Witching Hour

Don Salazar de Campanos unconsciously swayed back and forth with the motion of the carriage as it slowly ascended the summit to his new posting. He was to become the Governor of the Castel Sant’Elmo, in charge of the servants, soldiers, and prisoners housed there. His younger sister, Catalina, whom he had cared for since their parents had died of fever several years ago, stared out of the curtained carriage window, wide-eyed at the monstrous castle growing ever larger. The slow clopping of the horses’ hooves on the cobblestone kept time with Salazar’s rising impatience.

“Catalina! Quit acting like a wide-eyed doe and remember who you are! It is unseemly for you to be showing your face to every jack-a-nape that may be looking,” he snapped.

Catalina reluctantly let the curtain fall back across the opening and sat back looking suitably chastened. Salazar noticed her clasped hands upon her lap and the whitened knuckles, but dismissed it as inconsequential. She needed to learn her place in life, and it was his duty to teach her. He had promised his father upon his deathbed to keep her from the evils of the world, and he had never gone back on his word once it was given.

The carriage finally clattered to a halt in front of two lines of soldiers facing each other, pikes crossed to create a steeple effect. Don Salazar swung the door of the carriage open forcefully and stepped out with the cold efficient gaze of his position. An order rang out and the pikes snapped back to the soldiers’ shoulders as they came to attention. The absence of tangled pikes revealed the soldiers’ captain, a handsomely featured man, at the end of the line. Salazar marched forward, eyes never straying from the captain.

The captain bowed as Salazar stopped in front of him. “Welcome to the Castel Sant’Elmo, milord. My name is…”

“Yes, yes. There will be time for that later. I, and my sister, have had a long journey and would like to refresh ourselves as it is becoming dark. If you would be so kind as to show us to our apartments and have some of your men bring our luggage, I am sure we can resume the…pleasantries later. Don’t you agree, Captain?” Salazar bared his teeth in a close approximation of a smile.

The young captain, momentarily flustered by the rudeness of the new master of the castle, quickly recovered. A tight smile crossed his face. “Of course, milord. Right away. If you will excuse me, I will make sure everything is as you wish.” He bowed and moved away from Salazar, shouting orders at his men.

A young soldier bowed to Salazar and gestured for him to follow. Salazar nodded curtly, and the two walked away from the parade grounds. As Salazar disappeared into the castle, a palpable feeling of relief, mingled with disappointment, suffused those remaining. Several men spat on the ground that Salazar had tread upon.

The captain put a quick end to the antics of his men. “That is enough! We are soldiers, and we have a duty to follow and respect the lord and master of this castle no matter our personal feelings! I will not tolerate this disrespect from any man. Is that understood?”

A murmured chorus of “Yes, sir” greeted his announcement, but the spines of the men stiffened and they took on a more professional air. The captain accepted his men’s reluctance, for his disappointment rivaled theirs. Satisfied with how matters were proceeding, he turned to leave, but a soft voice stopped him. “Salazar? Brother, can I come out now?”

The captain gritted his teeth for a moment at further proof of his new lord’s thoughtlessness, but quickly replaced it with a brisk professional face. He marched to the carriage door and opened it with deference. “My apologies, milady. Your brother mentioned you were with him, and in my haste that fact slipped from my awareness.” He bowed to the shadowed figure in the carriage. “I humbly pray your forgiveness for my error.”

Catalina stepped out of the carriage, clad in a veil that hinted at the beauty that hid beneath it. The captain held out his hand to help her down, and a pleasurable sensation ran through his body as her dainty hand fit into his. He sensed the smile beneath her veil as she said, “No need to apologize for my brother, Captain…?”

It took him a moment to realize she was asking for his name, as he found himself stricken by the dulcet tone of her voice; a sharp contrast to her brother’s harsh staccato. “My name is Captain Jacobus Salvatoris, milady. I am your humble servant,” he said while bowing again.

Catalina gave him a small curtsey. “I am Catalina de Campanos, Captain. It is my pleasure to make your acquaintance.” She looked around the grounds for her brother. “Is my dear brother here, Captain?”

Jacobus’ countenance turned red. “No, milady. I am afraid he has already started to his quarters. If I may be so bold, I will escort you to yours.”

Catalina gave him a small laugh. “I like bold men, Captain. I would be honored to have you as my escort. And I daresay, if you fall into the habit of apologizing for my brother’s actions, you will find yourself doing naught else with your life.”

“If you will follow me then, milady, some of my men will be along shortly with your things.” They walked off, chatting about inconsequential matters. Neither of them made note of the fact that her hand never left his.

However, it did not escape the notice of Salazar, staring down from the upper walkway. “Tell me, boy. What is your captain’s name?”

“Jacobus Salvatoris, milord,” the soldier replied. “Shall I summon him for you?”

Salazar’s eyes narrowed as he continued watching Jacobus and Catalina. “That will not be necessary. Send a serving girl to my room with refreshment as soon as you leave me.”

The soldier bowed. “Of course, milord.”

*************
Catalina settled into her apartment after saying farewell to the handsome Captain Salvatoris. She prayed that their paths would cross often during her stay. As she refreshed herself after her travel, a timid knock came through her door. Catalina opened the door to see a slip of a girl, not more than a few years younger than herself, standing there with her eyes firmly fixed on the ground.

“If it pleases milady, I am Pulisena Germani. I am to be your maidservant while you are here. Is there anything I can do for you, milady?”

Catalina smiled and placed her finger under Pulisena’s chin, gently raising it so their gazes met. “Please come in…Pulisena, was it? It is so nice to see a female face in this stronghold of men. I despaired for a moment that I would have no one to talk to here.” Catalina placed her hand on Pulisena’s shoulder and guided her inside the room.
“And please, dispense with the milady while we are alone. Catalina am I, and Catalina is how you shall know me.”

Pulisena bowed deeply. “Thank you, mila- Catalina, for your kind words. Is there anything you require?”

“You can help me prepare for supper. I am dreadfully famished after my trip. And while I prepare, you can regale me with tales of the men here, especially Captain Salvatoris,” she replied, smiling wistfully.

As Pulisena helped Catalina with her toilet, she said, “Captain Salvatoris is a very gallant gentleman. He has always been kind to me. You will nary hear nary a cross word be uttered from his lips. Why do you ask?” She started brushing Catalina’s long dark hair.

“Oh, no reason. He escorted me to my room, and I wished to know more about him.”

Pulisena started to say something else, but was interrupted by a scream that rang throughout the castle. She turned pale and dropped the brush, crossing herself as Catalina jumped out of her chair. “What was that horrible noise, Pulisena?”

