Resilient – Sample


From the A.G. Mahrenholz memoir Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

“I wonder what Suban Dhava would think about being remembered for thousands of years under an assumed name.”

Chapter 1

 The Empty Sea east of Laghu — on the planet Vidura — a very long time ago

The thirty-meter campaigner Kevarta, chambers heavy with seawater and live catch, was starting to wallow in the trough between swells. Bina Dhava knew what to do about it, but she wasn’t at the helm.

Bina cast a gaze at stress gauge readouts on an upper display panel. They were in the green, but wouldn’t be for long if the pilot didn’t do something. She slid out of the mate’s throne, gripping a safety bar with one hand, the other cradling precious cargo in her belly.

The deck pitched left, then right — and both hands went to the rail. Now standing behind her chair, she strained to let events proceed without interference.

Her prospective relief captain keyed the intercom. “Deck gang. Lifting the boat two meters.”

Bina’s husband replied. “Wait for my signal.” Matsika’s burly figure appeared on the foredeck, waving at his nephew to stay in the cubby. The left boom swung out as he moved to the opposite side, just in time to meet a wave breaking over the bow.

It swept him off his feet. Matsika’s helper dashed out and dragged him to safety.

Bina barked into the comm. “Mat!”

Barun called back. “He’s fine. Lines are clear. Lift the boat.”

Bina looked at her companion’s face — the lady was, apparently, unflappable. Dani’s hand went to a boost lever on the panel. “Lifting the boat.”

Bina’s ears caught the faint whine of transdimensional exciters. Gunwale cameras panned down to the waterline, giving witness to the Empty Sea surging up past the boat’s keel, carried on a stream of gravitic tensors that had been tricked into emerging from G-Space by one of Physicist Rivan Saraf’s inventions.

Kevarta heaved partway out of the water, now stable. The pilot moved fingers in the air, touching virtual controls only she could see. Bina tried not to stare, but Dani was the first Iravat she’d ever met.

Not that different from me — the way her fur is shaved down, who could tell she wasn’t Raji Limar?

Dani glanced her way, high pointed ears twitching, her smile showing white fangs from a lovely, yet feral muzzle. “Captain, I think we’d be smart to haul the nets.”

Bina lifted her chin. “You’re in charge.”

Kevarta. Rig for harvesting. Deck gang. Bring in the catch.”

The boat’s Buddhi Oma reasoning engine replied with the <AK> tone.

Out on the foredeck, Matsika and his nephew prepped a contingent of labor appliances — man-sized elliptical capsules propelled by grav-lift kinetics, provisioned with gutworm tech manipulators. In the fishing industry, they were called maroli — a Sanskrit word that means ‘monsters’.

The machines queued up to a deck box, milky-white tentacles writhing furiously against the cold, slowing down only long enough to thread orange-dyed ballistic fabric sleeves onto their limbs.

Two maroli went unclad — assigned as lifeguards to the men on deck — while the remainder flew over the side. The boat was still awash in spray, but the dangerous part was over.

Dani came out of her chair. “Captain.” She pointed right. Three hundred meters away, something popped briefly over a swell, and then disappeared.

“Is that a boat?”

Bina scowled. “Kevarta. Launch a twenty-three.”

A twenty-three centimeter Raksa fighting drone shot out of a bay atop the pilothouse. Dani lost her composure when it fixed sights on the target.

“Shit! Who takes an open boat in these conditions? What do you make that thing — nine meters?”

Bina was all business. “Eight and a half meters.” She touched thumb and little finger together. “Mat, Samudri skiff off the right side, three hundred meters.”

Dani barked. “Fuck! Pirates?”

“If we allow it.” Bina evoked a virtual console as the drone closed into hailing distance. “Samudri vessel, you can stop right there.”

Dani went to the arms locker. “You want a rifle or pistol?”

Bina waved a hand. “At ease, skipper.” She thumbed an invisible button. “Hey, assholes, stop pretending you don’t hear me or I’ll chop you into pieces. Turn around.”

