Geritsi slentAlin sat on the damp sward, her knees drawn up under her chin; Dosent, her sokyum, stretched beside her, thoroughly asleep. Overhead, the stars were a scattering of blazing pinheads, visible where the brilliant swirling arms of The Ribbons thinned in the progress of their eternal dance with the void.
Geritsi sighed gently, listening to the music of the dance. Tonight, too, the ambient glittered and sang, though they were still more than a month from the Festival of the Seedlings. If it kept on like this, she thought, the festival would be one for the ages.
She closed her eyes, the better to listen—and that was when she heard...something—else. Not the music of the stars or the mutter of systemic rubbish. Not the self-satisfied humming of the ambient.
No, this was a...voice, and it was talking...not to her, not to the brilliant night. Perhaps, it spoke to itself. Perhaps, she thought, straining to hear more clearly, it was speaking into a note taker—it had that kind of flatness about it. Beside her, Dosent growled, flexed her claws, and raised her head.
Teeth grit, Geritsi leaned into the ambient, allowing the voice to flow directly into her memory, bypassing her understanding altogether. Someone would have to sift them out, which might be embarrassing, but she felt instinctively that these words—these intentions—were of vital importance to the Haosa.
The voice paused; there was a sense, as of attention sharpening. Geritsi made herself as small and insignificant as possible, curling up inside her own shadow; shivering as she felt the cold regard pass over her—and linger...
Geritsi gritted her teeth even as the cat's growl deepened. There came a flutter of what might have been—amusement.
The words were quite clear—and quite clearly dismissive. Contemptuous.
Then, the sense of another presence was gone, leaving Geritsi and Dosent alone on the hillside. Above them, The Ribbons danced, obscuring the stars; the ambient hummed no longer, as if it, too, were trying to escape the attention of...whatever—who'ever—was overlooking them.
She'd best tell someone, she thought, even though she'd get in trouble for being out so late by herself.
Rising, she made a small light and, Dosent at her side, walked up the hill. She paused at the summit, gazing down at the village, noting the unusual number of lighted windows in this hour of the night. Had the voice woken everybody in the Off-Grid?
From below came a shout—another—and the sudden sound of youngers, crying. More windows brightened; doors slammed; an illumination bloomed over the square, back-lighting the shapes of the projectors, dashing across the square to the news-tree.
Geritsi and Dosent began to run.
It started with a walk in the rain, himself and his oathsworn, across a dim port plaza. Rounded paving stones made for treacherous footing, and he was preoccupied; impatient, his thoughts on the end of the mission, on the next day's joyous reunion with his lifemate and his ship.
Mincing across the wet stones, he knew how this would end; knew that the rain, the plaza, the man at his shoulder, were all part of a terrible memory, replayed as a dream, now that one of them was safe. Knowing that he dreamed, he tried to wake; felt the piercing agony of a headache behind his eyes, and redoubled his efforts.
"Right here, isn't it, sir?"
The voice pulled him back into the dream; he glanced up at the mosaic flower above the shop door.
"Thank you, Vanner," he heard himself say. "I think I must be more tired than I know."
He took a breath, and turned toward the door.