Katja Ilkaiomenen stared at the ceiling, her eyes jolted open by the dream again. It had been the same for the past week. First she was in a field, the scent of spring around her and the sound of a man's laughter in the air, then the field caught fire and and everything was drenched in flames. The fire died out as swiftly as it began, and she was then sitting next to a large, glassy pool. Mist curled above it, and beside it the trees with their branches seemed to droop in weeping. Then the whole world turned upside down and she was no longer beside the pool but under it, staring up at the sky and drowning, unable to breathe. A great metallic hand pierced the surface of the water, reaching down toward her, and she woke. Every night for the past week she had awakened in the same way, always a good quarter-hour before her alarm. She was getting tired of it.
There was no point in lying a-bed, so she reluctantly rose and began to prepare for her day. She showered and dressed, then went to the kitchen to prepare breakfast, some emerdres with extra sugar and a cup of tea. As she waited for the water to boil she pressed the calendar on the refrigerator.
"Good morning," the calendar said. "It is Disti, the fifteenth of Marashu. It snowed overnight and there is a layer of snow on the ground. The suvo for the day is:
Ill fares the people who have no guide;
Good only inhabits just desires."
"Ill fares the people who have no guide; / Good only inhabits just desires," Katja repeated reflectively. She always tried to use the day's suvo at some point during the day, but could not think of any situation that would naturally arise where this one would be useful. If she were a judge, or held some political office, perhaps. But she simply wrote up reports for the Ecological Institute at the University of Sylvenia, and there was little likelihood of using a suvo like that.
Snow on the ground. She went to her door and flipped the one-way transparency switch to check. Sure enough, there was a thin layer of snow on the ground. She would need to dig out the snow boots; the snow itself would not be a problem for her usual shoes, but she worried about slush and possible ice later in the day. Where were they? She thought back and tried to remember where she had last put them, but could not. They were probably buried somewhere in the bedroom closet; but if they were in the basement it would probably take her forever to find them. At that point the water was boiling, so she took it off the heating plate and set her tea to steep for a few minutes while she dug up the boots.
The tea ended up steeping longer than she intended because her boots, as it turned out, were easy to find but difficult to dig out, having somehow become wedged behind two heavy boxes she could only move a bit at a time. Now booted, she returned to the kitchen, making a face as she downed the now-cool tea (she preferred her tea as hot as she could get it); then, grabbing her light snowcoat from the foyer closet, she opened the door and stepped out into the street.
The air was clean and crisp and cold. It was usually cool on the Island, but as it was in the Southern Tropics it rarely was cold enough for snow, especially at this time of year; the Island was the most consistently temperate land area in all of Sylvenia, which is why almost the entire population of the planet was gathered together on it. But here was a cold spell cold enough for snow, and, even more remarkably, here was snow, very much a treat. It squeaked under her boots and kicked up in little flurries whenever she moved her legs. Here and there a snowflake drifted down, leaping and bounding in an intermittent breeze, but visibility was high.
Katja very much liked where she lived, and one of the things she liked about it was the walk to work. It was a straightforward walk, since all she had to do was walk a few minutes up to Pahad, the great avenue that cut most of the Island from East to West, and then enjoy the view all the way down to the University. One of the great attractions of the walk was that it passed directly by Katja's favorite building in the entire Island, the Oracle of the Tanaver. It was unlike the other buildings on the Island, because it was not any kind of Sylvenian architecture. It was, indeed, a sort of building that no Sylvenian could ever have made. It was a small circular building, no larger than a large gazebo, with a domed roof and columns. It stood at the top of a little hill, on a marble platform with broad marble steps. The building itself, however, was not marble but something else entirely. It seemed to absorb the light of its environment and give it back in a new form. If you passed it at sunrise, for instance, it might look like it was itself made of sunlit cloud, all aureate rose and warm peach, more delicately intermingled than they could be in any sandstone. At sunset it might be a swirl of ember red and dusky violet. At midday it might be like a mix of deep blue sky and delicate white cloud, somehow solidified and brought to earth. But there was more to it than just its colors, for it seemed almost to be made of sound. There was always a subtle music surrounding it, somehow fitting the colors of its columns perfectly.