A man stood in the bow of the skiff. He was clad in an oilcloth slicker with a wide, floppy cowl. He shouted at the drone. “Hoya, asshole yourself. You come into our water like you own us, take what you want. Fuck you. Give us the small ones and we go away.”

Dani pitched her voice low. “Are we? In their water, I mean.”

Bina sighed. “Not by our standards, maybe by theirs. Mat, what do you want to do?”

Matsika grumbled in her ear. “I’d like to shoot the bastards, but I suppose that wouldn’t be nice. It’ll be twenty minutes before we get the yield sorted. Tell them to wait until I’m ready to flush the tank.”

Bina relayed instructions. Dani strapped on a Nayeer pulse pistol. Booms jerked back and forth, winches clattered, bulkheads creaked, hatches drew open and fish poured out of nets.

Over the next ten minutes, the Samudri skiff motored back and forth, getting closer each pass, until it was a hundred meters away.

Bina flew the twenty-three down. The drone matched rise and fall perfectly, staying exactly one meter from the Samudri’s nose. “I told you to stand off two hundred meters. Do I have to shoot somebody to get your attention?”

He pushed his cowl back, exposing rat-like features, a thin, muscular forearm and a feral grin. “You won’t, will you? Too civilized, I think.”

The man’s demeanor stood fur up along her spine.

Step back. Look at everything.

Bina’s eyes searched the background — there was one other person in the skiff, at the stern, hand on a tiller. She refocused on the alpha.

The sleeve of his slicker had fallen away, showing an expanded textile garment at the elbow.

He’s wearing a dive skin.

Bina closed the channel. Scanning the foredeck she saw the tail end of a net draped over the side. “Kevarta. Launch another twenty-three. Run the perimeter.”

She gestured for intercom. “Mat, they have cold water swim gear and they’re too close.”

“Gods damn it!” Matsika shouted at his nephew. “Baba! Get inside!”

A slender shape vaulted over the railing. Two more followed. Matsika retreated, thumb and index finger making an open channel to his crew of maroli.

“Clear the deck, boys.”

Three appliances rushed in, snatching the intruders up by their ankles. A pirate discharged his handgun — perhaps by accident, perhaps not — escalating the machines’ combat protocols.

Each one smashed its captive into a bulkhead, twice, before flinging him overboard. Bina could hear them splash down through the Raksa audio channel.

Breath caught in her throat, Bina watched the Samudri clan boss turn to his helmsman, hand making a circle in the air. She shouted at his back.

“We offered you a kindness!”

His reply was barely audible. “Your mistake.” The man sat as the skiff headed away.

Bina looked out from the pilothouse. The deck was slick with blood. She staggered away from the window, clutching her belly, words coming between gasps. “They would have killed us.”

There was a moment of silence. Dani made use of the pause to materialize a RealSide Services token in the air. Bina sighed, pushing the fighting drone’s virtual console into Dani’s workspace.

A Raksa twenty-three carries a modular pulse gun in its accessory tray. Dani touched a weapons widget, speaking softly to the drone’s Oma.

“Shoot both men in the head.”

The clan boss’s brains splattered against the helmsman’s face. The other made to go over the side, but wasn’t fast enough — five Basu pellets made a tight pattern through his occipitalis, leaving him hanging over the rubrail.

Dani dismissed the console. She pulled a deep breath, squared her shoulders, scanned the foredeck. “Mat, Baba. Do you want a break?”

Matsika turned toward the pilothouse. “Ya. We’re coming up. Maybe you should take us home, Captain.”

“Agreed. Watch your step, boys. Turning it around.”

“Turning, ayeh.”

Bina stood by the mate’s chair, staring aft. Dani touched her shoulder. “Are you all right?”

The boat’s owner caught her hand. “I’m tired. I think — this late in my pregnancy — I might not be fit for the job.”

