tagSci-Fi & FantasyHV-3 Crystal Maiden

HV-3 Crystal Maiden


Amid its wispy cloud of glittering ether, the Hutana Van sighed again into the open blanket of stars. The stellar panorama was interrupted only by the more brilliant white of the sun's orband an arc of loose rocks wheeling into infinity in two directions. The Van's enveloping shiftsails whirled loosely into wafting wings suspended from the rigging as the vessel fell back into real flight.

Captain Avda Heller-Guidres released her held breath and turned to the woman at the bow-ward end of the bridge ensconced in the wood and gilt armature that was what amounted to a ship's wheel on the Van, "Helmswoman Zafri: any concerns on the scope?"

"No ma'am, the near field is free of debris and only the bodies of stone and sun showing in real space at any significance."

The captain nodded and ordered, "Yeowoman Rewan: Secure the sails--and no experiments," before turning to the last, slight figure on the bridge, "Arbitress, Ma'am: any additional directives or information requests?"

The Arbitress Sophine pulled flat her hair where she had been worrying it and spoke clearly, if softly, "No, Captain, as you were."

Avda nodded and the swell of her breast visibly filled out her crisply maintained Ezwenari blue and white uniform as she assumed the authority of action. "Helmswoman Zafri: Field Report."

Beneath the heavy wooden mask that sprawled from her face into a gold and wooden umbilical reaching up to the ceiling Fathema Zafri's lips tightened with concentration. She stiffened into the grasping arms of the helm's armature. She spoke quickly and precisely with a halting rhythm that jumped from point to point according to an intuitive priority she assigned to each piece of information, "Two worlds in the sun's domain. Both reading as stone-worlds. Both sunward of the stellar archipelago. Three storm-globes voidward. This stellar archipelago too forms a ring about the sun. There is—" she stopped short and shifted her head and hands to manipulate the scope, the armature rattling conforming to her motions. She shook her head slightly and fell back to simply stating her observations without interpretation, "There is a violet reading—quite small or perhaps quite distant—within the stellar archipelago."

The Captain interjected, "Not interference from the sun, Helmswoman?"

Fathema shook her head as decisively and rapidly as the mask and umbilical permitted, "Certainly not. Now that we are in local field scopes, the sun is reading as white. Matching its real hue. Another discrepancy."

"Only a discrepancy in our understanding, not the facts of reality." The Arbitress Sophine stepped in to nudge her toward a more productive mindset "We're out here to learn how the Hutana Van operates as much as to explore these suns and worlds, Fathema."

" 'Helmswoman Fathema,' Ma'am," Captain Avda corrected Sophine in turn without rebuke, "while acting in official capacity."

"Of course, Captain," she said with a wince at slipping in naval protocol again and continued, emphasizing the title, "Helmswoman Fathema, how might we correct our understanding now that we have two discrepancies."

"Yes. Now we have six and twenty suns that read the same in hue on the far- and local-scope as well as in real light--blue, light blue, white, yellow, red and ruddy brown respectively. We have two suns that read as one color on the far scope, but differently in the local scope and real light--green and now violet. The green did not show in significance in the near or local scopes, but the violet does show here."

"Those are the facts, Helmswoman Fathema, how might we use those facts to correct our understanding?" Sophine nudged.

Fathema was silent for a moment, her lips kinked a bit disconsolately, "This is not my area of training, I would defer to the Captain. Is there further information I can provide for your understanding?"

Avda's lips changed from a thoughtful purse to a maternally disappointed smile, "Helmswoman, I have my own understanding, but the Arbitress asks for yours. She knows that if I gave my understanding it would change yours and surely it is you, Helmswoman, that are best equipped to intuit the workings of the ship's instruments."

Fathema thought for a moment and instead of answering asked, "I am encumbered by the helm, would you turn the glass for me, Arbitress?"

Sophine brightened, "Wonderful idea, Helmswoman." She took a palm-sized glass from her arbitress's kit and turned it so the sand--precisely measured for just such a task--trickled to the lower bell.