This morning it was too early and too dark for sunrise colors, but the Oracle did not disappoint. Rising up from the snowy ground it seemed to be made of snow, with a delicate facade of finest crystalline frostwork, glinting with silver-white and diamond-blue. The sound of it was like distant wind-chimes, each tinkling bell as delicate and yet distinctive as a snowflake. It was as if a building from some legend about snow-elves had somehow bee built by accident in mortal territory. Katja stopped a moment to try to memorize it.
The rest of the way up the Pahad, all the architecture was simply ordinary Sylvenian, but it was beautiful in its own charming way, with snow on gable and porch shining in the soft light of the street-lamps. Soon she reached the University gates, always open, and made her way to the Ecological Institute building. She went to the side door and put her hand flat on the panel next to it; the door slid open to show a little elevator-room, which she then took to the sixth floor. There was a panel in the elevator that displayed recent news; apparently the re-negotiation of the trade treaty with the Ylfae was breaking down. The door slid open to reveal a large room, shaped something like a gear, with a circular common area and open offices, each with a window. Katja's office was a small alcove with a chair, a small desk, and a cabinet. It was a fairly bare office, but there was a large tablet on the desk, and on the cabinet was a little appliance for making tea and four beautifully bound books, which were some of Katja's prized possessions: the Sylevid, the Venahana, the Suuvo, and the Saanalaasa. She started making tea and turned on the tablet.
"Good morning," it said. "It is Disti, the fifteenth of Marashu. Song 36 of the Venahana:
Farewell, alas, my noble island,
farewell my richly rain-blessed grassland;
I venture to a foreign far-land
on this darkest sea.
There well the ancient elders prosper,
there arms will welcome even stranger,
but far away I roam and wander
on this darkest sea.
My mother will not hear me crying,
my father will not know my weeping,
for I am far away and sailing
on this darkest sea."
"A cheerful one today," Katja said. "I need to get a calendar program that will save the sad songs for bright, sunny days."
She finished making her tea, then, turning her chair so she could see out the window, began making her To Do list for the day: finish translating the latest glacier progression reports into Simplified Samar, chart the temperature station data, write a letter complaining about the fact that southern buoy 361 still had not been fixed, double-check the reports for the afternoon meeting, and so on. The list was longer than usual, but as she had arrived earlier than usual, it was all done and she was starting on a second cup of tea when others started arriving. There was occasional waving and chit-chatting as they all made their ways to their own desks. Of course, when Sola Kupoionen it was guaranteed that there was more than chit-chat.
"So?" she said.
"So?" said Katja back.
"How was it? You know what I'm talking about. I heard Helvi enjoyed it."
Ah, yes, misnamed Helvi, with a hero's name. She hesitated and Sola raised her eyebrow.
"I think he's good-looking," Sola said. "And he's fun."
"Every time he opens his mouth he has to talk about his cabin in the Jyvasky Mountains, or how his parents are joint commissioners for 'Tymmere, the third largest village on Metsenia'."
"You can't sit around waiting for a wyvern-prince to stop by, or for someone to sweep you off to a castle east of the sun and west of the moon; real life is not a fairy tale. So he's a little fixated on a cottage on Metsenia. There are worse things, you know."
"He's just not good for me," Katja replied.
Sola shrugged. "Nobody is, it seems." And she moved on to talk to Darre about his farm.
From that point on, it was mostly collating, comparing, tabulating, checking, writing, proofreading, revising, translating, formatting, copying, sending, confirming, certifying, filing until lunch, although it was interspersed with various kinds of office news, gossip, rumor, and the like.
At one point Darre stopped by and said, "They're having snow dances out at the Shrine of Tepi and a few of us are going over. Do you want to come?"
And Katje did. So as lunch time drew close she put her work away and, donning her coat, met with a number of others at the elevator.