“Everything’s broken,” she said.
It was hard for him to argue. The Nall hadn’t left much standing on this block when they pulled out of the Llivori capital on Kamsho. Their home, on the third floor of the Jarmol Building, had two fully collapsed walls. Most of the furniture that hadn’t been blown out onto the street below had been ruined by fire, smoke, or extinguishing chemicals.
“We can start over,” he said.
That got a smile from her, but it wasn’t a happy one. “Again?”
Merrick didn’t care much for the idea himself. They’d lost their entire home universe, it seemed, to the whims of the Kamir and their usual abuses of unspeakable power. Three years ago, they’d been with the refugees aboard Hancock Station during the voyage from Nocturn to Hiverspace. They lived in a shanty in an enclave aboard Comorro for about a year after that. Then they moved to Kamsho; got themselves a small apartment in the city of Vor. He thought they were done moving for a while. Maybe for good. He enjoyed the city. They welcomed Outversers here. Gave him a decent job working on their communications infrastructure. His wife, Carly, worked as a nurse in the main metropolitan hospital.
For a few moments, he just listened to the wind howling through the wreckage of the building. Then he said, “Yeah, again.” He shrugged. “What else are we going to do? Quit?”
She rested a palm against her forehead. “I’m tired of change.”
“It can be exhausting,” Merrick agreed. “But I doubt it’ll go away. Change is life’s only constant.”
Carly rolled her eyes, but at least that angry smile softened. “You’re an idiot.”
“Yeah,” he concurred.
“I love an idiot,” she said.
Merrick smirked. He threw an arm around her waist, drawing her close to his side. “No accounting for taste.”
“I want to go home,” Carly whispered.
Her husband frowned, tilting his head in thought. “Carly…Earth’s probably gone.”
“Probably isn’t definitely,” she argued.
He couldn’t differ with that. “I’ll find a way,” he said. “For you.”
The horse reared back on its hind legs, pistoning the front hooves just inches above the snout of a Nall warrior named Ralk of Hatch Kavir.
Heavy shadows danced along the pebbled flesh of the warrior’s snout as he cradled the plasma rifle, coils burning hot and ready to open fire. Several of his comrades lay trampled on the stone floor of the planetoid cavern.
The Light Singer never said anything about a horse.
Ralkkavir hadn’t seen one in the flesh before. This would’ve been the last place he would ever expect to do so, on some forgotten pirate outpost in the wilds of Hiverspace. Yet here it was, carrying a human rider and stomping his comrades to death.
And he would be next, if he failed to act. More Nall warriors scrambled down the ramp from the transport behind him. Ralk wouldn’t suffer this beast to survive long enough to hurt any more of his comrades.
A clawed finger tugged on the trigger. Surprisingly little recoil to the Atasuin Sundagger plasma rifle, especially after seeing so much use on Kamsho without access to a lot of spare parts for maintenance.
With an agonized squeal, the horse toppled over, nearly crushing the rider.
Ralk felt grim satisfaction as he watched the beast die. That soon faded, though, as the human drew his blades and rose in a fury to storm toward him. The softskin’s outrage impressed.
He almost didn’t feel the end when it came.
The squeegee squeaked against the dusty window of the fifth floor office building that overlooked downtown Eiru on Pyracan.
Billy Lucas carried that black plastic tool with him like a sacred scepter, a holy relic from a lost age, but he liked to think that he wielded it with the finesse of a sharp-eyed gunslinger.
He’d been using it that afternoon in 1985, high above the streets of Manhattan, to clean the windows of the Chrysler Building. Then came the eruption of luminescence, God’s own blue-light special or the hand of fate. Whatever. It snatched him out of the realm of Reaganomics and into a 27th Century universe full of aliens and humans who got around the galaxy in faster-than-light starships.
Pretty damned cool.
But he didn’t know how to fly a fancy spaceship. He couldn’t speak many Earth languages besides English, let alone all the weird tongues heard in the vaulted cavities inside Comorro Station. He wasn’t a techy. He didn’t know how to hunt.
He could clean a window, though. Knew how to make it shine. Everyone wanted clean windows, no matter what century, right?
So, Billy bartered his grandfather’s silver pocket watch, hitched a shuttle to Pyracan, settled in among other human refugees, and found work as a freelancer. He’d been here for about a year.
It wasn’t hero work, but it kept a roof over his head. A few more gigs like this, Billy figured he could afford a ring for Meghan.
He dipped the squeegee in the water bucket, shaking it about, getting it soaked again for the next pane. Then he felt the suspended platform rattle. Earthquake? Not unheard of in Eiru, but rare. Billy looked up to make sure the ropes and pulleys weren’t tearing loose. So far, they looked fine. He looked down toward the street. Flashes of blue light – a bunch of them – rips in space and time, he thought, just like the one that grabbed him from the 20th Century.
He didn’t recognize the sinuous little bipedal reptiloids that came out of them, armed with really big rifles. The absurdity of the sight would’ve made him laugh under other circumstances. The thing is, they almost immediately started gunning people down in the street. Sooner or later, they might look up and shoot him. Or Meghan might be down there. Nothing funny about that.
Billy fumbled for the commlink in his pocket. He wanted to call Meghan and warn her. But then the rifts snapped shut with a thunderous consequence. Billy was staring at his own reflection in that perfectly cleaned window pane, link in one hand and dripping squeegee in the other, when it exploded.