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RECORD 2

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CW: religion, religious conflict, murder, imprisonment, mass destruction


“The dream of war faded. The people met again in the road, and the last of the sieges were dismantled. The garlands wilted in the windows; the petals fell in the gutters. She left from the port, and before the month ended, returned to the house of jade. Her poets gathered around her, there in the suites of the king. ‘For you, my fruits among stones, I bring the tongue of the wolf’, she said, and told them what had passed in her meeting with the easter general. But they acted in shock, and shouted, ‘Oh speaker! You are tired from the road. Why should we discard the speech of Eden? We would lose ourselves, and our own tongue. Look at our city, how dear she is! Yet, even in peace, the streets of her poor are marked with plague. Do not ask us to do this; we are in mourning.’ But she rose, and her expression was grave. ‘Was it not you yourselves to thrust the name majesty upon me? Should I be mind and letter, cannot word live between me? If you would speak by my side, I ask you to. But now I am not Malinali. I am Sofia, and it is in the hour of sunset that I go to them. I must know my brother to know the measure between all men.’ The poets fell into argument as she departed to confer with the king. They read what she had left for them, and at last followed her, and her steward, with the night.”


Seven-Tenths Testament, Gospel of Yayaxchun, 21:14-25


“Things should be clear by now, but We’ll get into it anyway. You are lacking, you are unaccepted, and your song finds no home within humanity’s story. Bone unset and festered, We reject you. You’ve neither refined the expression nor expanded the border, succeeding only in a perverse diminishment of a stunted dream - these creatures are so inhuman that We can but smell the smoke of Dis upon them. Can’t you? We speak of irreconcilability.


We have consulted with speaker Perrin Olkha, and per her advice are prepared to uphold the initial sentence of glorification. Staff is free to go at the discretion of Saniasa, but leadership will be returning with Us. Five years’ study in the omen’s course at Perihelion - fear not, that will be inclusive of travel time, and with no obligation of conversion. We realize this is nonetheless heavy. But Weylbloom itself is heavier still; its poor bloody ghosts and grey bloody land. Yes, let sun see this valley. Let the world you’ve put in jeopardy see it too. This nightmare has worn on, and on god We will end it. May the mind and shape of the spoken lord find mercy for all who have set foot in this place, and may your victims be remembered as the people they once were.”



Special Hearing of Weylbloom – Summary of Semiryama Qiyori Sanchez, Mikadit@ Apparent of Delphi


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Record II


relating the course of three initial interrogations, and the first suspicions to surface


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


I was a child the last time I dreamt. It was a strange time of my life. I was perhaps eight and in the care of my grandfather, who had recently retired following the death of his twin. This meant that his time was close, as well. We only spent a scant six years together, yet it seems even now to stretch across the better part of my early, vague memories. Just after the funeral, we met again.


In the dream, we sat together in a lonely tearoom open to the void. A loom lay between us; with one hand he worked the shuttle, and with the other reached towards space, plucked out a star, and drew thick, sparkling threads from it - gingerly, as one would handle a bee.


We worked together. I was learning another pattern, a common one of birds against birds – one flock in the pale gold of starlight, and the other a dim earthy orange, tessellated against the other in flight. He spoke for the whole dream, but I was so enraptured in the movements his hands made in their loops that I scarcely registered a word until I woke.


But that night, after I was visited, I dreamt again.


In fact, I remember the dream better than the night. I scarcely know how I found myself back at Umihotaru – a blur of hurling myself through the corridors until I reached the docks, spilling my story out to Anahit, Kaitei giving me something to sleep. A bruise across my entire arm from where I had landed too harshly on a wall in my haste - another thing I had not experienced since very young.


Something must have roused a long-atrophied dream-muscle: I dreamt of thick forest and bramble, of moonlight on the skin of fruit, gasping and crashing through the woods. Was it Savannah at night, or an ancient Heath? I couldn’t tell, I couldn’t think, but I could smell smoke on the wind, and feel holly pricking my legs. My skin felt like leather. I saw only the few feet in front of me, my gaze desperate for details - nothing save the veins of leaves, and the stones on the soles of my feet. It was as if every part of my body was touched at once, by all the smallest fragments of the world.


Bettany rapped hard enough to echo on the bronze bulkhead of the women’s quarters, and Anahit stretched and mumbled awake in my arms.


“Up, you two. Didion has fixed us breakfast, and I’d say you need it,” and she wandered off.


“Are you feeling well?” Anahit asked when she had gone, pawing sleep from her eyes. “Poor thing. You were shaking terribly, even asleep.”


“Better.” I helped us both out of the hammock, and we dressed. A half hour later, and I was out of the door.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The receptor offices were so little removed from the docks that much of the transport piping and railcrane lines extended to the central plazas surrounding the power complex. But aside from the familiar industrial scenery, it was clear that this area was more lived in. It was, as was all of Savannah, empty - but its facades and bustly were welcoming.


I rubbed my eyes. Perhaps they only felt close. I’d been lost in thought on my way here, the kind of worry that passes time blindly, and quick. Bettany had wasted this morning’s meeting on breakfast and recuperation, meaning that the full discussion we’d been promised would come after the workday. What a way to prepare. I felt my bruise throb under the ice adhesive.


It was beautiful here. The docks were all utility, just the barest trappings of impression via sleekness and scale, and the hotel-like zones I had visited before still rang uncanny and too-still. But here was built in softcrete, stark and elegant in the Lunic style, dotted with a few patches of garden - complete with the occasional distant, tall figure on a lunch break - and several wall-offices overlooking them. They had clearly built this place to make an impression.


Along the generously open corridor-zone, lines of statuary loomed above the rows of often-alight windows, recalling the colossae of Diadem. The receptor offices stood at the furthest point of the zone, marked by the largest statues by far - a robust Solar oman and a tall silver woman together holding a lantern aloft. Beneath them, behind the windows, a certain serpentine man waved at me from inside the room.


When I entered, he was still hooked by one foot to the backroom doors, his loose white jinbe shifting in the air. “Hi, hello? Sainshand, right?”


“Yes! Emelry Sainshand, crew’s lieutenant. I’m here for this morning’s interview. I trust you haven’t waited long?”


“Long? Whatever. Beckon Bell, but you know that,” he frowned. He stretched his nine-foot frame across the room, and held out his hands expectantly. “Your prefect said you’d be bringing the ration papers, too. I’d really like to see those first, it’s been a busy day.”


“Has it?” I obliged. “Well, I shan’t be an imposition. The first rounds will require no more than a half hour of your time.”


“Imposition, la! So if you’d been here on time, we’d have finished ages ago.” He huffed to himself, was somehow on the opposite side of the room again, and flipped through the pages so brusquely I thought he would tear them. I let him read quietly for a minute, and checked my phone. What in the world had him is such a fuss? I was precisely punctual, I had made sure of it. I prayed last night’s visit had not shaken me to the point of interfering with my sense of time!


“What… what is this?” he said at last, still reading.


