Ventus – Day 133 of 135


“The Winds say she’s alive, Axel.” Marya touched his shoulder. “You’ll just have to accept that she doesn’t want to contact us.”

He shook his head. “I just wish I knew.”

They stood on the ramp of a military transport that was grounded outside the ruins of Rhiene. Above them the once-green escarpment was smothered in grey mud, and where a city had once been now there were only the jagged stumps of buildings. The lake had moved in to claim much of the lower valley. Long lines of refugees stood waiting for medical assistance and food; military doctors from the fleet moved up and down the line, supplemented by morphs. Rhiene had been the first city the swans visited their wrath upon when they began to attack Mediation. Luckily it was also the last.

Jordan Mason had told the two factions of the Winds, Mediation and Thalience, that their world would be destroyed by the Archipelagic fleet if they did not reconcile. Axel didn’t understand all the details–he knew pure thalience was a mode of thought alien to humanity, and that Mediation had been the bridge Jordan used to finally permit the swans and the other greatest Winds to communicate with humanity. In the long minutes while Jordan, Armiger and the Desert Voice had huddled silently on the mountainside, the Winds had met, reached some treaty, then opened communications directly to the fleet. 3340 was dead, they told the admirals. The Flaw was finally understood, and would be healed. But Ventus was not now, nor would it ever be an Archipelagic world.

Axel had spent his last week on Ventus searching for Calandria May. The Winds had been happy to let him sleep in any Manse he came across, but they refused to help him find her. They insisted that Calandria was free and able to make her own decisions about her life; but they would not put Axel in touch with her.

It was frustrating, but he could not bring himself to hate the Winds. He was sure they were not being malicious. The part that hurt, to which he could not reconcile himself, was the idea that Calandria did not want to speak to him. After all they had been through, it was a painful parting.

“We have to go,” said Marya. The crowd that had been watching the ship for days was backing away as the engines whined into life. Some morphs shambled past the bottom of the ship’s ramp, slobbering happily to one another. They had itched to tend humans for centuries, and now they were finally getting their chance. Those touched by them rarely died, no matter how advanced their illness or injuries. It was ironic that the gibbering, misshapen Winds most used by mothers to frighten children were now being treated like royalty everywhere they went.

He sighed, and turned away from the sight. As the doors closed, Marya said, “Is it back to the mercenary’s life for you now?”

He shook his head. “I wanted to talk to you about that. I hear you’ve got a new job.”

She smiled. Marya had been invited to become a member of the new diplomatic staff the Archipelago wanted to send to Ventus. He knew she must have leaped at the opportunity.

“The Diadem Winds are making delegates for us,” she said as they walked into the warm, softly lit passenger area of the ship. “They’ll be humanoid, apparently. Some will be going to Earth, and I might accompany them. On the other hand, there’s a post here on Ventus… I can’t decide.”

“I know how I’d decide,” he said. The thought of going back to Earth–or anywhere in the Archipelago–left him cold. Surrounded as he might be there by artificial intelligences, humanity and ancient culture, Axel knew he would feel alone. The air he breathed there, and the ground he touched, would feel dead and valueless compared to this place. Even though only those humans with the archaic Ventus DNA could command the mecha and speak to the Winds, Axel had felt their presence all around him in the past days. It made all the difference to know they were watching over him.

Maybe he was just feeling lonely because of the loss of Calandria. On the other hand, maybe he had found a part of himself here that he’d never known he was missing. It hurt to think that, as an offworlder, he no longer had a right to be here. The Winds would tolerate no tourists on Ventus.

“It’s too bad there’s these two positions,” said Marya with a sigh. “If one of them were to be taken, my decision would be so much easier to make.”

“Hmm?” Axel looked up. What was she getting at?

“I’ve been speaking to the diplomatic corps,” she said. “Apparently you have a criminal record as long as my arm, and there’s a thousand laws prohibiting people like you from holding a diplomatic position.”

“Yeah,” he said with a shake of his head. “I always did have a problem with big government.”

“On the other hand,” continued Marya with a wicked smile, “the Winds trust you. So does Choronzon, who has considerable pull with the Archipelago now that 3340’s been defeated.”

“What are you getting at?”

She sighed. “Axel, I’d love to take the Ventus posting. But I’d love to spend some time on Earth more. And I just can’t think of anyone from my Institute who’s got the experience or… streetwise nature, to take the post here.”

“Are you offering me a job?” he asked incredulously.

“Me?” She pointed at herself. “Gods no, I don’t have the authority. No, the Winds have asked for you. The diplomats are turning blue in the face over this, but they want to make the Winds happy…”

The ship shook slightly with takeoff. They had come to a lounge, and Axel found he needed to sit down.

Until this moment he had believed he would never set foot on Ventus again. He stared at Marya, stunned. “Well,” he managed at last, “I guess it was a good idea to save you from the swans after all.”

She laughed. “Then you accept?”

He rose and went to a viewscreen that was tuned to an outside view.

Ventus lay below, a vessel of light. Axel gazed down at the amber, green and white of Iapysian desert as it became one with the curve of the planet.

Calandria was gone; so, it seemed, was the rest of his past.

“I accept,” he said.


The White Wind squinted at the glare and noise as the starship rose and vanished behind the clouds. Well, the moment had passed, and she had not shown herself to Axel. She would probably never know whether she had stayed hidden because of shame, or because she didn’t want to have to explain herself to him.

She rolled over in the soft snow. The maelstrom she had fallen into had spared her, as she’d known it would. The Winds were efficient, they would not let her die needlessly. Now, though, they had no use for her, and she was her own creature at last.

It was perhaps the first time in her life, either as Calandria May or as the White Wind, that she really felt free. In the final analysis, it was this that she hadn’t wanted to tell Axel. How could he understand that she had never been happy as a human in the first place? 3340 had been a seductive enemy; in fighting him she had fought that part of herself, successfully for a while. Here on Ventus, she had lost to it–and she was happy that she had.

She spotted a wildflower. It poked up bravely through the snow, and in the wan daylight it was like a little blue jewel, begemmed with beads of water and surrounded by crystals of ice. The White Wind crept up and lost herself in the contemplation of it. In her mind was a song, and the song was endless: all of Ventus sang a hymn of beauty and truth, and she was a part of that now. High above the sky she knew the Diadem swans were dancing, and they would dance forever.

She stared at the little flower until the tears in her own eyes made her shake her head and walk away.

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