Searching & Preparations

At this point, a ship-wide announcement occurs. The harsh AI, Megarea, speaks. "ALERT: repairs to inertial dampers complete. Power reserves at 54%. Re-initialising world-drive. All biologicals prepare for world-drive in 15 minutes from… now." The fabric of the massive craft begins to sing, a strange and alien music, as though the crystal that composes it is alive.

What the hell? Aurora's head jerks ceiling-ward. "Hold the count! Who gave that order?"

There is silence for two heartbeats. "System-code ident: Fiona. Source: infirmary. Administrator Fiona was conscious for 2 seconds. She requested an update. We advised. She gave orders. Medical treatment in progress. Query: cancel initialization?" The AI replies.

Aurora frowns. "Yes. Cancel. Fiona is not well at the moment, and is in no position to give orders. You will take no more from her without checking with me first."

"Phoenix scenario overwrite under Omega Protocols: canceling initialisation." Megarea says indifferently.

"Windseeker, continue your scan; Tis, if your simulation of the freed Lorgus's effect on Shadow is still running, create a screen down in the quarantine area, and medbay to show it on as well. Megarea, how can we get our power reserves up? Ghostwheel, build a copy of your architecture for Windseeker to relocate to after she is finished here. Estimated time to completion?"

The wall of the quarantine area begins to reshape itself, as does the wall in the infirmary, two separate locations joined by the delicate thread of the communications between. Windseeker does not reply, though it is not clear why. "The only available recharge source would involve a biological transit of our Pattern." Megarea reports dispassionately. "Five minutes, Aurora." Ghostwheel replies. "But it would require approvals from administrator Ariaunna."

"Access granted," Aunna says, getting to her feet and turning to the main console. "Although how I became default admin is a question I'd love to address at some point."

"You were the first contact," Aurora smirks.

Julian's voice comes over the air; "Aurora, I noticed no such conversation, I am standing near Fiona now, and there wasn't any activity that I noticed for a stretch of 'one one thousand, two one thousand'. I would think we would have noticed or heard that order." He pauses, "Would the nanites mimic telepathy?"

There is a beat of silence. "I was wondering how they had that kind of conversation in two seconds," Aurora admits warily. "I haven't noticed any telepathic communications with the AIs, with the exception of Ghostwheel and myself, and that's only because of this bracelet."

"Megarea, please explain."

"Fiona possesses an Administrator access point for us." Megarea explains with unhuman indifference. "The device remains active regardless of her medical condition and is amplified by the presence of our remote-controlled nanites. Data transmission did not involve great details. Her order was to activate the Phoenix scenario and ensure the survival of all on-board biologicals. Phoenix scenario halted by order of Empress Aurora under the Omega Protocols."

Aurora huffs softly in annoyance at Megarea's response. "Tis, time until encounter with the Schwarzschild Radius.of the Logrus? I'd prefer to be at full power when we make the jump. Who feels rested enough to walk the Pattern?" she inquires of the group of humans at large.

"Eight hours and fifty seven minutes, Aurora." Tisiphone replies, the contrast between her bright soprano and Megarea's terse harshness very clear.

"That depends," Aunna says, looking up from the console briefly. "One: Will it get us out of here before the event horizon sucks us in; and two: Will I be required to haul a Fiona backpack in the process? Because while I'm feeling pretty spry for a corpse, given the option I'd rather not test my compatibility with this world's Pattern at a handicap."

"No, you will not be carrying Fiona," Aurora assures her. "Technically we can leave now, but I would rather make the jump at closer to full power then 54%."

Aunna stares at the console a long moment, fingers of her right hand dancing on the hilt of her sword. Then she nods once, concisely. "Where do I need to go?" she asks, turning toward the door.

"53%." Megarea intones with her usual harsh indifference. Aurora rolls her eyes.

"Ariaunna, I will download directions to Windseeker." Ghostwheel says. "I suggest taking her through the Pattern with you in her new architecture. The energies of Order will repair her further." The redhead blinks at the construct. She starts to ask a question, but then changes her mind. Ghostwheel knows what it's doing.

"If someone has to risk the Pattern, I should be the one, fair ladies." Kieran disagrees politely across the communications linkage. "I am rested and have survived the Pattern of this universe once before."

"No offense, Kieran," Aunna says as she pauses at the threshold, "but if the Pattern here is going to kill me, I'd just as soon find out now as later." She focuses on Aurora, one eyebrow curled up in question. "Where do I go?"