“I’m sorry? You’ll excuse me, I was only asked to deliver these. These matters are outside my role.” I blinked. “And, a moment ago, did you mention you had been waiting?”


“Yes,” he said, and with one stretch of his legs was next to me again, looking over my shoulder. “Ah! What is happening? Your clock’s an hour ahead… and look at this!” He shook one of the papers in my face. “You requested barely a hundredth of what our ration has increased by... really, what? I need to talk to my people about this, can you talk to yours? I’ll be right back.”


Just as frantically, he disappeared into the backrooms with a hiss and a flash of light.


I wasted no time in calling Bettany, but there was no response. Was she really so busy, or ignoring me? I called back to the ship instead, and explained the situation to Anahit. “No... I am not sure…” she said, sine-static whining over the feed as it weakened and stabilized. “She’s still not back, but she should still have her phone.”


“That’s the least of what I’m concerned about... listen, Anahit, has anyone been having issues? I am at the receptor offices now, and there have been a few hiccups.”


“Hiccups?” Anahit pressed, instantly interested. “What, has something else strange happened?”


“Oh no, no, nothing... ‘off’. It’s just that I was late due to a sync malfunction, and they have very different paperwork here than we do. It appears to be crossed wires.”


“Well, if you say so. And I guess there’ve been a few problems, but… ah, paperwork. Didion!” she called away from the mic, “Emelry wants you... yes. Yes, yes. Alright, he says that he double-checked that one moments before you left.”


“Very well. Anahit, incidentally: your scrys, how much power can they draw?”


“Hm? Well, not much at all. We’ve set up a yet larger view today, but it’s not more intensive than one of the idle workstations.”


“I see. And the system issues you mentioned?”


“I guess our archives are running a bit slow. File transfer time’s at a few minutes, we’ve been doing a lot of that today... but I might be imagining it. Ha, wouldn’t it be a relief? When little things go wrong, it feels almost normal being here...”


I thanked her, let her know I’d be delayed in returning to the ship, and had only a moment to hang up and look out the waiting-room windows before Beckon was back.


A flash of golden, honeyed light hit the glass before me. By the time I turned to face him, the door was closed again, and the atrium was a few degrees warmer.


“Lieutenant? Any news?”


“I’ve spoken to my crew. There may be a few technical issues today, but we can assure you our copies of the forms are correct. I don’t believe there is any situation where a ship of our make would need anywhere near that level of power.”


“Right. La, well… yes, the interview. Please, if you’d come inside…”


He opened the door, and from it burst a golden, hazy light so thick that it was almost liquid. I squinted, but my eyes quickly adjusted. I smiled. “Thank you very much.”


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


The inner receptor offices were arranged in rings around the sunshaft for easy observation - why, I couldn’t imagine. Nothing was visible but the light; even from behind the feet of shieldglass it shone strong enough to sting one’s eyes. Especially mine. He selected one of many cooler and dimmer conference rooms, and showed me to my perch as a fellow lunic staff member drifted past our door, glancing in curiously. I waved politely.


Beckon was in his fifties. I’d still had a mental image of that young man in his files, the intern he was upon arrival to the skeleton of Savannah. He was not old by any means, still strong and healthy. His face was gentle, creased with soft smile-lines, and a thick braid still ran down half his length. All that truly aged him was his limbs. Even today, the gradual thinning of his species’ already-hollow bones was a fact of life, and I knew he was delicate despite his vigor. His arms were perhaps as thick as mine. I watched him bustle about a corner kitchenette.


“Is this your office?” I asked, scanning around the walls - black, cushioned marble. A watercolor portrait of a younger Coteshinoeleon was fastened to one of them, between two vases of blue tulips embedded in the wall.


“A home away from home,” he said airily. “No, it’s not my main one. Just the one I use when they call me in for the big projects, or emergencies like these. Why do you ask? Here, your tea - white berry.” “Thank you.” He passed the bag across the room and I caught it, still pleasantly hot in my hands. “Oh, the plants, and pictures, I meant. It seems relaxing.”


“My staff has taste,” he said. He finished in the kitchenette and perched across from me, clamping an orange teatray to the table between us. “Speaking of, may I offer? I still feel terrible for snapping at you… We’re all on edge from… all of this. I’m so worn out.”


“What, you as well?”


“Ha! Trouble sleeping, you mean? I figured that if anyone would be getting rest during the audit, it’d be your team.”


“I don’t mean to disappoint,” I smiled. “It’s a long way through the void, isn’t it? Tell me, sel Nine Leaves, does one ever adjust to the day cycle?”


He laughed, again - how was this the same man I had met at the door? “No, I don’t think you ever do. Gave up on trying to keep my cycles in check a long, long time ago. And please - just Beckon is fine. About time to begin, wouldn’t you say? I’ll take that now.”


“Take?”


“Your lie detector. If you would.”


“Ah! Yes, yes, of course.” I rummaged in my bag for it, and quickly found the inlaid case it resided in. I carefully undid the clasp, and lifted it from its cushion. “Here you are, it affixes to the ajna, and -” He had it on, and properly too, before I could explain - it lay like a dark jewel on his brow.


“You’re familiar with the tool.”


He gave an aching and tired smile. He was quiet for a moment, busying himself fiddling with his own bag of tea.


“Yes. Listen, now we’re on record, and I can guess what you’ll ask. So let’s talk about the name.”


The air was quiet but for the distant hum of sunlight. I met his eyes, glinting in the golden light.


“Yes. I’ll be frank, your… situation is unique. I’ve read what is available. But, ‘Pearl Wall’... those of your husband’s family are not commonly seen outside the capital.”


“Very reasonable,” he assured me. “I mean, what are these ex-HR guys doing out here? But please don’t worry. We’ll explain everything, you’ll always have complete cooperation.”


“It’s been hard not to wonder. Then, tell me what you’d have us believe.”


“Well, what do you know? You said ‘what’s available’, but I imagine we’re working with different sources.”


“That it happened a long time ago.” I fanned my tea. “And that the Board has no love left for you. They are guarded about their private affairs, and bear the power to keep them guarded - not so, for most others. I’ve never suspected you, sel Nine Leaves, of anything - I only hoped you’d be forthcoming about what your exilors want to hide of you.”


He grinned at that. “Well, alright. I won’t disappoint you. But first, while we’re talking about the name… Sever does still keep the name on all his paperwork here, you’ve probably read it. It’s out of pride, and when you speak to him you’d better call him by it. But you understand, by Hightower law at least, we don’t have the right. As far as they’re concerned, we’re both a ‘cal Savannah’ - I don’t know how much that means to you.”


“An emphatic disownment. Certainly a strong, and dramatic gesture.”


“The Board is dramatic, and Pearl Wall perhaps the most so of its families. It… look, you know this, it is a bad place filled with bad people. And his sister has always been especially unstable. They were never close. He was close to their mother, but Cure was… sorry, let me think.”


“It’s quite alright. Take your time.”