Dani squeezed the other woman’s hand and let go. “You don’t have to worry about it. Take your leave, Captain. I have the boat.”


Chapter 2

The airborne residence Patvan Dama — over Kendra province in the Great Continent

Sarvaga Pala reclined beside lavani on their bed. Her eyes already closed, she tapped his hip.

“Move over, twitchy. I don’t want a bruise.”

He scooted away, laughing.

A voice spoke through his interface. “The Anodyne service requests a connection. Say ‘Yes’ to allow. Say ‘No’ to refuse.”

Vaga reached for serenity. “Yes.”

They opened their eyes to a hallway with an intricately carved door at the end of it. It swung open to an Anodyne binary — the Great Hall of the Brotherhood of Monks — a virtual mirror site to a real place that few outsiders had ever visited.

Their arrival provoked a change in ambience. Prefect Brahmarsi and his advisors turned to look, as if cued from offstage.

Amil Leyta waved them over, turning to address the group. “Thank you for being here.  To those who don’t already know, it’s my pleasure to introduce Doctor Sarvaga Pala and Lavani Suwanetra Pala.”

Amil’s announcement was greeted with a smattering of applause. Brahmarsi clasped Vaga’s hand, bestowed a kiss on Lavani and whispered. “Relax. The bargain is sealed.”

One of the Prefect’s advisors drew Amil aside while the group chatted. “I’m told Rivan Saraf has stepped down at Parsanda Research and put you in his place.”

Amil shook his head. “That’s an overstatement. The Partners asked me to serve as lead scientist. I’m an employee, a minor shareholder and Piyali Nayeer is my boss. Also, it’s temporary.”

The man’s face turned downward. “Oh.”

Amil made a kind smile. “Does someone need a job, a referral?”

“I’m an accountant, but it’s a dying profession. I hoped there might be a place for me there.”

“I can help. We’ll talk later.”

The man shook his hand. “Thank you.”

Amil gestured towards a door at the rear of the hall. “Let’s see if we can move this crowd towards the habitat.”

They passed through an unadorned entryway. Guru Suhavis, a celebrated yogi and Brahmarsi’s frequent houseguest, spun around in the foyer of the environment with arms spread wide, a great smile on his face.

“You’ve mirrored the SagGha house in the Northern Reach! How wonderful is that?”

Vaga took his arm. “We’re calling it First House. It’s the deepest content binary in the Anodyne. Pull out a drawer in the kitchen and taste the underside of it if you don’t believe me.”

“No! Seriously?”

“I’m not lying.”

Amil led them to a parlor. Dhatri Brahmarsi placed her reader on a side table, standing to greet them.

“Good afternoon husband, friends.” The Prefect’s wife opened interior doors to make room for visitors. A gentle breeze made its way across the room from the garden, tickling noses with the scent of herbs in rich soil.

“Would anyone like tea? I know, it’s not real, but it seems real.”

There was a show of hands. She called to the back of the house. “Mayur!”

Mayur Upanaya, Dhatri’s brother, until recently an officer of the Vartula, answered. “I hear. Sattva, go see our guests.”

An unclothed, fine-coated child raced out of the kitchen. Her pelt was white, set off with black nose and eye-markings. Sattva spied Vaga and Lavani, rushing into their arms, squealing with delight.

“There’s my girl! What a native! Biting today are you?” Vaga turned Sattva upside down and dangled her by the feet.

“Got you now!” He set her down, whereupon she leapt at Amil to apply the same treatment.

The Prefect’s party set about fetching chairs. Brahmarsi went to the kitchen to see his brother-in-law about biscuits.

Everyone was at ease except Uttara Vadin, legal counsel for the SagGha. The man stood frozen in place, wearing an expression of disbelief and consternation. A lady he had never met went to his side.

“It’s a shock, I know. Sit down, let’s talk. Amil, push that chair over.”

The little girl ran back to the kitchen. The Prefect could be heard speaking with her. “Pull those claws in, young lady.”

