The Universe is a Strange Place

"Accessing records…" Windseeker replies. "Princess Ariaunna of Amber. Ancestry: Prince Julian of Amber and Lady Kaylani Rosenberg. Source: universe ident Z\XVC\273. Notes: difficult recovery due to death at hands of Borel, recommend constant monitoring of cocoon status. Assigned Retriever: Merlin."

Aurora's whole body jerks in surprise. "What? Seriously? I had a sister named Kaylani."

"My mother's sister's name was Dahlia," the brunette replied curtly. Her expression was once again blank, but her eyes were hard as she watched Ghostwheel's progress.

She peers more intently at Aunna a moment. She can see her father there, in her features. Wait — her father? Julian — a Julian — was her father. Aurora doesn't want to think about it. She can feel her mind rebelling at the puzzle. Shaking her head, Aurora laughs. "The universe is a truly strange place. But I can't imagine it's that strange."

"Tis? What's the universe ident for where we are?"

"A\AAA\000. The First Universe." Tisiphone says.

Aurora nods. "That makes sense. What about Julian that is my husband?" Then she blinks again but studiously avoids looking back over at Aunna. The woman doesn't seem to have taken the news of her manner of death well; there was nothing else in the AI's response that would have been a surprise. She knows her Julian is not Ariaunna's father, but it was still a bit odd if she thought about it long enough. In fact, she is already feeling an impending headache, but she has to ask.

"Z\XVC\272." Tisiphone says in reply to the question about Julian.

Ghostwheel appears to be finished, for the new sphere of black crystal is hovering and complete. It is taken across to one of the consoles, where a small cable emerges from it, and plugs into the ship itself. Windseeker speaks again. "Query: transfer authorised?"

Aurora looks over to the new construction and admires the handiwork. "I'll be outside," she says to no one in particular. She slips silently off the deck and back out to the decom hanger, leaving Aunna to her new toy for a moment. Her damned curiosity meant she had to ask.

Quietly. "Tis? I'd like this to be a private query. What happened to the rest of my family? There were eight of us; I can't be the only one picked up."

"Fiona authorised retrieval for all detected and living descendants of Kadmon and Eden. I have no available data on success or failure." Tisiphone whispers.

Aurora chews her thumbnail thoughtfully. That was annoying. "So you don't know who was retrieved? Or even how many? There is a hole in your data. Did you find any information on Alexander?"

"Data was never logged for many of the retrieval missions as things were very chaotic toward the final days. However, all detected descendants alive or capable of resurrection would have been retrieved, if possible." Tisiphone whispers.

"I need to find Alexander, Tis," Aurora replies with a hint of desperation. "He would have been in Z\XVC\272. A descendant of Julian. There has to be some way to find him without spending the next century searching cocoons."

Silence for three heartbeats. "A retrieval was logged but there is no data on success or failure." Tisiphone whispers.

"Dammit!" Aurora hisses. "Are there any notes from that mission beyond that? Where did the cocoons end up from that ship?"

"They should have been in the same location as your own cocoon, based on mission directives."

Aurora stills and lets that thought percolate a moment. "In the same location or just the general vicinity?" she asks carefully. She will tear that mountaintop apart if Alex is supposed to be near the stairs of Tir like they were.

"Mission directives state that the cocoon's from one universe are to be stored in one location. However, given that your cocoon was in Amber, and Julian's was here, it appears mission directives were not followed properly." Tisiphone says, sounding sad, unlike her usual cheerful self.

"Technically, Julian and I weren't from the same Universe," Aurora sighs, frustrated. "But he and Alex were. So chances are he is here, or he is in Amber." She paces the length of the Windseeker's hull. Aurora has to focus on the small things, or the larger picture is going to make her scream. "Is there some method for locating cocoons? I can do it fine in Amber with magic, but here…," she throws up a hand. "I can only sense a few lengths in front of me. We don't have time to search all of Chaos before we have to leave."

"There were plans for locator beacons but our biologicals had no time to implement them." Tisiphone says. "But, was a proper search made of the place where Julian was found?"

"No," Aurora replies. She starts to lean against the hull then stops herself when she remembers how mad a shape the things is in. "We need to go back with a more effectively armed and larger team. There's creatures in there that showed signs of intelligence. Also, it seems the time flows differently in there, and we'll need a way to monitor the countdown before we must leave. Though I suppose Ghostwheel can do that."

"That sounds like a plan!" Tisiphone says brightly, her cheerful tone returning to her.

Aurora smiles a little at the AIs reaction. She really did prefer this AI to the others.

"How far along were the beams?" she asks curiously. "Even if we can't use them today, they would be good to have."

"They need testing under field conditions first." Tisiphone says. "They were never tested to see if their theory works properly."

"Is that all?" asks Aurora, pausing in mid-pace to look at the ceiling. "Are they hand held? Is the Fury equipped with one for long range searching?"

"The scanners are hand-held and are long-range in theory. But if the cocoon is not equipped with a beacon, they do not shine. All their energy is focused inwards on the lives inside them." Tisiphone says.

"And not all of them are equipped with a beacon," Aurora guesses and makes a face of annoyance.

"Negative." Tisiphone says. "Only the later cocoons were equipped with anything detectable on the scans."

She sighs and rubs the bridge of her nose. "Would Alexander's rescue mission have been a later one?"

"Affirmative."

"Thank the Goddess for small favors."

Ghostwheel emerges from the ruined ship of black crystal, floats toward Aurora.

"All done then, Ghostwheel?" Aurora asks when she notices it. "Will Windseeker be able to communicate with the Fury through the black crystal since it's made of it?"