“La, don’t mistake this for emotion! It’s been a very long time. I’m only trying to pick the right words to describe her in the first place. Feather Cure is one of those people whose entire mind is nothing but ruthless political instinct, you understand? She killed their mother outright, for a quicker inheritance of her seat on the Board. Officially, it was old age, but these set-family circles… everyone knew. Everyone. But only Sever had the courage or care to bring it to the Novarian courts, and you can guess how that went.”


“Ah. And this was before Mountain Rain took office, correct?”


“Yes. Shale Heart was still Chair, it was another few years before she retired. For as long as the Board was hers, there was this whole… climate of vitriolic misandry. Especially bad in the courts, and this with Sever! He’s always been an eccentric, and it’s easy for people to twist that. But oh, he argued wonderfully silver. When the trial was over, and she was exonerated, Cure went on a purge. Anyone close to Sever, from their own family or from any of their vassal houses - like mine - was done away with. No more deaths, but some jailings, and a few bad months before Cote made the offer and we caught a liner. And that, lieutenant, is the story.”


I finished my current round of notes. “Hightower maintains jails?”


“Quietly. There’s always been one in Dear Diadem, and I believe a Near Victory one opened, too. Nothing in Needle, if you’re worried. Listen, could I ask you a favor?”


“I will hear it, but –“


“Would you be kind with him, when you two do speak? At least give him warning, if you can. I don’t think he’ll handle your meeting well.”


“Why not?”


“Well, he is eccentric, after all. Strong opinions. But moreso,” he tapped his forehead and smiled, “these. You understand? Leaving Lune was not easy. You’re right to be suspicious of human resources. The neotenes they employ aren’t quite as gentle as your law crews when they have questions to ask.”


“As we are well aware…” I gave my own tired smile. “But I can commit to that. Thank you for sharing this.”


“Of course! But, let’s get out of this gloom a bit, I assume that’s what you came for. Any other, happier questions for me? Looks like time will be coming up soon.”


He was right, we’d been talking for over twenty minutes. I took a deep breath. “I can do that. I’ve been curious, Beckon: where do you live? I’ve seen so little of this habitat. So much of it seems entirely unused, so I have wondered where your staff spend their lives.”


“Ah, don’t be too surprised. This is a Triactis installation in the end, so children weren’t in the contract for any of us - even the incubators here are emergency-only. Not the best conditions for a true city forming. But one will, one will in time - we built it empty, but it won’t stay that way.”


“How involved were you, during the construction process?”


He chuckled. “Not very. By the time we arrive they were done with initial construction. It didn’t mean much. The core hull is still Triactis-made, with help from the major outer cities. La, however it was made, it looked cobbled-together when we got here. Sever was technically brought in for the design process alone, but we ended up having to cover for a lot of earlier mistakes. It’s a shame that Savannah isn’t Hightower-quality,” he said, “but it wouldn’t exist if it was.”


“And you were involved in this repair?”


“Try ‘revision’. I was just a normal staff member then, but I suppose I came up on it. Oh, but you asked about housing - we live further down the cap, at the level where lunic gravity sets in. Very convenient. There’s a little community down there; can’t be more than a few blocks cube, but still homey. That’s just kind of how things are here. Hell, most of the heathlings here live on the landscape itself.” “Oh? That’s quite the news to me.”


“Ha! You mean Anyndel isn’t showing off the valleys in his brochure? But they’re so picturesque! He has no eye for the manmade elements of his own vistas! Oh well, I’ll find my own picture.” He scrolled through his phone, and mine pinged. He’d sent me a photo - a few buildings on top of the ground that heavily resembled the caps’ design ethos, but more used and handmade. A greenhouse here, a warehouse there, a clock tower. Behind and above them all, stretching far beyond view, was the sheer flat cliff of the cap, painted in orange, yellow, green stripes - each as broad as Umihotaru - running from the surface of the landscape to where we were now.


“Isn’t it something? Just wait til you see it in person, la. These days, it’s about all that can make me miss the highlands.”


“Fascinating. I was under the impression the surface was pristine.”


“Well, most of it is. The valleys are the only exception, but it’s never been my field. Hm… I heard a rumor. Dr. Savelyevna is on your list, no?”


I sharply turned my eyes back to him. “Actually, we’ve already had chance to meet.”


He scoffed, still genial. “Here I was thinking I was your first interview.”


“Oh, don’t mistake me, you are. It was chance. I unfortunately haven’t had the pleasure of speaking to her at length…” Which she had certainly made sure of.


“You got a little lucky. She doesn’t usually make it all the way up here, usually too busy with her… whatever she’s up to in town. These days.”


“I’m sorry, on the landscape itself? Not that same town?” I asked. So, try to scare me off from your territory, Savelyevna? Part of me wished I hadn’t met her so soon.


“Yes, why do you think I’ve shown you?” He drummed his fingers against the table. “They all moved down a few years ago. Haven’t worked directly with her since, whatever she’s doing now… but, la, would you look here! I believe that’s all for our time,” he said, with a cheer that made it clear - politely, but firmly - that we were done.


I held the door for him as we left, and the still air of the conference room seeped out with us. There was a constant crackling buzz when next to the shaft that made it feel as if we were breathing cotton dust. Even then, it was supernaturally quiet.


Our Umihotaru’s sunbeam receptor is a simple thing. It is one of Kaitei’s less demanding everyday tasks, requiring only occasional cleaning and realignments - you could even thrust your hand into it, and not burn lest you hold there more than a minute. But here… the scale was incomparable. Several stories of receptor, the attendant offices, the quarter-mile-wide hole that was Savannah’s ultimate central power source. A river of photons packed so thick that it banished the void.


Beckon’s full hand was on the glass. We perched at the railing alongside the window as that mighty river of hyperconcentrated sunlight flowed and flowed mere feet from us, and glowed its heavy gold even through the tempered, barely-transparent panels. By any other light but the true light, they would be black.


“It is a sight.”


“You never get used to this, either.” The sunlight danced in his eyes.


“It is as if I can feel it.”


“It’s spectacular. Not even an hour ago, this light was still inside the sun. Every time I come in, it’s like living a whole day-week at once. It’s a special place. Lieutenant…” He was just a touch embarrassed, and spoke slowly. “Silly. But it’s not every day I meet a haruspex. Would you consider saying a few words here?”


My face was warm. I nodded, quietly, and let my mind slip from the perspective of a mere lieutenant - here was a man just as I. We closed our eyes and entered the bright red of sun and blood. What was appropriate? Anahit had begun with Sofia, so perhaps an adjacent topic from the seventh? Her steward, I recalled, was once an exile himself. I took a last hazy breath. “O beloved soldier, in world without His sheep


Where is your king tonight? Where is it that he weeps? …”


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Someone waited for me, again. Kuryo Redname drifted before Umihotaru, and was so different from the portraits in her file that I scarcely recognized her. But who else could it be? She was the only one of our kind to live here, as far as the personnel rosters were concerned… but even then, only her size betrayed her heritage. She was also older than I had expected, she had been listed as twenty. But she looked to be a decade or so older than myself - liver spots peppering her face and arms, and her all-but-matted hair a foot long. It was impossible that she was twenty. These thoughts lasted only a few seconds before being drowned out by the smell.


