Osgood Pyras, former member of the Hellsreach Common Council and current Imperial ambassador to the colony world of Titanus woke with the gentle laziness that greets one in the early hours of the day. Beside him, his husband Hector lay blissfully unconscious.
Blissful for Hector that is. The moment Osgood dispelled the deafening spell he’d cast on himself, the roar of Hector’s titanic snores filled Osgood’s ears with the familiar melody with which he’d greeted the day for nearly twenty years.
It wasn’t a bad trade-off, Osgood decided. Against twenty years of snoring and sheet stealing and sheer pig-headed stubbornness stood twenty years of kindness, support and shared commitment. Together they’d overseen years of warfare and kept their people safe and whole. They’d brought a new world to life and said goodbye to an old one. And they’d raised a son.
Darius was only biologically related to Hector, but in so many more ways he took after Osgood. The two of them, Osgood and Darius, had been constant companions in Darius’ youth and so it was wound up being even harder on Osgood than Hector that Darius had flown off to the stars to chase dangerous dreams and amazing women.
As he slipped out of bed, trying to suspend his thin frame over the creaky floorboards as much as possible, Osgood thought of his absent son and sighed. It had been too long since Darius’ last letter, which suggested the boy was neck-deep in a world of trouble. Again.
Stepping into the shower, Osgood longed for the days when he could set boundaries on his son’s world. The fencing had never been enough to keep the child safe. No children were ever safe in the warzone that Hellsreach had been, but at least while Darius was nearby, Osgood had been able to perceive the dangers that threatened his child and act against them. With Darius off in whatever dark corner of space he’d disappeared to, he was beyond the reach of anything except Osgood’s prayers, and no matter how many of those Osgood sent, he never felt like it was enough.
Despite his ghost-like attempt at leaving the bedroom without disturbing Hector, Osgood wasn’t surprised when his husband joined him in the shower a few minutes later.
“I had the weirdest dream,” Hector said as he stepped into the tiled area and pulled the glass door closed behind him.
“I warned you about the Calfrey Eel last night,” Osgood said. “If it’s not cooked right, the hallucinogens don’t break down fully.”
“The Eel was cooked wonderfully,” Hector said. “And it wasn’t that kind of weird. It was weirdly vivid and solid, not trippy. Almost like a premonition.”
Despite the warm water pouring over his shoulders and down his back, Osgood felt a chill run through his spine. Both he and Hector were talented with Mental anima. They didn’t have the precognitive abilities that Aetherial casters sometimes did but their subconsciouses could be inhumanely talented at putting together pictures of the future from small clues that their conscious minds missed. A Mental caster’s vivid dreams weren’t guaranteed to become tangible realities but it was dangerous to ignore them.
Osgood had woken thinking about Darius, which mean his own subconscious had worked something out too and any premonitions in direction of their missing son weren’t likely to be good ones Osgood feared.
“What did you see in the dream?” Osgood asked.
“Darius,” Hector said and Osgood’s stomach plummeted down to his feet. “But dozens of him. We’d turned our house into a daycare center and there were more of him running around than we could possibly keep track of.”
That was not the kind of premonition that Osgood had expected to hear. And not the kind that he would have expected Hector to take seriously. Usually premonitions were for dire, life changing sorts of events. Not silly fantasies.
“I don’t believe the local zoning would allow us to run a daycare center out of this house,” Osgood said. “Or will that be the next thing the Terraformers Guild formally requests be added to the Titanus by-laws?”
At one time, the two of them had been members of opposing factions in the Hellsreach Common Council and Osgood had never entirely given up his love of needling Hector over political issues, especially ones that weren’t actually important to either of them.
“I suppose that would depend on the Crystal Empire’s official stance on the matter,” Hector said. A laugh accompanied the words, but Osgood wondered for a moment if his husband was actually joking.
“Local zoning is an area which the Empire does not chose to form an opinion on,” Osgood said, playing along with the surface mood of humor. “Although it will be happy to provide knowledgeable advisors as requested.
That was the official Imperial policy on virtually everything in regards to planetary affairs which made Osgood’s job as Ambassador a particularly easy one. On most days.
“We’ll see what today brings I guess,” Hector said. “Wouldn’t want to bother the advisors if it was just bad Calfrey Eel I suppose.”
The rest of the shower and the breakfast afterward passed with the usual pre-day chatter. There was a void of silence in the house that each filled in as best they could. It wasn’t the painful emptiness of true loss but rather an awareness that a harmony of two voices would never be the same as the blending of three.
“Are you headed up to the station today?” Hector asked as he finished the poached eggs Osgood had prepared.
“Unfortunately,” Osgood said.
“I thought you were supposed to be planet-side all week?” Hector asked. “Did something come up?”
“Distress beacon, very faint though, and but close enough to the line that anyone who warps into the system could possibly pick it up.” Osgood said.
The line in question was one of the celestial ley lines that connected Titanus to the rest of the galaxy. Most ley lines were naturally occurring paths of anima that stretched between the stars. Titanus had one of those but the other dozen or so which led to it were all of Crystal Empire origin, constructed by spell casters gifted in working magic across unfathomable distances.
“Pirates?” Hector asked.