She noticed a small cross in her maidservant’s hand that seemed to be made from the stems of some kind of plant. The girl was gesturing wildly and murmuring some kind of chant under her breath. Catalina gathered her in her arms to calm her down. “Shhh, little one. Talk to me. What was that noise?”

A moaning sob escaped from the maid. “Long ago, a curse was laid upon this castle by a stregheria that was imprisoned here. Anyone who rules the castle that is cruel to a strega would suffer her wrath. She was burned at the stake, but her bones were never found in the ashes! It is said that she haunts the castle, waiting in judgment upon those that sit in power.”

Catalina laughed at the younger girl’s story. “Is that what you are so afraid of? A silly superstition? I am sure there is some reasonable explanation. Don’t fret, child. I’m sure there is nothing that will harm us here.”

Pulisena grabbed her mistress’ arms with unexpected force. “It is not a superstition, milady. My grandmother, a stregoneria, told me this story. She has instructed me in the ways of our beliefs. I beg of you, milady, take this so that you may be protected.” She reached into a small bag tied around the waist of her dress and brought out a carving that looked like a plant with three branches that had little trinkets on the end.

“This is a cimaruta charm, milady. It will ward off witches.” Pulisena pointed to the various charms. “This moon represents Diana, while this key stands for Hecate, and the serpent for Proserpina. But this charm, the sacred heart, is what will ward off any witchcraft. Please, milady…Catalina, please take this.”

The girl acted so earnestly that Catalina felt compelled to take the charm from her. “Thank you for your kindness, Pulisena. But I must know, what are stregheria? And what is the difference to a stregoneria?”

“Of course, milady. You are not from our country. A stregoneria practices the magic of our people, but we are good Christians. We are the healers, and, with God’s aid, try to keep good people safe from the stregheria witches. Stregheria are followers of la vecchia religione, the old religion. They reject Christianity, although they hide among us by pretending to accept God. You should beware them, milady, please.”

“Of course I will, little one,” Catalina said. Bells started tolling throughout the castle. Catalina gave a start. “More witchcraft?”

It was Pulisena’s turn to give a small laugh. “No, milady, merely time for supper. If you will follow me, please.”

**************

Pulisena saw her lady seated and served, then went in search of Captain Salvatoris. She found him standing on the parapet, staring out over the city with his hand clenched tightly around his sword pommel. “Captain! How glad I am to see you! Have you seen my sister, Selene? She was not at supper as she usually is.”

Captain Salvatoris spun around quickly at the sound of her voice, the torchlight reflecting the sadness and anger in his eyes. “Pulisena, I am sorry. I had to send her home earlier. She had…taken ill.”

Pulisena worried at her lip with her teeth. “Will she be all right?”

“If God wills it, she will be. I sent her home because I know your grandmother is a healer. I pray she finds a way to heal her of…this.”

She turned to look out over the city, focusing on the area where her family resided. A note of worry crept into her voice. “You do not think the new master will release her from her position, do you? Our family needs the money we receive from our work.”

Captain Salvatoris gathered her hands into his and turned her so she could look into his face. Pain shone in his eyes and his lip trembled, but when he spoke his voice was firm, yet soft. “Little one, I have no sisters of my own. You and your sister have filled the void in my heart caused by that lack.” He put her hands upon his chest. “It is from that devotion that I tell you to leave this place and find work elsewhere.”

Pulisena cringed a bit at his words, fear crossing her face to be replaced by a dawning understanding. “Did…did the master do something to Selene?”

Salvatoris turned from her and beat his fists against the top of the parapet wall; his head hung low and tears streamed uncontrollably. “I am so sorry, little one. If I had known, I would have stopped it.” He wailed his anguish to the moon overhead. After he regained control, he told her, “On the morrow, I will bring Don Salazar’s actions before Bishop Giovanni and let the Church devise a suitable punishment.”

Pulisena’s voice was ice. “Why? We both know the Church will do nothing as my sister is but a peasant while he is of noble blood, such is the way of things under Spaniard rule.”

A grim determination set across his face. He grasped her hands and kneeled before her. “Then I will go tonight. I promise you, Pulisena, I will see justice done. If I have to, I will drag the Bishop out of his bedchambers and take him to see your sister and the wounds inflicted upon her. That fiend will pay for his actions.”

He rose and strode off to fulfill his vow. So quickly did he leave, that he did not hear her say, “Yes…yes he will.”

******************

Pulisena knocked confidently upon Don Salazar’s door. “Milord,” she called, “I thought you might like some wine to help you recover from your day.”

The door swung open and Salazar stood there half-dressed in pantaloons. Relatively fresh scratch marks adorned his chest. When he saw the pretty young serving girl holding a tray with wine and goblet a predatory smile creased his face. “Why thank you, my dear. Please, come in.” He swept his arm out with a flourish indicating she should enter.

She strode into the room and headed straight to his desk. She placed the tray on top and began to prepare his wine. She was aware that he had closed the door, locked it, and now stood close behind her. She forced herself not to shudder as his hand caressed her hair. “Such pretty girls in Naples, I find,” he told her.

Pulisena whirled around, holding his goblet in front of her. “Well, milord, why not drink. After, I would be happy to give you a proper Neapolitan welcome.”

Salazar grinned and moved over to his bed. He took a deep drink from his wine goblet. When he finished, he patted the bed where he wanted her to sit. She obediently went and sat next to him. He said, “You are much more accommodating than the other serving girl that was here earlier, I must say. It is so refreshing to meet a young woman who knows her place and fulfills her duties without complaint.”

He placed his hand on her leg and started to rub up and down, each upward stroke raising her skirts a little more. She sat there stoically, enduring his repulsive touch while she waited. It did not take long for Salazar’s eyes to start feeling heavy. “Today must have been more tiring than I thought,” he said in a slurred voice. “I am afraid we will have to…”

He slumped over, barely awake and aware, unable to get his body to obey him. Pulisena jumped off the bed and shoved him down so that he lay across the mattress. “I want you to know this, even though you will not remember. That serving girl earlier is my sister, Selene. The women in my family are strega, and you have made a grave mistake. What you have given out will be revisited upon you three-fold.”

Salazar felt her pull some of his hair from his head before darkness welcomed him home.

*******************

Pulisena knocked on the door and awaited its opening. The face of Catalina appeared out of the crack that appeared. “Pulisena!” The door swung open all the way. “Please, come in. I have been missing your company.”

Pulisena entered, the lantern lit in the room casting her twisted shadow upon the wall. “I cannot stay long, Catalina. I have a message from Captain Salvatoris for you.”

Catalina raised an eyebrow at that. “Oh? Whatever would the good Captain have to say to me?”