Savannah’s air remained nauseating. This was different. It was not that now-familiar organic mildew, strange for the fact that it clearly stemmed from life, but death. Real death, an old rot - from the sparrow skull bobbing around on her necklace? The silver clasp that fastened it there glinted in the light, hooking through the eye sockets.


She stank of death. A real and old rot. A sparrow skull hung by a silver claw to her necklace. I had expected her to be strange, and she was more than that.


“Miss Redname?”


She spun in the air, startled by the sound of my voice. Her face lit up when she found me, and wasted no time in kicking her way back to the wall I was perched on.


“Yes! And you’re the lieutenant!”


“We had scheduled this meeting for your office, no? Shall we make our way there together?”


“Oh no, let’s just have it here and save ourselves the time. I wanted to see your ship, it’s beautiful! It’s a newer one, right? I’ve never seen a design like that.”


“I don’t believe that will be possible.” I couldn’t in good conscience let any of the staff stumble on just how elaborate the scrys had become. It was not the right time.


“You don’t have a spare room in there somewhere?”


“I’m afraid not. You’ll find it’s only personal quarters and workrooms, unless you’d be comfortable in cold storage.” I gave her a strained smile. “But you’ve a good eye. We’re quite proud of him. A commissioned ship, not two years from the Saniasa homewrights.”


“Wow,” she said, turning back to admire the light on its gold and ceramic. “Beautiful. Well, sometime then.”


She continued to stare. “Would you wait here a moment? I’ll consult. We may have some cranny available.”


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


I whipped my hood off. “Do you know why she is here? Anahit, I could not tell you what is happening. These past few hours…”


“She’s still here? I saw her on the monitors but didn’t dare respond! I thought she’d left… Does she mean to stake us out?” she said, jolting from the geometry of the still-manifested scry. Her forearms were dyed blue, so long had they been drenched in its waters.


“She’s waiting outside, and is worryingly enthusiastic about a tour of the ship.” Anahit laughed high and bitter at that. “No issue with using only the airlock?”


She quieted and her face turned stony. “Emelry. You know that’s unacceptable. It’s our second day, and all… this.” She gestured erratically at the mess of wires, diodes, dyes, beads, snaking in and out of the scry. Its cylinder of water had even grown, now mere feet away from the closest shelves. “No one can see this, and her least of all. She could operate it, and half the theologic equipment we have! No.”


“Judging by her manner, she’d grow suspicious should we turn her away outright. And I doubt she’s had training for any of it. Remember where she is from.”


“I remember. Do you? You will not be speaking with another mere colorful foreigner.”


“I understand.”


“She is an apostate. She is outside. Abstellarism is not a dead tradition.”


“I understand.” I let a touch of weakness into my voice. “Anahit, I don’t want to have to argue with her. Please?”


She studied my face in that piercing way she sometimes had. “If you use the airlock, Bettany will pass by the both of you upon her return.”


“Only half an hour.”


“... Oh, fine. But you must clean it out yourself.” She smiled. “Go on then, back to work. Make her take us seriously - and be careful.”


On the way out, I dipped into my medicine box and downed nearly a handful of antiolfactants, and rewrapped my hood tight. I noticed the fabric had a spot of blue on it. A stray drop of dye must have found me, and bled in.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ “I’m sorry I will not be able to welcome you properly, miss Redname. Are you comfortable here?”


“Oh, more than!” She broke away from where she had been examining the filigree around the windows, and drifted across the room to me. I didn’t smell a thing. “But if you’re ready, I am.”


“Very well. Now, if you would, simply affix this to your forehead, at the ajna...”


She accepted it and complied after turning it over in her hands squinting from all directions. “So silly. Where are we starting?”


“Why, I believe we can begin with lighter fare. I couldn’t help but notice a few reports you authored, attached to your file. Your Triactic is quite fluent. Which languages do you speak, miss Redname?”


“La, but a few,” she answered, switching languages entirely. “Are you surprised? It’s become a hobby of mine. Do you want to switch to Ilian?”


“I’m comfortable in either, though… not quite so in Novarian. Whatever you’d find easiest.”


“Anything you say,” she responded, returning to the Akkadu she first spoke to me in. She had an easy and lyrical dialect, perfectly understandable but also unlike anything I’d heard. Whatever it was, it was also unlike last night’s feverish rasping. “But you really don't have to accommodate me like that.”


“Very well,” I said. “Then, I will try again, with the most pressing question. How did you find employment here, of all places??”


“I mean, that’s kinda my whole deal, right? It was a pretty big event when I first got here, I’m sure you’ve read the stories on it. After all the stuff went down with my hometown I ended up here, had the right skills for the job. I’m a quick learner, and used to keeping up the back and forths. How did you get this job?”


“I’m sorry?”


“What’s your story? You’re a total rookie, I wasn’t able to find much on you.”


“Oh? I’m glad you prepared for the arrival. What did you manage to read?”


She laughed high and warm. “I mean, all I could! Wouldn’t you? The academies have definitely gotten better on transparency. But seriously, tell me a little bit about how you ended up on this fancy boat of yours.”


“As anyone does. My mother and grandfather were both liaisons, so it was an easy route to my own role. It’s a good life. I like to think treading the same path lets me know both of them better, a sort of loose heritage. School led me naturally to the academy, and I was honored with a challenging first assignment. Does that satisfy you?”


“Juicy.” She stared at me smiling, her eyes a purple just a shade darker than mine. “Good answer.”


“Yes, I hope that cuts to the heart of it. I mean to do the same. Let’s please not spend too much time with me - I’ll clarify my question. Why did you end up here, rather than Ilion, or any other Triactan habitat? A strange woman in a strange place,” I said, narrowing my eye, “and from an even stranger one.”


The warmth fell out of her smile. “Well, like I said, I’m sure you’ve seen the news clippings. I don’t think I’d have much to say besides what they would.”


“On the contrary, miss Redname. Your view of the matter is precisely why I’ve selected you as an interview candidate. You must understand that an abstellar background appears suspicious when on audit, no? I’d like you to dispel of my concerns, if you’d mind.”


Her eyes turned cold. “I just told you I don’t have much to say. They blew up my hometown with a giant laser, and the folks here still wanted to take me in.”


“Yes, but it was your life before the colony’s glorification that I – “


“Oh come on, you’re calling it that too? I was hoping you’d at least be honest about it.”


“What? You’ll have to excuse me for following the facts. Director of sales is rather above your station, and by the nature of your position, of course there will be questions. You’ve very few references to follow.“


“What references do you want me to have? Given the whole giant laser situation. I’ve told you.” She picked at the lie detector on her forehead. “I interview pretty well. I have a good skillset, I’m proud of it, and I have to take employment where I can. That’s what you’re leading to.”


“Skillset.” I let my eyes drift across her frame. Still the mess of tangled necklaces, skull included, still the shawl she clutched around her shoulders – a familiar print, in fact. It was the same tessellated bird pattern that I had dreamt of.