"Actually," Aurora muses while watching Ghostwheel. "He has a point in that he is well rested and experienced with this universe's Pattern. I highly doubt it would kill you, for the record; all the original sleepers walked this universe's Tir Pattern with no harm to any of us. This may not be the time for you to have a lot of old memories dragged to the surface." She holds up her hands to Aunna. "I am not going to stop you if you insist. Though I may suggest you two flip a coin for it. I will suggest that whichever of you goes, you take a watcher. No one should be alone for that ordeal."

There's a brief look of tension as Aunna considers this, then she gives a small shrug and braces easily against the wall; whatever argument she was about to make, she's decided against it. "Point conceded. Go for it, Kieran," she says.

Kieran has begun spinning bright threads of energy from the crystal wand that he holds, around Fiona and the couch she lies on: she starts to levitate upwards.

Silence for one or three heartbeats. "Wait." Kieran says, his tone distracted, as though he is concentrating on something else that neither woman can perceive. "Megarea, could anyone who walks your Pattern transport themselves out of this situation?"

"Affirmative." Megarea replies with her usual terse harshness.

"There is our backup plan, then." Kieran says. "I say, anyone who wishes to walk and thinks they are rested enough to make it, should walk the Pattern."

Aurora's shoulders set stubbornly, but her expression is one of indecision. This backup plan likely meant any further explorations of the Net weren't going to be happening. "How long does a Pattern walk take? I wasn't really marking time the first time I did it."

"If we have nine hours left, there is time for five to six hours of rest. More if we take advantage of the different timezones." Kieran replies. "I am not saying this is the best plan, fair one. Frankly, it is a terrible plan. I do not think we have any options at the moment that do not involve risk."

Aurora just makes a small noise of agreement. "How long were we gone over to Mandorways?"

"You were inside the sphere for around 24 minutes." Kieran replies.

"Really?" Aurora replies curiously. "It was longer inside. That's excellent, actually. I do have time for a quick jaunt to my family ways if Windseeker can find it."

Aunna glances at Khoralysse during the exchange, but offers up no comment until;

"Nine hours, huh?" She stares into the distance, focused on some far away thing. "Seems a bit anti-climactic."

Aurora makes a thoughtful sound then flashes a grin. "Oh, I'm sure something will come up to add to the excitement. I mean, we've been here — what? Three hours? And in that time we've done battle with a computer controlled defense system, created and uploaded a virus to disable it, been caught in the gravitational pull of the Logrus, discovered the Dyson Net was the Ways, battled giants spiders, discovered documents and artifacts over 50,000 years old, fought a giant multi-creature thing on foreign soil, found and reunited with my husband — who wasn't as mortal as I thought, Kieran and Fiona rescued you after you woke up, found two more sleepers, my grandmother's had a stroke and been discovered to have been Cursed, repaired your AI and had new housing created for it, you've been declared Windseeker's Administrator, despite all the time I've spent studying this station on the way here, I've just discovered it has its own Pattern, The Fury has repaired itself significantly, Windseeker is mapping the Ways — we hope, My AIs have subroutines looking into a more efficient way to check for exposure to the Plague, searching sleeper records for my son, and running a simulation of what would happen if the Dyson Net around the Logrus was destroyed!"

The redhead takes a breath. "There is no way the next few hours are going to be quiet."

A silent moment, then; "Huh." It's a simple sound, and the intent behind it is unclear until she adds, "When's the away team leaving?"

Aurora's heel taps against the deck softly for a moment while she regards the questioner. Aurianna is starting to remind her of her sister the assassin. It wasn't a bad association; Diana had been her favorite sister. "After the Ways are mapped, Kieran is on the bridge, and Julian is back down. Assuming he wants to go on this one. You wanting to go?"

"Rather not walk the Pattern unless I had to," she replies, fishing into the hip pocket of her slacks absently, "but if I don't get some action soon," her hand reaches across to the other pocket, "I'm gonna crawl out my skin. Ach!" She punctuates an exasperated sigh with crossing her arms, and mutters, "Suas aonoldal a bhàn más nyalt…"

Aurora tilts her head at the strange language. "I speak many languages, but that one is new. Though it does have some familiar nuances." She hums briefly then gives her head a small shake. "Are you, perhaps, needing a cigarette of some kind? Goddess knows I've had many of those moments myself."

Julian had been silent while the others talked. He was absorbing the news that Arden needed replanting at all. He steps aside after he feels certain that Fiona is successfully put in storage, and addresses the AI to the side, quietly.

"Magaera? Would it be possible for you to take me to the Pattern in the station? I would like to see it" He pauses, "From there I'll return to quarantine to be sure I am not contaminated."