Vadin tugged at his beard. “I didn’t know what to expect. Not this.” He turned to the woman. “I’m told you’re a social psychologist.”

Naomi measured the man’s distress. “I am. I joined the project shortly after she opened her eyes.”

“This is not an artificial intelligence?”

Amil pulled a chair in. “No. She’s a sentient being.” He waved at Vaga, who was wandering toward the kitchen. “Ssst! We need you.”

Vadin tugged his beard, again. “Brahmarsi said there was a soul inside a machine, but was short on details. I’m confused and disturbed. I fear this will bring unwanted attention upon the Brotherhood. How was this done? What is this experiment supposed to accomplish?”

Vaga thumped Vadin on the knee as he sat. “Nice to see you. You look good. Still running every day?”

Amil raised eyebrows. “Our attorney is telling us how unhappy this makes him.”

“Uf! We should brief you.”

Vadin made a solemn face. “That would help.”

Amil glanced at the Prefect’s clique — they were selecting pastries from a tray. “Are you familiar with my work investigating the nature of the soul?”

Vadin coughed. “I try to stay current.”

“Ya, of course. Sorry. So, something that’s not in the news — early in the program, we observed life force artifacts operating in a different … spectrum, if you will. They appeared to be escorting Anye souls to and from wherever they go when they’re not attached to our biology.”

“You mean the between-life.”

“Let’s say that’s a working theory. We used to call them Kaladuta.”

Vadin’s eyes widened. “Angels?”

“Muh huh. Again, I want to be objective. We don’t know what they are. They could be souls that belong on another world, compatible with some other biology. It’s an open question.”

Vaga joined in. “You might ask — why would the souls of aliens from another planet bother showing our souls how to get across dimensional boundaries?”

Amil smiled. “We could do this all day. Faith meets science. I don’t know how to advise you on this part.”

Naomi waved a hand in the middle of their circle. “Time, gentlemen. Move it along.” She showed the Prefect her palm. Wait.

Amil hurried his lecture. “Vaga and I contrived a quantum device. It’s a sphere.” He cupped his hands. “About so big. It is mostly analogous to the Anye brain, except it resonates transdimensionally in the same spectrum as our little girl’s kind.”

Uttara Vadin returned a blank stare. Amil forged on.

“The device has a regulatory engine that mimics biological systems but there’s no cognitive software on board. The quantum machine is, or was, a blank tablet. That little girl …”

Amil pointed towards the kitchen. “… was born into a virtual environment running on the Anodyne Server Workbench Edition, integrated within the sphere.”

The attorney rolled his eyes. “I understood almost nothing you said, except that you invented a machine equivalent of the Anye brain.”

“I’m sorry. No. That’s a part we didn’t do. The cerebral architecture matrix was developed four hundred years ago by Asurya Horizon. They hoped to create a machine intelligence platform, but failed to understand that the brain is not a thinking machine.”

“Oh, really? What is it, then?”

Vaga rejoined. “Its purpose is to anchor the soul in a given time and place, providing a means for souls to function in a linear temporal reality.”

Amil Leyta sniffed. “We think.”

Vaga poked Amil on the thigh. “Do we know things or merely believe in them? Let me tell you, counselor, this is something I know.”

Amil batted paws with Sattva, now returned from the kitchen. “Maybe I’m overcautious.”

Vadin seemed more composed. “You said you used to call them Kaladuta. What do you call them now?”

Vaga answered. “AptakArin.”

The attorney narrowed his eyes, making a half-smile, half-frown. “Trusted agent? Or, some might say ‘Trusted servant’. Rather the same sentiment, don’t you think?”

“It was Amil’s idea. He thinks it’s important, and I agree, that their place in our history should originate in the here and now, rather than ancient speculations about the nature of souls and deities.”

“How is it done? Will I have to argue in court over a complaint of abduction?”