“Pretty good work on it, right?” she asked, noticing I was staring. She stretched out the cloth, “Handmade. One of the first things I made during reintegration. What, did you think it was stolen?”


I sighed. I’d make no progress here. “Please, that couldn’t be further from my mind. I only couldn’t help noticing the ultraviolet dye – seems I’ve been seeing a lot of it here.”


She beamed, stretching out from where she was perched. “Good eye, good eye. Some lunic thing, a virile energy attached to it, ask them about it. It’s one of my favorites.”


“Hm.”


“Oh, and this. Here,” she gestured to her loose, clashing hood, a much simpler yabane piece in gold and white. “This one was stolen, though. Martinsburg, we lived there a year and a half. I was a kid then, the host mom I got assigned made that and I kept it when we left. She also volunteered as my reintegrator.”


“It must be dear to you.”


“It was. Is. So I’d really like if you stopped trying to pin the crazy pirate thing on me.”


“And I’d prefer if you’d stop playing games with me, miss Redname. Do, do you think I will fall for the scatterbrained teenager act? The changelings may not be able to tell, but I assure you I can. You are twice the age claimed in your files, now I don’t know if it is a survival strategy, but it will not work among your own kind.”


“Ok, so it's obvious.” She matched my own frustration, shifting into a harsh voice that I’d not heard from her. “But I know you still won’t listen. First you start throwing ‘abstellar’ around like we’re a cult, now you’re coming up with some piracy narrative?”


“Narrative? I should think -”


“Well you’re not thinking. If it was theft, why did none of the habitats we sheltered with report us? We were a legitimate settlement, legitimate traders, of legitimate old-Ilian stock, and we should have ended up in a museum. I don’t care. What happened was the same political maneuvering it always is, and you either know it or are it.”


“Political?” I asked, incredulous. “Your ‘legitimate settlement’ was established by fanatic abstellars, and found the violence that they ultimately sought.”


“Let’s not talk about my home like that, okay? Like, I get your position. But not to my face, at least.” She brushed her loose tresses of hair back, only for them to drift right back.


I scoffed. “You’re still calling it a home. You do realize why the glorification happened? This is not a matter of differences of opinion, or even of dogma. You have only ever lived in a sword.”


“You sound so, so, so deranged. Is it not the classic Delphic playbook to snuff out anything that challenges its monopoly?” One-many…? I’d never heard the word before, was it a colloquialism for the world outside her old vessel? “The drive gave us ten times what a sun link could have, it let us thrive rather than just live.”


“Ah, the idol that exceeded a full billionth of the sun’s power.”


“We were generations away from the cult stuff, alright? There’d be proof of that, if any of it was allowed to survive. There is nothing wrong or unnatural about what we had. A minor, old-model fission unit?


“I assumed the position you’ve reached would have required an understanding of at least the heart of it, on your part. You clung to a failed star, and it pulled you far astray, with daily risk of eternal tragedy. Any society would crumble without sunlight, and any society would be poisoned by that thing.”


She answered too-quickly. “I’m grateful to the changelings, and all the neotenes that helped me adjust. I’m where I’m most comfortable.”


“Hm.”


She looked at me. “And the farthest I can be from people like you.”


“From the ecumene?”


She stifled a laugh. “What the hell does the world order have to do with me? I’ve only been talking about Delphi and its sycophants. We weren’t allowed that billionth, you know, what could we do? ‘Irreconcilable differences’, decades removed, and suddenly the right to light doesn’t apply to us? Petty bureaucrat blood feud, and here you are upholding it. You call me childish, but who’s the one clinging to the skirts of a mommy who doesn’t love them? I know who you are. Don’t think I don’t know my history, empire is always empire.”


I could only stare. She had devolved to pure, bizarre raving. “Empire? Just what do you think the Ecumene is?”


“Can we just call it here? Why do you think I’m here? We’re talking in circles.”


“Yes, since your stance is nonsense. Take that off.”


“What?”


“Take that off, I said. This interview is over. “ She complied, but I saw worry cloud her face.


“You heard enough?”


“I can no longer adhere to the duties of my role. This is your home’s crime, difficult to internalize though it may be: reinvention of the wheel. Kuryo Redname, listen to me, I speak now not as a lieutenant but as a priest of the Ecumene, and as a fellow neotene. Do you think energy is a commodity, to be bartered for and hoarded? Do you think the cold of night to be one of poverty? The dark leads down, ever lesser and lesser, for the nature of Hell is entropy. Sunlight is not a privilege. It is not a physical thing – it is the legacy of humanity, all the lessons it has learned, and all the age it has attained. Here you are, vagabond, on the brink of war! Your parents’ parents cut themselves away from the Ecumene because they, like you, thought it old and decrepit, rigid and stifling, no? What have you found out there that is so meaningful? The freedom to drift, the thrill of starvation? The beauty of dust and dark, and the same stars we see? Yet always, always shackled to the Hell of the void. You are unanchored, faithless, and you have returned for a reason.”


She glared at me, off balance. “You’re so hopeless. What book are you reading from?


“This is not about supplies, or ways of life. The Ecumene is wide enough for all. This is about literature, and the human project. Your only crime is that you have not heard the story-song of man, and it pains me to know this. Kuryo –“ I clasped her hand in mine – “I am sorry to have judged you so quickly. I had great suspicions of you, but you confirmed others. I mean it now, that any welcome you have found upon Savannah you may have doubled in the ships of Ilion. I have little left to ask you. Our scribe will request paperwork of shipping records and contract history, on business, and I will see to it that our speaker counsel you personally in the word, should you ever desire. But for now, I have no questions left. The interview is over. We can progress no further.”


She blinked at me. I hoped she knew that I had meant it. “That’s it?”


I smiled. “Yes. ”


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Kuryo left without goodbye. There was little to say. Once I ushered her out, we were done with each other, and she stole away from the docks the way she had come. I returned indoors, to find a quiet place for myself. The womens’ quarters gave a beautiful view of the stars turning, and I needed it in the few minutes remaining.


“Emelry, is that you? Has she gone?” Anahit called from the library. Perhaps I hoped too much. “Bring us a towel, would you?”


The tangle of accessories covered yet more of the cylinder, like steadily-growing vines. I darted off to the dining area and passed the towel to her across the room. “Here you are, catch. Still more views to collect?”


“Thank you.” She dried her arms briskly, deeply pruned from so much time in the water. “Ow. Yes, yes, we’re perhaps halfway. But well enough for the debrief.”


“Distract us a little, Sainshand,” Kaitei spoke up, sliding out from behind the water. I hadn’t known he was in the room. “We’re just passing time before the others return. Anything to share?”


I wasn’t of a mood to entertain. “That water is too close to the paper books. I hope you have it under control.”


“Oh don’t fret, clean-up is simple.” She briskly dried her hands. “But tell us! What manner of man was this Beckon Bell? And, God, the creature too.”


“They were both quite interesting, though I’d mark them both unlikely to be involved in the irregularities. Each of them took pains to be forthcoming, in their own way.”


“Any pings?” Anahit asked hopefully.


