Riley looked towards the magnificently carved coffins on the other side of the barrier. The burial receptacles of the S9 victims were meticulously arranged and the grounds surrounding them were precisely maintained to a standard that any Japanese rock gardener would envy. "Seriously Tattletale, I am NOT going in there. I'm not even touching that barrier. Krakatoa is nobody you want to talk to. I told you what she did. I know I did. She's insane. Two hundred bloodthirsty fragments of a twice-triggered headcase."

"Overseer, not Krakatoa." I corrected, "And I'm not going to ask you to enter. You are only here because it's my turn to watch you, and we come back here every season to try this again."

I really wish I were doing the negotiating instead of Dragon, but Dinah said she will be more generous with Dragon, when she finally chooses to trade, so that's that.

"I still think you are making a very serious mistake." Riley whined plaintively. "Dragon said the US military tried to send a tomahawk missile with a nuke in it into her base, and it never detonated. What if you piss her off and she drops it on us, or maybe she decides to try for Golden Morning Part Two?"

We've gone over this at least ten times Riley, I thought to myself. "We're pretty certain that she's restricted to that area. You know full well Khepri would have yanked her out of there in an instant if she could have."

Riley fired back. "Maybe Khepri couldn't just reach in there. It's pretty clear Scion didn't bother her, for whatever reason. Seriously. Scary, scary cape, Tattletale. You're playing with something that I know damn well you don't understand. You've never seen her, and all we know about her from her parents and surviving friends is from before two triggers."

My power told her that Riley really was as scared as she sounded. "Riley, what did Dinah say again?"

Riley calmed down while muttering something, then said, with gravitas "Still. Seriously. Scary cape. She turned Manton's projection into a real person, then blew her up. I remember seeing Siberian explode into gibbets as my head flopped through the air. I don't know why she let us live. I think..." Riley started talking more and more to herself, glancing nervously towards the coffins every now and then. The bright red flags on stakes every few feet around the perimeter of the invisible barrier fluttered in the light breeze.

I sighed and ignored Riley's muttering and spoke louder. "We've told you this before, Riley. Manton Effect. She didn't really blow you up, she just pushed you out of her sphere of influence. Her shaker ability created effects that made it seem like you were blown to pieces. For the Siberian, she simply denied Manton the ability to properly form his construct inside her area."

Riley shuddered, her arms crossed over her chest. Clearly deep in thought and ignoring me.

I poked her in the arm and she jumped, but started listening to me again. "Dragon and I have spent days working with Dinah. Unless you think we messed something up? Zero percent chance of her being able to leave or move her sphere of influence? Zero percent chance of her lobbing that nuke back out at us? 99.98% chance that anyone we send in to trade will not be killed, provided they don't start a fight or have a power or body modification that gives them pointy ears or green skin? If you enter, yes, there's a near certainty she'll try to kill you, but you're not entering. There's a 74% chance of her responding favorably to a request to trade this season. So stop your whining."

Riley shuddered. "You're going to do it anyway." She turned away. "I don't want to look. If I'm going to die here, I don't want to see it coming."

I threw the paper airplane at the barrier. Unlike humans, it passed through. On it was written a message.



Your parents would like to see you, and pay their respects to the remains of your sister. We can have them here in one hour. We have trade goods with us now. Several vehicles full of exotic woods, precious metals, rare gemstones, and hundreds of samples of the best alcoholic beverages from ten dimensions. We also have various portable electronics with replacement batteries, equipment for a geothermal electrical power source, and a fuel cell power storage system. As we have said for the last thirteen seasons, we desperately need your trade, especially tools. Trillions of people across hundreds of dimensions are struggling. You and your dwarves can make a difference to the lives of more people than you can probably imagine.


Five minutes later, a young, dark-skinned woman in sky blue armor approached the burial grounds hesitantly, stopping next to one of the coffins. As she stared at us from less than fifty feet away, she placed her right hand gently on the carved stone coffin next to her. The one that I knew to contain her sister's body.

As she gently rubbed her hand over the coffin top, I watched her look closely at the rag-tag convoy with it's dozens of guards through the invisible barrier. Fifty vehicles of widely varying sizes and shapes, from semi-tractors hauling exotic wood to armored cars carrying gems and bullion, all the way down the tech tree to horse-drawn wagons stacked high with small barrels and casks of alcohol.

I stepped forward, closer to the barrier, drawing Overseer's attention with my movement. My power told me what her answer was already, but I waited for her to make the gesture.

Strangely, she said nothing out loud, but that could be explained by the fact that she had spent years isolated from other humans.

After seeing the nod and beckoning hand, I looked for evidence that she had any plans to betray us and treat the convoy to a magma bath.

I saw no evidence of intent to betray us, so I waved Dragon and Colin forward.

Of course she doesn't intend to slaughter the convoy.

Riley's fear had infected me to some small degree, and I chided myself for doubting Dinah's predictions.

As the trucks and carts began moving, the woman in sky blue armor turned her back on us all with a flourish of dozens of long, tight braids. As she walked towards the entrance to her fortress, she swung her arm over her head in a very clear gesture to follow.

Smiling, I dialed a phone number to a home where where two parents were waiting. They had suffered rejection eight times before they had stopped coming with the convoys, afraid that somehow their daughter knew they were there and were avoiding them, despite Dinah's and my attempts to convince them otherwise.

"Mr. and Mrs. Smith? Your daughter would like to see you." After two minutes of joyous babbling and yelling from a male and female voice had calmed down, I continued. "Transport will be at your location in five minutes."