“Not likely,” Osgood said. “The Empire kicked the Dispraxia League out of here pretty hard. Last I heard they were still hunting down the stragglers. No, this is probably homegrown.”
“Purists,” Hector said, fatigue washing over his face. After a lifetime of warfare over inter-species hatred, Hector was done with people who wished to cling to the “old times”. The world was new and changing. Its people needed to be as well.
“Probably,” Osgood said. “Just because we came halfway across known space to get away from Hellsreach doesn’t mean people actually wanted to stop fighting. Not when we have such a clean and wonderful planet here that we can ruin.”
“They’re not that bad,” Hector said. “Most of them.”
“The humans or the Garjarack?” Osgood asked.
“Both.” Hector said. “Most of them want to make a new start of things. We’ve seen that time and again.”
“I know,” Osgood said. “But we’ve also seen that simply transplanting people from one ball of dirt to another doesn’t make all their old wounds go away.”
“I thought our intelligence said that the Purist movements were dying out?” Hector asked. “How can they have enough influence left for something like this?”
“There are always people who can profit off unreasoning hatred, and the fewer of the Purists there are the more virulent they’ll become,” Osgood said.
“So what is the Crystal Empire going to do about this particular pocket?” Hector asked.
“I don’t know yet,” Osgood said. “It’s going to depend on what sort of support I can requisition.”
“Here’s to hoping you get a giant gift box from the Empire then,” Hector said.
Osgood spent the flight up to the orbital station considering exactly what he’d want to find in a giant gift box. His early military training wanted to see a “sun killer” scale fleet show up to make it clear in no uncertain terms that Titanus’ space lanes were not to be interfered with. The Council member he’d once been was quick to point out the numerous ways that kind of show of force could go horribly awry though. Not the least of which being the likely upsurge in recruitment for the various “Purist” groups on both sides of the species divide on Titanus as the fear of the “Empire taking away all our rights” became easier to envision.
By the time he arrived at the station, he had his actual requests in mind. A small set of fast response ships, capable of tracking down the erratic signal and locating its source before the Purists behind it found a target to their liking. He had the requisition drafted and gave instructions for his staff to meet him first thing for a review but by the time he arrived at the station it was already too late.
“What happened? Why are the fighters scrambling?” Osgood asked as the Imperial stations docking bay surged in chaos around him.
“We picked up the distress beacon five minutes ago sir,” one of the station’s seers said.
“Are there any other ships in the area?” Osgood asked, already knowing what the answer had to be.
“Yes sir, a colony ship from Kezzela,” the seer said.
“Have we instructed them not to respond to the distress beacon?” Osgood asked.
“We can reach them Ambassador,” another caster said. “There’s a blocking field around the ship.”
“It activated at the same time as the beacon didn’t it?” Osgood asked.
“Yes sir,” the communications caster said.
“How many pilots do we have on duty?” Osgood asked.
“This was a light shift sir, the colony ship wasn’t due to arrive until tomorrow, so we adjusted our staffing to account for that,” the communications caster said. Which meant someone had set this up.
“Do we have any readings on what’s happening to the colony ship now?” Osgood asked.
“We’re seeing unusually high Energetic anima readings and telemetry is showing its approach speed has increased,” the caster said.
“They’re under attack and trying to make a run for it,” Osgood said. “Can we see what’s attacking it yet?”
“No sir, all we’re seeing is shadows out there.”
“Shadows?” Osgood asked and then figured out what that really meant. “Oh no no no.”
He started running towards the fighter bays and the seer and the comm caster ran with him.
“What is it sir?” the comm caster asked.
“They have Void casters shielding their ships,” Osgood said. “That colony ship is never going to make it here and our fighters are going to get slaughtered.”
“Should I call them back?” the comm caster asked.
“No, but tell them to proceed at three quarters speed and get me every Mental anima caster on the station,” Osgood said. “If they’re not rated for flying then pair them up with someone who is. Or someone who thinks they can fake it. I don’t care. Just get me all of them in space in the next two minutes.”
“I’m flight certified sir,” the seer said. “And I’m a 6th rank Mental caster.”
“Same here sir,” the comm caster said.
“Good, pick out your favorite fighters then. We’ve got a colony ship to save.”
Osgood hadn’t flown a combat mission in over twenty years and even then he’d been nothing more than boy press-ganged into service by an extreme circumstance. As far as he could see that was the only thing that was ever going to get him behind the controls of a fighter craft. As his tiny ship lurched out into the void, he had to wonder if seeking out a job less prone to putting him in extreme circumstance might not be a wise idea.
“The time for wisdom is past,” he said before turning his comm link on, “but perhaps there’s still room for cunning.”
Placing his palm on the the communication panel, he gave the authorization for a special Ambassadorial channel. It would consume a ton of precious concentration from the communication casters but in this case Osgood felt his use of power could be justified.
“Os? What’s up?” Hector asked in response to the Priority Alert message and the long range telepathic link that formed.
“Typical day at the office,” Osgood said. “Our old office.”
“Oh hells,” Hector said. “What can I do?”
“I need you to get in touch with some people for me,” Osgood said.
“Who do you need?” Hector asked.