The strega felt guilty for a moment, which only lent credence to her performance. “He…he bade me tell you that your beauty has stricken him, and that your image will not leave his thoughts. He wishes for you to meet him at the cypress grove on the edge of town at midnight. He knows you are unfamiliar with the area, so he asked me to guide you if you agree.”

“That is hardly the proper behavior for a young woman of my stature,” she said. Her excited smile, however, betrayed the weak protestation. “Yet, I suppose I should meet with him, if only to help him get over his affliction. What do you think, Pulisena?”

“If you wish it, Catalina, I will be only too happy to guide you.”

“Oh, I do, but I worry about what my brother may do should he find out.”

Pulisena shook her head and gave Catalina a reassuring smile. “I was just there a little time ago. I brought him some wine, and combined with the stresses of the day, he went into a deep sleep. I do not believe you will have to worry about him.”

Catalina whirled around the room as if dancing. “Truly, my friend? Oh, you are such a wonder. I daresay I feel we shall become as sisters before our time is done.”

Pulisena smiled sadly at the mention of sisterhood. “Just be sure to be ready when I come for you. I have other preparations to make before we can be successful in our endeavors tonight. By your leave, milady.” She curtseyed to Catalina and backed out of the room.

As she closed the door, she could hear Catalina say, “I have a feeling tonight shall be a night to end all nights.”

***********************

Don Salazar awoke as the full moon’s light shone on his face. He bolted upright, confused and disoriented. He looked around the room and uttered a cry when he saw a hooded bent figure leaning on a gnarled walking staff in his room. One of the feet looked to be clad with a bronze sandal. “Who are you and what are you doing in my chambers?”

The figure just raised her head so he could look at the face under the hood. He saw an old crone with hanks of oily gray hair falling around her wizened face. She turned and disappeared through the closed door.

Salazar leaped out of bed and threw open his door, looking around wildly for her. He caught the barest glimpse of her black-robed figure as he turned the corner down the hallway. He quickly grabbed a dagger from his sword belt hung by the door and ran after her. No matter how fast he ran he never seemed to get any closer. He would always catch just a glimpse of her robe as she turned each corner, leading him through the maze of the castle. Finally, he turned the corner to a walkway, and there she stood, looking at the castle gate.

She pointed her staff down to the grounds and Salazar peered down to see what she was gesturing to. Two women on horseback rode out of the gate. As he watched them ride off, an uncontrollable lust raged within him. He had to have them, and by God, he would.

He ran for his horse as the cackle of the old crone echoed through the yard. As he rode out of the gate, a raven flew overhead, its body highlighted by the full moon’s glow. Somehow he knew he was to follow it. He kicked his horse to a dangerous speed and flew down the summit of the castle hill.

Salazar rode as a madman, unheeding of time or location, until he reached a crossroads. He had to choose one of three paths, and his raven guide had disappeared. He tried to go forward, but a serpent’s hiss made his horse whinny and shy away. He then tried to go right, but a growling coal-black dog with red eyes barred his way. He looked down the left path, and saw a horse standing next to a grove of cypress trees.

He took off down the left-handed path and dismounted from his steed. As he walked into the grove, a familiar voice called out, “Captain Salvatoris? Jacobus? Is that you, my love?”

Fury overtook Salazar. How dare his sister come to some moonlight assignation with some common soldier? He drew his dagger and roared his way into the small clearing. “Fiend! You dare defile my sister with your filthy touch! Come out here, Captain, and face me like a man!”

Catalina screamed as she saw her brother rush in with murderous eyes. He ran to her and shook her violently. “And you! Slut! Have I not taught you to be better than this? Spreading your legs for some commoner…Where is he?” he screamed as he threw her down to the ground.

She fell hard on her back, her dress flying up from the force. He looked at her as she lay there, and the lust came back to mix with his rage. He stalked over to where she lay panting in fear. “If you are so willing to give up your sacred treasure, maybe I should be the one to take it.” He threw himself on top of her.

Catalina screamed and clawed at her brother’s face. “Stop, Salazar! Stop! What madness has possessed you?”

He slapped her viciously across the face. “Madness? Me? You are the one soiling your blood with common filth, whore! At least this way, any get that may come of this will be of noble blood.” He raised his dagger to threaten her.

She grabbed the hand holding the dagger, and the two began to struggle. They rolled in the grass, each vying for control. Finally, Catalina uttered a pained sigh and stopped moving. “Brother, you have killed me,” she whispered.

Salazar leapt off of her to see the dagger implanted in her breast. Her blood soaked his hands and the hair on his chest. The realization of what he had done crashed over him. He fell to his knees and howled his grief to the moon over and over again.

A cold laugh from behind him caused him to turn around, spittle running down his mouth and a wild look in his eyes. He growled as he saw the young girl that had brought him his wine, and lust once again seized him. He bounded toward her, but stopped as she threw a shiny knife over his head. The lust subsided, and he looked at her curiously.

“A beast by your deeds, so a beast you shall become,” Pulisena said to him. “That serving girl who ‘didn’t know her place’ was my sister, Selene. As you have taken mine from me, so I have caused you to take yours from you.” She pointed up to the full moon hanging overhead. “Diana has seen your crimes. Ever more shall the madness come upon you when she shines full in the night. That is my curse upon you, until the men you once lorded over find and kill you like an animal.”

The two could hear hoof beats encroaching. Pulisena pointed imperiously to the trees. “Run, beast, for I do not want your death so soon. And if you were truly man enough to face death, you would have tried to kill yourself when you realized what you had done.” Salazar just stared at her with fear in his eyes. “Run!” she commanded.

Salazar bounded into the trees, howling all the while. Pulisena calmly turned around and waited for the riders to come. Salvatoris entered the clearing first, surprise and dismay on his countenance as he saw Pulisena. His gaze turned to the form lying in the grass and the dismay turned into grief. “Catalina!” he yelled over and over as he jumped from his horse to run to her side.

He gently lifted her head from the ground and his heart leapt when she opened her eyes. “Jacobus, is it really you?”
“Yes, milady. Lie still so we may help you.”

She smiled weakly. “There is no help for me. My brother has killed me and she made him do it. She is a…a…strega.” And with that final statement, she died.

He lay her back down on the ground, taking care to close her eyes. He said a prayer for her that God might find it suitable to admit her to Heaven. When he finished, he looked at Pulisena, who still stood in the same place, only now surrounded by the Bishop and other men-at-arms. “What have you done, Pulisena? I told you I would find justice for Selene. You did not have to do this!”