“I don’t think so. The Soul Vessel broadcasts a beacon into N-Space. It’s nothing more than an invitation. Sattva entered on her own volition.”

“Can you make a good argument for that?”

“Amil could.” Vaga raised eyebrows. “That’s right, yes?”

“Oya, I could. Dhatri, are you joining us?”

The Prefect’s wife took Sattva by the hand. “Sattva and I are taking a walk.”

Vaga pinched his adopted daughter’s ears and nuzzled her cheek. “I might not see you until tomorrow.”

Sattva hugged his neck. “Okay, Ta.” She turned and waved at Lavani. “Mi! Mi! Bye, Mi.”

Lavani rushed over and kissed her. “Bye, darling. We’ll see you tomorrow for sure.”

“Okay, Mi. Bye.”

Lavani took a chair in the circle. “Gods, she’s such a doll.”

Vadin sniffed. “Is it your intention to be the parents of record?”

She nodded. “Oh, my. Yes.”

He shook his head. “Theory of custody is going to be an issue.”

Brahmarsi patted Vadin on the shoulder. “You’ve met Naomi?”

Vadin looked to his left. “Your resident psychologist? Yes, thank you.”

“Naomi is Director of Family Services in Kendra Province.”

The attorney looked about to resume tugging at his beard.

Naomi touched his elbow. “Be calm, Counselor. I intend to keep our enemies at bay.”

“More good news.” He sighed. “How was it decided this individual is female?”

Naomi pushed her chair back. “In our own biology, it appears the soul influences gender outcome. Doctor Pala believes his model, which begins the simulation in the early cell division stage, allows the same process to take place.”

Vadin glanced at his tablet computer. “The child appears to be approximately four years old. How is that possible after only one hundred eight days?”

“We’re seeing accelerated development. The cause is under investigation.”

Naomi was not unaware that Vadin was a man who deals with liars on a daily basis. She imagined herself speaking the truth.

Time runs faster in here whenever Leyta and Pala want it to. We’re keeping that to ourselves. Sorry.

Vadin studied her face. “There’s something you’re not telling me, but I presume you have a reason. What else?”

“She sleeps three hours or less per cycle. We’re understaffed because of it.”

Abbot Kaviza cleared his throat. “I’m recruiting. Look for some relief soon.”

“Glad to hear it.”

Suhavis squeezed into the circle. “Vadin, brighten up. This is a great day. Mil, Vaga — what’s next?”

Amil returned his smile. “We’re going to see if any more of her kind are interested in joining us.”


Chapter 3

Kevarta — on the Empty Sea

Kevarta was classed as a hybrid oceangoing vessel, a designation that referred to craft that could do a lot of things quite well, and craft that could not.

Matsika and Bina Dhava’s boat was at the end of the scale that gets the buyer a seaworthy campaigner with a light-duty Sinaya Gravitics lift system grafted into a conventional hull. As such, Kevarta could fly empty to the fishing grounds, but had to return with the bottom mostly in the water.

When her crew made the decision to turn for home with the hold two-thirds full, Kevarta was 800 kilometers from Harbor Town in six meter seas. It was slow going, there wasn’t much that needed to be done, and the boat’s Oma knew how to steer.

On the evening of their run-in with the Samudri, Dani made Andapuapa — eggs, cheese, shellfish, peppers, seasoning —on a hotplate in the pilothouse. Matsika baked prepared dough in the galley. Bina brought up a pitcher of goat’s milk and a tray of fruit.

They set out a folding table. Chairs were outsized to accommodate Matsika and his nephew, both of them Mahat Limar — a breed closest in body-type to the first Anye ancestor to descend from the trees.

The men were short, stocky and muscular with close ears, blunt muzzles and thick fur. Seven hundred years after a gene tailoring accident turned Anye evolution back a million years, the entire race still wore the legacy of the Change.

Barun — Baba to his family and friends — led them in prayer, giving thanks for their deliverance from pirates. Dani was embarrassed for not knowing what to do when everyone stretched hands around the table, and said so.