“Truthful the whole way. I apologize if you were expecting otherwise.”


Anahit snorted. “Heh. Fooled so easily, by a man with that name? We really should upgrade these things, they’re likely two generations out of date..”


I folded my arms and snapped at her. “Gold is an earnest gender, Anahit. He has kept up the presentation for decades, far as we are from Lune, and it’s safe to assume it’s legitimate. I trust him. And I don’t know where to begin with Kuryo, I… I was hoping…”


The doors rumbled opened again; Bettany and Henarl finally returned. They stole away to the back offices, and quietly, we ceased the chatter and prepared the library for the meeting. Didion distributed lunch to the crew, but I had no appetite. By the time I could sit still long enough to eat, I knew it would be cold already.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


The air systems hummed. It was cold. Their dock technicians linked our ventilation with Savannah’s over the morn, and if it was not for the twinge of soil in the air it would have felt as if we were on the voyage again. I looked up, and they all were looking at me.


The scry hung in the center of the room still, rippling in the breeze.


Bettany squeezed all her coffee down in one drink. She broke the silence, framed in her central seat before the library windows. “Didion, start our minutes. Welcome back, all, good afternoon… First crew hearing of Savannah: arguments for the declaration of a hostile audit. We’ll keep it short. Speaker, lieutenant, walk us through it. What are we dealing with?


Anahit cleared her throat, and twitched her shoulders - she was nervous. “Upon our arrival, I conducted initial reads of Savannah’s leysphere. They were worrying. All readings thus far suggest over one million souls living among the landscape of Savannah, contrary to all materials we have been provided by the staff, and greatly resembling the decayed soul signatures recorded at Weylbloom. Before further study could be made, and not – not even thirty hours into our landing! The quarters provided to our lieutenant were...”


“Contacted,” I finished. “A drone appeared outside the windows. It was dark, I saw nothing, but it played a recording addressed to me. Specifically me; it knew to address me as lieutenant, but the recording... was in broken Akkadu. A clumsy text-to-speech device with a loose grasp on even basic language. Anahit’s hypothesis may seem farfetched, but it was baffling.”


“Recordings of the message and Lyly’s first reads should be in the dossier by now, everyone feel free to look over them both,” Bettany said. “Is there any possibility of this drone simply originating from the staff? What is the theory here?”


“It is a matter of souls, prefect,” Anahit said. “Kaitei? Shall we begin?”


He fiddled with the mountains of equipment. Before us, the water of the scry began to shake - a dull vibration passed across is surface. “I have spent the day in captures,” Anahit said. “We’ve refined our queries, and have a more complete dataset. Moving forward, I submit that... the changelings are meddlers. It is their nature and project, no matter what may be said in contract. Have they bred out a new species of dark-hearted men? Have they dragged a horde of unlucky dead from the neighbor-planes? It is terrible. Whatever it is, it is terrible. I can only hope I am proven wrong, but if you ask me what is happening, this is all I can say. Engineer, could we shift to second pattern?”


Kaitei nodded, and drifted to the other end of the scry’s cylinder. He fiddled with a string of prayer beads clinging to the water’s surface, and soon the surface rippled stronger, in strange alternating waves - it spiked inwards, reforming the surface into a relief of Savannah’s hills and valleys. Nestled in the deepest of these indents, the water began to boil.


“We’ve managed to define a few major clusters,” Kaitei said. “If we are looking for souls, population centers, towns and such, are our best option. You can see how clearly they manifest.”


“They could even be graveyards - the ley is very light, much sparser than in any standard-sized habitat, and results are vague..” Anahit said distastefully, shielding her chest with her arms. “But we have pinpointed several lines. Three interwoven ones, running along the spine, largely related to spirits of the rotation and weather. But, on the landscape proper, most ley is concentrated along this of the three rivers.” She ran her finger along a meander running from the cap to a large lake far into the center of the landscape. “As you can see, every ‘village’ cluster articulated here falls along the single river. This is all we can tell.”


Bettany nodded. “I had been hoping for feed footage. It’s a bit hard to swallow that these little clusters could hold millions.”


“We’re still filling this out, prefect,” Anahit said. “But the numbers don’t lie. Something is producing these readings, and I do not know anything but a soul that could.”


“We are very distant, the air warps any capture,” Kaitei said, clearing his throat. “We ran into several false positives for settlement: beaver dams, wicker-bird nests, old scrap that seems leftover from construction accidents. We’ve given up on visuals until we can be closer and more accurate… the sheer volume of air makes observation even as far as the first lake impossible.”


“They cannot be invisible,” I said. “I’d like to send out a communications drone directly from the landscape. A physical visit will give us a set of real eyes on the ground.”


Bettany frowned. “How can we find a way to do so while avoiding staff attention? I don’t like the idea of any of us down there.”


“Lyly…” Henarl broke in, “I’ve always known you as sensible. This is an unbelievable story, but I’d like to be serious about it. It is dangerous here.. I’d prefer a level of contingency, and eyes on this besides ours.”


“Yes,” Bettany said, “we should begin considering a diocesal report. I think there’s enough here.”


“Prefect, I mean to contact the See.”


Anahit leaned over and gingerly touched his arm. “Henarl, please. Let’s not say such things.”


He brushed her off, “Why not? Lyly, you yourself have cited Weylbloom, and this… situation’s resemblance to so much that happened there. It was Weybloom that established ‘human import’ – if an audit uncovers matters directly pertaining to the state of the species, it becomes Delphic jurisdiction. As liaison, I say it’s necessary, should all this be correct.”


“We cannot call on high while still knowing so little, Henarl. We don’t know what’s right,” I said. “You’re rash in even calling it dangerous. These happenings only make completing our work the more necessary, not that we abandon it entirely and leave it all to the hammer.”


“Not dangerous?” he shot back. “Sainshand, you could have been killed mere hours ago.”


“Killed? I hardly take it as that sort of threat. Only the potential fall could have hurt me; the voices spoke nothing of threats, and the glass was not even scratched.”


“And I’d call few things more threatening than that,” he said. “You were inconsolable. We know nothing of these maybe-men. Perhaps they know nothing of us, and nothing of our protections. If they are watching us enough to know even our roles, should we not show our hand?”


“Enough,” Bettany said with a wave of her hand. “You know that is rash, Henarl.” He balked immediately. The two rarely disagreed. “We know nothing of what exists, or does not. We will talk of broader action once we understand what is happening – and nothing before the public hearing, at least. With incontrovertible evidence, we will send a report to the corps offices, and proceed from there. But this is too early. Everyone - we will need more, so let’s get it.”


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Bettany was waiting for me in the airlock. She still wore her formalwear but for her scarf, having never redressed upon returning. Her clothing was rumpled, and her eyes tired. She moved slowly and heavily, but her voice was sharp.


“Emelry. Let’s talk, you and I.”


“I’m in a rush,” I said. My heart fell, she looked skeptical, and I was far too drawn to stand up to her just yet. “Dr. Savelyevna is departing for the landscape, and I mean to catch her before she is gone. I suspect she misled me, when we first met, and I need answers.”