“It was easy. A little belladonna to subdue him, some hair pinned to a knotted cord, some mandrake, and a little l’erva du garramone applied. It is amazing how simple the spells are to drive a man mad,” she said calmly. “Selene would not have found the justice she deserved from the church. I regret nothing.”

Tears flowed from Jacobus’ eyes as the little girl he loved as a sister stood before him, a stregheria unmasked. “Bishop Giovanni, take Pulisena Germani into custody, please. The charge is witchcraft,” he said quietly.

She merely nodded as if she expected as msuch. “I do not blame you, Jacobus. You have always been dutiful and kind to my family. I would ask one favor of you, though you owe me nothing. Look after Selene for me, please?” She held his gaze until he nodded. Her shoulders sagged with relief. “Thank you.” The men-at-arms bound her hands and feet, and placed a gag in her mouth. They threw her over the back of one of the horses and rode off, leaving Jacobus alone.

**********************

Jacobus kept his promise and resigned his post to help nurture Selene back to health. He stood by her side during the auto-de-fe that saw her sister burned for her crimes. The two of them found their shared sorrows turn to love, and they were married. They grew old, as did their children. But after that night, they never ventured out again during a full moon. They, and their children after them, huddled inside as rage-filled howls echoed across the city.

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The Magic Show

I finish mowing the lawn after having neglected it for almost two weeks. Not really my fault, it rained every other day and on each day I had a chance to get to it. My oldest son, in trouble with his mother, has done the back-yard and the side of the house. He’s twelve, and while this isn’t his first time mowing, he still doesn’t quite get how to do it properly. Patches of grass stand high next the fresh cut. I tell him he did a good job and offer some advice on technique. Better to be constructive than critical, although I do too much of the latter and not enough of the former.

Their part of the yard-work done, my family, wife and two sons, head inside to clean up while I’m finishing. I empty the clippings in the burn-pile and put the mower in the garage. The sun has set, and I decide to spend some quiet time outside. My three-year-old comes outside after his bath, clad in his cartoon pajamas and bare feet, to run around in the grass for a bit.

I really want time to myself, plus his mother is standing at the door complaining he’s going to get dirty again, so I shoo him inside. I head inside to grab a drink and my pack of cigarettes then immediately head back outside. I sit in my canvas chair on the back patio and watch the night deepen. Lightning bugs flash in the darkening air as I light a cigarette and relax a bit from a long day.

Even though it is quiet for now, my mind refuses to do the same. Thoughts of money, or the lack of it, fill my mind. The scarcity of jobs and my lack of fortune in finding one crowd in, turning my alone time into a wake. What am I going to do? Will we have to move and tear my oldest son away from everything he knows? He has ADHD and doesn’t do very well in a regular school setting. Can we find a place that has a similar program he is in now? What happens when the cars inevitably break…

I hear the backdoor open and a little head pops out. “What you doing, Daddy?”

“Just sitting here, baby. Go back inside with Mommy.”

Of course, he doesn’t listen. He comes out, still barefoot, and heads over to his little basketball hoop. “I going to shoot a basket,” he says. He looks around for his little basketball. “Where’s my ball?”

“I don’t know, sweetie.”

“Is it in the grass?” To answer his own question, he heads out in the yard and starts looking around. “I can’t find it.”

“We’ll find it tomorrow, honey,” I tell him.

He’s not too disappointed as a lightning bug flashes in front of him. “Lightning bug! I catch him!” he says. He runs after it, jumping as high as he can, arms swinging overhead. “It too high.”

I laugh at his antics and decide to help him. I get up and head over to him, watching the lightning bugs flash like stars you can catch. “There’s one!” he tells me, and I head over to where he points. I catch the lightning bug on my hand and call him over so he can see it.

“See the lightning bug, buddy? You want to hold it?”

“No, thanks,” he says, “I catch one. There’s one!” The lightning bug had flown off my hand higher than even I could reach, but to him it was a brand new lightning bug. We chase after lightning bugs for a few more minutes, but they seem to disappear from the yard.

“I think we scared them off, buddy. Why don’t we go sit down and watch for them for a little bit?”

“Okay.”

We head back onto the patio and I sit in my chair. I hold my arms out to him, “You want to sit on my lap?”

He shakes his head. “No, where my chair?”

I’m not sure what he’s talking about, so I tell him, “I don’t know.” I point to a big green hard plastic chair next to me. “You can sit in this one if you want.”

“Okay.” He heaves himself in the chair and stares out into the yard looking for lightning bugs. “There’s one!” he says, “It up in the sky.” Over and over again he does this with same level of enthusiasm. Every sighting is just as exciting as the one before.

I think back to when I was little and growing up in Illinois. Me and my little brother outside with jars, holes poked in the lids, trying to catch lightning bugs in the yard. We’d run down the hill, around the playhouse, even in the neighbor’s yard to catch them. Sometimes we’d pick honeysuckle off the trees and drink the sweetness from the stem. We would come back and show Mom our jars with lightning bugs in them, and she would make the appropriate noises of encouragement.

The lightning bugs would soon die, of course. In our innocence and ignorance we killed that which we wanted to treasure. I’m a little wiser now; at least I hope so. Doesn’t seem like it sometimes. I’m not going to do that now, though. I’ll just catch them on my hands and let them fly away when they feel the need.

We sit there for a couple of minutes, my little one and me. He points way up in the sky. “Look! An airplane!”

I look up and sure enough there is an airplane, only recognizable as such by the flashing beacon lights. “You’re right, buddy. That’s an airplane.”

His grins at me, and I wonder again how I could have helped make such a cute kid. He points over to his swing-set, “There’s one!” He jumps out of the chair and stands on the path-stone, right where the patio meets the grass. His back is turned to me, but I know him. I see the serious face he has as he poses. His right foot is forward, and right arm across his chest. His left arm is straight behind him. For that short infinite moment he is a superhero, maybe the Flash, about to speed off and catch his goal.

He waits for another flash from the lightning bug then takes off. His little legs pump as hard as they can and his bare feet flash through the grass. He makes it about halfway to the swing-set and stops. He starts jumping up again, and I hear the “Uh, Uh” grunts as he tries to beat gravity and fly up to join the bug he’s after.

The bug flies higher, and my son stops jumping. “It too high.” He comes back over to the patio. “Where my blue chair?”

I finally realize what he’s asking for: a child-size plastic blue chair. It used to be his brother’s before he outgrew it. It was right in front of me all along. I point over beside the barbecue grill. “There it is, honey.”

He grabs it and moves it so he can sit in front of me. As he sits, I hear a contented sigh escape from him. We sit for a while watching the bugs light up the night before I tell him it’s time to go in. It is late and he needs to go to bed soon.

