I walk around the starship as it rests on the sand, not far from the waves of the inland sea.
Mayla’s new design is fast, elegant, and beautiful.
The ship is eighty feet in diameter, reddish-gold, black, silver, and green.
When the city was built, no one planned to launch ships from here.
Still, there are a few open places in the city large enough for the ship: the sand, the ocean, and the flat roofs of several buildings.
Any of these would do, since we can take off from any surface, without damage to the ship or its surroundings.
“Why do you want us to launch from the beach?”
“It’s convenient,” she answers.
Mayla likes to pretend that she acts on pure logic, but she was built with a personality and emotions, and they color her actions.
Today, she remembers her friend, Shilann.
The ancient Jiku still loved the sea, long after they developed flight.
Even after they came to Siksa, the Jiku launched most of their airships from coastal harbors.
There’s another reason that the ship is here.
Mayla wants to watch it let go of the beach, and glide over a stretch of sea, before rising toward an opening in the city’s dome.
“What do you call the ship, Mayla?”
“It has a ship code, but no name.”
“Then I’ll name it,” I tell her.
“We’ll call it Shilann’s Wings.”
“He would like that name, Yagrin,” she says quietly, and turns away.
I board the starship with my family.
Mayla has installed a partial copy of herself into the ship’s computer, and one of her artificial bodies follows us into the command room.
Another of her bodies waits on the beach to watch our departure.
Berek sits at the pilot’s station, and checks the status of ship systems.
The on-board computer handles most of the flying and weapons management, but Berek is in command, and he’s prepared to fly the ship when necessary.
He has a year of pilot training, gained last night in the Dream School.
The pilot’s station has multiple views of the ship, including a holographic view that shows the ship at the center, and everything that surrounds it.
The weapons targeting systems are tied into a similar view, and can fire in any direction.
This ship is small, but well-armed, even against the Spiral and its energy hunters.
Mayla’s probe brought us a weapon against the hunters.
It worked, but was massive, unstable, and required too much power.
The aliens who created it were killed before they could refine the weapon.
Mayla has finished their work.
With the speed of her thought, one Jiku night becomes years, long enough to prepare our ship, and develop a new weapon.
The weapon was installed on the ship as we slept, along with instruments to detect the energy hunters, and even the Spiral itself.
The ship slips toward the wanderer, who waits for us only a few light years away.
Soon, we return to normal space, a comfortable seventy million miles away from the wanderer, a star smaller than Siksa’s sun.
“How do we talk to the wanderer, Mayla?” asks Dilasa.
“It will speak to us,” answers Mayla, “when it chooses.”
Dilasa wears the necklace that Sindar gave her, the one that strengthens her connection to the stars.
My thoughts are broken by Dilasa’s screams.
“Ina,” says Dilasa, franticly, “get the necklace off me!”
I glide the necklace to a table, where we all sit.
The stones in the necklace are too hot to touch, and the bright light from the stones fills the command room.
After a few seconds, the light shapes itself into a white sphere, that hovers above the table.
Images burst from the sphere and form a shell around us.
The shell contracts, and when it touches us, the ship fades, and we are elsewhere.
We stand together on a smooth stone platform thirty feet wide, suspended in a space that goes on forever.
The platform is surrounded with a thin, fence-like, ring of fire that rises straight up for ten feet, before it curves and meets high above our heads.
“Am I here?” asks a voice, surrounded by blue flashes of light.
“We hear your words,” I answer.
“There are no words,” it says, “but there is understanding.”
“The stone is surprising.”
“I gave the energy, but the stone shaped this place for us to meet.”
“Are you the star sent to help us?” asks Shazira.
“I am the wanderer,” it replies, “here to protect life, and do what I must do.”
“As you are here to do what you must do.”
“What will you do?” I ask.
“What must we do?
“I will find quiet space,” it answers, “and keep it free of the river.”
“You must greet the river where it touches life, until one of you becomes the river.”
“The river?” asks Berek.
“What you call the Spiral.”
“We will never become the Spiral!” I answer.
“It’s evil and twisted.”
“Confused, lost, asleep,” says the wanderer.
“The river needs to awaken.”
“You will know when it’s time.”
“What does it mean to greet it?”
“Do we drive it away, or destroy it.”
“The river is nearly without end.”
“Drive it away, and it returns.”
“Try to destroy it, and you fill it with anger.”
We’re quiet, hoping for an explanation, but none comes.
The spirit doesn’t think as we do, and its words are strange to us.
“We don’t understand,” I tell it.
“Go, and you find understanding!” says the spirit.
“Waiting is done.”
There is silence, and the space around us fills, thicker and thicker, with the blue flashes.
“Light has come,” it says finally.
“The largest will touch the heart, and rise in the circle of stars; come to me and shine brightly!”
“The smallest will carry the largest, and the river will shine home.”
“You are blessed.”
We find our awareness back in the ship.
“What does it mean, Yagrin?” asks Shazira.
“Dilasa is the smallest, and I am the largest.”
“She will help me to send the Spiral home, a place where it can’t return from.”