“Ah, yes. Did you filter for eugeneticists, while first assessing the staff rosters?”


I winced. “...No, no I hadn’t. That does make easy sense, after what we’ve now learned. I should have.”


“No matter. How could you know? But the doctor did come up. She never made a career of it, but it could be good to know before your… big confrontation!” She mock-grinned, dressing the phrase up. “Or, you know, the actual interview.”


“Did she.” This was not out of the ordinary, but her resume made no mention of it. “Thank you.”


“And Emelry,” she continued, “be honest with me. How have your talks gone? The other two from today.”


I couldn’t remember the last time we’d talked at such length. “I… am satisfied. These are only the preliminary rounds. They were enlightening, but not yet in matters of our case. You will be interested in miss Redname, she -”


“I meant, have you handled them well. I can see you’ve been shaken. You can take a few days rest, you know. None of us would begrudge it. You do know that?” She could not let a conversation without patronizing. “We would ill afford that. I’m more than ready.”


“Maybe. It could be the opposite,” she said. Everyone loved staring at me, today.. “Continue the paperwork side of your role, take a break for a new round of research. We could say you are ill, make them worry a little at what it means. You are all pushing for faster, faster, but we could use some time to think. No?”


“No. Don’t make me so fragile, prefect. You know I do not do well with lying.”


She smiled, the first one I had seen from the crew the whole day. “Lying! I’d never suggest it. But I won’t stop you from overwork… but I will say this. If you are truly committed: soften yourself. Ingratiate. Play the frail lost child, and stop your tongue from sharpening further than it is.”


“I told you, that does not sit well with me.”


She kicked over to the wall I rested on, and looked at me from beside me. “Listen. But when they look at us, they will see one of two things: a cloistered pencil-pusher, or a little monster with quick hands and strange eyes. We don’t have a welcome to outstay, Emelry. We’ll make the time count?”


I sighed, and collected myself.


“I would love to rest. In honesty, the Redname interview was harrowing. She is much further gone than I had imagined. The things she said to me… I am still struggling to even understand them. She was quite angry, but… never hostile.” I met her eyes, clear and straight. “And I was expecting interviews to be hard on me. It is part of the training, and I’m here for a reason. If Henarl is right about the worst case, it is all the more reason not to sit and idle - you know that. We can’t afford my absence just yet, and I don’t think we have the luxury of playing mind games. I understand what you’re saying, and I’ll do what I can, but please do not ask your theatrics of me.”


Her strangely light eyes held mine. “I can live with that,” she said flatly.


I fidgeted, adjusting my hood. “The train will be preparing to depart…”


“Why, look who’s aiming for the vitals,” she joked, leaving her perch and drifting back to the opposite wall, tossing her hair and moving to the next line of questioning. “Emelry, if you were to hypothetically visit the landscape, would it not be reasonable to make the visit on a litter?”


“Of course.” My stomach twisted. “You couldn’t dream of sending any of us without one.”


She smiled. “Excellent. Anyone could see how reasonable it is, precisely. Yuu has checked out a small fleet of observation drones from the reserve that would fit flawlessly in one.”


“But you wouldn’t mean to send me.”


“I think you have the best excuse of all of us. Pester Savelyevna to take you.”


“What! I couldn’t do that. I can see the utility of a visit, but it’s you that has conditioned herself for it.”


“But I lack the authority. Well, I don’t lack it strictly speaking,” she said as if it had occurred to her for the first time. “I know I’m in charge, and that Henarl should be the public face, but it will be you that spends the most time with those most significant to all of us. It will matter most, if it's you.”


“You’ve spent most of your time here in the executive suites, of course. It must be a joy.”


“That’s true,” she said. Why was she having such fun with this conversation? “And, you’ll thank me for it, when you join me there tomorrow. I’m pleased to report that dear Anyndel really is the airhead he seems, and I’ve quite a few details on the leadership that you’ll appreciate… now, will you ask me nicely?”


Unfortunately, I did.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


It was half an hour before the train was scheduled to depart, and the station was empty. I traipsed across the suddenly-present floor - Beckon had mentioned this. The station was far enough out from the cap’s center than a just-lighter-than-lunic gravity had established as the lower zones gave way to distinct stories. With my luck, I wouldn’t be surprised to cross his path. I kept moving, keeping in the air as best I could. My mind was afever. I rubbed my bruise until it hurt, replaying what Bettany had told me, trying to make sense of it.. Thank God, thank God for granting me the insight to plan my approach as I had. Unimaginable that at one point during the voyage, I had thought to begin with the highest leadership. In fact, I was also regretting turning down a week’s vacation - tomorrow would make today look like one. Already I was dreading this brunch of hers.


It was empty in the waiting area, and largely empty in the train - aside from Razina’s head rising from the seatbacks. I sat across from her.


She spilled her coffee. “Lieutenant!”


“Hello. Only a three-hour ride, is it? You never mentioned you lived on the surface.”


“Why are you here? We barely spoke, I didn’t... what is this?”


I placed my lie detector on the table between us, with a short slow bounce. “I’m here to ask some questions now.”


She covered her face. “Miss Sainshand... I don’t... this is really, really out of order. You know you can’t target me like this.”


“Targeting? I was simply hoping to catch you while I could, doctor. It seems you’ll be away for… how long is it?”


“Scheduling... look, we’re pulling out in twenty minutes. Can we please...?”


“They will hold it for me as long as I ask.” I crossed my legs. “I realize you’re apprehensive of me. I understand. But can you understand how all this evasiveness must read to me? Curiosity and perception are the tools I rely on, and you are making yourself more and more interesting.” I did not break eye contact.


She glared at me longer, but slid herself just forward enough to take the detector. “Alright,” she said, making a show of applying it properly. “Alright, if you’re this set on getting it over with.”


“Why did you lie to me about the train?”


She scoffed. “It’s not a lie to discourage you.”


“The trips don’t take a full day.”


“They’re scheduled for once a day.”


I crossed my legs and leaned forward. “That means nothing to me


“You need to stop lashing out like this. I mean it.” She shifted forward in her seat as well, and jabbed her finger at me as she spoke “Neotenes are just not built for what you’re trying to do, I don’t care how many stretches you’ve been doing. It’s not healthy, it’s not a good idea, and if you’re that set on being shown around then I can arrange a drone tour or something. I’m saying this for your health.”


She was not exactly wrong. Why did it suddenly feel so urgent to be there, when I had been terrified of the idea? I turned my phone over in my hands, even this trace level of gravity twisting it bizarrely. Was this a childish spite? Did something in me want to confront my assailant?


“You’ve a background in eugenetics. That was not reflected in your resume.”


“I’m not putting the least prestigious of my, I assure you, many degrees on a resume. And you should already know it’s pretty standard for anyone in practical biology to study eugenetics; the human genomes are an easy and familiar baseline.”


“So you wouldn’t call yourself an expert?”