We go to the backdoor and I ask him if he can open it for me. “Yes, sir!” he replies. I always get a kick out of that. Big brother’s martial arts teacher wanted him to say that to me to help instill discipline, but little brother uses it more consistently, and with more enthusiasm.

He stands up on his tiptoes to reach the handle and struggles a bit to pull it open. I don’t help because I’ve learned he gets upset when I do. I walk through the door into the kitchen saying, “Thank you.”

Then a rare occurrence happens. “Can you help me, Dad?” He is struggling a bit with the door. I hold it open as he scampers in the house. “Thank you.”

“You are absolutely welcome, bud.”

My wife comes into the kitchen. “Have you seen what’s on my leg?” She lifts her nightgown to show me a series of bug bites in a sideways V on her upper thigh. A big red blotch and a small smear of blood tell me she has been itching them.

“Yeah, I’ve seen them. And I’m sure scratching at them like that doesn’t help any.”

“I know,” she sighs. She walks back into the living room and the next thing I hear is a half upset/ half whining, “Noooooooooo!”

I come in to see what’s the matter, and I see my son dumping the un-popped kernels out of the bowl that used to hold popcorn. I can’t help but chuckle, but I don’t want to encourage the behavior so I head upstairs to take a late shower.

My oldest son, who is supposed to be asleep as he has summer school tomorrow, says, “Hi, Dad.”

“Hi, buddy. Go to sleep.” I head into the bathroom to take my shower. Even though I close the door, turn on the fan, and have the water going, I can still hear my oldest yelling at his little brother, “Be quiet!” In response to the yell the little one screams at the top of his lungs. Again and again and again and again they go at it, like some demonic verbal merry-go-round.

Mommy finally tires of it. “I guess I have to be the bad guy for awhile.” She takes the little one to bed, as I get dressed.

“I wanna give Daddy a kiss-hug night-night,” he whines.

“Fine, go give him one.”

He races into our bedroom and climbs on the bed. He loves turning on the radio and jumping on our bed while he watches himself in my wife’s mirror. I grab him and pick him up, swinging him in my arms. His giggles soon turn to full-blown laughter as I twirl him around like he is flying.

I sit on the edge of the bed when I finish twirling him around. He stands up on my legs and looks at me with a grin. Suddenly, he throws his arms around my neck and buries his face in my shoulder in a hug. I squeeze him tightly in response. He pulls back and puckers his lips, giving me a kiss goodnight.

He gets down and runs into his bedroom. He performs his nightly struggle to pull himself into bed. Finally succeeding, the nightly struggle to actually get him to lie down commences. My wife keeps putting covers on him, and he keeps sitting up and shrugging them off. I come in to help get him to sleep.

“Hey,” I whisper, “If you go night-night then tomorrow when the sun goes down we’ll go catch lightning bugs.”

“Okay,” he whispers back. He lies down, and as I start to leave he sits right back up. “Daddy,” he says still whispering.

“What, honey?”

He points to his closet. I forgot to check it for monsters. I open one of the folding doors so he can see inside. “See, no monsters.” He nods and I open the other door. “No monsters here either. Looks like you’re safe. Night-night.”

I leave his room, closing the door far enough that a crack remains so he can see the hall light still on; even though he needs the light less than his big brother does. I start to go downstairs when I hear a soft voice calling, “Daddy. Daddy.”

I head back up and go into his room again. He circles his arm for me to come closer, like we’re about to share a secret. I come close and lean down, putting my ear next to his mouth so I can hear him. “We gonna catch lightning bugs tomorrow?” he whispers in my ear.

“Yeah,” I tell him, “but you have to be a good boy and go to sleep, okay?”

“Okay.” He lay down again, closing his eyes. “Night-night, Daddy. Love you too.”

“Night-night, buddy. I love you too.” I head back downstairs to join my wife in watching a movie. The kids are finally asleep and the house is quiet except for the television. I enjoy this time of day.

My wife asks, “So, are you going to look for a job again tomorrow?”

I sigh. “Yes,” I tell her. What I’m really looking forward to, though, is catching lightning bugs.

I decided to join in the Moonshine Grid at Yeah Write this week with one of my older works. Comments and criticisms are welcome. Hope you enjoy!

Happy Reading and Writing!

J. Milburn

Status: Unknown

Lt. Jared Mason stalked down the brightly lit corridor, scowling deeply. Sub-Commander Felis had just reprimanded him, in front of a Councilor to boot. He wasn’t upset at the reprimand; he got those all the time. No, it was the reason the Councilor had been in the office in the first place that had him burning. The words echoed in his mind as he headed to his ship-tether. We feel that your…erratic behavior of late can be explained by your isolation. Since we would like to avoid the problems your predecessors experienced, we have decided to give you a new partner. One of your kind…

Jared snorted and shook his head to clear it. “Erratic behavior”, like blowing up a few drug-lords’ houses and burning their fields was that big a deal. Councilor Goreann could go dance with a black hole. He hadn’t done anything to anyone that hadn’t deserved exactly what they got. Now he had to wet-nurse a new rookie. Not only a rookie, but a human…a human. What had they been thinking? Sordani, some of the greatest warriors in this galaxy, would have trouble keeping up with him. A human, no matter what enhancements they got from the standard Uplift Process, didn’t stand a chance. He didn’t know why they kept punishing rookies by assigning them to him anyway; they had a sickening habit of dying off.

He turned the corner and stopped abruptly, biting his lip to keep from groaning out loud. His sharp eyesight had picked up the latest sacrifice offered up to the gods of bureaucracy, and it was distinctly feminine. His hands clenched into fists, and he resisted the urge to punch the metallic walls of the station. Visions of a cat-skinned rug made of Felis’ hide and some snakeskin leather boots made of Goreann’s danced through his head. He took several deep breaths and pushed those thoughts away as unproductive. He schooled his features into a mask of cold disdain and sauntered casually down the hall, frowning when he saw her notice him and stiffen to attention.

He stopped in front of her and she snapped off a salute. Jared ignored it and took a moment to look her over more carefully. She was 5’7, which put her a good eight inches shorter than him. Straight brown hair done up in a shoulder-length ponytail. Features a bit sharp, but the warmth in her brown eyes softened the sharpness into a pretty picture. A big toothy smile. She had a slender athletic build, sidearm on the right, so she was right-handed. The Uplift Process worked best on those still going through puberty, so she was in her mid-teens, probably a year or two older than he was when he was Uplifted. She wore the same type of black bodysuit with black jacket and heavy boots that he did as a uniform. The single silver stripe on her sleeve indicated her rank as a probationary officer, while the badge prominently displayed on the breast declared she worked for the Galactic Council Organized Policing Service.

