There is work to do before Vysha can begin. Caught in a current of inspiration as they are, Vysha still knows better than to surrender to it without seeking guidance. Their idea, if it is to be a monument to all Veerten, is too important to trust to Vysha’s judgment alone.
Vysha returns to Traat in the cooling air of evening, shedding the palanquin like a cumbersome steel molting in one of the sunken pools along Anmerresh’s waterfront. Other Veert flash warmlight greetings as Vysha joins the school milling and darting around one of the great apertures drilled into Traat’s base. Vysha returns the hails but does not pause to converse. Perhaps sensing the purpose behind Vysha’s haste, no one stops them.
The deep levels of Traat are a world no land-dweller will ever see. A lightless labyrinth of tunnels bored into the rock by countless Veert, its heart so enclosed by stone that even warmlight doesn’t penetrate. Windows are unnecessary: the tunnels are only used for transit, shuttling Veert and goods between the seabed and the inhabited levels of Traat.
Vysha takes a kind of defiant pride in jetting down the convoluted tunnels at speed, navigating corners and chimneys of rock using only the subtle changes in current and smell as a guide. In these tunnels they have known all their life, a Rul would be more helpless than a new larva: unable to see, unable to breathe, dashing their pods against the walls. Deficiency is a matter of perspective, Vysha thinks, and revels in the renewed sense of security that comes from being once more in a world made for them.
Vysha finds the Veerten elder in a feeding chamber in the midlevel of Traat. They recognize the elder by their particular combination of scents, though Vysha has never spoken with them directly before and can’t bring to mind the string of warmlight pulses that forms their proper Veerten name. Instead, Vysha knows the elder by their nickname: to the land-dwellers, this Veerten elder is Basalt, named after the main material of their seastack home.
Small crustaceans, visible as points of warmlight, scatter as Vysha settles near the seaweed-encrusted wall where Basalt is prying snails and swallowing them.
The sea provides, Vysha says. The phrase is a formal request to join in the meal. They are careful to keep their warmlight pulses in a cooler range. The last thing they want to do is offend Basalt by shouting at them with a too-warm pulse.
The sea’s children thank them, Basalt replies, shuffling over to make room for Vysha. There are a few other Veert in the chamber, none near enough to intercept a conversation. They wait for the elder to finish eating, for the sucking sound of snails being forcibly removed from the wall to cease.
You are Traat’s representative to the High Council, Vysha says at last. A question would be disingenuous and a waste of Basalt’s time. The Veerten representative’s sensory bulb turns toward Vysha, their stalk heating in a pattern expressing mild curiosity.
I am, Basalt acknowledges.
Vysha doesn’t give themself time to lose resolve. In one long warmlight transmission, Vysha introduces themself and explains their idea for a commissioned artwork representing the Teluk Veerten.
Basalt responds with a brief pulse of recognition. You’re the one who brought the Coalition’s recent treaty violation to Traat’s attention. There is a pause which stabs Vysha’s footbody with nerves.
What form would this sculpture take? Basalt asks. Vysha’s insides leap inside their footbody. The representative is interested!
Vysha reminds themself to be modest; they do not have permission yet, just the merest possibility of it. But that is more than they had a moment ago. I’m not sure yet, Vysha admits. I suspect the traditional forms may not be—they wash seawater over their gills, steadying themself to say this—may not be suitable if the piece is to be understood by non-Veert.
There it is, Vysha’s gambit out in the open: what ve proposes is nothing less than the founding of a new artistic form, one with no precedent among the traditional Veerten forms — a style that would wield art as a message, every bit as functional as a translator, though Vysha hopes more beautiful.
Of course, I thought it of utmost importance to gain your counsel first, Vysha continues. It would be a work that would embody our history and continued presence in Teluk affairs.
Finally, Basalt speaks. What you propose is propaganda. Impossible to gauge the tone in which this is said. The elder’s stalk remains neutral-cool to Vysha’s eyes.
Swimming blind, Vysha chooses their words carefully. Yes, but not a celebration of conflict as so many of the land-dwellers’ pieces are. I simply wish to make the Veert visible again, to remind the other people of Teluk this is our home too; their fight is our fight.
Basalt’s answer is immediate. Is it?
Their words send Vysha reeling, as though a rogue wave had ripped them from a rock and sent them tumbling bulb over stalk. Yes. Of course it is, they offer weakly.
The Coalition and Expansion fight over Teluk’s land, Basalt says, as though explaining something to a larva. We are children of the sea; what does it matter which group of land-dwellers scrabbles over the rocks?
It matters, Vysha insists, stubborn.
Why? Basalt probes, eager, bulb tilted forward—and Vysha realizes what they are doing. Playing the tide, pushing against Vysha to force them to push back and solidify their argument.
It matters because neither side will recognize our stake unless we make them, Vysha says. Veerthome may be a Terran ally, but that won’t stop them from bombing Anmerresh to sand if they win. And as much as we all wish for a Coalition victory, it would still mean—
Vysha stops. The word exile has been on the mind of every Veert in Traat, hovering like an unpleasant odor. If the Coalition wins it will mean the end of contact with Veerthome. The Council is prepared to cut off all commerce with the Expansion and its allied territories. The Teluk Veert will truly be on their own then, with only memories of an ancestry that runs eons deep on their home world. Vysha curses their muteness but cannot bring themself to go on.
But Vysha doesn’t have to say it. Basalt entwines an arm with one of Vysha’s comfortingly. I myself am an emigré to this world, they say. The first quarter of my life was spent on Veerthome. As good as the seasons since have been, part of me will always think of that world as my home. That part finds it hard to accept that I may never see it again.
Basalt disengages from Vysha. I believe your project has value, and I will advocate for it to the Council at such time as you are ready to present it.
Vysha nearly talks over themself giving thanks, promising to work on the piece only when their daily duties to Traat have been discharged.
I don’t doubt you will use your time responsibly, says Basalt. They dismiss Vysha with a wave of their arms, but Vysha doesn’t move. A lingering doubt bubbles under their joy. Do you think the Council will grant me audience? Why would they care now, Vysha thinks, what any Veert has to say?
Basalt’s reply carries the warm solidity of the stone they are named after. I will persuade them to give you the chance. Your concern should be to produce something worthy of it.
Vysha departs the chamber as quickly as decorum allows, filled with anticipation. They have everything they need to begin—the space to work, sanction from the representative, and the materials. In fact, the materials present the least challenge. All Vysha needs is some acetone, an inert container, and a little time.