The Incarnate maintains all things in order surely; and the theologicans say light is his shadow. Must it not be then that in darkness order grows ever less, flowers leaping from nothingness into a girl's fingers just as by light in spring they leap from mere filthiness into air?
-Gene Wolfe, The Shadow of the Torturer
Back in the ship, Trixie had puffed the map to true 3D, a balloon of tangled lightstrings that Torisa turned in the dark while the others watched.
Trixie said, "This is the default light of information discord, and now this is the Faestorm." Starting at the edge, the dim candles and dustmotes flared and sparked in a spiral plunge like a Pitcairn drillbit.
Nimrod lifted from his perch and flew through it. "Shiny!"
"So where are we now?" the Captain asked, and Trixie flashed a blue dot, away from the plunge and deeper. "And where did the story split?"
"There's only one story."
"Trixie, don't give the Captain a hard time. Blink Quercus 6-11, 17 days ago."
At the edge of the thrust's wake, a red light sputtered.
The Captain leaned in. "And where's it going next?"
Golden threads drifted off the bridge as Trixie zoomed, except one thread that grew in the center until it swallowed them all like a shaft of hoverfly ghosts.
"This line," she said, "is the warptube between Glimmer 7-18 and the GAP convergence."
Torisa said, "How old is this data?"
"Two days. Wait, I'll see what's new."
The dim bridge exploded like a star. They covered their eyes, Dez cursed, and the raven made a sound like a cheer.
"Sorry," Trixie said, and the sphere shrunk to the original tight bundle with a new white flare.
"That's the light of irreconcilable testimony, but they all agree on one thing. The warptube broke."
"Thanans into Gridspace," Torisa muttered. "They progged the fracture. Where's it going next?"
"Why does it even matter?" Dez said. "We don't have an engine."
"There might be another way." Torisa looked up at the mirror.
The Captain followed her eyes. "You can mirrorwarp?"
Dez looked up. "What?"
Torisa said, "All cryptomercury is subphysically linked. By staring into one mirror, and carefully forgetting where I am, I might find myself under some other mirror — ideally with the rest of the ship. But you would all have to go unconscious."
Dez said, "So we can't see you cheating."
"That kind of thinking," she wagged her finger, "is exactly how it works."
"But you can't even cheat."
"She's right," the Captain said. "With no engine, there's no plausible story, seen or unseen."
"Trixie, put up the stovepipe." Around the ship rose an opaque black cylinder, flaring to a wide rim as it pressed the mirror. "This gives us time. The story is that we continued to rig simgrav for 1G travel."
"That's not the point. The station won't let us leave."
"But when the Faestorm hits, reports of our grounding become unreliable. Maybe we were never here."
From the roof of the ship there came a thump.
The crew looked up at the invisible monster on their roof. They heard it getting to its feet and sliding gently down the dome.
"Trixie, show us," Dez said.
"She can't," Torisa said. "By definition, the stovepipe is synthetic Arbitrary, total information blackbody from hull to hat."
In the silence, they listened. Out on the floor the creature's footfalls were undefined, but it tethered the ship with a handfeel snaking the wall.
"We had just opened the pipe," the Captain said.
Torisa said, "Like it was waiting."
Now it was at the airlock.
"Son of Space," Dez said. "It's just some dude who fell through the mirror doing repairs or something. You people will believe anything."
She popped the airlock hulldoor. Down at the end of the tube, out of the black, came a slinky figure in a Glimmer suit, with a design on the chest that reminded the Captain of two upturned boobs. The visitor whisked off her helmet — no, it was a man, with a patchy saffron beard and a face like a spacemad mathematician.
Torisa gasped, "Foxle Spindrift!"
Back on the Moonbat, Cataria went straight to the shaman's cave, a candle-dim oblate sphere with ceiling and walls molded from damp substrate growing live fungi tickled by jets spritzing mist, its floor heaped with fluffy blankets and pillows.
The old ethertech said, "I'm told that you jaunted a Faespur."
"I saw my ship, clear as the stars, and when I chased it, it was gone."
"That must be strange for you, chasing something and not getting it."
A tragic expression sank her face. She set her teeth. "Can you help me?"
Ming Findred finger-raked a fistful of umbonate agarics. "Eat some mushrooms."
Trixie said, "There's no one there."
Torisa turned slowly and looked between the cartoon doomchick avatar and the bright-eyed space elf.
"Wait," the Captain said, "you don't see-"
"Shhh!" Torisa spat. "Trixie, this is a new kind of divination. We're pretending someone is here, who's not really here. We might say some strange things."