Maybe I can end this fiasco before it starts. He stared at her coldly. “What the hell are you doing?”

Her smile faltered. “I-I don’t understand the quest-”

Jared gestured at the hand to her brow. “That. This isn’t Earth and this isn’t the army. Put your damn hand down!” he snapped.

She swiftly brought her hand to her side and stiffened even more. “You can relax that pose, as well,” he said disgustedly. “You look ridiculous, and with your knees locked like that you’ll probably pass out.”

She visibly relaxed, but seemed unsure of what to do with herself. Jared’s eyes narrowed as he noticed a minor twitch in her right hand. Great, she’s just out of Uplift and they send her right over. He decided not to comment on it; it would resolve itself or it wouldn’t. Instead, he just held out his hand with an air of impatience.

The relief shone in her eyes and she started to reach out her hand to shake his. “Hello, sir. My name is…”

Jared cut her off. “Give me your datafile, kid. I don’t care who you think you are,” he said, real impatience creeping into his voice.

This seemed to deflate her even more, and she meekly handed over the hand-sized computer tablet. He snatched it from her hand and pulled out a hair-thin wire from a pouch on his sidearm-belt. He inserted one end into the tablet and the other he put into a port located behind his right ear. Data started pouring onto his retinal display: Name: Misty Peregrine. Age: 16. Place of origin: Earth nation-Canada. Societal Participation: Student (mid-range), athlete (human sport: football (see: soccer)), time given at various charitable instit-

Jared cut off the datafeed, his anger flaring again. Of all the stupid decisions I’ve seen in my life, this one has to rank in the top three. They send me an average girl from a nation that probably has the nicest people per capita on Earth, and she’s a bleeding-heart. What are they hoping, that we’ll become some interstellar Adam and Eve? If they even know that stupid story. They just killed this girl, those stupid, thickheaded…

His thoughts turned darker and darker. His face took on a stormy countenance, and his body locked rigidly. He noticed the girl back away from him, her hand inching down to the blaster at her side. The action mollified his anger…somewhat. Maybe she won’t be a total loss–if she survives. He took several deep breaths and schooled his features back into a neutral expression. “Don’t cower, kid. It’s undignified, and if you can’t take a little anger from me, you don’t need to be here. Understood?”

“Yes, si-”

“And cut the ‘sir’ crap, little girl. It’s either Lieutenant, L-T, or if you’re feeling particularly brave, and suicidal, Jared. Let’s stick with one of the first two. That way, when you die, I won’t feel as bad.” He stepped over to the station viewport and motioned for her to stand beside him. He pointed to outside the station. “Tell me what you see.”

She eyed him warily. “Are you going to interru-”

“Only if you annoy me with useless words, so you might as well get used to it. Tell me what you see.”

Misty’s lips tightened hard, turning them white, but she dutifully turned her attention outside the viewport. She assumed the pedantic tone of someone reciting dry facts. “I see the Barex C-model inter-system Police Interdi-”

He cut her off with a wave of his hand. “I didn’t ask about what they downloaded into your memory or about my own damn ship. I told you to tell me what you see.”

She began again, undercurrents of anger tightening her voice. “I see a Vilac Fortune class freighter com-”

Jared sighed. “Not what I want and you kn-”

“I see an arrogant, overbearing, bastard who feeds his ego by picking on subord-”

Jared gave her his first real smile of the day. “Not bad, kid. But you stating the obvious isn’t what I’m looking for. I know about me too. Better, in fact, than you think you do.” He shrugged. “Maybe I should recommend you be mind-wiped and shipped back home. You might be looked at as crazy, like the others that didn’t cut it out here, but I get the feeling I’d be doing you a favor.”

His right arm flashed up in a blur of movement to catch her fist coming at him. He didn’t blink as she gave out a short bark of pain from the contact. He let go of her fist and waited for the inevitable question as she tried to shake out the pain. “What the…Do you have a metal ha-”

“An entire arm actually,” he said. “My shoulder, arm, even the pectoral muscle covering my heart, has been replaced with duranium, the metal they use in starships. It’s really just a sheath covering my cybernetic replacements.” He gave her a grin and waited for the follow-up questions about how he got them.

She didn’t oblige. Instead, she just said, “I get the feeling this is a routine you’ve done before.”

Jared’s grin widened. “Congratulations. That’s the first non-useless sentence you’ve said so far. Keep going with that thought.”

Before she could, an alarm sounded across the station. A whooshing sound signaled the ship-tether portal closing, and Jared yanked his rookie out of the way of the blast shields coming down to cover the viewports. The entire station closed down; no one in and no one out. A harsh voice growled and barked over the station speakers, and Jared held up a hand to quiet his rookie’s yelping protests at being manhandled. The alien language filtered through his cerebral translator as: Armed intruders on Primary Civilian Access Deck. Station Security to PCAD. Gal-Cops on Station maintain position.

“Why don’t they want our help?” Misty wondered.

Jared ignored her and touched his badge to activate the communicator built in. “Felis, sit-rep!” he commanded.

A reply came back immediately. “Ten Valusians armed with pulse-rifles came in blasting away. Looks like they’re after the Councilor. His bodyguard detail engaged, and station security has joined the fight. Heavy casualties among the civilians on deck are reported. Downloading station specs to your rookie’s data-tablet now, since you don’t carry one,” he said, the reproach in his voice clear even when translated.

Jared waved off Misty as she offered her tablet to him. “Is Arnie working?”

“Yes,” Felis replied cautiously. “Why, if I might ask?”

“Send him here through the maintenance hatch.”

“You are not going through-”

“Mason, out,” Jared said while touching his communicator to turn it off. He glanced at a flustered looking Misty, who now had Felis yelling through her communicator, and raised an amused eyebrow. “If you’re planning on coming along, I suggest you lose the badge.”

He turned and strode off down the corridor, bypassing the now lock-downed lifts, and heading straight for a circular piece of metal that interrupted the otherwise smooth profile of the walls. He heard the sound of something small and metallic clatter on the floor and the sound of feet hurrying to catch up to him. He waited until he heard breathing right behind and said, “This is the maintenance hatch.” He pointed to a small electronic pad right next to the maintenance entrance. “This is the lock that opens the door. However, since I’m not maintenance, or Felis, I don’t have the code to open it. Which is stupid when you think about it, but, then again, so is the Director of Security.” A meter long blade slid from the forearm sheath hidden in his artificial arm. “So, I get to do this the hard way.” He reared his arm back, preparing to thrust the blade in to pry the door open. A firm pressure on his shoulder made him pause.