"Yes." Ghostwheel says. "Though Windseeker is a Chaosian AI, not an Amberite AI."

She tilts her head to look at her AI curiously. "Meaning what exactly?"

A few heartbeats pass by. "She was designed and built by Chaosians." Ghostwheel says. "An interface with her is.. difficult. But I expect passage through the Pattern would resolve that issue."

"So Ariaunna needs to walk the Pattern before we go exploring?" Aurora asks to clarify. "Otherwise we may be in the same boat as before; unable to communicate outside the spheres?"

"Affirmative. Ariaunna has been accepted as Windseeker's Administrator." Ghostwheel says. "She would not accompany anyone else through the Pattern."

Aurora nods her understanding before turning back to looking towards the ceiling again. "Tis; Meg mentioned Fiona had an access to the Fury AIs. I assume it's the bracelet she wears that is like the one I wear for Ghostwheel. I would like one as well."

"An upgrade is being built now." Tisiphone says.

"Thank you."

She looks around the hanger and sighs. "And where is Julian?"

"Julian is currently sitting beside our Pattern speaking with Megarea." Tisiphone reports.

Aurora's eyebrow curls towards her hairline. "Um. Yeah. Let me know if he decides to walk it. Can you give me one of the hand held locators so I can see how it should look?"

"They exist only in schematics. Building one will take approximately 10.7 minutes."

Aurora gives the ceiling a bland look. "It isn't like I have anything else to do but wait. Please proceed."

She looks to the door to the shuttle and then up at Ghostwheel. "I don't suppose you have any more information about what happened to the rest of my siblings, do you?"

"No." Ghostwheel says. "I do not actually know their names. Who are they?"

She starts to shove her hands into non-existent pockets, but ends up staring at them instead. How long had it been since she said all their names out loud? Years. Decades. Not in this lifetime. It still hurt. On their Earth, she knew they were there; she could sense them, had visions of them. She always knew she wasn't alone. Aurora hadn't had that comfort since awakening. She had only tried to follow the threads that had connected her to the rest once since coming out of her cocoon. The dead ends had left her so despondent she hadn't done it again.

"Diane," Aurora finally says quietly. "Firuz, Peri, Kaylani, Benoit, Rhialla. Ulrike, and Elan. I barely remember Kaylani. She wasn't with the rest of us there on that Earth. For awhile, I thought she had managed to block herself from all scrying and wanted nothing to do with us - which wasn't like her at all. But then, towards the end when we were all gathering together I asked the others about her. They said they had never seen or heard from her since that last day in our Father's House. They had all come to the conclusion she hadn't made it. I can still swear on everything that I was the last one Father pushed through into the other place. I don't know what happened to her."

Tis' previous words float to the forefront of her mind then;

Mission directives state that the cocoon's from one universe are to be stored in one location.

Even without feeling them, Aurora has always assumed they were here, she just had to find them. But if so, they should have woken up with her among the tropical birds and impossible flowers. Right?

"There are always mysteries." Ghostwheel says. "Perhaps if we discover who moved your cocoon to the top of Kolvir, they will know where they found you."

She looks up at her metal companion. "Moved? You mean that's not where we were left? Or are we talking just me?"

"I find it unlikely that our search & rescue operatives buried you on top of Mt Kolvir." Ghostwheel says.

She frowns a moment. "Well, but how long were we there? It was 5,000 years, right? The natural progression of time on the land could have buried us. But I see your point." Aurora absently conjures a thornless white rose and twirls it between her fingers. "But who was around to move us?"

"I have no available data." Ghostwheel replies as Ariaunna, Khoralysse, and a floating sphere of black crystal emerge from the crippled Chaosian shuttle.

Aurora vows to have a little chat with Fiona and Llewella when she gets back into decent communication range. Until then, she would pillage the Fury's records. But for now, she turns to face the trio.

Aurora looks over at the sound of footsteps. "Ah, just the woman I was about to go looking for. It appears you need to walk the Pattern anyway, Ariaunna. To imprint your AI to you. As an added bonus, Ghostwheel believes it will enable Windseeker to interface with Fury's AIs — and we really want that if we're to go exploring more before we have to leave."

"And 'hello again' to you, too," the brunette replies, hopping off the side of the shuttle ramp. She pauses a moment to drop her necklace back down the front of her shirt, then continues, "So where am I headed?"

"I take it the mapping is finished?" Aurora tucks the rose behind her right ear. "Ghost said something about downloading the location to Windseeker earlier so it could lead you." She gives her sphere a questioning look. "Did you do that, Ghostwheel?"

"Affirmative." Says the floating silver sphere. "I suspect the quarantine requirements will have to be put aside."

"Lucky you," Aurora says wryly. "Should probably stay suited until you get there though. Julian is still down there; I have no idea what he's doing. Did you wish someone to go with you as an observer?"

There's a moment's hesitation before she replies. "Yes, I believe I would."

The redhead gives her an expectant look. "There aren't that many to chose from. Who would you like?"

Aunna smiles wryly. "I interpreted your asking as volunteering, actually."

"Oh," Aurora starts slightly. "All right." She smiles, looking vaguely pleased, and looks up at her silvery companion. "Lead on, Ghostwheel. Tis, let Kieran know we're going down to the Pattern." She pauses a moment. "And prepare rooms for Khoralysse and Ariaunna on the family deck. They can decorate them at their leisure — assuming we get out of quarantine before we get back to Amber."

Looking back to the dark haired woman, she explains: "You will really want to do something to them. They're this blinding white crystal otherwise."

"Ready, Ariaunna?"

"As I'll ever be," she responds. "And 'Aunna' will do. Keeps it simple."


TOCGathering at the Pattern

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