“The SagGha didn’t do well in the Islands. I think my people were too fierce for them. And then later, when the SagGha became fierce themselves, they decided it wasn’t all that important to spread the faith. In the end, we got left out.”

Baba got up to start a pot of kaphi. “Eh, the practice has changed, even since I was little, although the Brotherhood has always been light on doctrine. That’s why I’m not sure I’d call it a faith.”

“I’m sorry — can you explain that?”

Bina cleared her throat. “Baba, not everybody wants to know about these things.”

“Please, I’m curious.”

“Okay. Well, unlike other religious orders, the SagGha say that we don’t know very much, if anything, about the nature of God, what God expects of us or what happens when we die. At the same time, we think these questions are worth looking into. We have rules of conduct, but we don’t represent them as mandates from on high — instead we frame virtue as an idea that should  constantly be measured against that which must be done in order to provide for a common good.”

“Do the SagGha believe in God?”

“If pressed, most of us will say ‘I hope there’s a God’ or ‘There must be a God’. When we offer prayers and thanks to God, what does that mean, exactly, about what we believe? In my case, I’m doing something I was taught as a child, showing respect for the customs of my tribe and admitting that I don’t know everything.”

Matsika leaned forward. “I was never devout, but when Amil Leyta started giving talks on the quantum nature of the soul it got my attention. Now he’s investigating the doctrine of rebirth and they think prophesy might be a function of N-Space saturation at the soul artifact mediation boundary. Wah! What’s next?”

Baba poured a glass of milk. “I think the prophesy thing might not be from a reliable source. I’m waiting to see if Brahmarsi says anything about it.”

Bina gave Dani a look. “This is probably a stupid question — Amil Leyta is AjDazani Iravat, as are you. Is it possible that you know him?”

Dani put down her fork. “Uf. The question. How to answer.”

“My apologies. Let’s move on. Would you like some tea?”

“No, it’s all right. Yes, I knew him when we were in our teens.”

“You were close?”

Dani made sad eyes. “We were intimate.”

“Oh, my. I am so sorry to have intruded on your privacy this way.”

“Na. It’s been on my mind lately — I might need somebody to talk to about it.”

Bina’s countenance was welcoming. “We can be your family, dear — anything you tell us will stay in our circle. I promise.”

Dani gave the table a crooked smile. “It’s trite — the stuff of badly written teleplays. You might not want to hear it.”

Baba sniffed. “I do.”


Chapter 4

The Great Hall of the Brotherhood of Monks — in the Anodyne Virtuality

Prefect Brahmarsi tagged Uttara Vadin on their way through the Great Hall’s Anodyne binary.

“You have a smile on your lips. Share the joke, old friend.”

The attorney looped arms with the priest in an uncharacteristically companionable fashion. “The longer I turn the story in my head, the more it sounds like the build-up for a Low Desert Traveler game.”

“Ha! What’s the proposition?”

“The Angels know where to find an ancient storehouse of gold and other valuables. Buy in now, and I’ll make sure you get your share.”

Brahmarsi’s laugh rumbled out of his belly. “Don’t tell anybody — I might use it.”

The attorney stopped. “Ock. I just remembered your people were Travelers.”

Brahmarsi snorted. “I didn’t know about it until a few years ago — doesn’t have anything to do with me. Want to get kaphi?”


Brahmarsi led the way. “Are we even in the same town? Where are you?”

“Pulina. I saw your house flying offshore. Are you there?”

“Ya. Come over — I’ll send a car.”

Vadin stopped short of the portal. “Okay. Where’s Abbot Kaviza? With you?”

“Not this week. He and Van Saraf are staying at Amil and Vaga’s.”

“I have a budget to show him.”

“I’ll call. Maybe he’ll come over.”

“Give me half an hour.”

“Don’t eat. I’ll serve something.”

Vadin turned to make his departure, and then turned back. “Masala, do you worry that we invite the wrath of the Gods with this thing we’re doing?”