“Let me try before you go destroying the station,” Misty said. Jared gave her a hard look, but moved out of the way. She knelt down in front of the pad and closed her eyes. Within a few seconds the maintenance hatch opened. She turned to him with a wide grin, which quickly faded as she noticed the look on his face.

“So, you’re wireless capable. And what you’re telling me with that little display of hacking, is that you’re one of those closet ‘geniuses’ that are too undisciplined to do well in school because you’re not ‘challenged’ enough,” he said. He shook his head and started to say something else, but a face popped up in the hatchway distracting him. It had eight small black orbs for eyes, two pincers that framed a small mouth, and was covered in short black hair.

Jared nodded and smiled at the face, ignoring a startled and scrambling Misty. “Arndolavetura, good to see you. Please, ignore the rookie doing a credible imitation of prey being stalked. You startled her.” He turned toward Misty. “Get up and quit making a fool of yourself. This is Arndolavetura, Arnie for short. He’s our way down.”

Arnie chittered something briefly. “Yes, I’m serious,” Jared replied. “One line down three decks.” Arnie chittered again, this time sounding angry. “If the Security Director tries to run you off the station for this he’ll have to go through me. Stop wasting time and do it,” Jared said.

Arnie made a sound that came suspiciously close to being a sigh. However, his body shot up to the top of the opening, giving a brief view of a 1.2-meter tall, segmented body, with six arms and two legs that didn’t quite hide the spinneret behind them. Arnie again flashed past, but this time he was free-falling and trailing a thin silky strand behind him. Jared ducked his head into the maintenance shaft, watching the arachnoform fall away. A soft chitter reached his ears and he motioned for Misty to come over. “You’re point. Get down there and open the hatch up,” he said.

“Why can’t Arnie d-”

“Because he’s not maintenance either. He’s the janitor for HQ. It’s the only kind of work his species is deemed suitable for, even though they’re natural engineers.” Jared worked to keep his temper in check. “Look, I’d love to explain speciesism to you right now, especially since we’re technically lower on the totem pole than Arnie, but people are dying. Move out!”

Misty’s lips tightened as she leaned into the shaft and grabbed onto the line left by Arnie. She pulled a face when her hands wrapped around it; no doubt from the tacky feeling reminiscent of Earth spider-webs. As soon as she started climbing down, Jared grabbed on and started down at a quicker pace, forcing her to move faster or eat his boots. He gave a quick commentary on the shaft whose only features were regularly spaced hatchways and access tunnels meant for engineers. “Normally, the maintenance shafts are zero-g and the engineers use grav-lock boots to hold themselves in place. That’s why there are no handholds or ladders. During a lockdown, gravity is turned on so no one can use them, at least theoretically. Luckily for us, Arnie can just about stick to any surface and his webbing is about as strong as high-tensile steel.”

They quickly descended to the desired hatch with Arnie clinging to the wall beside it, and Misty pulled the same hacking trick she had used before. Arnie skittered to the lip of the portal and held out a pair of hands to Misty. She reached out and found Arnie was much stronger than his size indicated, stronger than even her enhanced muscles. He easily pulled her through, dumping her unceremoniously on the steel floor. She scrambled out of the way just in time as Jared came through the portal, somersaulting forward to a standing position with his blaster drawn. They found themselves in a dedicated maintenance room, filled with tools, wiring, and other devices better left in the hands of engineers. Shouts, screams, and the sharp tang of ozone mixed with burnt flesh, permeated the room.

Jared ghosted past all the clutter, quickly reaching the doorway. He caught Misty’s eye and jerked his head toward the pad by the door, holding his thumb and index finger slightly apart. Obediently, the door opened a fraction and he peered out to the main deck and into his nightmares. The main deck for civilians on the station was lined with shops and restaurants, along with “street” vendors, to create illusions of an on-planet open-air market. It had holographic signs all over, advertising everything from religion to “exotic companions”, giving the deck a bright technicolor glow. Usually, the press of bodies filling the deck made it difficult to maneuver. Not today.

Today, bodies littered the ground: some obviously dead, others groaning in pain or fear. The glow from the advertising was drowned out by deadly beams of coherent light criss-crossing the deck, creating a maze of death for any fool that dared try to find his way through. Jared could make out the Valusian’s positions to his right. They looked like smaller versions of Terran sasquatches, with flat ape-like faces and fur ranging in color from reddish-brown to bright orange. Ritual scarring that removed the fur in intricate designs marked them as pirates that followed the Avarice sect, a religious sect bent on accumulating wealth through means fair or foul. Jared could make out three pirates dead. However, many more security personnel than pirates littered the ground, attesting to their skill. Oddly, none of Councilor Goreann’s bodyguards seemed to have been wounded or killed.

Jared was formulating the best approach to end this stand-off efficiently when Arnie’s soft chitter caught his attention. He motioned Misty over to keep look-out and made his way back to Arnie, who was busy building something out of the parts in the room, all six hands working swiftly and in sync with each other. Arnie asked a question in his language without looking up from what he was doing, to which Jared replied, “Stalemate right now, but we need to end this fast. Sooner or later, someone in the crossfire is going to make a run for it and get burned down.”

Arnie nodded and his hands started moving faster, becoming a near blur. He finished and proudly held up a blinking oblong device of some sort. He started a long explanation of what he had done, but Jared quickly cut him off. “What is it, Arnie?” Arnie chittered again, and Jared said, “You made a Flashing Screamer out of spare maintenance parts? You are so my hero right now.” He took the device, but before he could integrate it into his plan, he heard Misty breathe out, “No”, and she rushed out the door.

Jared ran to the door and watched Misty jump, twist, spin, and dodge all the blaster fire now directed at her, returning fire as she could toward the Valusians to keep their heads down. He saw why she ran out: a small Raptrix child couldn’t take it anymore and she had jumped up to try and run to her mother, who was frantically screeching at her daughter to stay down. Jared added his own suppression fire, hoping to draw some of the Valusian fire toward him.

Unfortunately, the Valusians weren’t the only ones firing at Misty. When she slowed down for that infinitesimal eternal second to grab the child, a bolt of light hit her left shoulder. She gave an involuntary shout of pain, but kept the presence of mind to hold on to the girl and drop down to the floor, shielding the Raptrix with her own body as pulsing laser fire streaked above them.

Jared quickly gave Arnie a series of hand signals. I’ve got far side, you take near. Paralyze the leader, the rest…no mercy. Arnie nodded, eight eyes glittering coldly. Jared stepped out of the door, quickly threw the Flashing Screamer in the midst of the Valusian line, and just as quickly stepped back. Alternating visible light and heat flashes to spoil normal and thermographic vision pulsed out, along with an ultra-sonic squeal that Jared couldn’t hear, but that had the pirates clutching their ears in pain.