"Okay, whatever. Can I correlate it?"
Foxle said, "Please do." He stepped forward, knocking over a chair, and looked between Trixie and Torisa. "I can't tell which is which."
"You know she can't hear you."
"Of course." He winked theatrically at Trixie. "Can I give you a puzzle for her?" He turned, knocking over another chair, and surveyed the crew. "We are one card from a septimal reference." He bumped the table. "Ask your winsome sage."
"Trixie, if our six personae are in a seven card spread, with our divinatory phantom as the Fool, what myth correlates?"
"The Faeward Island. Even a level two would know that."
Foxle gave Trixie the thumbs up.
Torisa said to the others, "It's a synchronic myth, emerging independently, always from Earths that are just reaching their fingers into space." She took a breath. "This is the standard catechism."
A king of old was so enchanted that on the day of his sacrifice, seven travelers on a Gridspace daytrip were hijacked by Fate and cast to a mote on the thin edge between Eye and Fae. There, every seventh day, they cast a line eyeward, but one of their number was the Trickster, and every week he cut the line and looped its yearning back into their dreams.
There, they delved the stories that girded their world and ours. They played vampires and pirates, gunslingers and secret agents, indigenes and princes, swashbucklers and spacemen. And as their homeworld dimmed, they cast their line not to return but to gather survivors. How many they caught, none can say, but they dream there still, an endless echo of the fathomless past, a spark in the night.
Foxle jumped up to applaud and toppled the table, scattering the tray of sequins to constellate the carpet.
The raven said, "Story, for what?"
"Silly bird! Our story. We have synced with Ur-myth, minus one member. I forget," she asked Foxle and Trixie, "who are we missing?"
Simultaneously they said, "The unvanquishable feminine."
Cataria lay in the shroomcave on a shag-fur cushion, playing with the light in her eyes. Up on the ceiling, sun-gold phosphorescent filaments dangled like snot from a mat of snow-white glow lichens, and through lids neither open nor closed, she drew scepters and clouds like taffy.
"I dreamed," she said.
"So did I," said the shaman. "I dreamed I was a butterfly dreaming I was a man, and I couldn't wake up. Or perhaps I wasn't dreaming, because lately I feel that way all the time."
"I dreamed that I was my great-grandfather, Foxle Spindrift. He traveled the full length of the Scroll, from the Panopticon to the Fountain, and on the way through he fucked my great grandmother. She said it was a misunderstanding.
"Anyway, I dreamed I was him, now, inside that blue ship, and the crew... you could not assemble a sorrier pack of losers! First there's this batshit Flow priestess who looks like death in a dollhouse. She owns the ship, but she coddles this upbeat drifter who she's in love with, he made captain by mistake so she calls him 'Captain' even though he does at best level two tinkering. The Na-il have this upstart, her style is a parody of theirs and she doesn't know it, and it's so awkward that they dump her on the worst ship in Chainspace. And I almost forgot, there's also a neurotic Blipchick, and an upcogged crow who thinks he's God's ventriloquist dummy.
"And yet," she said, "through Foxle's eyes, I loved them." A single tear trickled down her temple, and she discreetly hacked up the fiber from the shrooms.
"I sense that your stories will yet converge."
"I hope Fate doesn't expect me to go after them."
"Follow your own path. In the end, you are Fate's bitch."
"Why haven't the sequins been picked up?" Torisa looked down at them. "Trixie, are the spiffdrones kaput?"
"The table tipped without anyone touching it, so I thought it was more of your weird divination."
"I'm sorry, but how would I read this?"
"I can read it, if you tell me the rules. Like, what the shapes and colors mean, and what we're looking for."
"What in dark space are we looking for?" the Captain said. "First we need an engine, unless you pull us back up your rope. Now we're supposed to find this girl, with the storm coming, and there's still the trillion cog bounty."
Dez said, "What?"
"Trixie," Torisa said, "what is the largest bounty currently being offered?"
"Higher than usual. Fifty million skulls for a scavenge bandit in the warptube pileup."
"Shit," the Captain said. "It was part of the dream."
"Raise your faith, acolyte!" Torisa snapped. "You were favored with a glimpse of the uncanny potential Consensus. Even a faespur bounty nods at the unthinkable: that our most primal colony ship still lives..."
Foxle Spindrift turned in shock as she continued, "...the Go Long Be Still."
At "Be" the lights went out. The absolute blackness reeked of electrical fire.
"Trixie!" Torisa cried, and then there came a flicker of blue from the console, and a whisper:
"The pattern! I see it."
The bridge lights glowed and steadily rose. Foxle Spindrift was gone.