“What’s the circle of stars, ina?” asks Dilasa.
“It’s the place of the star spirits.”
“I need to go there before we face the Spiral.”
“Can I come with you, ina?” asks Berek.
“No. I have to pass through the heart of a star to reach the circle, and only fire energy can survive there.”
“I’ll flow away my physical body before I enter the heart of the wanderer.”
“The map will open a path from there to the star spirits.”
“How long will you be gone?” asks Dilasa.
“I don’t know.”
“Go back to Siksa, and I’ll meet you there.”
“No,” says Shazira.
“We’ll stay here, and wait for your return.”
I hug my three children, and look toward Shazira, to see if she will accept a hug.
Her face is dark and cold, and my first instinct is to leave.
Instead I walk up to her.
“Just go, Yagrin!” she says.
As her bondmate, I feel the fear and anger that rushes through her.
“Not like this,”I tell her.
I touch my listener to the web, and spread the listener over both of us.
Even here, where the web is thin, we feel the calm.
I lean my head toward hers.
She sighs and leans in toward me.
I take her hands and bring them to my cheek.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” I whisper.
I smile, dissolve my physical body, and pass through the walls into empty space.
I pass through a gateway to shorten my journey to the heart of the wanderer.
The energy of the heart is overwhelming at first, but I get used to it.
My fires are strong here, glowing like never before.
At the center of the star, I see a spinning energy wheel.
It reminds me of the gateways that cover the energy web, but I can’t find a way through it.
I try to widen it with PathFinder energy, but this has no effect.
The wheel is not like other gateways that I’ve seen.
I remember the energy map that the star spirit showed to the probe.
Then, I shape an energy pattern that duplicates the map, and touch the pattern to the gateway.
The gateway opens wide, but my fire body still can’t pass.
An energy barrier blocks the way.
What did the wanderer say?
Come to me and shine brightly.
My fire body is already shining, but not enough.
I fill myself with the Feldin glow, and touch it to the energy map.
The whole star brightens for a moment from the glow.
Then the barrier opens, and I’m pulled through the wheel.
Circle of Stars
The stars are gone, but this place is brighter than the heart of the wanderer!
I’m at the center of an infinite river of light that shines through this space.
The river is round and thick, forming six tunnels of light that turn to the six directions.
I pull my attention away from this world, grow quiet, and ask, “where is the right place for me in the river?”
I surrender my will, and wait to be pulled to the place where I must go.
The world changes around me.
My energy eyes find great funnels of energy rising wide and high in all six directions.
The base of each funnel rests on a soft and flexible disk, always moving in beautiful colored rhythms of yellow and blue.
I’m near the base of one funnel, hovering above the disk.
Above me, the funnel is filled with the energy of the star spirits.
They have no fire bodies, and no energy wells within them.
Instead, their shapes are constantly changing, with a large energy spiral spinning at their core.
Hundreds of lines of energy connect one spirit to another, and the spirits form their own web.
My fire body lets go of its shape, moves as they do, and becomes part of their web.
Hundreds of energy streams reach for me, overload my senses, and leave me blind.
My awareness starts to fade, and I wonder if my life will go with it.
Time has passed when my awareness returns, here, in the circle of stars.
I touch the thoughts and history of the spirits in the funnel, but I can’t understand what I see.
I try to ask questions, but the spirits ignore me.
I am connected with them, and yet in some way, I’m out of synch.
I let go of myself.
I think of the Gen stadium, the old ones’ temple, and my performance in Tshuan.
I rise through the funnel, twisting and turning.
With every movement, I release some of the energy streams that hold me, and send out new streams to touch other spirits.
The others join in, and the funnel is filled with movement, color, and vibration that form a great symphony.
Streams of energy form and disappear, connect and disconnect, and we shine together.
Eventually the dance stops, and I feel the excitement and joy that streams through the circle.
There are no questions, only understanding.
When a sun dies, its spirit returns to the circle forever.
There is no return to the physical world, except to join a sun that has no spirit.
It’s forbidden, never explained, for a spirit to enter the physical universe without a sun.
Some spirits sparkle with curiosity, filled with a strange desire to leave home, and explore the worlds of life.
Rare among star spirits, not understood.
Forbidden for the spirits to go, but not impossible.
They fall from light into our dark, cold world.
Disconnected from any sun, their awareness and energy bleed away.
Many rush home, but others never rejoin the circle.
Some of the lost ones vanish when their energy is gone.
Others join together in a private web that spans the universe, exploring life, filled with an endless hunger for energy to stay alive and aware.
Their spinning, energy hearts bind them together, each heart with a spiral shape.
They have star hearts, ekrisa.
How far these energy beings have fallen to become the beast that we call the Spiral.
It feeds on life to survive.
The energy that feeds it, brings back awareness, but the Spiral is a sad shadow of what it was.
Powerful, but dull.
The story of the Spiral brings shame to the star spirits who stay in the circle.
Outside the circle, none may speak of the connection between the star spirits and the Spiral.
I am also bound to this silence.