Jared burst from the maintenance room, his enhanced musculature allowing him to cover the nearly fifteen meters in a blur of movement, firing as he ran. He took down two pirates who had exposed themselves during the chaos of the Screamer with quick headshots. He leaped over an overturned vendor cart that concealed another pirate, switching his blaster to his left hand and extending his arm-blade as he made the jump. He landed behind the pirate, spun around, and skewered him through the throat.

A scream from Arnie’s designated area told him that the leader had been paralyzed by Arnie’s venomous bite. Several quick pulse-rifle blasts, and Arnie’s derogatory chittering about the pirate’s ancestry, let him know those pirates were out of the picture. The security forces had stopped firing and an eerie silence filled the station deck. Suddenly, a roar and the sound of one last laser blast echoed through the halls.

Jared turned and assumed a crouching position; right arm up to take any attacks, left pointing his blaster. He saw one last Valusian that had apparently lost his rifle with his arms raised; poised to drive a vibro-bladed dagger into his back. A scorch mark along his side marked the perfectly placed shot that had penetrated his chest cavity and fried his heart. The dead pirate slumped to the ground, dagger clattering to the floor. Jared followed the angle of the shot down the deck to see Misty standing, blaster in hand. He walked over to her, and as he neared he could see her shaking. She still hadn’t put the blaster down when he reached her, so he softly put his hand on hers. “It’s over, Misty,” he said gently while pushing her hand down.

She woodenly obeyed as he led her over to a “sidewalk” bench. He knelt in front of her, and saw her eyes become watery. Her lips trembled, but she refused to break down and cry. “Breathe, Misty,” Jared told her. She took several deep, ragged breaths and started to calm down. Arnie bounded over, clutching a pulse-rifle, and stood protectively beside them.

When she had calmed enough to speak again, she asked, “Does that ever get any easier?”

Jared gave her a sad smile. “Before I answer your question, I want you to answer mine. Look out over the scene and tell me what you see.”

She looked out at the dead bodies littering the hallway, the emergency medical personnel that now flooded the deck seeing to the wounded, at the little Raptrix girl she had saved who’s mother was softly stroking her child’s down, and at the sentient being she had just killed. She shuddered at the sight. “I see the people we’re supposed to protect and even die for. And I see those that we have to protect them from,” she said softly.

“Never lose sight of that,” Jared replied, equally soft. “To answer your question: Unfortunately, yes.” He suddenly straightened up, every inch the commanding officer, and eyed the approaching security forces. “For some, it becomes too easy,” he said coldly.

A 2.2-meter hulking Saurian stomped toward them, pointing at Arnie and bellowing with disdain, “Who let that thing have a weapon?”

Jared ignored the triceratops-descended Security Director and said to Arnie, “Take her to the Medical Bay. After that, make sure she reports to Felis’ office.” Then in a louder voice, “And if any of these security jokes tries to mess with you, feel free to kick their wannabe asses.” Arnie chittered a gleeful assent and held out his top pair of hands for Misty to hold on to, cradling the pulse-rifle with his middle pair.

The Saurian security guards took one look at Misty, who had her hand on her blaster, and the obviously eager to fight Arnie, and parted to make way for them. As Arnie led Misty to the now operational lifts, they could hear the Director bellowing, “You humans don’t belong among a civilized people! None of you should be anymore than sl-”

The smack of a metallic fist against leathery flesh and the thud of something big and heavy falling told Arnie and Misty all they needed to know. As the lift doors closed, Misty grinned as she heard Jared say, “Now, which one of you salad-eaters shot my partner?”

Three hours later
Misty stood in front of Sub-Commander Felis, resisting the urge to scratch at her itchy healed flesh. To take her mind off of it, she studied her commanding officer while he read some reports. He stood about 1.85 meters, with a cat-like face covered in golden fur and replete with whiskers. He’d look almost cuddly if it weren’t for his habit of snapping and retracting dangerous looking claws and the two extended maxillary canines that jutted from his mouth. He caught her frank gaze and gave her a grin. At least, she thought it was a grin. “I’m sure you have questions”, he said.

“Several.”

“Have a seat and ask then,” he ordered.

As she sat, Misty asked, “Why can’t I understand Arnie?”

Felis sighed. “He was never given a translator. While yours has some pre-programmed languages, his isn’t one of them. He would need a translator of his own to sync with yours for you to understand him.”

“How can Lt. Mason understand him?”

“He, and I for that matter, learned his language when we served together during the war as part of the same banneret. Arnie was our engineer and explosives expert.”

Misty’s eyes widened. “They both served under you during a war?”

Felis gave a low chuckle. “No, no, no. I served under them. Jared was a Knight’s Squire 1st rank and Arnie was the master sergeant-at-arms. I was just a lowly page rank and they held my hand enough to get me home alive.”

Misty’s face screwed up into a confused look. “Then why are you-”

“Commanding them instead of the other way around?” Felis laughed. “Now I know why Jared does that interrupting routine; it’s quite fun. Unfortunately, the reasons behind my command are not. Humans and arachnoforms are looked upon as inferior by the general galactic society. When the war ended and they formed this police force a couple of years ago, well, I had to fight to get Jared hired. I couldn’t even do that much for poor Arnie, although saving a Councilor today has changed things. The only reason I got you was as an experiment to try and control Jared’s…excesses.”

Misty’s mouth opened and closed several times, her face outraged. Felis waved her down. “Enough questions for now. If you haven’t figured it out yet, Jared was also your evaluator. He’s given me his report.” He placed a small holo-projector on his desk, and a miniature figure of Jared appeared, saying:

Probationary Officer Misty Peregrine Evaluation: She is rash, undisciplined, and needs constant challenge to perform at her peak. She is also brave to the point of stupidity. If you don’t keep her, send her to the Knights. They always need brave idiots for cannon fodder. On the plus side, she took a swing at me faster than any other rookie has ever done, showed an…innovative approach to ingress and egress problems, protected civilians, Uplift has given her agility that supersedes my own, and she displayed insightful knowledge into what we do. Faster than you ever did, I might add. The bad I can fix, but I can’t teach the positives. I will resign if you give me another rookie partner who isn’t Arnie. Status: Approved for full duty.

Now get me out of the station holding cell, Felis.

Felis went back to reading reports. “Welcome to your new life, Officer Peregrine. Pick up Arnie on your way out and meet Lt. Mason at his ship-tether in, oh…let’s say three hours. Dismissed.”

Please feel free to critique. I hope you enjoyed it.

J. Milburn