“It is very beautiful, is it not?”
Lucien looked over his shoulder and nodded in agreement at Ulixes’s hushed words. Turning back to the ship portal, Lucien continued to gaze out over the vast blackness of the universe thick with brilliant stars and shots of color. The quiet viewing room had become his point of solace these last few days, and he was surprised he hadn’t heard Ulixes’s arrival.
“Yes. It is indeed.” From the corner of his eye, he watched the big Protonecian move closer to the expansive viewing station. His face was upturned with wide eyes fixed on the long, purple-and-blue gas streams locked forever in a pinwheel around the ancient orange, whirlpool eye of the Hesarc galaxy. The twinkling brilliance lit the darkened room and bathed his face to a golden hue. Ulixes’s voice came low and reverent.
“It is so striking. One cannot turn away without first getting lost to the pull. I feel as if it will suck my very soul into its center.”
“Yes. I experienced this same sentiment upon my first viewing. It appears to be close enough to touch, yet we would travel a lifetime to reach that dwarf galaxy, my friend. That is Hesarc. When I see it from this angle, I know we are just a day away from Messor. This quadrant is where we find the most beauty offered by the gods.” Lucien lifted his hand and gestured to the right toward another smudge of color dominating the blackness.
“Look there. My warriors call this the Eye of Dii. It appears as if the creator has opened one red-rimmed blue eye to watch over the masterpiece it has fashioned. Pity that it is actually a long-dying star slowly pushing away the last remnants of its life.” Lucien turned and released a heavy sigh. “My eyes will close forever before that one meets its final end.”
Ulixes twisted away from the majestic sight, his brow wrinkled in thought. “Standing here makes everything seem so insignificant. Our petty problems are just wisps of nothing. If these were truly the eyes of the gods, we would bow our heads in shame.”
Lucien chuckled and clapped Ulixes on the shoulder. “Every creature should pass this way once, amici. If they are not as moved by it as you and I, then it would surely reveal their blackened hearts. I am happy to know that I was right in my assessment on the purity of yours.”
Ulixes graced him with a small smile and dropped his gaze. “I am honored at this knowledge, Emperor. More than you know.”
Lucien shook his head. “No. Please call me Lucien. I tire of that title when I am far from its shackles. We are but two males on a journey to right a wrong.”
A brilliant smile lit Ulixes’s handsome face and he raised his eyes. “So be it. I would be honored to call you by name. And now I must ask your forgiveness for completely forgetting why I came to find you. Your son has sent word that he wishes to speak with you. Baruch has transferred the communication image feed to your quarters.”
Lucien smiled. “Very good. I have not spoken with him in days. I am hoping that he will not curse me for leaving him with the senate as his incessant companions.”
Ulixes laughed and followed him from the viewing room. “I wish you luck with that.”
* * * *
Gazing into eyes the color of his own, Lucien relished the warmth that passed through his chest. His son had turned out to be a fine, worthy male. These last five years had seen a significant transformation of Drusus’s ability to lead. From the moment he and Severus had stepped into the vortex as willful, naïve young men to begin the groundwork for mate location, to now, not once had he failed to prove that he could one day rule the Insedi with the right temperament and foresight. There could be no prouder father at this moment.
“Son, it is good to see you. I was just telling Ulixes that I might need to pass on an apology for leaving you so long with the senate. How is everything? Have they taken advantage of my absence?” Drusus’s laugh was hearty and it pleased him.
“Surprisingly, they’ve been in an upbeat mood. Your task for securing funds on the tunnel build and construction project has kept them too busy to bother with trivial nonsense. For this I send my sincerest thanks. I’ve been able to spend quality time with my Avelina. She sends her regards.”
“This is very good, Drusus. I am glad that you have not been overly burdened. Send her mine as well. Any other news?”
“Yes. I’d like to transfer over Cato’s proposal for training. Are you prepared to receive incoming data streams?”
Lucien pressed his thumb against the left side of the flat screen. “Yes. Proceed.” He confirmed delivery and relaxed back in his chair.
“I will read this over after I leave you. There is not much to do until our arrival on Messor. I tire of Ulixes beating me at chess, and there is just so much exercise I can do without injuring myself. What I had once believed to be a spacious room is starting to look smaller each day. I had forgotten how tedious this trip can be. I should have taken the battleship as Imbrus suggested. I would have been there already, but it does not look proper bringing a warship to a peaceful exchange.”