“What can I do to end the Spiral’s attack?”
I become aware of my question, just before its answer.
“Join the Spiral and let it go.”
I don’t understand their words.
I let the confusion and heaviness go, and fill myself with the memory of my time here.
We have played and shared joy, together, in the circle.
What I have learned is the only answer that they can give me.
I am totally confused, but I accept the answer until I can understand.
I voice one more question.
“Can I succeed?”
“Yes. You and your reflection have the power.”
“Who is my reflection?” I wonder.
We are the twin suns of ancient visions.
We will conquer the Spiral.
I feel this idea move through the circle, and I wonder what it means.
The streams that connect me to the circle multiply, and my fire energy glows in an unfamiliar way.
There is a sudden rush of energy that hits me like a fist, striking just below my heart center.
They fill me with energy beyond what I can hold, and it shatters the balance pattern that holds my fire body together.
Why are the spirits doing this?
All of the streams fall away.
I feel strange, thin, and weak like air, my energy eyes dim.
The gateway opens for me, and I’m sucked through it, back to the center of the wanderer.
As weak as I am, I’ll never survive the power of the star.
The wanderer protects me, cradles me in a bubble of energy at the heart of the star, and my strength returns.
A word slips into my awareness from the star.
A few seconds later the bubble vanishes, and my fire energy moves easily and swiftly throughout the star.
My strength continues to grow, far beyond what it was before.
I shape the balance pattern, but I can’t bind the pattern to my energy.
The star interferes with the binding.
I need to leave the star, but I’m afraid.
Outside the star, in empty space, my fire energy will fade quickly, with no fire or stone to support it.
I focus my attention, and rush toward the outer edge of the star, ready to take action the moment that my energy escapes the boundary.
When my energy touches empty space, it’s like being thrown into a boiling desert, and my energy begins to fade.
The great web is thin in deep space.
Even planet Gunal’s thick energy web was no help to me, when I first lost my fire body.
Still, the web has always been a friend, and I reach toward it for comfort, purely by instinct.
“Fool,” I think, just before my energy touches the web.
“It can’t help you in your streaming form!”
This time I’m wrong.
When I make contact with the web, it comforts me, feeds me, and my strength grows.
The star spirits.
They gave me a gift, and changed my fire energy.
I reach out along the web with my energy sight.
I’m too far away to see Mayla’s ship, but still, I reach for it.
The distance is nothing to me now.
The ship glows brightly, clear as if it was right before me.
The web calls me, and pulls me to come and play.
My fire energy blasts around the web in circles, around the wanderer.
My thoughts are quiet, replaced by joy.
Soon, I remember my family, and see the ship again.
Time to return.
I let go of everything that holds me, and fill myself with the desire to go home.
Still, , it’s not my will that moves me.
The web answers my wish, plays with me, and throws me most of the way back to the ship.
In this form, traveling at almost the speed of light, the ship is only a few minutes away.
Before long I pass through the ship’s outer hull, and enter the control room.
I see the shock in my family’s energy bodies, when their energy eyes see my streaming energy.
They can’t recognize me like this, and wonder whose strange energy moves through their ship.
I forgot to reshape my fire body!
I rebuild the balance that anchors my fire body, before Mayla or my family attack me.
Then I reshape my physical body, and bind the physical and fire bodies together.
With the first breath I taste, I take Shazira’s hand.
“Don’t be mad at me any more,” I say softly.
“I won’t return to Sinesu until you forgive me.”
She lets go of a long breath.
“Of course I forgive you,” she says, running a finger along the top of my nose.
“Now tell us what you learned.”
“I know what the Spiral is, and where it came from, although I am forbidden to speak of it.”
“How can we help you if you can’t tell us about it?” asks Berek.
“The circle gave me a gift of strength, and told me that Dilasa and I have the power to overcome the Spiral.”
“What kind of strength?” asks Shazira.
“My fire energy has changed.”
“Now, I can move along the energy web without a fire body, and see along the energy web, without end.”
“I learned how to join with the star spirits, and live in their circle.”
“They gave you something else, ina,” says Dilasa.
“What do you mean?”
“Look at your fire body.”
“There’s an energy spiral.”
There’s a dim spiral, spinning in my fire energy.
“It’s an ekrisa,” I tell my family, “the energy heart of the star spirits.”
“Are you a one of them, now, Yagrin?” asks Shazira.
“I have star energy in me, and they’ve given me a star heart, but my ekrisa is weak and difficult to see.”
“How will their gifts help?” asks Berek.
Berek is so tall, already.
The Jiku begin adolescence younger than humans, and rapid growth comes with it.
Still, he is tall for his age.
Someday he will rise above me.
I look him in the eyes, and a fire seems to pass between us.
“The star spirits reveal little of their intentions, but I think I understand.”
“I need to find a way to hide my energy wells, and then, I can pretend to be a star spirit.”
“They’ve given me the strength I’ll need to go deep into the Spiral.”
“Then, Dilasa will help me shatter our enemy from within, where it can’t defend itself.”