The Captain and Arbitress maintained their silence for the Helmswoman to think. Avda spent the latter moments fighting her natural impulse to fidget when forced into idleness. She thought neither for the first time nor the last how very long the full count of meditation--five precious minutes of the precious day--could feel. The day back home on Hutana, at least; her mind wandered. Out here around this sun? On one of those sad lifeless rocks? How long were their days? How many were their minutes? No, the count of meditation was not a division of Hutana's day. It was then just the turn of the Arbitress's glass? No, it was a thing in their minds. An ideal thing the mind demanded to gather itself. But not hers. Not any of the active minds of the Heller-Guidres, it seemed. There was intuition, of course: the workings of the inner mind that—

"And your understanding, Helmswoman?" Sophine asked, jarring Avda out of her accidental introspection, "As best you can put it now, we'll change it many times yet, I'm sure."

"Yes, Ma'am. With what we have seen, it may be the scopes are not like glasses to magnify more or less what we see. Certainly not in fact. The geometry and bodies seen are not just more clear, they are different--different colors, presence or absence of great bodies like the storm-globes. Instead, the facts make more sense if we imagine that each serves its own distinct purpose:

"The near field for maneuvering the ship like we would on the sea, therefore its clear physical and projected detail coupled with local field highlights. The local field distinctly intended for navigation within a sun's domain, therefore its distances are warped: condensing the most distant bodies and spaces only to expand as the Hutana Van nears them. Eventually if we come close enough it presents the near field scope to display at the same time to ensure near bodies do not impact us. By extension, then, the far field scope is intended for navigation from sun to sun."

She stopped and turned to the Captain and Arbitress, she turned the eyeless mask of bulky, brown stonewood and delicate golden flourishes from one to the other.

"Alright, Helmswoman Fathema, but this sounds like more facts about the ship's instruments." Sophine said, "Does this interpretation dissolve the discrepancies in the far field scope?"

"Right." Fathema nodded, "I kept thinking about how interesting the green and violet suns--or the green and violet domains, if I am on the mark--were. First, they are rare, at least in those domains near Hutana's sun. That is why we chose the green domain and after that this violet one. So, what if we imagine that the far field scope is even more abstracted than the local field. Perhaps the most interesting thing--the most relevant thing to navigation--for most domains is the hue of the sun? Landmarks, then: useless of their own account, but they establish your position to guide you to more important suns." She ended.

"It makes sense. I mean it is internally consistent," said Sophine with her smooth, dusky brow tight with consideration, "but it leans on one large assumption that seems to be fitted around the very discrepancy we meant to dissolve. I know you didn't come to this conclusion as a meaningless guess, Fathema. Why do you think these violet and green domains were more 'interesting' to the Forebears?"

Fathema loosed her arms from the grasp of the helm and pulled the mask from her face, letting her wild mane of shock white hair cascade down her face and shoulders. She pulled a sweat-damped lock from her eyes and looked to the captain to say, "That would be a guess. As you say, I too ought not muddy your minds with conjecture when we have ready information before us."

"Then you have your reasons now." Sophine retrieved a slip of paper, ink and quill from her arbitress's kit and approached the Helmswoman. When Fathema had taken the offered implements, Sophine continued, "Let us Preserve them and your confidence that we won't lose them in the face of new information."

"You seek to test me, Arbitress?" Fathema asked.

"You are accountable to me, Helmswoman," Avda said, "The Arbitress seeks to understand you."

Fathema began to write, and Avda asked Sophine, "In this case, we have a clear lead on this violet anomaly, Ma'am, if there is no subtle risk I miss?"

Sophine shook her head, "Unless your reasoning presages a risk, Helmswoman?"

Fathema looked up from her close, rapid penmanship and said, "No, Ma'am: neither risk nor safety."

Avda nodded, happy to have a course of action described before her, "Then we will set a course for the violet anomaly in the stellar archipelago when you are done with your Preservations, Helmswoman. I will assist the Yeowoman in securing the sails."

She made for the door and stopped at Sophine to pull her into an embrace, running her fingers through the young arbitress's hair and whispering, "Ever the village Arbitress seeking to better her wards, Sophine."

Sophine relaxed into Avda's body, resting her fingertips on the Captain's belts, and buried her face in the redolent cleft where Avda's naval jacket broke for a scintillating window to her breasts. Sophine said, "I'm sorry if I overstep onto your position, Avda."

