A cry of animal pain echoed throughout the outer dormitory hall aboard the Progenitor as two boys, one large and muscular, one raw-boned and small, tussled, falling to the floor with grunts of exertion as a rotund youth watched with mounting trepidation from a distance. The pudgy boy cried for the combatants to stop, time and time again, growing more agitated with every subsequent protestation. Shortly, a figure emerged from the high, arched portal at the end of the corridor and quietly advanced upon the trio. The objector’s expression subsided to dumb and totalizing terror as the entrant’s voice, calm and commanding, echoed throughout the vastness of the cavity.
“It only takes one cuckoo to ruin a nest.”
The three boys froze, the larger one looking over his shoulder to behold a pale man of middling height, garbed in form-fitting vestments, obsidian and auric-trimmed, his hair short and neatly back-swept upon his pate, dark as his garb. His face, masklike and keen.
“Do you know this bird, Damin?”
The large youth’s mouth parted, lips quivering. “No, Mr. Kryos.”
The young man that had taken a pummeling rolled to his side with labored breath, grimaced and glared at his foe. Eidos looked to the youth on the ground placidly and gestured to the doughy, terror-stricken boy by the door with a tenebrous, sharkskin gloved hand.
“Help him up.”
The rotund boy’s eyes widened and, momentarily, he jostled forward and hefted the battered youth, Graf, from the ground. The beaten boy fixed his shirt and wiped blood from his lip, wobbling defiantly on unsteady legs.
Kryos looked from face to face. His own visage, statuesque in surveyance. Xanthous eyes alighting on Damin.
“Explain your flapping, little bird.”
Damin gestured to Graf, face contorted with ill-constrained rage, “He said… he insulted my family. Sir.”
“What did he say?”
“Said southers were were lower than apes.”
“Does beating him disprove the assertion?”
The boy said nothing as Kryos stepped forth, leaning toward Damin’s recoiling face.
“Why are you here?”
“Because of my father.”
“And why is he here?”
“Because… he works for you.”
“And so you earn no keep. And if you are party to another such outburst, neither shall he. Do you understand me, little bird?”
“It would pain me to clip your wings before you learn to use them.”
The boy said nothing more and cast his eyes to his shoes. Kryos straightened and looked to Graf.
“Return to your quarters. And boy.”
Graf paused and turned to Kryos expectantly as blood trickled down his chin.
“Be more mindful of your manners.”
The boy nodded solemnly and shortly all three began moving off.
“Not you, Duncan. You stay.”
The pudgy youth held-up reluctantly, looking over his shoulder to the pale, pitch-gilt man behind him.
“Walk with me.”
Graf and Damin departed through the portal at the end of the high hall as Duncan moved to stand beside the speaker. Kryos began strolling slowly down the high, vaulted hall, away from the dormitory, Duncan following apprehensively. For a moment all was silence, save the duo’s rhythmic footfalls upon the stainless lacquered floor. A few service drones rolled from distant alcoves to clean up the blood. The boy looked from side to side. The high albescent walls were thick with white statuary, the artifacts shaped in the likeness of men and women of varying ages, all garbed in the standardized sy-chitin of the deep colonies, poised in grave and august variations.
After half a minute of quiet, Kryos spoke.
“Why didn’t you intervene? Break up the fight?”
Duncan shrugged, struggling to put his past emotions into words.
“A man overcharged with violent instincts is as given to vitiation as a man bereft of such impulses.”
Kryos turned to the nearest statue and strode up to it, hands behind his back, his heliodoric eyes widening.
“Do you know this man?”
The boy observed the statue before which Kryos stood for a long moment. The artwork depicted a middle-aged man decked in old-gen KSRU armor, with fine, chiseled features, short hair and a long scar across the left side of his face, gazing stolidly into the distance. The young man shook his head in response to the query, short, auburn locks falling over his left eye.
“His name was Valen Drossian. One of the first of the KSRU. And one of the finest. Nine years ago, when Aestival began their bloody bombing campaign against our topside facilities, I charged him with hunting the malcontents down. Fifteen citizens died before he tracked the leader, Moreno Carduus, to her lair, a formerly abandoned warehouse in the exclusion zone. Once he and his men were at the entrance, primed for entry, one of Carduus’ confederates hijacked their affinity modules and informed them that six citizens were currently being held at the facility and if they did not retreat immediately from the district, all of the hostages would be killed. One for every minute of inaction that passed. Video proof was then provided for the claim. So Valen had two choices: Storm the building and risk the slaughter of the hostages; or retreat, allow the insurgents to flee and hope the prisoners were treated mercifully.”
“Which did he choose?”
“The latter. At Valen’s command, they left the area and let Aestival escape. Consequently, every hostage was executed. Three men, two women and a little girl, seven years of age. Their heads were severed and placed at the base of the newly built KSRU tower, looking up at Valen’s office.”
The lad’s face crinkled as he once more grasped clumsily for words. Finding none. Kryos reached his left hand to the statue and caressed its smooth, alabaster cheek.
“Valen died three weeks later in a bombing of my company’s topside headquarters. The charge laid by a plant from Aestival. Thereafter I commissioned this monumental in his honor. That his deeds not be forgotten. A work which was to inspire the rest which you see within this hall. Every man, no matter how virtuous, has his fault. Valen’s was believing in a world which did not exist.”
“Why are you telling me all this, Sir?”
Kryos let his hand fall from the statue and turned to the boy.
“Because you are a Valen in the making.”
The duo’s exchange was interrupted by harried footfalls and labored breath, followed by a well-groomed and elderly man in sy-chitin, who jogged forth and paused some twenty feet from the pair, caught his breath and then strode quickly to Kryos’ side.
“What is it, Gabel?”
“Sir. Over Secretary Gild requests an audience. He gave no details save that the request relates to a matter of utmost importance.”
“He called himself?”
“He’d not have called personally without the assent of the Chancellor. Likely concerning the Syzr affair. Tell him I shall conference within the hour, lest that proves inconvenient for him.”
“Very well, Sir.”
The clerk bowed curtly and departed down the hall, whereafter the boy, his face lined with perplexity, stared at the statue.
“What was the world he believed in?”
“One without strife.”
Kryos traced the lines of the scar about the statue’s face.
“He failed to appreciate life’s fulcrum.”
The man let his hand fall from the statue and looked to the vault above it, as if discerning a shuttered form.
“War existed long before we did.”