“I did at first. Not now.”

Chapter 5

Kevarta — on the Empty Sea

The sound of pumps refreshing seawater in the live holds made conversation impossible. The crew cleared the table while Dani performed bridge officer’s duties.

Seas were down to five meters, the boat was on course, the last of a series of barrier reefs was behind them, and all three of Vidura’s moons would be visible in the same region of the sky near midnight.

It was a rare event, and they resolved to witness it. Dani watched Candra, the smallest moon, rise above the horizon, casting long shadows across an unlit foredeck. Kevarta was operating dark to the interdiction line, still 300 kilometers north.

“I hope we don’t run over anything.”

Bina set the fruit tray aside for dessert. “If we do, it’ll be Vanya, and their hard luck.”

She brought out a box containing everything needed for a four-player game of tiles. “Come away from the helm, dear. The Oma will say something if it needs you.”

Baba passed Dani a handful of tokens to put face down.

“Did you know that Rivan Saraf and Abbot Kaviza authored a series of articles about the game?”

Dani snorted. “No kidding. Is there a story behind that?”

“They went together for age reversal at Zambala resort. Kaviza wrote an essay about two ladies who burned their fort to the ground every time they played against them. It’s hilarious.”

Bina pushed tiles to the middle. “Zambala?”

“Flight converted ocean liner out of Pulina. You know the one — got hit when Vidura First was setting off EMPs everywhere.”

“Oya. Were Saraf and Kaviza there when it happened?”

“I don’t know — they might have been somewhere else by then.”

Dani shook her head. “How do those guys find time to play games when they’re supposed to be running our world for us?”

Bina laid out the board. “Good question, but I have to say — their crew gets a lot of things done. Like your friend Amil Leyta. What is he — thirty?”

“Twenty-nine.” Dani drew for partners.

“How long were you …”

“Five years.  He was twelve and I was fourteen when we — you know.”

Matsika coughed. “Woo. That’s young.”

“Nobody said a thing about it.”

Bina won choice. “I pick Dani. Not even your mother?”

“He’s a very nice person. My mother loved him. Everybody loved him.”

“Well, then I have to ask — do you still love him?”

“Of course I do.”


Chapter 6

Wreck of the resort ship Zambala  — in the West Ocean

The once proud resort ship Zambala tilted against a sandbar in the West Ocean off the coast of MahaDviPa — the Great Continent.

The coastal town of Pulina was ninety kilometers due east. Travel across a few thousand kilometers of land, lakes and rivers and one reaches the east coast, the Nivi Strand and finally the Empty Sea, where Kevarta and her crew plied homeward.

Two mature gentlemen of the Mahat Limar persuasion motored a ten-meter sport boat slowly past Zambala while eating lunch out of a cooler. They wore wide-brim hats under a bright sun framed in pale blue skies and puffy white clouds.

The men arrived rigged for bluefins — heavy poles over the side, stout line, shiny lures — but hadn’t caught any yet.

The older of the two — a retired age reversal clinician — shook his head in dismay.

“They were working on it last week. It was up off the bar at least five meters. I wonder what happened.”

His friend fiddled with the boat’s optical ranging system. Zambala’s bridge platform appeared on the navigation display.

“Nobody on board, not that a person could stand on that.”

The first man tapped on the side of his sun goggles. “Look west one-twenty. Altitude maybe a thousand meters.”

“Eh, that’s Patvan Dama. Leyta, Pala, those guys. Saw it up north a few days ago.”

The physician zoomed optics to maximum. The image got tighter, but lost resolution. “I wouldn’t mind owning an airborne home.”

“You don’t want that one — too expensive to keep.”

“I should have worked longer and put another fifteen million Tal in my account.”

“You have fifteen million?”

“Not even close. It’s just something I say.”

The younger man made a face. “If I had the money, I wouldn’t spend it on that. I have enough work taking care of the house I’m in.”

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