"Affirmative." The AI replies.

Julian gives Kieran a nod, and then speaks to the AI, "Then do so. Will this be transit? Or will you guide me there somehow?"

"Either alternative is available." Megarea says, as though it is not of great interest to her. Kieran nods back. "Tisiphone, bridge, please." He says.

"Guide, please. Now is good." Julian replies.

Aunna looks at the redhead. "Old habits die harder than I do, apparently," she replies with a wry grin. Her expression turns hopeful. "Couldn't hook a sister up, could ya?"

"I can," Aurora nodded. "Tis, can you transport the silver case on my bedside table to me, please?"

A silver case appeared from rainbow light at her feet. It took her a moment to notice since she was watching Ghostwheel doing whatever it was he was doing. She shook her head and bent down to retrieve the case.

"Thanks, Tis." Checking the contents briefly, Aurora snapped it closed and then tossed it to Aunna, who caught it deftly. Extracting one of the cigarettes, she rolled it between her fingers in quick examination, then drew it across her upper lip like an aficionado as she tossed the case back.

"They're regulars," Aurora said. "I can turn them to menthol if you want. No lighter, but I don't use one." Making a fist, she focused briefly and then opened her hand to reveal the small flame dancing over her palm. "I am a lighter."

Aunna gave Aurora an appraising look. "Handy that," she said, placing the cigarette between her lips and moving closer for a light. She inhaled deep, eyes closed in something near-to reverence, rolled the smoke in her mouth before stepping away and blowing it out the door. She resumed her lean against the threshold.

"Not bad," she commented. "Beggars and choosers, though. I'd smoke avens wrapped in parchment, if I had to." Her attention turned again to Ghostwheel. "So what manner of creature is that?" she asked.

Aurora's eyes tracked Aunna's line of sight. "Ghostwheel. He's a construct created by Merlin. He was one of the few things left of Amber's civilization besides ruins, a hidden set of living quarters carved in the mountain, some angry ghosts, Tir, and some crystal cocoons when the first Sleepers woke up. I was the one that woke him, and he has been an incredible help once you know what questions to ask." She tilted her head to one side and watched the construct curiously. "I am going to take a wild guess and say that he's going to use the black crystal to create the housing for your AI."

"Seems a fair assessment," Aunna nodded. She took another long draw. "How long have you been awake?

Aurora leans a hip against the hull and crosses her arms. "It's difficult to assess. I've spent most of it in Kieran's Shadow. Time moves faster there." She smiles wryly. "Took me ages to get used to that idea. But Sophia and I — she's Corwin's daughter — we had plenty of time to raise her son and my daughter to the hideous age of fifteen and for us to teach Kieran and the kids how to spell cast. It's only been a few years in Amber, I think, since we woke up."

"And you're a survivor of this realm?" Aunna asked.

She nods. "Yes. One of the few, I think. I know Flora, Llewella and Fiona are from this version of Amber. I'm not sure how many of the other Elders here are actually from here. Julian's not. I was born here; in
Chaos. Fiona and Mandor are my maternal grandparents. Corwin is my paternal grandfather. I don't remember them, but that is what I am told." Aurora shrugs. "I was eight when my family Ways was attacked. My parents were killed, but not before my father shoved all of us through one of the doors. They were like Shadow gates, I suppose. But the one Father used sent us to a completely different — universe, where I met Julian. He was the high point of that 1000 years I was trapped there."

"How can we tell if we are from this universe or another?" Khoralysse asks after listening quietly to everyone talk. Though, from her expression, she is not entirely sure she believes any of this.

A black crystalline form similar to that of Ghostwheel is taking shape to their left on the flight-deck: it appears to be crawling with minute ants, some of silver material, some of black. The hovering Ghostwheel itself has extruded small tendrils of silvery material to support the black crystal sphere.

Aurora pulls her silver case back from where she had tucked it up her sleeve and takes out a cigarette of her own. "Well, I suppose you find out from one of the Elders who are from here," Aurora replies. A flame appears at the tip of her finger. "Fiona told me I was from here, which is how I know Julian isn't. Ghostwheel also said Julian was imprinted on the oldest Pattern of all of us. Another clue. It's possible we can find out from the database of sleepers. I hope they listed that sort of information, anyway."

"That sounds as good a place to start as any," Aunna says. "They took the time to bottle up our personal effects. It would seem natural they'd have kept record of where we were from." She looks at the console. "Windseeker: list universe of origin for Admin Ariaunna."

TOC —- The Universe is a Strange Place

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