Six cycles after Vysha showed Sky Harvester their incomplete draft, war engulfs the sky.
Vysha stands on one of the exterior terraces of the seastack, bulb tilted upward in awe at the silent battle scarring the night. On the terraces around them, jostling for space, is what seems to be the entire population of Traat.
The Terran and Coalition ships would be invisibly tiny even to Sky Harvester’s eyes as they battle around Ankarrh-6, Teluk’s largest moon. It’s their hyperkinetic ordnance lighting the sky, crashing through the vacuum in so many spectra that even the Veert, the blind, sheltered Veert, can perceive the energies surrounding them. Enclosing Anmerresh in a shining cage.
The war for territory has never come this close to Teluk before. Vysha can smell the acrid fear of their cohort. Some flee down through the seastack to the warrens carved into Anmerresh’s bedrock, to weather the bombardment if the Terrans win.
But many stay. Stalks rigid with tension, washed by scents exuding a cellular command to flee to the safety of the deep ocean, they stay and watch and hope. Vysha is among them, one bulb among hundreds turned to the sky.
The slamming of the warehouse door jolts Vysha from torpor. They cringe at the stale taste of the saline in the palanquin; the water is hours old, in need of recycling. The battle still raged above when Vysha left the seastack. They did not retreat to the tunnels but to the upper city, to sculpt until their pads were numb and their skin blistering from the dry air. Their memories of last night feel less like an act of creation than one of purging: vomiting up their fear and helplessness in layers of spitstone—as though, through sheer production of biomass, Vysha could bury forever the vision of their people watching their lives and their future being decided by beings whose interests and whose world was not theirs.
By the end of the night-cycle, the thought of ever secreting another cubic centimeter of spitstone made them nauseous and dizzy. Yet when they half fell into the palanquin at last, what Vysha felt most was exultation.
Vysha has no idea what part of the cycle it is now, day or night. They only know they’re alive. Which means the impossible has happened.
Sky Harvester skids to a stop as Vysha slithers free of the palanquin. The bioluminescent spots along his pods stutter in and out of the warmlight spectrum. The display is quicker than lightspeech—the Rul equivalent of hyperventilating in excitement.
Vysha kicks their translator to life. “What happened? The battle…”
“It’s over, Vysha.”
“Then we lost.” But Vysha knows that’s wrong.
“No. We won.” The Rul’s light display intensifies. “The Terran fleet has retreated from Ankarrh-6. The Council says that battle turned the tide. Within a few cycles at most, the Coalition will push the Terrans out of the system.”
Vysha’s arms go limp with relief. But it is not an entirely happy feeling. They remember the hundreds of Veert gathered on the seastack of Traat—and no doubt on other seastacks around the planet—watching with eyes for once as good as any land-dweller’s as fire lanced through the sky. Watching and thinking of Veerthome, already so many light-years behind the border of the Expansion. This victory will not be without sorrow for the Veerten of Teluk, the peace not without cost.
“I have… good news as well,” Vysha says. “My piece is complete.” Sky Harvester turns his pods toward the tarp-shrouded sculpture, seeming to notice it for the first time.
“Ah. May I…” He grasps the tarp in a pod and starts to lift it away.
“No!” Vysha says, a bit more loudly than they intend. Sky Harvester drops the tarp. “I wish to do the unveiling before the High Council. Today.”
“Vysha, are you sure?” They can hear his hesitation behind the translator’s monotone.
“What better time? The Council will be in a good mood. They just won their war.” If Sky Harvester hears the bitter seawater in Vysha’s tone, he says nothing.