The Eye stood in his tower, gazing down upon the dusty shadows of Overlook Mesa, watching the last stragglers of the curfew find their way inside the walls of the Mystic enclave.
Darkness brought dangers to the wilderness beyond. The black stalkers, with envenomed fangs and slashing claws; the swarming carnivorous erzhvell; and even the choking vines that slumbered under the light of Val Shohob’s star but awakened with the scattered jewels of moons against the night sky.
And then came other hazards – slavers and pirates from Fagin’s Riches, holed up to escape the Pirate King, the Nall, or vigilant Vanguard border-hunters. Sometimes on the run from all three, or more.
But what if the greatest menace came from within his own demesne?
“Pew-pew!” the boy yelped behind Balthazar, circling the blue-cushioned sofa for a third time as the kitten blinked but remained unmoved from its paw-crossed perch on the armrest. “Pew-pew, Genghis!” The child, Kip Caspar, blew invisible smoke from the tips of his fingers.
“The enemy’s defenses appear impregnable,” the Eye observed, turning from the window to approach the sofa.
“What’s ‘pregnable?” the boy asked, head tilting. The cat turned its implacable gaze on Balthazar, as if indicating its own indifferent curiosity.
The child’s foster parents, gone offworld for just a couple of days, had left Kip in the Eye’s charge. The boy had proven quite resilient in the months since their horrifying experiences as prisoners of the Il’ri’kamm Hive Mind and a failed genocidal war against the B’hiri of Hiverspace. The nightmares grew more infrequent with the passage of time. The child drew more and more out of his shell. His natural curiosity and abundant energy seemed undimmed.
“Impregnable means something one can’t penetrate,” Balthazar replied, lacing his slender fingers together as he stood before the sofa. “Like a fortress.”
“Oh,” Kip said. “Like your town?”
“We’d certainly like to think so,” the Eye replied, a thin smile easing across his lips.
The boy settled onto the couch next to Genghis, crossing his ankles. “Are Mama Sha and Daddy Jaxx making a baby?”
Balthazar’s smile shattered like fine ceramic on stone. “That’s an interesting question of curious lineage.”
“How do people make babies?” Kip asked.
The Eye frowned, turned, and walked toward his angled writing desk. Perhaps he could distract the child with a new creative activity, such as drawing with the colored charcoals on parchment. “Wouldn’t you like to show me what your homeworld is like?” Balthazar ventured. “I’ve never been to Sivad.”
“Can you draw baby making?” the child pressed.
Balthazar slumped into his chair at the desk, placed a palm against his left cheek, and found himself grimly wishing for a sudden supernova to end his suffering.
One more day, he thought.
Grayback Nimblefoot jerked awake in his bunk aboard the Vanguard scout vessel Gettysburg, his fur damp with sweat, his breathing hard and rapid.
“By the fires,” the Demarian growled, rising to his feet and thumping across the deck of his quarters to the comm panel. It may have just been a side effect of the flu he’d been fighting the past two days since they’d made port in Alhira, but the dream had seemed so vivid. He thumbed the commlink, opening a channel to the bridge.
“Yes, Colonel?” inquired the first officer, Lt. Col. Redmond Hayes.
Intense – memories? visions? – flashed before his mind’s eye – two stars, hundreds of light years apart, erupting into oblivion and taking entire civilizations with them. His ship, thanks to a glitch of the Gettysburg’s faster-than-light drive, the source of that unimaginable ruin. A massive war fleet swept through the known worlds, crushing all who tried to stand before them. He saw Alhira in flames and rubble. “Status?” the colonel asked.
“All systems optimal,” Hayes replied. “Maintaining course along the Consortium border with the Fringe. No sign of pirates at the moment. But Dr. Ranix won’t be happy to hear you’re violating medical protocol, sir.”
“I’m resting,” Nimblefoot growled. “Is Val Shohob all right? Their star? Nothing irregular?”
After a few moments, Hayes answered: “Nothing irregular, sir.
The colonel sat at his desk in darkness dampened by his inherent night vision, recalling the Otheria incident from just a few weeks ago. The drive had malfunctioned near Val Shohob before hurtling Gettysburg across the cosmos, but it hadn’t pushed the star toward supernova.
He switched the comm channel to sickbay, calling Dr. Marlan Ranix, the ship’s chief medical officer.
“Everything all right, Colonel?” she asked.
The Consortium was – more or less – at peace with its neighbors. Lord Fagin’s minions among the pirates and smugglers stirred the pot, but that made life interesting. The Nall kept mostly to themselves beyond the Line of Pain.
It was downright boring compared to the horrors that wrecked his slumber.
Boring’s good, he thought.
“Sedative, Doctor,” Nimblefoot replied. “Something mild.”
“Yes, sir,” Ranix said before cutting the link.
Boring never lasts, he knew.