“I’m versed enough to tell it like it is. Look, it’s mostly a history degree, plus a little bit of insurance. You’ve seen the staff, modifications will always be a decent living out here. Is there a reason you’re bringing this up?”


“Only your comments on my kind. We’ll disagree here. Thank you for your concern, Dr. Savelyevna, but I will be visiting shortly.”


“Do whatever you want. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you when those bruises get worse.”


Without pausing, I asked, “I’d like to know why you make your home in the interior. I have had no indication of any inhabitation, until learning of this. Is it not a reserve?” She laughed joylessly under her breath, and spoke steadily, as if explaining to a child. “Alright. There are three main settlements. They are located at the foot of the caps, leftovers from the construction phases when materials were being brought in via them. Since then they’ve each grown to be a small outpost, and are each a mouth of one of the three rivers. They house our water filtration systems, our greenhouses and testbeds. You’ll hear them referred to as valleys.”


“A water processing center hardly seems to suit your skillset,” I hazarded.


“You sure know a lot,” she said, still subdued, and took a deep breath. “But fine, here. I know you’ll tear me apart anyway. I’ve lived here a long time, and I like to live places that remind me of home. Nowadays I’ve left most of the official duties of my job to my subordinates, and spend most days small-time farming. I call it research. I’m a half-retired consultant, lieutenant, and y’know I hate to admit that? You’re in the middle of this huge enduring archive of the project as a whole, and you’ve caught me at the point where I matter least. Now I’ve told you everything, and once you read this thing you’ll stop the farce. If you call me a liar again, I’m walking out.”


I couldn’t do anything to stop my face from burning. “I-I see. I suppose I’ve been forward, doctor. It has been… strange, to be here, and see things. Thank you for your forthrightness.” “That’s fine.” She at last let herself rest in her seat again. “I get it. This is your first job?”


“The crew’s first. Save for our engineer.”


“Hm. I get it. I’m sorry too, I know I’ve been shying away. I was being suspicious, and here we are.”


“I won’t trouble you too much further. The first rounds are limited to thirty minutes. I’ll only ask one more thing, and that you answer it as best you can. Is that acceptable?”


She shrugged. “Sure.”


“How did you come to your current role? Let’s have a proper introduction - tell me about why you’ve ended up here, on the fringes of the world. Why have you chosen Savannah to give your efforts to? Most of your career was spent in the inner system.”


“I was traveling so much then. I was working as a minor analyst all across the canopy, mostly in independent habs that had let their Hightower subscription tiers lapse. It’s funny, in the middle of all that, I met Tacimarsa back on Heath.”


“Your first contact was Tacimarsa?” My heart stilled.


She blinked. “Yep, we met on Heath. She reached out to the division I was with then in Maudland looking for some wholesale genebanks - hardy grasses, passerines, aquatic microbials, all the weed-stock you’d expect from somewhere getting its roots down. Most of them still have descendants right here. She had a very specific focus, she was very persuasive, and was very eager to share the vision. I think we became friends.”


“Think?”


“Well, keep in mind, I did meet her as Taci,” she said, gesturing as if to spell it out. “And it was what, two or three years and she was already Tacimar? It’s all a bit intricate…” Here she was not annoyed, but rather off her balance in a way I hadn’t yet seen. “Actually, look, I probably shouldn’t be talking about that without her here. You’ll be meeting her tomorrow anyway, right?”


“Ah, yes. Yes I will.”


“Well I won’t be at brunch, obviously. Unless you plan on ordering me there.”


“Let’s continue,” I shook my head. “What did she say to convince you?”


“Well, hasn’t the place fascinated you?” She smiled. “I didn’t need much convincing, and neither did the Ilian archdiocese, I’m sure. When she first pitched it to me, I wanted to be a part of it as early as I was able.


“I did grow up on Heath. My family was never really the ‘ancestral homeland’ type, so we lived in the outskirts of Nairobi like everyone else. They worked up in Kozue, and when I got older I started studying and working up there too. I was elevator commuting every day for a while, actually…” She smiled to herself, but looked down and continued. “Anyway, as soon as I was out of school I was working, back and forth across the whole canopy. This habitat wanting so and so cultivar, that island wanting such and such invasive species check, the standard.”


“My. Savannah has seemed lonely, even by my own perspective. I cannot imagine how desolate it would seem to one raised in the largest city in the world.”


“I’ve never felt that way. There’s only so much work for those of my profession back home, it’s all the same old husbandry stuff that’s run itself for a long time. Necessary and impressive, but Savannah is so challenging. So new. We have to make our own frontiers, now.”


The train rumbled, some engine or other clattering to life down the line. Razina met my eyes. “If you’re gonna make them hold the train, I’d do it now. Unless you want to go on your big adventure without preparing.” “No… no, of course not. I’m happy to leave it there.”


“Good. Now, since you really are set on it - at least let me show you around when you get there. We’ll set something up through Anyndel.” She handed me my detector again. “And we’ll talk soon. Maybe without this.” I clutched it tight behind my back, and gave a warm nod. “Maybe.”


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


My mother had told tales of lieutenants’ intuition; I had always supposed it from her secondhand to be a vague sort of radar one cultivated with experience. A sixth sense, peripheral. But now, I was to be going to the surface, at God knows what hour. What bramble would I tear through? Was I seeing, or being shown?


I could not afford it so early.


Didion and I sat in a bubble tent just outside the ship, in the open docks. It was warm from the heaters sewn into the military-sleek camping material, I had taken my hood off. Between the caffeine and a new urgency I was burning, and felt I couldn’t possibly sleep should I even succumb to wanting it. No, the morning was close, and I was ready to face it.


I hated to accept the prospect of the true descent of a visit. It still shook me. With the help of the schematic database that was among the resources Beckon Bell graciously granted our crew blanket access to, I had enlisted our scribe into charting a three-dimensional map of Savannah’s ventilation system - any routes from the cap to the sky, that one could sneak something autonomous up or down. We “kept watch” against nothing, to make myself feel better, but I needed to see it coming - if something else were to visit.


I looked out on the vast fluorescent-lit corridors, their palm fronds and little orchids in hydroponic pots. Out of curiosity, I consulted the maps. A breeze blew, from the yawning corridors at the left turn even further down the hall… and I looked back to the map again. I checked, and double checked.


From what I read… the schematics suggested that at no possible point should wind ever blow from that direction. The layout, the corner we had moored in, simply could not account for it.


Didion nodded when I confided this to him. At his suggestion, we packed our little camping project up again, suddenly cold in the night, and retreated to the safety of Umihotaru’s bulks. Surely, nothing in the world could dare accost a lawship.


I resumed my vigil in the kitchen, and stole a cup or two of Bettany’s coffee. Ill winds, on the eve of the great mission! The further I thought, the less worried of the landscape I became after all.


Brunch with the senior leadership - she was mad to allow me anywhere near there, with what we already knew. How could I maintain composure like that, while flaunting about our little psychic trinkets? Facing the morning without sleeping seemed quite a good idea. So I thought a little more, ate a day and a half’s worth of food from our stores, and began to read in a library that was, mercifully, damp in only a few places.