Drusus laughed and moved closer to the screen. “Well then, let me leave you with one more diversion to occupy your time. Kallon has discovered something wondrous. Cato’s mate, Luna, is Insedi.”
Lucien leaned forward in surprise. “How is this possible?”
Drusus told him of what was discovered and that she was being brought home for lineage testing.
“I must say, Father, the possibility that offspring of The Unfortunate One Hundred could be roaming the Earth has me intrigued. Kallon is hoping this is not simply a matter of a rogue Insedi mating and failing to return home. If she is proven to be progeny of the lost, I’d like to gather a committee to determine how to find any others. The only clue will be the faint mark. It requires some thought.”
Speechless, Lucien listened with growing interest while his son provided a few scenarios for location. His mind swam from the possibilities.
“Drusus, if anything, we need to know how she survived without her descendants living on the home world. Even if she is from a rogue, how is this even possible?”
Shrugging, Drusus’s eyebrows rose. “It’s beyond my comprehension and I’m very glad that Kallon will be testing her. I’m sure he’ll come up with a plausible explanation. I’ll let you know as soon as I hear something.”
“Yes. Even if conjecture, please inform me.”
“Certainly. I’ll leave you for now, Father. I’m off to review the diagrams of the proposed mall that Avelina and Cassie have been fussing over for the last several days. Word is getting out to the other mates and has caused great excitement.”
Lucien snorted. “What an odd name. It sounds like a place to be torn asunder.”
Drusus nodded and laughed. “Yes. I thought the same until Avelina corrected me on the spelling. The females will probably stampede the place and maul each other over the hard-to-get Earth items. I look forward to witnessing the grand opening, even though it’s months away.”
“As long as it keeps the mates happy and our warriors homebound, then I have no complaints. Give Avelina my love and tell Cassie to keep her purple menace out of trouble.”
“I will, Father. Let the command center know when you’re close to docking in Messor. I worry for you.”
Lucien’s heart warmed. “I shall. I love you, my son.”
“And I you.”
The image feed darkened and Lucien smiled from deep happiness at the increased contact with his only child. He was mated now and he had never seen him so content. Despite the pall over the last senate hearings regarding the slow progress of mate pairing, Lucien knew it would get better with time. Just within the last several weeks, Severus and Cato had found theirs. Perhaps this was a sign of prolific times just around the corner. He could only hope.
Lucien transferred the training proposal to his handheld and glanced at a few of the entries. A section on “Informal Speak” caught his eye. He remembered Cato mentioning this social paradigm as something extremely important for the males to blend in with Earth society. He had noticed that Drusus and Severus were sounding more like Cato every day. Shrugging, he opened the section and began perusing the subject of contractions and their use in informal situations.
“My, how diverse the human race has become,” he mused. “Positive contractions, negative contractions, and other contractions. Why would eliminating letters be so important?”
Shrugging, Lucien began sounding out the samples Cato provided. He was surprised how easily some of them rolled off his tongue. Perhaps there was something to this shift in language after all. He selected another section regarding “slang” and was laughing heartily at the various names for a penis when the room plunged into darkness.
* * * *
Lucien navigated the long corridor outside his quarters by touch until the reserve lighting finally engaged. He felt no surprise to see his legati, Eryx, standing two steps away with his laser pistol drawn in one hand and the other sliding along the wall. Even within the dimly lit passageway, he could see that his protector’s dark brows were drawn together in concern and his jaw muscles clenched with tension. Familiar golden eyes widened for a quick beat then narrowed again. Lucien chuckled.
“Relax, my friend. I do not believe the darkness had plans to attack me.”
Eryx snorted and slipped his pistol back into his leg harness. “You let me worry about what is friend or foe, amici. You should have stayed in your quarters until I came for you. We have spoken of this many times, yet you still ignore me.”
Lucien smiled and clapped his childhood friend and personal guard firmly on the shoulder. “Yes, and you still believe that I will listen to you. I will not cower in a corner and await rescue. It is not in my nature.”
Shrugging, Eryx smiled and turned back the way he had come. “True, but I can still hope for a miracle.”
The main power reengaged and they both looked up. Lucien halted and raised his hand when five concerned Insedi warriors rounded the corner at a dead run.