"No, you seek to better us," Avda said, leaning her cheek onto the arbitress's head, "But you did drop her title whilst acting in your duties as an arbitress of the Ezwenari—"

Sophine bit the curve of captain's breast to silence her, "Any Hutanari knows that given names build trust—"

Avda pulled Sophine's face up to silence her in turn with a kiss, "Read the naval code. We do have our reasons for the protocol." She smiled, "Then you can take it up with Ezwen Command," and then she squeezed the arbitress close once more and left the bridge.


The Hutana Van yawed alongside the larger-than-average boulder of the stellar archipelago. Up close, it was clear that it would have been a small mountain were it on Hutana, and glinting steel threshold described what would have been a mineshaft mouth. The away team, Captain Avda and Yeowoman Rewan, were on the prow's receiving deck as they tied a second harness line to the anchor yard and untied the line securing them to the receiving deck. They were circumscribed by a pale red bubble of protection from the void, but if they lost contact with the ship--or one of the stellar boulders at the very least--they would be utterly lost. That much was well understood. No manner of swimming or flapping could propel them through the rare ethers of the void.

"Take the utmost care, Yeowoman Rewan. This is your first time in the void untethered to the Van," Avda said, "There's no more lost than lost to the void."

"Alright, Captain, let's get going or the voidbubbles're going to sap out and we'll be just as lost." The sprightly Hazard grasped the anchor line binding the Hutana Van to the laminite harpoon driven into the boulder where the violet anomaly originated. Before she could clamber up the line toward the boulder, Avda grasped her by the ankle and pulled her back down to the deck, their protective bubbles merging again.

"Rewan! I expect you to respond only--and exactly--to my orders. Do you understand?"

"Damn! Yeah, I understand!"

"And do you understand the gravity of our situation once we are away from the ship's lines?"

"Of course," Rewan seemed almost serious in reassuring Avda, "Out in the void, there's no coming back, sure. I've faced worse dangers every day for years, Daavi."

Avda sighed, "I know." She sighed again and glowered at Rewan, "And it's Captain Avda at the least, Yeowoman."

Rewan laughed and shrugged, "Fine."

"Do you want to try that affirmative again, Yeowoman?" Avda said, steely.

"Fine, Ma'am?"

"That will have to do, I suppose," Avda sighed a third time and hooked a pairing line to Rewan's harness, "Follow after me. Stay close but take care not to tangle our lines."

With loping pulls, Avda hauled her way up the anchor yard with Rewan scrabbling along just behind her dangling feet. Soon, Rewan got a shocking sense of vertigo when her mind stopped seeing herself as climbing up from the ship and started seeing herself as climbing down to the boulder. She paused to shift her weight around the anchor yard and Avda outpaced her, tugging her further off balance.

Avda stopped, one hand holding fast to the anchor yard as she pivoted to speak to the stalled Hazard. Rewan saw the captain's lips move, but heard nothing, so she took the opportunity to smile and chime: "I'm so sorry, Captain, but you can go fuck yourself!"

The Captain pulled her way back toward Rewan until their voidbubbles merged again and she could speak, "I said: You've been hauling in the sails for weeks now and you're still thinking in terms of up and down?"

"Oh, yeah, three weeks in the void is more than enough to change the way I've thought for a lifetime, Ma'am. That's why you and Fathema and Sophine didn't do a full year going up to train in the void."

Avda thought for a moment before correcting the missing titles. This kind of idle grousing from a impressed crewwoman probably didn't constitute acting in their naval capacity. And more importantly: "Oh and why is it that you were not in attendance for said training? Is it because you stowed away aboard the Hutana Van like a rat for the launch?"

"They weren't selecting a Hazard for the Van!"

"I wonder why not?"

"Because Ezwen Command is a bunch of short-sighted navel-gazers!"

"Aboard this ship—" Avda halted, considering situation and her feelings. The conversation was unnecessarily heated, and at this point it was working against the mission. She was still upset about other things, but on an away mission was certainly not the time to address them.

The Captain continued, calm, "First, Yeowoman Rewan, while you are aboard this ship you will not speak against Ezwen Command. Second, having done so you will rigorously Preserve your current qualms against Ezwen Command that we might address them by the protocols. Finally, while we are in the void, I would encourage you to not consider up and down, but only forward and backward. If you need an anchoring mentality, then always try to consider your destination 'down.' "

Avda continued her way "down" the anchor yard, and whatever Rewan mouthed after her happened to be lost as their voidbubbles split back into the two smaller spheres around each of them.

