been to an Aquari spectropera?”

“Yes, actually,” he dared to reply. Their voices carried with surprising clarity despite an amount of background noise. They were not interrupted, but they felt observed.

“Is this like a spectropera?”

“Not at all.” They watched some crew secure and send the load in tow, gesturing with many layers of indicative moving light.

“So that’s not what I’m looking at right here?”

“Pretty sure no.” The secured cube floated serenely away.

“There is a lot of stuff going on here,” Random stated calmly. One of the elongated humanoids turned and nodded at her. The group led Random and Toledo back to their ship, which was now positioned to leave.

A human spoke. “What you have seen is real. You have no reason to be afraid. See you next time.” Random Arriba was handed an info chip, and they were clearly expected to get onboard and leave.

Once comfortably seated, Toledo Vadr turned to his friend now at her turn in the pilot’s seat, already interpreting the chip readout. “What are the orders?”

“Aww, man,” she moaned, “we’re going to toiletsville.”

“What place is that?” he asked, trying not to feel alarmed.

“Well, the official name is not toiletsville, but it’s where they make toilets. We’re going to pick up some toilets!” She made a noise of faint enthusiasm.

 

71 \ 159

Beware thee that known element loosed to unknown ends. That once bound to a purpose, now free to its own. Beware the turncoat turned, the greater danger when wounded. Beware thee pursuit, furthest reaches within reach, the unexpected recovery. Beware the unstoppable force, reflected toward what direction? Glancing from golden shields to blind the vision, beware thee.