“I am fine. You can stand down. I am interested in going to the flight pod and the more that fill this hallway, the less chance I have of doing so.” He smiled and their collective faces relaxed.
As was protocol of the royal guard, three filed in line behind him, and two others took position in front of Eryx while they escorted him to the front of the ship.
Despite his outward protestations, Lucien knew he was fortunate to have this group with him on the mission. Sotarios, Altair, Geleon, Haemon, and Keos were the cream of the elite guard. Each was incredibly powerful and cunning. If one did not know better, one could easily mistake them as having the same father.
Each was taller than the average Insedi male, wore his hair in a thick braid falling to the middle of his wide back, and kept his body in peak condition. The only difference was in their eye color and personalities. They had been around him for years, but over the last several days, he had personally spent time with each while he searched for something to bide his time on the long trip.
Sotarios was the jokester of the bunch and eerily similar to Maxim in build and character. His dark blue eyes continuously twinkled while he thought of some way to irritate or prank one of his brethren. They had all threatened to kill him at one point during the trip, but he could tell they only pretended irritation and enjoyed his antics.
Altair was Sotarios’s favorite target. He carried a continuous scowl that appeared even more sinister by the neatly trimmed facial hair he allowed to grow on his upper lip and chin. His jet-black eyes gave away nothing of his emotions while Sotarios worked diligently to make him laugh. The best he could accomplish was a slight twitch of Altair’s upper lip.
Haemon was slightly taller than them all and considered a gentle giant. Despite the ever-present peacefulness shining within his turquoise eyes, he was wickedly deadly with a sword and showed no mercy to those that would dare to harm his companions.
His cousin, Geleon, had the same temperament, yet he was quieter and more contemplative than Haemon. If asked a question, he would stare through your skull with his soulful green eyes and only answer after putting great thought to his choice of words. One would be wise not to misinterpret his quietness for docility. Lucien had seen his training sessions with Altair, and he was lethal with a set of matched short blades.
It was Keos that kept the group engaged at all times. The alpha male was a veritable powerhouse of frenetic energy. Lucien could even now feel his essence vibrating through the corridor and tingling against his back. His intense aquamarine eyes constantly assessed everything around him. He missed nothing. Lucien was more than happy to have this ball of energy shielding his flank.
Eryx and the guards lined the curved wall of the flight pod while Lucien stepped toward the pilots. He raised his palm when they swiveled around in their seats and attempted to stand.
“No. Please stay. Just let me know the status and what happened.”
Baruch’s golden eyes widened and he glanced over to Makar, the ship’s pilot. These two were life mates, and after losing their shared female, one was never seen without the other. Makar cast Baruch a comforting glance then turned his calm, gray eyes back to the group standing anxiously before him. His voice rang confident and professional.
“There was a sudden strain on the engine core and we briefly lost control of navigation. Noncritical lighting was shut down by the computer to compensate. Analysis shows all equipment performing to expected levels once reserve power returned control. Internal diagnostics shows no equipment damage or failure. Our scanners have not identified any abnormalities outside of the ship. It is unexplainable.”
Lucien moved closer and gestured at the viewing screen. “Could the dying star have anything to do with it? I have passed this way before without issue, but perhaps it has expelled further into the quadrant?”
The tips of Makar’s black hair swayed against his large shoulders while he shook his head. “We took that into consideration and found no increase in gas emissions. It carries the same signature that was logged from your last trip.”
Baruch cleared his throat. “Emperor, we have sent transmission to Messor regarding the anomaly. They are sending out short-range haulers to escort us the remainder of the way. Should it occur again and we lose complete power, they will be prepared to tow us in. Would you like for us to also relay this to Insedivertus’s command center?”
Lucien considered the question for a few moments, then briefly shook his head. “No. Let us not worry them unnecessarily. Messor is aware and taking appropriate action. That should be sufficient. Carry on.”
Lucien turned back to the line of impatient warriors. “There is nothing more for us to do here except get in the way. Sotarios, what have you planned for our meal today?”
Sotarios’s dark blue eyes twinkled and he waggled his brows. “It is a surprise.”
Lucien laughed when a collection of low groans filled the cabin. “So be it. I have a surprise for all of you as well. Have you ever heard of ‘Informal Speak’?”
At their confused looks, Lucien chuckled and gestured for them to follow him down the corridor. “Good. Then we shall learn together.”