Arriving, they locked the anchor in place and re-checked this end of the anchor yard. Satisfying the captain, the drew their laminite hook-staves to make for the mineshaft a few dozen yards across the craggy stone of the boulder--a bad name that. Imprecise. As they made their slow step-unhook-hook, step-unhook-hook progress keeping themselves pulled to the stone, Avda considered the name. These larger boulders were so large that--if they were to be found in stellar archipelagos, then they must be stellar islands? The smaller chaffe stone amid the islands could still well be called boulders, but how to make a clear distinction. Certainly the difference made intuitive sense for the time being, but when the next ships come out? When stellar archipelagos were a simply a part of life for the greater Hutanari populace? Greater precision still would be required, but for now, she felt her mind changing to think of the the stone under her feet and hooks not as an enormous boulder, but instead as a smallish island like her Ezwenari home. Her presence on the stellar island suddenly felt a bit less strange, and she knew that her understanding was a little closer to reality.

The mineshaft's mouth yawned open beneath them. Avda stepped forward and probed inside with the keen edge of her hook-stave's laminite point, "It's not steel all the way through. We can use the hooks inside." And as if to punctuate the point, she drove her hook into the stone past the threshold and used its leverage to walk over the lip of the mineshaft, smoothly transitioning to a new "upright" that would have been perpendicular a moment before.

Rewan took a different tack and used her hook to haul herself down into the mineshaft and just carom from the far wall.

Avda shook her head and pulled the lamp and matches from her gear bag, calling after Rewan, invisible somewhere in the blackness of the island's sunless throat, "Use the hook or kick off the walls to—" she stopped herself realizing her voice was of course not leaving her voidbubble. As if at her word, though, she felt her legs tense under newfound weight, a rush of wind wobbled her voidbubble, and the dark shaft suddenly thrilled to a cool blue light. Ahead she saw Rewan picking her heavy gear bag--and herself--up off the erstwhile wall that was now better considered "ground." Avda could hear her wincing and cursing from the few dozen yards away.

"What did you find, Yeowoman Rewan?"

"Found m'self crashing into the damned rock! What'd you do?" She made a show of brushing herself off.

"Hm. Nothing," the Captain said more to herself. She tousled the Yeowoman's wild hair abstractedly as she caught up and passed her with long strides. Yeowoman Rewan was setting aside her large pack and hookstaves. Avda posed an observation that sounded like an order, "The world-pull just winks on, here in the middle of the void, and you trust it to keep your things from wafting away? The protocol in the void is to use the hook-staves or your pitons to secure any loose—"

To make her own observation and point, Rewan thumbed off her voidbubble and shed the weight of it's pack into her little pile. She said, "I do trust it, Captain. The world is made for us--for the Hutanari. The whole of the infinite, perhaps. That's what you have to learn as a Hazard: the forebears made everything for us, we simply must dare to try."

"And that's why so many Hazards die researching the relics of the forebears."

"Only the shitty ones," Rewan shrugged, "We with intuition get rich and live forever."

"Let me rephrase for clarity: Stow that gear with your pitons, Yeowoman."

Afterward, they talked as they walked deeper into the island. Rewan was light and free of burden with just the scant sling that she always carried with her; while Avda stepped heavily despite her physical training under the contingency supplies, the voidbubble pack, and staves, in addition to her long captain's blade. The long corridor was rough hewn stone ribbed by steel like the threshold from which bands of blue light banished any shadow with soft brilliance. There seemed no doors or corridors on either side, but the far end was mirror-like steel and thus the most interesting avenue of exploration anyway.

Avda said, "And that is what brought you to stow away on a voidbound flight without any training or preparation: intuition and extravagant success."

"One must dare to try."

"Said like an utterance of the arbitresses, though I do not seem to recall it," Avda gave a lopsided grin.

"Alright then. How about: 'Every improvement is by necessity a change'," Rewan reached for an utterance.

"Well done! That's even... somewhat applicable!" Avda laughed, "Though you recall it only in part: 'Not every change is an improvement, but...' "

"Imagine!" the Hazard chided, "An utterance of the Arbitresses that contradicts itself into useless neutrality!"

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